Beyond the Rhetoric
By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow
All families have a hero and Harry’s is no exception. First cousin James Crawford was that family member who stood out amongst all the cousins. There were eight children on Harry’s father’s side of his family. Thus, there were numerous first and second cousins. His mother’s side of the family had nine children and an even greater horde of first and second cousins. Family reunions were incredible! Of all those cousins, James Crawford was, by far, the toughest, slickest and most devoted member of them all.
James was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. It was a very beautiful and peaceful city back in the early days. As time went on, the streets began getting rough and mean and James adjusted nicely. His passion was street fighting. There wasn’t a person in all of Los Angeles who could intimidate James and he would go out of his way to have a good fist fight with anyone willing to cross him. Harry’s cousins always had comfort in knowing that if they were being bullied, they could call on James for help.
It was no surprise that when James decided to join the military during the Vietnam era, he chose the U.S. Marines. The Marines are the toughest branch of the military with a reputation of being fierce. That was just the style that fitted James. However, something happened to James during his three – year tour in the Marines. He had developed a very low tolerance for anyone he didn’t like except for family members. His temperament would get him in trouble with the law.
Onetime James felt like taking a walk down Central Avenue and would yell at the passing cars. Yelling was bad enough. James decided to spice the event up by doing it totally nude on a bright sunny afternoon. Another time he didn’t like the lack of courtesy he received from the workers in a local Korean run corner store. James returned with his pistol and fired shots right outside the store front. That got him in jail. My best friend, Lisa Collins, used her brilliant legal skills and got him released on probation.
We were all worried about James and thought he was destined for a mental institution. The truth of the matter, he was having the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD. Most persons with this condition after doing time in the military would seek medical help and be at the mercy of a local VA facility.
James came up with a brilliant idea. When he went into the Marines, he was of a sound mind. When he came out, he was mentally messed up. Thus, he put all the blame for his condition on the source of his troubles – the Marines. His solution would be to sue the United States Government for rendering him mentally disabled. Sounds crazy? As the saying goes: “It was crazy like a fox.”
After being rejected by various attorneys he finally convinced his niece who was a good lawyer and a local prosecutor to take on his case as a family favor. They crafted their case by proving that before James went into the military, he was mentally fit but when he returned, he was mentally impaired by way of PTSD. Thus, he was entitled to receive disability.
Believe it or not after two years of deposing experts and explaining his life story, the Veterans Administration settled the case. James was awarded 100 percent disability for life. He would be paid 100 percent of his salary at the time of his discharge. All military benefits such as free medical care would be due him for life. Mr. James Crawford started becoming a legend amongst the local veterans in the Los Angeles area. He and his niece started offering consulting services for those with PTSD as a result of military experience.
For the rest of his life, James was a happy person who was at peace with everything around him. The Marines made him crazy and he proved it in a court of law. He became an avid golfer with all the spare time he now had. Every now and then he would have a relapse and lose his temper. Whenever he would be on the verge of having trouble with any law enforcement officer, he would present his 100 percent disability certificate and that would keep him out of legal problems.
Growing up we all thought James was wild and wacky. In the end, we all figured he was a genius amongst common people. There aren’t many veterans who have suffered mental challenges like PTSD and found a way to overcome it. When James died five years ago, we all realized the genius mind he possessed and admired how he overcame the challenges before him that were created through adverse military experience. Not many veterans can claim that. He died in his sleep with a smile on his face.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Emails: [email protected]; [email protected].