Haines put the war behind him and rarely mentioned the year he spent in Saigon. After Vietnam and a brief visit home, he was sent to Germany where he trained in the electrical field. When discharged from the United States Army, Pvt. Fred Haines returned to Maine where he was born and raised.

Once home for good, his struggles began with depression and erratic behavior. Haines knew nothing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and did not seek help. PTSD was only beginning to be discussed in the medical field at that time.

Throughout his marriage, he continued to struggle with his emotions. “He had some good times, but he had a lot of bad times too,” said his wife Barbara. “He rarely mentioned his time in Vietnam, but one time he was in the mood to tell me a story about when he went into a restaurant in Saigon and they had hamburgers on the menu. He ordered one and when he bit into it the taste was so bad he promptly spit it out. He asked the waitress what kind of meat the burger was made from. She said, ‘It’s bow wow,’ meaning dog meat.”

After 45 years of flashbacks and depression, Haines, now a resident of Bolster’s Heights Nursing Home in Auburn, is being treated for PTSD as well as some other health issues.

“He is improving so much,” said his daughter, Melinda Taylor. “He looks better, sounds better and he has put on quite a bit of weight.”

One day Taylor received a call from the doctor in charge of Haines’ care. Though Haines was in no immediate threat of dying, the doctor wanted to know what the family’s wishes were in the event of a stroke, heart attack or some other medical catastrophe.

“That call made me sit up and take notice,” recalled Taylor. “I talked it over with my mother and my husband, Don, and we decided we needed to do something special while we still could.”

Because Haines always felt badly about how he was treated when he returned from Vietnam, his family decided to give him a surprise hero’s welcome that he did not receive 45 years ago.

In early October, friends, family and several veterans from the Maine Vet’s Home gathered at the Foster-Carroll Legion Home to honor Haines and celebrate his service to his country.

Believing he was being taken out to eat, he was mystified and surprised when he arrived at the legion hall. “I didn’t know you guys were going to do this!” he told his wife.

Upon his arrival, Faith and Paul Davis, who provided the music, played “God Bless America.” Haines’ Class A dress uniform was hung in a prominent place along with some of his other military mementos.

The family put together a poster with items from his military days including his honorable discharge certificate and another poster in honor of all veterans. The hall was decorated in a patriotic theme and patriotic music was played.

Taylor gave a speech and presented her father with a special award she had made for his service to his country.

One of the guests in attendance was Haines’ sister, Carlene Caswell of Bangor. The siblings had not seen each other in 23 years and spent this occasion enjoying each other’s company, mending feelings and sharing memories of when they grew up.

Family friend Beth Macintyre read a poem and conducted a candlelight ceremony for all veterans, past and present. Laura Gouin led a prayer and performed a spiritual dance and along with her daughter, Kate Shibles, sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” A poem was also read by Priscilla Pond.

Music of the 1960s and ’70s was played during a full turkey dinner, Haines’ favorite. “He can’t be with us for Thanksgiving so we just did it early,” said Taylor.

“My father hugged me and said ‘I love you so much,’ which he never said when I was growing up. I had prepared for everything, even if he was having a bad day, but I sure wasn’t prepared for that!”

“This was a big healing journey for all of us,” both Taylor and Barbara agreed. “It is the biggest thing we have ever done!”

When Haines arrived at the legion hall, his daughter said, “He was hunched over his walker and looked like an old man, but when he left he was standing tall, his chest right out and he looked 30 years younger. I was so proud of him — he will always be a hero to me.”

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