Vet: ‘There’s a better way to do things’
VAIL ” The first thing you might notice about Rossi Moreau is his flowing mustache. Or his effusive friendliness ” he’ll shake your hand three different ways and pound your fist. Or the snowflake tattoo on his cheek, a badge that represents his love of skiing.
You’d have to look more closely to see the scars on his neck from the rocket shrapnel that hit him during the Tet Offensive. He would have to take off his jacket to show you the tattoo around his arm of clasped hands, a symbol of his desire for peace.
He has other wounds that are not visible. They hurt every day. Moreau has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since 1979.
Moreau, 60, served two tours of duty in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 as an Army Ranger.
He takes medicine every day, but he is resigned to the fact that he will never recover from the disorder. The symptoms began with sleeplessness. And when he did sleep, he dreamed of painful things he’d forgotten. Like holding a dying friend in his arms during combat.
“He called for his mom,” Moreau said. “I watched him die in my arms. It’s really hard watching someone die in your arms. All you can do is watch them die.”
Other times, he’s claustrophobic. He had to stop riding the bus because he couldn’t stand being enclosed with others in a small space.
“By the time I got to town I was ready to scream,” he said.
Maybe the depression is the worst.
“It’s just constant,” he said. “I wake up in the morning, and it takes everything I have to get up. What gets me up is the fact that my animals are hungry.”
His three cats and his three weasels are dear companions to him.
Moreau has turned into a staunch opponent of the current war in Iraq, and war in general.
“There’s a better way to do things,” he said. “You just don’t have to kill people. It doesn’t accomplish anything. If you kill someone you carry that with you for the rest of your life. Every person that I killed I took their soul with me.”
This Veterans Day, Moreau is determined to educate others about the post-traumatic stress disorder and collect funds for research.
Moreau will be standing outside Safeway today and Sunday in a vintage 19th-century uniform from his 1st Cavalry Division collecting donations. His only rule is that passersby have to ask him a question ” any question ” about post-traumatic stress disorder.
Donations will go to the Vietnam Veterans of America for post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
A New Hampshire native, Moreau followed family tradition and enlisted in the Army.
“I wanted to do something,” he said. “I wanted to be in the action.”
As a Ranger, he sought out the positions of enemies with his 11-man team. While he liked serving with his fellow soldiers, he quickly realized that he opposed the war.
“I found out the war was political,” he said.
And he sees a lot of parallels between Vietnam and the war in Iraq.
“Vietnam was semi-political,” he said. “This is totally political. It is a war based on oil. A lot of guys are dying for a cause that’s not worthy.”
Though he opposes the current war, he supports the troops there 100 percent, he said.
Moreau, who is now retired, has lived in Vail since 1970. He still skis more than 150 days a year, and has owned a couple of ski shops in Vail over the years. He’s also been a ski patroller, a ski instructor, a ski racer and a hot-dog freestyler. Skiing saved his life, he said.
In the summer, he often mountain bikes down Vail Mountain.
“I just like speed,” he said. “I like to understand how things function with speed.”
Or he’s fly-fishing the Gore Creek near his home. He has kissed thousands of fish and let them go, he said.
Or he’s hiking into the Gore Range to fish or simply “check on fauna” or look for wildfires.
Or he’s writing his memoirs, titled “Screaming Across the Great Divide,” which chronicle his adventures from when he was a young boy through Vietnam. He spends about three hours a day writing, he said.
Local vets visits schools every year on Veterans Day, but Moreau said he won’t join them. Those events send the wrong message to kids, he said.
“It propagates heroism and war,” he said. “You don’t have to kill people to be a warrior.”
Ace Hardware, Axel’s, Colorado Footwear, Kemo Sabe and Shooter Ltd. donated items for Moreau’s costume.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.