Rescue cat helps relieve Vietnam veteran of painful war memories

Rescue cat helps relieve Vietnam veteran of painful war memories

For decades Bill has dealt with painful war memories of his service in Vietnam. The former Navy corpsman who was dedicated to preserving life was confronted with the destructive and deadly realities war.

Now many years later a playful rescue cat provides moments of levity and peace, as well as much needed companionship for Bill and his resident cat.

A life well lived

Virginia Beach has been home to Bill for the majority of his life. It is where he was based during the Vietnam War and now where he enjoys a quiet, yet busy retirement.

“I’m a 74 year-old disabled vet retiree from the Navy,” he says. “I’ve lived in Virginia Beach on and off for 40 years. I kept coming back between deployments. I worked in the medical field for 30 years, and loved to travel and play golf.”

In 1990 Bill turned his twin passions into a business when he launched his own travel and golf company.

“I set up package deals for travel to the Caribbean Islands, which included airfare, car rental, hotels, and golfing on four-day or week-long stays.”

Over the years the Navy veteran would marry and have a son. His wife has since passed away, but Bill considers himself fortunate to have his only child nearby.

“I’m a widower now,” he says, “and my son is married and lives close to me.”

See the world

Bill still remembers the Navy’s old recruiting slogan.

“Join the Navy and see the world,” he says. And so he did.

During his service Bill was deployed to the Far East, Europe, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. But it would be his deployments to Vietnam that resulted in painful war memories that he carries to this day.

“I was a Navy corpsman and did two tours of Vietnam,” he shares. “At that time in my career, I was a surgical assistant. My first tour was aboard the hospital ship [USS] Sanctuary, but my second tour was in country with the Navy’s version of a MASH hospital.”

Guerilla combat forced the United States military to develop mobile medical units that could be deployed nearly anywhere in country. MUSTS, or Medical Unit Self-Contained Transportables, were semi-permanent structures that could be expanded to accommodate various medical disciplines.

However, in 1968 all such units were ordered to be fully mobile, making them more akin to the traditional MASH, or Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals.

The painful memories of war

Decades later Bill can still recall one of the most harrowing experiences of his wartime deployments.

“The scariest moment for me was when I could hear big guns and small arms fire going on in the distance while we were operating. Two days after we left the village we were set up in, the Viet Cong captured the town.”

Other perilous events would follow. It is a reminder that military personnel risk life and limb, even when they are not engaged directly in combat themselves.

One of Bill’s final duty stations was aboard a guided missile destroyer.

“Thanksgiving Day 1981 we crossed the North Atlantic and ran into a storm. A destroyer can take up to 54 degrees of roll before it becomes to top heavy,” he explains. “We were doing 45-degree rolls.”

Fortunately the ship did not capsize, but the storm left many sick and injured sailors in its wake.

“We had to set up a line that went from the bow to the stern so people could walk on the bulkheads. I remember looking out one porthole into the ocean and the opposite one to the sky,” Bill recalls. “Needless to say, I was a busy corpsman that day.”

When two are better than one

It is no surprise that a man who spent his military service saving lives is now devoted to saving animals in need.

Since separating from the Navy Bill has always adopted from animal shelters.

“And I adopt a male and female together. I try to get bonded pairs if possible,” he explains. “I just want to give them a chance for a good healthy life with space to run and play, good food, lots of pets, and a place to rest when they are tired.”

Bonded pairs are animals who have a strong connection such that it is preferable that they remain together for life. They may have been littermates, lived in the same home, or developed a special relationship if they were kenneled together at a shelter.

So powerful are bonded pairs that one animal can suffer depression when it is separated from or outlives the other. Such was the case for Bill’s male cat, Tab.

“He lost his bonded sibling in Florida prior to my move back to Virginia Beach, and was moping around the house feeling sorry for himself.”

Once the Navy veteran settled into his new home he started to look for a companion for Tab – and for himself as well. Pets have long been a comfort to Bill when painful war memories recur.

A feline friend

In early January 2022 Bill visited Norfolk SPCA. Since 2015 the shelter offers veterans in our program fee-waived adoptions when they save eligible dogs and cats.

The staff told the Navy veteran about our partnership and some of the various benefits available to him. As a retiree, he appreciates our mission to make pet adoption affordable for veterans and service members.

“Pets for Patriots is a good organization helping vets like me by providing the means to adopt at a reasonable price.”

A few weeks later Bill met then two year-old Jessa at Norfolk SPCA. She is a stunning Russian Blue cat with charcoal gray fur and piercing green eyes. Bill thought that the two year-old cat would be a fitting companion for Tab.

The Vietnam veteran finalized Jessa’s adoption, having already been accepted to our companion pet adoption program for veterans.

Bill thought he was adopting Jessa as a feline friend to Tab – and he was. However, he would find that she helped to keep painful war memories at bay as well.

Bonded for life

Jessa and Tab did not start out as a bonded pair, but now the two cats are inseparable. Their endless antics provides Bill with hours of entertainment.

Jessa in particular is always ready to stir the pot.

“She is a year younger than Tab, and is energetic and full of fun, which in turn gets Tab being more playful,” he says. “She is just a fun cat to be around and watch.”

Still, there are some things that the rescue cat just will not do. She plays a modified version of fetch with Bill, which means she never returns the ball.

“I roll a ball down the hallway and she will play with it, batting it around,” he shares. “I’m trying to get her to bat it back to me, but you know how that goes.”

However, Jessa does have her cat-like interests. Spying on birds and passersby is among her favorite things to do.

“She likes climbing up on the windowsills and looking out,” Bill says. “I live on the sixth floor of a high rise and the height doesn’t seem to bother her.”

“…a good thing”

Bill long ago recognized the innate healing power of companion pets. Ordinary dogs and cats who provide extraordinary benefit to their guardians simply through their presence.

The harsh and painful memories of war may never go away for this Vietnam veteran, but having four-legged family eases his emotional burden. For this and other reasons Bill hopes that his story inspires even one veteran to consider adopting a pet in need.

“I think that adopting through this program helps vets by reading their stories. Maybe it will resonate with what a person is going through and help,” he says. “Pets actually do take my mind off some of the experiences I have had, and that’s a good thing.”


  1. Mary Eaton

    You took a chance with Jessa not knowing how Tab would respond to the new housemate. All is well that ends well!
    May you have many enjoyable hours in your household, the three of you are good for one another thanks to Pets for Patriots program.
    Thank you for your years of service.

  2. Panda Johnson

    Thank you for your service, Bill. I’m very happy that you and Jessa found each other and can now live out your lives together. God bless you both!

  3. Candis Stern

    So glad to hear you adoped another cat. Please don’t give up on getting Jessa to return the ball when you play fetch. I’ve actually had 3 cats that played fetch; one even brought it back up when I threw it down the stairs. I still have that cat today, though he is almost 18 and has a lot of arthritis so doesn’t play fetch or jump anymore.
    You are so right; cats are endlessly entertaining in ways a dog could never match, though I love dogs, too.

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