Rutgers Oral History Archives

Anthony Villanueva, Rutgers Newark College of Arts and Sciences '73, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War

-On returning to civilian life after service in Vietnam:
It was like I was invisible. People didn't know how to act around me, and it wasn't just my experience. A lot of the veterans that I spoke to at the time felt the same way. They felt like you're here, but you're not here. People were tippy-toeing around you. Once they knew you returned from Vietnam, they wouldn't look you straight in the eye. They would like look off to the side if they had to talk to you about anything. … The only people that I didn't feel uncomfortable around were other veterans.

… Even to this day, there are some guys that we still keep in touch. We've had reunions, a couple of reunions, but the numbers are dwindling. A lot of the guys have died. Over the last fifty years, there's been a network of about--first, there was about twenty guys. Now, it's down to about four or five, but we always stay in touch. … That was very beneficial, but I also think that it isolated me from properly assimilating back into civilian life.

See, back in the early '70s, PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], they didn't know what [it was]. Nobody called it PTSD. They just called it battle fatigue. Keep in mind that during the '70s, I was a police officer, so by extension, it was my Vietnam. It was the same adrenaline, the same jumping in and out of cars, arresting people, getting involved in situations. So, it kept the adrenaline going, but I didn't know that I was suffering from severe PTSD.

It wasn't until late in the '70s that I went to the Veterans Administration and was tested, and it was determined that I had very bad PTSD. … At first, I said to myself, "I feel the same," and that was my first mistake, thinking, "Hey, I'm okay." I'm not okay, wasn't okay. It wasn't until I learned more about the illness and how to recognize triggers, things that set me off. I understood why I liked to be alone, don't want to be around people. I mean, I was in therapy for a good six or seven years--at various times for a total of about six or seven years--until I really understand all the ramifications of PTSD and how it affected me and how the therapy helped.