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THEN & NOW: Patrolling DMZ in Korea Readied Me for When My Son Was Blown Up in Iraq

A tradition of military service prepared this veteran for his current duty as caregiver

a family standing for a photo
Colleen Harju, Vincent Mannion-Brodeur (sitting), Maura Brodeur, and Jeffrey Brodeur.
Bryan Cereijo

I come from a long list of military veterans in my family, going back to my grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy in World War I. My father was in World War II, also Navy.

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My uncles were all in the Korean War. My older brother, a Marine, was in Vietnam. Naturally, I wanted to serve. In 1982, I was living in Boston, where I was raised, and I enlisted in the Army.

When I first got to Fort Benning in Georgia, the drill instructors were saying to all the recruits: “You don’t want to go to Korea because people get killed over there.” We all looked at each other and didn’t know what they were talking about. We were just 18-year-old kids.

This was well after the end of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was the line at the 38th parallel that separated North and South Korea. More than any other place in the world, this was the dividing line of the Cold War, where the two sides stood face-to-face.

I ended up going to Korea and patrolling along the DMZ.

We’d hear the North Koreans every night. They were on a loudspeaker, and they would blast music. They would drop leaflets of propaganda on us from balloons. It was an incredible place.

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They teach you things in the military they don’t teach you in college. You’re a young kid, ready to put your life on the line with kids from all over the country, from every race, every religion.

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Jeffrey Brodeur in Korea.
Courtesy Brodeur family

You are out in some of the most intimate environments for weeks and sometimes months at a time with these fellow soldiers. They are as close to you as your own family — or closer. That’s what the military was about for me.

I’ve carried those values with me every day. And I had no idea that those lessons were exactly what I would need to face the challenges that were to come.

When I got out of the military, I used the VA Vocational Rehabilitation program to help me get multiple degrees from the University of Massachusetts Boston. That got me started in my career. I ended up marrying Maura, who served in the Navy. We have a son, Vincent, and a daughter, Colleen.

Vincent went into the Army after 9/11. He went over to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne, and within a month, during the surge in 2007, his team went in to clear a building. His team leader opened the door and a bomb blew him up and killed him. My son was four feet away, to his right. You never forget that phone call when it comes.

A man sitting while wearing sun glasses
Vincent Mannion-Brodeur in Tikrit, Iraq, in 2007.
Courtesy Brodeur family

The Army wanted to send Vincent to a VA polytrauma center in Tampa. But our family was based in Massachusetts. I knew Boston had a great brain injury rehab hospital called Spaulding. I had to fight to get Vincent there.

Through my work with the Korean War Veterans Association, and because of my training that I got in college, I knew the system well.

My wife and I did everything in our power to save our son, and he finally came out of a coma after a year. My daughter and I have the same tattoo, “March 11, 2007,” on our backs. That’s the day Vincent was injured.

In total, Vincent has had 48 operations. He has unique injuries and must be carefully cared for.

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We have been taking care of Vincent and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. It is all part of the commitment we all made the day we signed up — to ourselves, to our country, and to taking care of our brothers and sisters who have also served.

— As told to A.J. Baime.

Jeffrey Brodeur, 58, is a retired postal worker and president of the Korean War Veterans Association. He lives with his wife, Maura, and his son, Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, who was medically retired as a corporal, in Naples, Florida.

This story was part of a Fighting for Our Freedom feature in the AARP Bulletin.

Do you have a potential story that might make a THEN & NOW article in AARP Veteran Report? If so, please contact our editors here.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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