ROXBURY, NJ – It’s no fun for Bob Mederos if somebody decides to celebrate Independence Day by lighting fireworks nearby. When it happens, the former Army Ranger is instantly transported back to the deadly forests of Vietnam.
“The first thing that happens is your hand goes up to your head, trying to hold a steel pot down,” said the Roxbury resident. “You’re on your way down (to the ground), and we never used chin straps in Vietnam.”
Mederos, 62, said July 4th celebrations are out of the question if fireworks are involved. It’s been 44 years since he came home from the Vietnam War and Mederos said he has learned to cope somewhat with sounds, including some 1970s rock songs, that trigger his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reactions. But the ducking for cover from fireworks that sound like rifle shots will never completely go away.
“There’s an old saying with the Rangers: If you can hear the first shot, you better be down for the second one because the first one either hit you or it didn’t,” Mederos said. “It’s a reaction you don’t lose. It’s hard to explain.”
The Roxbury Police Department is one of many police and fire organizations urging people to refrain from using fireworks, not just because they are illegal and dangerous but also because they are also painful to those, like Mederos, within earshot.
“My wife knows how to handle me,” said Mederos. “She will not put on a war movie or force me to go see fireworks. I hate that, because she loves to see fireworks.”
Mederos is a member of VFW Post 2833 in Kenvil. “Out of 56 missions, we saw about 30 contacts in which they either killed one of us or we killed one of them or we were compromised,” he said. “On my last mission, I lost three men. Only me and one other guy lived and we were both hit.“
Mederos said he was found by a search dog. “A German shepherd came and saved my life,” he said. “He tracked me down from an infantry line company.” Since then, the veteran has owned six of them. “Shepherds are my heart,” he said.
Mederos said the use of fireworks on Fourth of July is “a tremendous issue” for combat veterans and for many dogs. He urged people to be considerate. “The agony is people love to blow firecrackers,” he said. So, while others are hanging around outside enjoying barbeques and beers, Mederos often needs to withdraw. “I go inside to the most soundproof room that I can find,” he said.