Forgotten Fight Oral History Transcript

March 17, 2016

Interviewee’s Name: Richard L Deloch

Interviewer’s Name: Kelsey Glander

Transcribed by: Claire Stringam


KG: So can you tell me about yourself, where you grew up, about your family life growing up, and if you didn’t grow up in Richmond, when you came here and why.

RD: I grew up in Winston-Salem , North Carolina as a kid I lived there until I was 17 years old and I moved to Delaware with my sister and my father died we moved up there and I moved up there, went to high school for 6 months, graduated high school and right after high school, I joined the United Stated Army.

KG: How did your family feel about that?

RD: They were happy about it because the city was kind of fast, it was a fast life and I was a country boy. They used to tease me about my accent and all that so they were pretty thrilled about it.

KG: What led to your decision to join?

RD: Really it wasn’t too many jobs and I hadn’t really thought about my career straight out of high school. I took ROTC so I kind of fell in love with the army lifestyle and discipline.

KG: Cool. So what was your training like?

RD: The training was pretty good, cause I was always an athletic kid. I was in pretty good shape. I could do a lot of push-ups and everything so that was pretty easy part.

KG: Do you have any specific memories from training that really stood out to you?

RD: Yeah, I was on guard duty one night and got sprayed by a skunk. I was in Ft.  Sill (?) Oklahoma and it was real dark, I mean pitch black dark and I stepped on something and heard a noise and then got the smell and it was like…I never forgot that.

KG: So once you finished your training, what was your job in the military?

RD: I was a 13 Bravo which is a cannon crewman, I was field artillery. I drove a tank for 3 years.

KG: Did you like that?

RD: Yeah it was fun, it was fun at first. I guess when we went overseas with like the training exercise, it was extra cold in Germany and it’s just staying out in the woods a lot. I got used to it after a while but it was kind of hectic at first.

KG: So they stationed you in Germany, they move you anywhere else?

RD: I was in Ft Sill Oklahoma for Basics, then I went to Bamburg Germany then I went to Ft Pope Louisiana.

KG: Can you tell me a little about your experiences in those places?

RD: Germany was real nice; I really got a chance to see the world. We went on leave a lot.  I went to Rome, Spain, Japan, and Korea. It was good to see other cultures.  Some places welcome the armed forces and some places didn’t, so it was a challenging experience.

KG: Can you expand a little bit on that?

RD: Well some places in Germany they didn’t like American soldiers because they felt as though we would come over and deal with their daughters or their wives and then once we leave the service we just take off and leave families behind and stuff like that. Then there was some that was really caring they applauded what we was trying to do, the protection and stuff like that.

KG: So tell me a little more about your job when you were in Germany specifically.

RD: In Germany we was more like on guard duty, like military patrol.  We would patrol the bases. When something happened in the German community they would call us in to protect and keep peace basically.

KG: How long were you in the Service?

RD: 3 years.

KG: Are there things that you miss about being in the military?

RD: I miss the, I guess I would call it the freedom. It’s not like you really had a lot to worry about cause you knew what your job was every day. You wouldn’t had to worry about being fired or laid off. I had the chance to meet some real nice men from all over the world, we became real good friends.

KG: Do you keep in contact with any of them now?

RD: A few of them.

KG: What are they up to?

RD: One of my main friends he’s in Coatsville PA. He works at the VA hospital there. He got his nursing degree and we talk maybe once every two or three months.  I went and saw him last year. He’s doing good. He’s got a family, grandkids. It’s real nice, real nice friend.

KG: Did your military service change your world for you?

RD: I would say it did because I was, I guess I was exposed to different cultures and different like, it seems like drinking went hand in hand with military because that’s basically what the fellas did every weekend after work and whatever.  It changed my life as far that aspect. It also made me more strong, more disciplined. It taught me how to save money as well, manage money. I really had a chance to save money.

KG: Why did you leave the military?

RD: I had an honorable discharge. My son was born when I was in the military, my first child. I had brought her; I was in Ft Pope, LA at the time. I was going to reenlist and she brought my son down to visit me just a month before I was supposed to get out because I wanted to stay, we knew we was going to get married. She didn’t like LA so she went back to the states. It was just a big mix up so I just end up just getting out. I would say now I think that was a mistake, I really do, but I can’t’ change it, can’t change it.

KG: So what did you do upon exiting the military?

RD: I got out of the military. I became a correctional officer for a few years – 2 years. I started having problems. [interruption]  I started drinking heavily when I was a guard at the prison, I end up making wrong decisions. I started making money from the outside, bringing it inside. I got caught and they gave me a choice to resign or be prosecuted so I got out of that field. So I went to school and got my asbestos license. I was an asbestos technician removal for like 3 years or so. The money was good and my relationship had went down the drain. I basically lost my family for a while so I started drinking more and more and I introduced to drugs and things started spiraling downhill. The money that I was making I was spending it as fast as I got it. I ended up, I found a checkbook and I forged a check, matter of fact I forged a couple checks. I was handing them out to people for them to cash and get the money. It was a stupid thing now that I think about it but they all turned on me. I ended up doing some time in the penitentiary for it, which I didn’t have to do because I was new to the system. I didn’t know anything about the system so I could’ve just taken a plea bargain and paid the money back, but my lawyer, the public defender, talked me into it “Let’s take it to trial”. I got slammed for four years. I did almost 3 years before I got out.

KG: How did you end up in Richmond?

RD: Well, I was living in Delaware and my sister, my oldest sister lives in the south Boston area and I just got tired of Delaware so I asked her I said “well look.” I had a heart attack when I was in Delaware, and I told her I was tired of living in the city, can I move down and she was like “Pack your bags and come on.”

KG: How long have you been here?

RD: I moved down here in 2011.

KG: How did you become homeless?

RD: I was taking care of an elderly person, part of our family. I took care of her for like 3.5 years. She got real sick and she couldn’t stay home alone so they put her in a nursing home so I was taking care of the house for a while but I was on disability and the money that I was receiving wasn’t enough to cover the whole household. So I had to make different plans, different arrangements. I think I stayed there for 3-4 weeks after that, til everything got shut off cause I couldn’t pay the bills.

KG: Where did you stay after that?

RD: After that, I got on the phone; I called down here to Veteran’s administration and I was just lookin for, I got on the crisis line matter of fact and called the homeless line for veterans and they asked me where I was at.

I told them I was in south Boston area and they told me everything you can deal with is up in the Richmond area. So I just packed a bag and jumped on a bus and came to the bus station and went to Maguire and started talking to a homeless outreach advisor.

I stayed in the shelter for maybe 2-3 nights, something like that, and one of them told me about Mr. Fletcher here and I called him up and talked to him on the phone, we had a brief conversation and I came in the next day and talked with him, like the story I’m telling you and he was like, “Come on in!” and I been here I think I got here in December.

KG: So how long was that process, from the time when you lost the house to when you came here and worked?

RD: About 3 weeks.

KG: You mentioned working with the VA, how does working with them compare to working with other organizations?

RD: It seem like  it was more opportunities, you know,  even though they did have waitin lists for a lot of shelters, the veterans was like put like put a little bit up on the scale. I don’t think if I wasn’t a veteran, I don’t think I would have had help that quick.

KG: Can you tell me about your first day here?

RD: My first day, to be honest with you, I was tired. I was mentally drained, really, because I worry a lot. And here I am in Richmond and I don’t know a soul. I don’t know a soul so I was like, you know I always saw Richmond on the news about shootings and all this and I was like “Oh god, I gotta be in a house before it get dark.” Just a whole bunch of things was going through my mind.  It really wasn’t like that but it was, it was real encouraging and I met Jay and I met Mr. Fletcher and Kathy and everybody, they welcomed me with open arms. It was like, “Anything I can do for you let me know, anything anything , anything.” It got to the point where I was like “Is something wrong with me? Why everyone keep saying “anything you need”. It’s like am I missing something?”  But it really wasn’t like that, they was just reaching out to me.

KG: Can you tell me about the day that you lost the house?

RD: I lost it the day she left really, but the when the lights went out that part just, and it was cold too. I was like, I had a choice, I have a daughter that lives in Delaware, and she was like “dad you can come back here.” But I was like “I don’t wanna go back there.  I had some very trying times. I don’t wanna go backwards.”  so I was just, I pray  a lot, I’m a god fearin’ man, so I just hit my knees every night and I asked “God help me out. Help me, help me.” And he answered my prayers, he answered my prayers.

KG: What is the hardest part about not having your own home?

RD: I guess it’s the privacy and being able to come and go and then you have to deal with other people’s personalities, and problems, likes and dislikes. I always had my own but it’s just like going back to the military days when you with a whole bunch of guys [undistinguishable].

KG: Do you think your military training prepared you at all for this situation?

RD: Oh yes, oh yes. I don’t think I would be able to deal with it, because the military made me a people person. It gave me a lot of discipline, a lot of patience. I don’t think if wouldn’t a went through the military and had the experience, I don’t think I would have patience with this. I’m pretty sure I woulda left by now. Pretty sure I would have.

KG: What’s your daily life like now? What do you do from day?

RD: Well, I just completed school. I just graduated school, got my supervisor’s asbestos license back.  I’ve just been doing a lot of computer work and submitting applications. I have 3 job offers now. Basically I’m just doing things, I’m trying to find a house or apartment or whatever. It’s very productive. I don’t just lay around. I can’t sit still. I gotta be doing something. I try to volunteer around, do little things, whatever need to be done, give back to the community so to speak. I’m grateful for what I’ve been given since I’ve been here, so anything need to be done, I’m the first one on board with it.

KG: How do you feel about charity in general?

RD: Charity is fine; I used to have an issue with it at first because it made me feel as though, that I was helpless or hopeless. But now it’s to the point that, it used to be, back in the day, awhile back, that charity was welcome. I used to look for handouts and people giving out free stuff, free things but now, if I don’t need it, I don’t take it. I don’t bother with it.

KG: Why do you feel the need to give back?

RD: I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, you know and I’ve been in situations that I know if god wasn’t with me I woulda never made it out of it, so I just thank god for just protecting me, keeping me under his wings because I see so many soldiers that been through some of the same things that I’ve been through, drugs and alcohol, and they lose their mind. And I just thank god that I’m still able to learn. The things that I’ve been through, I’m surprised I even have a brain to be honest with you.

KG: So what are some of your goals for the future?

RD: Well I have four grandkids and I wanna get back into the work environment and own my own home one day. Get my license back and get me a car, pickup truck or whatever and just live life on life terms. Raise my grandkids.

KG: Do they live close?

RD: They live in Delaware.

KG: What types of barriers did you feel like you faced as a homeless veteran during that period before you were housed, or even now?

RD: I would say that the finances are not that great. And I know the cost of living up here is higher and the housing market is a little bit higher than it was further down south. I would say some of the barriers are, I just don’t like going behind other veterans who have been offered services from different places they get it and abuse it and then that same company might say “well hey look, somebody else did it like that, he might be trying to do the same thing.” Like misrepresented it or something like that.

KG: How do you feel that the fact that you’re a homeless veteran, currently housed, shapes the way that others think about you?

RD: Some people, I think they look at you different in some ways, but a lot of people don’t know that I am homeless. I don’t really talk about it. It’s not that I’m a private person, but I feel as though some things you just don’t have to mention unless it comes your way, because people will judge you and stereotype you by that.

KG: How do you feel about those judgements and stereotypes? What are some of the things that come to mind?

RD: It’s hurtful. It’s hurtful. It makes me think “Wow, am I really that person that they say I am, or classify me as?” Because a lot of people say people who are homeless, they have to have a problem. People are homeless because you just can’t pay your bills, you have nobody else left. It don’t have to drug, and alcohol and mental issues. It’s a whole lot of different reasons why.

KG: I think a lot of people don’t realize that they themselves are only one paycheck away from being homeless.

RD: Exactly.

KG: What do you think civilians particularly don’t know about the experience of veterans? What would you want them to know?

RD: I would want them to know that we are hard fightin people. I mean, we put our life on the line, you know, a lot of people step over a veteran or say, well  just because they see a veteran with a sign they say “Oh he just wanna get something to drink or something.” There’s a lot of us that really, we are genuine people. We are more than a social security number.

KG: In general, why do you think that veterans become homeless?

RD: I think the military have a lot to do with it, because a lot of us went in when we was young and had some experiences that we never experience before, and it’s like, it’s a big change from everyday living you know.  It makes you stronger too, and some people it makes weaker. It all depends on the frame of mind that a person is in, you know. For the veteran’s that been through war, if you never seen a dead body before then all of a sudden you see your best friend get their head blown off, that’s enough to just, you know, that’s shocking right there. Even though I was in peace time but I still hear the stories. My father was in the war time. My father got messed up with it as well. My father was an alcoholic behind that.

KG: Is there anything in life that you regret?

RD: Yes, picking up that first drug.

KG: What are you most proud of?

RD: Being alive. Being alive.

KG: What are some of your favorite memories since you exited the military?

RD: My first job and owning my own home. I had my own home at one point in time. My first home, my first car. Everything was paid. Just having ownership to something. That was actually my first time really owning stuff.

KG: Do you have people here who you hang out with and talk to every day?

RD: Yeah, the gentleman that just left. Mr. Stewart, that’s my right hand man. Mr Jay, Mr Fletcher, Kathy. There’s a few more brothers up there that we talk, we interact.

KG: Do you find it’s easy to make friends in your current situation?

RD: Yes. Some certain people, their goals are not the same. Some of us come here to go to school and do what we have to do and that’s mostly people that I have more in common with. That’s the most people I really hang out with.

KG: Do you ever feel lonely?

RD: Yes.

KG: What do you do to cope with that?

RD: I read my bible.

KG: Elaborate on that, what does it bring you?

RD: It calms me down, it brings me peace. It puts my patience back into me cause sometimes I can be over hyped but I read my bible and say “Peace be still.” And I just calm down and get back into myself.

KG: Have you always been religious?

RD: Yes. Strayed the path but I was born in the church every Sunday.

KG: Is there anything else you’d like to share with me about your experience?

RD: I just like to say something about this place. This place is wonderful. I feel as though this place has really turned my life around. I think if I would’ve went anywhere else I don’t think I would have came as far and as quick as I did since I been here. They tapped me into the right resources. It’s like almost too good to be true sometimes but you know, I know it’s a plan. It’s all a plan. I thank God for this place.

KG: Is there a specific moment of that that stands out to you?

RD: Yeah, because I’m on disability, my plan was to get a job but I knew if I get a job that’s just an ordinary job like that then I would be cut off from my benefits. Then the asbestos clicked in my mind. I was like “That’s a pretty good job.” Even though it’s toxic, but hey, I know how to do it. Then I talked with the agencies and they was like “if you wanna go to school we’ll pay for the school.” They paid, they wrote me out a check. They paid for my school. They paid for my license and everything and all I had to do was just open my mouth.

KG: Are you currently licensed or are you getting…?

RD: I graduated and got my certificate. Now you have to send off another check to get the license from the state of Virginia. So they should be here any day now. I had job offers before I even got my license back.

KG: That’s great. Do you have an idea of where you want to go with that?

RD: Yeah, it’s two companies in Rico (?) County and there’s another one, I just got another one, the other day in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech.

KG: It’s beautiful over there.

RD: Yeah, I was googling. I was looking it up. That one just came in on my email the other day. It’s good to have choices, you know what I mean? It’s good to have choices.

KG: Do you feel like there was a time in your life when you didn’t have many choices?

RD: Yes, oh yes.

KG: Can you talk about one of those experiences?

RD: I would say when I was bound down with my addiction. I felt hopeless. I felt like every day my only focus was to find out how I was going to get that fix. I wasn’t worried about anything, family, friends, nothing mattered but that. But now I thank god that I do have a good relationship with my family. That’s one thing. I burned a few bridges with family but it was repairable, you know, so I feel good about that.

KG: What helped you kick the addiction?

RD: I had a heart attack. 2006. I was in a crack house, smoking crack. I just got paid, pocket full of money, pocket full of drugs and everything. I just started breathing funny, started sweating. Everybody thought I was just, you know. I passed out on the floor and everybody left. They left me for dead on the floor. It just so happened, I was on the floor for like an hour so they told me before somebody else came in and instead of just leaving me there they called an ambulance and took me to the hospital. And they said, I’ll never forget it; they said “Relax, you’re having a heart attack.” How you gonna tell me to relax when I’m having a heart attack? That was March 13, 2006. I just asked God I said “If you help me do this I will never do it again.” Never happened. Never happened.

KG: So that’s what, 8 years now? 9? Congratulations, that’s awesome. I’m sorry that you had to have a heart attack.

RD: But it took that to…

KG:  Bring you around, and talk to God about it. So what did you do after the heart attack? What was your next move?

RD: After that I went to Coatsville (?), matter of fact with a friend of mine. He said “How you doing?”.  I stayed in the hospital about, I guess 4 months. But I had an incident with my surgery, anesthesia leaked into my arm and it left my arm paralyzed, so I had like four surgeries to release the tension. It still won’t go all the way. So I had to go through rehab all over again and learn how to use my arm all over again for like, almost a year so I went through that then I went to Coatsville (?) to a rehabilitation center. I was clean so I was trying to get a place up there but my time ran out so I could have stayed at another shelter but I moved. I didn’t stay up there.

KG: Where did you go next?

RD: I went to Delaware, got me another apartment, kept myself focused, spent more time with my kids and my grandkids. And I was just time to go; it was just time to go. I moved on in life

KG: Nothing wrong with that. Ok, that’s all I have for you unless you have anything else you want to talk about.

RD: No, I just want to thank you for listening to my story. I love your stories. Telling me your studies and everything.

KG: Thank you so much for talking to me.

RD: No problem.