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Helping Other Veterans – Danny Lara



By Larry Williams

 

The sights, sounds, and smells of war are some of the many things that stick with combat veterans. They all seem to cope with its aftereffects in different ways. Danny Lara, a decorated disabled veteran of Vietnam, “wanted to help other veterans”. While coping with his own PTSD, he wanted to help other veterans suffering from the same affliction as a result of their time in war. He knew what they were going through and worked hard to let his fellow combat veterans know that they were not alone. Help was available, and, over the years, he has helped numerous veterans get that help.


Danny Lara was born on January 14, 1947, to David and Aurora Lara in Thrall, Texas.  Twelfth born of 13 siblings, young Lara had to work hard. His father, who emigrated from Mexico in 1918, wanted a better life and opportunities for his family. He knew the value of an education. Danny also learned the value of hard work in his formative years. 

His family provided labor on various farms. In the summer, the family migrated to Wisconsin to pick cherries and harvest cucumber fields. The last three siblings of the large family graduated from high school. Danny graduated from Frenship High School in 1965. He was one of two captains on the football team, played basketball, and ran track.  He attended Texas Tech from 1965 to 1966, but a college education would have to wait.


Drafted into the Army in 1967, Lara’s basic and Advanced Infantry Training was at Ft. Polk in Louisiana, aka “Tiger Land”.  He received his orders for Vietnam, and after a leave at home, he was on his way. From Ft. Lewis, Washington, he flew to Alaska and then Japan, finally landing at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. He was sent to Long Binh for training and assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, Mobile Riverine Forces’ “Bear Cat” location. “I was assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, Mobile Riverine Force. We were put on an Army Troop Carrier (ATC) like the ones used to make amphibious landings during WWII, where the ramp would come down and we’d hit the shoreline. We would go on ‘search and destroy’ and ‘search and seize’ missions up and down the Mekong Delta. Helicopters would sometimes pick us up and take us for three-day missions.”   Danny was involved in several of these missions during his nine months and 26 days in Vietnam.


Remembering the day that he was wounded, Danny explained, “On March 8, 1969, we were on a ‘search and destroy’ mission. We had just been dropped off by the ATC at a rice paddy where several Huey’s picked us up and took us to our mission location. We were hit by a 105 (105mm artillery shell) booby trap. It exploded and killed the machine gunner in front of me. I fell to the ground. I couldn’t hear. I felt my left arm but couldn’t move it. Both of my legs were broken, and I had multiple shrapnel wounds all over my body. Our squad had three killed and ten wounded. I was evacuated by Huey to Dong Tam and then taken to a ship at Ben Hoa. They took off my left arm, and I was put in a full body cast. I had a tube in my lungs and couldn’t talk. They kept putting me to sleep.  I was sent to a hospital in Japan and was flown back to a base in Colorado and then on to Brooks Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio where they sawed off my body cast. One of my legs was now shorter than the other, so I was in traction for two months. I stayed at Brooks until I was discharged.”  Spec 4 Lara was placed on the Permanent Disability Retired List on November 28, 1969. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (the one with a “V” for valor), the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Marksman Badge, the Sharpshooter Badge and the Good Conduct Medal.  While Lara’s recovery was very slow, he wanted to return to college and have a career helping other veterans.


Lara returned to Lubbock and enrolled at South Plains College but had to drop out after two weeks due to an infection and ensuing surgery on his left leg. In all, he has had six surgeries on his left leg. Danny returned to Texas Tech in 1972 but had to drop out again because of another surgery. He was finally able to graduate from Texas Tech in 1973. He was employed by the Department of Veteran Affairs as a social worker/counselor. He met Velma “Cissy” Ceballos at the South Plains Mall in Lubbock and told a friend, “I’m going to marry that girl!” He did indeed marry her in 1975. They have one daughter, Rebecca. Lara obtained his master's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in 1981, specializing in psychopathology. This degree led him to become a Mental Health Coordinator, specializing in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder that he himself has suffered through. He established the first PTSD group in West Texas and has worked with WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans. Throughout his VA career, Danny had continuous medical treatments and hospitalizations.  He finally retired in 2006 after 29 years of government service. 


Lara’s accomplishments and awards are numerous.  During his years at the VA, Danny was awarded the Presidential Award for Outstanding Community Achievement of a Vietnam Veteran in 1979 by then President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, he received the Secretary of the Veterans’ Administration’s Hand and Hearts Award. He was also named the Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employee of the Year in 1984 by then President Ronald Reagan. In 2015, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award for “one who makes a difference” from the Frenship Class of 1965. When asked what he would like to be remembered for, Danny said, “for helping other veterans”. Mission accomplished and then some, Mr. Lara.





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