When he enlisted in the United States Army in 1970, Tyrone Chatman had never even heard of Vietnam.

As a seventeen-year-old east side kid and a first-hand witness to Detroit’s 1968 riots, he figured that the military might be a way out of some troubled waters, ones he was experiencing personally and within the city of Detroit. 

In ways it was, but in other ways, his war experience affected every aspect of his life and personality, and continues to affect him to this day.

His story may not be typical of all Vietnam vets, but it is a riveting overview of the experiences that many dealt with, especially African Americans.  His return to the United States after ten months in country was filled with the same lack of respect and gratitude that most Vietnam vets suffered, but as a black man, he came back to a country that continued to treat him as a second-class citizen. 

And that had its own set of issues.

“I was part of the MACV advisory team 48—Military Assistance Command, Vietnam,” he says. “I had the ability to call in air strikes, to call up the military.  When I came back to Detroit, I was just another face on the street.  I felt like I didn’t belong here any more.   I felt powerless.  Defenseless.”

As such, he went through a long period of insecurity and nearly ‘re-upped’ for another tour.  During that period, he became acutely aware that the help that many Vietnam vets needed (this was an era before ‘post traumatic stress syndrome’ was a widely understood affliction) was simply not available. 

“I found that I missed not only the authority I had in Vietnam, but also the camaraderie of my fellow soldiers.  I remember countless times where all of us, black, white, it made no difference, pulled together for a mission.  We were all equals—the bullets don’t care what color you are, and we all seemed to understand that.  I am telling you, if we could find that same sense of brotherhood on the streets today, life would be awesome.”
Instead of signing on for another tour of duty, Tyrone obtained a social work degree from Wayne State University and began to assist fellow vets in coping with the daily stresses of returning to a nation that didn’t seem particularly eager to thank them for their service.

“I never understood that,” Tyrone says.  “We weren’t politicians.  We weren’t commanders.  We were kids, essentially, doing what our country asked of us.”

Today, with thirty-three years of social work behind him, Tyrone is the Executive Director of the Michigan Veterans Foundation on Park Avenue in Detroit.  This non-profit agency offers counseling, substance abuse treatment and housing along with other services to Michigan vets, regardless of the conflict in which they served.

Tyrone maintains, “This has been an incredible opportunity to me; I would work with these vets for free if I could figure out how to manage it…  This is a chance for all of us who have served our country to come together and meet our challenges as a team.  That, more than anything else, is the lesson I learned as a soldier… and it serves me to this day.”

Michigan Veterans Foundation
2770 Park Avenue
Detroit MI  48201


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