GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — On Thomas Kuhar’s 19th birthday, he received five pieces of mail. Three were birthday cards, one was a letter of acceptance into Glassboro State Teachers College, and the other was a notice that he had been drafted into the Vietnam War.
Kuhar, now 70, wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life at 19. At the time, he was working for Owens-Illinois in Glassboro manufacturing bottle caps, trying to make enough money to continue his education.
“I didn’t have a lot of direction. I had aspirations for college, but I wasn’t fully committed,” Kuhar said. “I had considered the possibility of the military, too, and had met with recruiters before.”
The last recruiter Kuhar met with told him =he didn’t even have to bother enlisting, because they would already be coming to get him through the draft.
“Fortunately, I looked at it as if my country was calling me. I needed to go,” Kuhar said.
He noted that most of the people he met during his service had the same frame of mind he did.
He spent a year training stateside before being deployed to South Vietnam in December 1969, where he served in the Army as an infantry squad and platoon leader until September 1970.
“I was a babe in the woods. I had never even been on a plane before,” Kuhar said. “You mature pretty quickly.”
To his surprise, he was chosen for leadership school during basic training. He continued to ascend until he reached the rank of Sergeant E5.
After serving, Kuhar went to Goldey-Beacom College to study business. He ended up becoming CEO of the real estate development company Ole Hansen & Sons for a time.
“The way I saw it, my most important job was when I was very young. Later in life I was the CEO of a company with about 400 people working for it,” Kuhar said. “But to me, that was just money. In Vietnam, it was lives.”
Life after service was difficult at times for Kuhar. Unbeknownst to him, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“One time I remember another student was using a set of clackers in the school hallway and I dropped to the floor because it sounded exactly like AK-47 gunfire,” Kuhar said. “At work, I dove under my desk because airplanes outside sounded like artillery.”
When Kuhar was moving from his former home in Mays Landing to his current one in Galloway Township, a veteran’s advocate happened to come by to purchase some items Kuhar was not taking with him to his new home. They spoke, and the man suggested Kuhar go for a detailed physical.
Kuhar underwent physical and psychological testing, and that led to group therapy. He disliked group therapy, and decided to approach the psychologist separately to set up individual meetings.
“I wish people, especially veterans, understood that help was out there,” Kuhar said. “There was a period of more than 40 years where I was tight-lipped about what happened. They got me to speak about things I never spoke about before.”
Despite his experience with PTSD, Kuhar has plenty of good memories from his service, which he was proud to take part in.
“One of my pet peeves is Vietnam veterans always seem to be portrayed in a negative way,” Kuhar said. “My experience was not like that. I was with a lot of good guys that were there to serve their country.”