We’ve received an outpouring of responses to our most recent blog post by Nelson Linscott, and are pleased to share the second installment of the series, A Shoaler in the Making. We think you’ll appreciate reading about Nelson’s life and experience leading up to his first trip to Star as much as we did. His story is incredible, but relatable still – especially if you have a beloved pet or have ever felt anxiety before visiting a new place.
A Shoaler in the Making, Part 2 by Nelson Linscott
“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen
From the day I received word that I was the Veteran’s Raffle winner, all things seemed brighter, the sun seemed to follow me. I had six months to wait. There were some obstacles, however. My dog Baxter had been injured, tearing his rear right leg’s tendons. The injury was inoperable. He also had contracted a tick borne illness, canine anaplasmosis, and to top it off, hypothyroidism. I was also broke. Dog veterinarians and treatment for Baxter’s ailments would cost hundreds, maybe thousands, and there was no guarantee he would walk again. I was carrying him. I couldn’t leave Baxter at home with a sitter to go to Star Island. I contacted Star and let them know I would have to decline. The good people of Star Island wouldn’t hear of it! “You can bring Baxter with you!”, they said! I was amazed and so grateful. One problem solved! The next problem was carrying Baxter. Though he is a mini aussie, he is heavy. I have degenerative disc disease and I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry Baxter around the island without further injury to myself and Baxter, if I fell. At the same time, my friends in Kittery rallied together and started a Go Fund Me account, and in a day I had money for Baxter’s medical care. The first purchase was a dog stroller. Now, I could get around. At the vet, Baxter was prescribed medications for the anaplasmosis and the hypothyroidism. The diagnosis for his leg was grim. He may never walk again. I thought, time heals most things, “all things must pass.” After the week at Star Island, I would pursue other possibilities and treatment. At least Baxter was going to get a vacation, a change of scenery, and that may be the best medicine at all. We also had months before we left on the trip.
With things falling into place, my excitement was evident. I hadn’t had a vacation since I retired. Disability doesn’t provide a lucrative existence. I lived payday to payday. I began reading all things Star Island. I began a journal. With my usual enthusiasm, I planned for the day to board the Thomas Laighton. With months to go, I began to worry.
*Note: The following paragraph describes a scene during Nelson’s time in the Vietnam War. We are mindful that such descriptions can be triggering for some, and invite you to skip ahead to the *End note if preferred
I had won the Veteran’s Raffle. I had a terrible time in Vietnam. I was a top secret courrier in a helicopter unit during the time Saigon was being evacuated. I was chosen for a secret mission. I would be flown from my kaserne in Germany on several different aircraft, ultimately landing on an aircraft carrier. Two guards and I would then fly by helicopter piloted by my friend, commanding officer, and copilot, from the carrier to the target in Saigon, land on the building, and we would take the ladder to a lower floor. I would open the safe, retrieve the contents, and climb to the roof and depart. What could go wrong? Plenty. As we approached the building, we started taking on small arms fire. We landed quickly and the three of us jumped out and headed for the hatch in the roof, which was open. The helicopter suddenly left due to the live fire from the street. That was not a part of the plan. We made our way to the safe. I had been trained for months in Germany for this. As I knelt on the floor, I noticed a small amount of Vietnamese money on the floor. I scooped it up and pocketed it as a souvenir. I pulled my .45 and placed it on the floor, a move that saved my life. I began opening the safe from the memorized combination. As I began dialing the second number, there was a bang so loud it disoriented me. My ears rang and gunpowder smoke floated in the air. Instinctively, in a flash, I grabbed my .45 and took two shots. Two people hit the floor. It was then I realized my guard on the right had been shot and killed. I was covered in blood and tissue. The guard to my left was standing clutching his M-16 in shock. I screamed, “Bob, guard the door! Wake up!!” I began redialing the combination. The safe opened and I retrieved the paperwork. “Let’s go!” I howled. On the way out, I looked at the two Vietnamese on the floor. They looked young. I gasped. We left our comrade on the floor, made our way up to the flat roof. No helicopter! I thought we were dead. Then, in about two minutes, which seemed like an hour, I heard the blades of the UH-1 helicopter. It landed and we dove in. My guard was quietly crying. I was silent. I noticed my .45 was missing. I forgot it on the floor. I thought, “Oh well, they will understand.” When I got back to Germany two days later, I was written up for leaving my .45. The information I had retrieved was useless. The day we performed the mission, the Vietcong overran Saigon. Our deceased guard’s body was not retrieved. I was not happy. Depression sunk in. I hoped that almost 40 years later, after winning the Veterans Raffle, I would not be asked to speak too fondly of “my service” or asked about details of it. My feelings were still complicated, though this was the first time I had ever been recognized in a good way for my army time. It was a beginning of a healing process, decades later. It started on Star Island.
I also have several medical problems. My back was in tatters. The effects of my bout with cancer, though I am cancer free now, concerned me. I am almost deaf and even when I do hear, many times I cannot understand. It is almost like trying to communicate with a person speaking a different language. Crowds scared me a bit and I depend on disposable catheters to urinate. I take several medications. “What a pair! Baxter and his buddy, both limping their way across Star Island. This ought to be a sight!” I had to ensure I had enough medical supplies to last the week. What about privacy while I use my catheters? Though I still had maximum enthusiasm, I worried. I decided to open up about my condition before I went. By email, since I can’t hear well on the telephone, I explained. I communicated to several people at the island. I had never talked to any organization in my life with the professionalism, empathy, and compassion as exhibited by the crew at Star Island. I was assured that no matter what I needed, it would be provided. I felt the love before I boarded the boat. The sun shined brilliantly and the love reverberated in my heart. I had an innate feeling of love not just for Star Inland, but for the people who work there. I had found my flower in life.