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Veterans in Focus: Navy Veterans Recall Duty on First Nuclear Submarine; Program Teaches Vets to Play Guitar; Army Nurse Remembers Treating Wounded; World War II Vet Still Volunteers to Help Disabled Veterans; Program Teaches Veterans Missing Limbs to Play Soccer

Aired November 12, 2011 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TOM FOREMAN, HOST: Welcome to the Washington Navy yard, a place filled with so many memories.

This is VETERANS IN FOCUS, and I'm Tom Foreman. And this program is really all about memories, memories of more than 23 million veterans who have served all around the globe as captured by the fine photojournalists here at CNN.

And we begin with a tale from Bob Crowley about some men who most wanted to be unnoticed during their time in service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALFRED CHARETTE, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: It's not a natural thing to submerge your ship in water. The mission of the submarine is not to give itself away, to remain undetected. We didn't want to make any kind of noise that a fish didn't make.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the submariners, when they go to sea, that they're in harm's way.

THOMAS M. RUSSELL III, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: Basically patrol for 60 days at a clip, submerged all the time.

GREG KANE, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: I had to learn my job well so I could keep my shipmates alive and healthy.

EDWIN "BUD" ATKINS, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: My life depended on my other shipmate, and it didn't matter whether they were seamen or a captain.

CHARETTE: You were on the USS 571, the world's first nuclear powered submarine. I was onboard for four years from 1957 to 1961. When I was onboard, I was a sonar supervisor. A couple of pieces of equipment there were the same ones I operated. I think the political climate at the time was one of tension between us and the USSR. We could be in a harbor and nobody would know we were there. We could be along the coast and nobody would know we were there.

ATKINS: Our adversaries knew that we were out there and they couldn't find us. That's what the cold war was about.

RUSSELL: We just hope that every time we went to battle stations that it was a drill, because we all knew if it was not a drill, home would -- may be in pieces.

CHARETTE: I think we're probably a unique bunch of guys who think that we're better than everybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Special, special fraternity.

ATKINS: And it's so different than any other service.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Military service can be full of uncertainty, and so can life after the military for some veterans. They fall on homelessness or hard times or even get into serious trouble with the law up to and including murder.

In a prison north of D.C., however, we found that that doesn't necessarily break their bond with each other. Indeed, there are prisoners there who are relying on each other for the strength to do the right thing and do their time. And they're recording their stories on video for the library on congress. That's where photojournalist Tony Umrani caught up with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONALD "MACK" MCCLARY, U.S. MARINES: I was enlisted into the army, but decided to go into the marines.

CALVIN AMOS, U.S. NAVY: From 1972 to 1976, HM3SS.

RICHARD PRATTIS BEY, U.S. ARMY: I was in the United States army, specialist. I went to Vietnam.

EDWARD "BOOMER" BENJAMIN JACKSON, U.S. NAVY: My specialty was planting and removal of underwater explosive devices.

STERLING TOLSON, U.S. ARMY: I did my entire tour in Europe, enjoyed the military, willing to serve my country again.

BEY: I've been 18 years. My family and I discussed that I need some more structure or a little bit more discipline in my life. And they felt that the military would be the best thing for me. So I enlisted.

GARY D. MAYNARD, SECRETARY, MARYLAND DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: They served this country. They put themselves in harm's way. They got out of the service, some honorably, some dishonorably, but they got out of the service and they committed a crime against the state of Maryland in this case. And I think people -- it would be good if people remember these -- even though they committed a crime against the state of Maryland, they did serve this country and they did put themselves in harm's way for us.

BEY: The veterans here in this group here, they have a shine about themselves. They have a pride about themselves. The way they do things, the way they conduct themselves. They try to conduct themselves with the staff in a very, very respectful way. And when you give respect, you get respect.

If possible, I would like for us once we're released to keep the same bond. I want for us to get outside of here and form some sort of a group and reestablish ourselves in the communities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PETER POULOS, WWII VETERAN, VOLUNTEER: Drink hard, eat hearty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: In a moment, one vet's long, slow, and steady quest to help his brothers in arms.

And later -- singing a different tune, a song for better days, when "Veterans in Focus" continues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Many veterans spend many years feeling not only indebted to but also responsible for those with whom they served. Few, however, show as much dedication about it as one 93-year-old man that photojournalist Derek Davis found in a VA hospital near Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POULOS: I feel like I'm -- this is still my squad, my guys in the front line. They wait for me like, I don't know, like I'm their first sergeant. They depend on me. They can't move, so I have to move for them.

There you go. Here comes the food.

PAT MOSS, CHIEF NURSE, HINES VA HOSPITAL: I think everybody knows Pete. They've seen him around. It's over 24,000 hours he's logged here in the 26 years that he's been a volunteer. He is a hero because -- because of the time that he gives, and, again, at his age, at 95.

POULOS: Well, I was with the infantry, we did everything. Out in the field sometimes you can help so much and that's it. When a comrade would fall, you'd try to give him as much help as you could. But then some time you just have to carry on. You couldn't leave it there. I was able to help him. And they came by, before you know it, 30 years went by and I'm still there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We take care of each other. Pete is one of a kind.

POULOS: You look beautiful there, fella.

Some of the American people here, they forgot about -- they don't really realize what their freedom is. You know, they got this freedom and they take it for granted that it's here. They don't realize how they got it. You know, the price of freedom is in these patients. You know, that's where the freedom came from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a jolly old soul. Let's put it that way.

POULOS: You come home and once you leave out there you say to yourself, boy, you feel like you're the richest person in the world. You can walk out of there, and you look back and you see -- you think of all of these guys that are still there and can't go anyplace. I see them and I say that could have been me.

You going to go to your room now? You want me to take you there?

The war hasn't ended because they're not the same as they were. They need me here. I've got to help them out. That's what keeps me going. I could say that America, I gave my best to you. At least I tried as best I could do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Coming up, keeping calm under fire, keeping troops alive on death's doorstep -- the tale of an army nurse.

And back to work and play. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

When a soldier or sailor is wounded, there can often be no more reassuring sight than the arrival of a medical team. In Vietnam, where this ship saw so much service, that often meant brave young men and women willing to risk their lives to save others. Photojournalist Gabe Ramirez introduces us to one near Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICIA GORMAN, ARMY NURSE CORPS: My name is Patricia Gorman. I was in the Army Nurse Corps, and I was with the 91st evacuation hospital. I had had a lot of civilian experience and education in nursing, and I had decided it was time to do something different in a different place. And about that time was when there was a lot of recruiting going on because of a big build-up in Vietnam. And so I thought why not?

When the plane door opened, when we got to the airport near Saigon, it was like being hit in the face with a wet, hot blanket. And that was my first impression of Vietnam. We were near a town on the coast of the South China Sea. And the first contingent of nurses arrived there in early march 1967.

We had a lot of patients with malaria, fever, all sorts of other problems, and then we had patients coming in who were wounded. What I do remember is I had spent a 12 hour day on the ward. All of the medical patients had been evacuated to empty the ward beds for the incoming wounded. And after that, it just went on and on and on and on. And everybody just worked constantly, constantly, constantly as the flow came through. And the wounds were of all kinds -- head wounds, extremity wounds, body wounds, everything. We had patients who got care just to keep them comfortable because there was no hope for them.

I stopped trying to feel badly about it all because I don't think I could've dealt with that. So I just accepted it as part of what I had to accept. I think nurses at one time were thought of, well, they're not really in the military. They're not in combat. But you look at the situation. We were just as subject to incoming rounds as anybody else. We were just as subject to small arms fire as anybody else.

I was always constantly surprised at how beautifully they performed, how well they performed. They never -- they never let me or the patients down, never.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: All of us have experienced the way that music can change your mood. But for some veterans, dealing with depression or the trauma after battle, it can sometimes be much more powerful. That has fueled a national movement called Guitars for Vets with a simple goal -- to put instruments into the hands and songs into the hearts of folks who need them the most. Photojournalist John Benna and Amanda Sansone went to Richmond, Virginia, for that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE COLLAWN, INSTRUCTOR, GUITARS FOR VETS: I've been playing guitar since I was in the seventh grade. I just love doing it. It's a freedom when I play guitar. I can take every emotion I had, whether it's mad or glad or whatever, and I can put it out in a song. My name is Mike Juan. I'm one of the instructors with guitars for vets.

CHARLES MULLENIX, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I was in the army, stationed in Missouri.

VICKI BAYTON, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I went to the first Gulf war in '91 and the second one in '03.

MATTHEW MOSLEY, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I'm home based out of Norfolk, Virginia.

COLLAWN: It's more informal. It's not a strict teacher. We just kind of hang out and talk.

BAYTON: When I feel like I'm about to slip away, I look across the room, I pick up the guitar, pull out some of the sheet music and the tabs and I start playing and I just get lost in it.

MULLENIX: It sooths me. It makes me feel comfortable. I'm away from everybody.

COLLAWN: One of my guys told me, he goes, I don't get out of bed because I'm depressed. Now he's playing guitar and he's like, I have an excuse to get up now because I can go play guitar and it gives me something to do in my idle time.

MOSLEY: I just can't stop. Once you pick it up, it's hard to put it down. MULLENIX: I like rock, country, bluegrass.

PEG ANDRAE, CHAPTER COORDINATOR, RICHMOND GUITARS FOR VETS: It's more than just guitar lessons and that's the vehicle. It's about human interaction. It's about trust, goal setting, accomplishment.

MULLENIX: It's not as easy as it looks.

BAYTON: Getting your fingers in the right position for the chords.

MOSLEY: That's the hardest part for me.

COLLAWN: Once they've completed the course, Washburn has donated guitars and they've got guitar cases and tuners that are donated to them.

BAYTON: It's fun. I'm learning something new. We should all be students in some shape, form, or fashion.

MOSLEY: This is just another stepping stone for me, something to better myself in and to hopefully carry back to my community.

COLLAWN: It's just a great feeling to know that you're doing something to give back. People that have done so much for us and given so much to us, no one can take the music away from them. They'll always have that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a great pass, a great one --

Take that! Take that!

FOREMAN: When we return, a new field of battle where courage is still key.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Recovering from severe injuries sustained in battle for many veterans is about a lot more than just getting back to work. It's about getting back to a sense of having a full life. And that's exactly what some veterans found on a soccer field not far from this spot. And that's where photojournalist Jeremy Moorhead found them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPC. MATTHEW CASTILLO DEL MURO, U.S. ARMY: You go out there thinking I'm going to be OK. I'm going to come home safe. But then all of a sudden something happens to you and everything just like slow motion. I was in Afghanistan. We were running an overnight patrol on a previous blast site. I would lead the squad clearing the road and stuff for bombs. It was really dark. I couldn't see anything so I was just going off the beeping noise and the light on the metal detector. I just remember I was looking down at the ground and I see a bright flash. I couldn't see anything because the dust was everywhere. It took me about 30 seconds to realize I stepped on an IED. I've never felt that amount of pain, so I didn't know if I was going to die or live.

RICK HOLMANN, AMERICAN AMPUTEE SOCCER/VIETNAM VETERAN: Have a good day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just about ready to start. You'll notice the guys in the green shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my first time playing soccer ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are all wounded warriors who have lost their limbs in Afghanistan.

HOLMANN: What's going on today is we're having a friendly match between the U.S. national amputee soccer team and a team from Haiti. It is part of a three-day effort here to give something back to the U.S. veterans that are in Walter Reed hospital, show them how the game is played, show them that they can look forward to playing this game even if they were wounded in action.

MURO: I have a soccer background. Three of the guys came up to me and asked me to play on their team today. And they were just like, hey, we'd be honored if you would put on this jersey and play for us. So of course I'm going to say yes because I love this game. After the injury, I was kind of thinking I'm not going to be able to play any of the things I love to play. And when I heard about this, I jumped onboard right away. I was excited.

I can't believe he got that.

HOLMANN: When I see these guys coming into Walter Reed with the combat injuries, I understand that there's been a lot of trauma. That they are in a new configuration, they're in a new body and they're not quite sure what they're going to be able to do with it. One of the things that drives us is to say, OK, you're in a new configuration. That doesn't mean you have to be limited in your competitive nature.

When I lost my leg, I really didn't know what there was to do. I literally forgot I was on crutches. I forgot that I had no leg. With a shoe and a shin guard and two crutches, they can become world class athletes. It's hope, it's participation.

MURO: We got a last-minute goal in, that was an amazing header, and we ended up winning it.

HOLMANN: It's opening a door to the future they may not have thought they had.

CROWD: USA! USA!

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: And with that, on behalf of all the excellent photojournalists here at CNN, our thanks to the Washington Navy yard for having us here today and to all who have served our country over all these years. I'm Tom Foreman. Thanks for watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)