In Rochester, baseball is salve for the wounds of war

The Vietnam War isn’t over for a lot of people and the Rochester Post-Bulletin‘s lovely feature about Ray Winkels is proof of that.

Ray is in a wheelchair thanks to Vietnam.

“I saw shrapnel metal flying around everyone one night,” Winkels tells the PB. “They shot a big hole in our carrier truck. We’d sleep in a bunker at night, with mosquito netting on top of you. And you never knew when Charlie was going to drop one on you.”

For the past 49 years, he says he’s been trying to get his life back together. He still has a hard time trusting people, he says.

He wasn’t physically hurt in Vietnam. His nerves were shot, causing balance issues. Sixteen years ago, he landed in a wheelchair.

He has one source of joy, however. Baseball.

He’s an umpire. In a wheelchair.

“I didn’t want to just sit around the house,” said Winkels, who has umpired youth baseball for the last 12 years. “I like baseball very much and I like seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when they’re playing.”

He calls balls and strikes while connected to an oxygen tank, the result of exposure to Agent Orange, he thinks.

It’s a good Friday read.

  • Angry Jonny

    Thanks for this, Bob. Baseball saves another life.

    Also, Agent Orange is a son of a bitch. My brother-in-law served in the Navy during Vietnam, discharged in 1974. He moved back to Minnesota, married my sister, and worked for a Community Action Agency for 40 years. His retirement gift? Leukemia, caused by exposure to-you guessed it-Agent Orange.

    Our Federal Government has a long way to go towards making this particular wrong right for so many vets.

    • Erik Petersen

      Agent Orange is an SOB….

      My father and extended family of uncles are all being compensated in some ways now, and that’s kind of an undereported story out there… what I’d characterize as the sheer breadth of the VA’s interaction with this generation at this time.

      I dunno, listen to the news and the VA has a terrible reputation. Old guys I know seem to feel they are getting responsive attention.

      • Angry Jonny

        My bro-in-law says the same of the VA. Loves them, has been very good to him. I think there’s more owed, however, besides medical attention and treatment.

      • Nato Coles

        One of the two major political parties has an ideological interest in making the VA look as bad as possible, whenever possible, so that it can be “fixed” via privatization.

        • Erik Petersen

          I know, that’s true. And I am somewhat sympathetic to elements of crabby scrooge Republicanism. So this ends up being a truth discernment exercise for me. Ya know, who am I going to believe, my dad and my uncles or the press, what we might ironically call the sensationalist ‘fake news’ in this case.

          Obviously there’s some problems but what I observe is the VA fairly earnestly trying to meet its commitment with vets, and that the relationship is valued by the vets in its current form…. it should stay ‘the VA’.

    • JamieHX

      Yes, thanks, Bob. Very nice story.
      My oldest brother came home seemingly ok from Vietnam but died from liver cancer about 20 years later. He had had exposure to Agent Orange, but the doctors could only speculate about the possible connection. I guess it’s hard to know for sure with at least some ailments.
      It was only after he was gone that we sadly realized he hadn’t been entirely ok in other ways too.

  • John F.

    You’re right, it is a great story for a Friday.

    Thank you for bringing attention to Vietnam vets.

  • Erik Petersen

    Baseball is a salve for alot of things, BTW

    • merry_rose

      Yes it is.

  • Nato Coles

    Thanks for this story, this was great!

  • Erik Petersen

    Other thing that people don’t know generally… youth and amateur umpiring is paying work, and it pays a meaningful amount of money for what you’e doing… in cash. like $60 – $100 bucks a game for 2-3 hours of work.

    So thats good.