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Kerrying On

Kerrying On: Uncle Vic

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Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Kerrying On

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During the month of July, we publish “best of” content. The following article was first published on July 20, 2011.

When I was a young boy and our extended family gathered to celebrate holidays, it was common for the adults to congregate in the dining room and play pinochle while we kids romped around the yard or (when it was raining) watched The Hopalong Cassidy Show on our 19” DuMont TV consol.

But not always. Sometimes my uncle Vic would break away from the adults and teach me a trick or two. It was Vic who showed me how to press two fingers to my lower lip to create a wolf whistle. It was Uncle Vic who taught me how to tie a cat’s cradle, how to spin a button on a string, how to make a coin disappear, and dozens of other childhood tricks and games.

I often wondered why my uncle so readily slipped away from the rest of the adults—just to spend time with a kid. One day, long after he had passed away, I asked my mother why Uncle Vic was as likely to spend time with me as he was to mingle with his peers. Vic’s actions were particularly curious given that his wife, my aunt Mickey, was such a vibrant, vocal personality. I couldn’t imagine how she ever ended up with such a quiet man.

“Don’t you know what happened to your uncle?” my mother asked. “When my sister first met Vic, he had been the life of the party, oozed confidence, and looked the part of a movie star. Why, when he and Mickey walked into a restaurant, the crowd would hush and stare at them. It was as if celebrities had entered the room.”

“And then what happened?” I asked.

“World War II.” She explained. “It happened to all of us—only more so to Vic. You see,” Mom reluctantly continued, “your uncle joined the Army and was immediately sent to the Philippines where he was put in charge of a platoon. It was the job of Sergeant Victor Veloni and his platoon to clear the remote islands.”

“Clear them of what?” I asked.

“Of enemy soldiers who stayed behind to cause havoc with the American troops and Philippine civilians. Surely you’ve heard about them. You know, the soldiers who perched in palm trees—some for years—waiting for a chance to shoot anyone who came into view. Your uncle Vic and his team would land on an island and then do whatever was required to remove the tree-dwelling snipers.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

I could tell that Mom didn’t want to talk about the details.

“Vic and his team would police the island until someone would shoot at them, and then they’d deal with the sniper.”

“They walked around until someone shot at them!” I exclaimed.

“Mostly,” Mom replied. “It was the best way to draw the enemy into the open.”

I could hardly imagine trudging around a steamy, tropical island in full military gear, while waiting for a bullet to pierce my helmet. It’s beyond comprehension.

“Wasn’t that dangerous?” I asked.

“Dangerous?” Mom continued, “Vic ended up losing every single man in his platoon and half of the replacements. One by one, he lost his dear friends and comrades as they fell prey to sniper fire. Our prayers were answered when Vic came home alive, but he never forgave himself for doing so.”

“And that’s what changed him?”

“When the war ended and your uncle returned to Seattle, I hardly knew him. He was the same handsome man who had gone off to war, but the vibrant, fun-loving Vic that used to live behind that chiseled face was no longer there. The horror of watching his friends die, the tension of waiting for the next bullet, the self-imposed guilt for not taking one of his own—it killed the Vic we knew and left behind the quiet, withdrawn man you grew up with. Not everyone who survived the war actually survived the war. Vic went off to battle, but somebody else came home.”

I had no idea about any of this. I was just glad my uncle Vic had spent time with me. I just wanted to know why he had always been so kind, gentle, and attentive.

Earlier this month, as teenagers from the local Boy Scout troop posted a flag in our front yard to help celebrate the Fourth of July, my thoughts turned to the scores of people—like Vic—who have sacrificed in so many different ways, so that you and I can enjoy our many freedoms. As the scouts unfurled the flag, my mind turned to an earlier day with a different group of scouts I had taken to a military cemetery. As these young men and I gathered on a grassy hillside just outside San Francisco, we stood by the graves of decorated soldiers and read aloud the detailed stories of the selfless acts that had earned each fallen soldier both his medal and his grave.

Today my thoughts turn to not only these young men and others who have fallen in the field, but also to those who have returned home—many injured, all affected, and some, like my uncle Vic, transformed into a completely different person. When TV news commentators talk of the number of wounded and killed in current battles, or when statistics pop up on the screen to summarize what’s happening over seas—I don’t see the numbers. I don’t think of the statistics. Instead, I see an image of my uncle Vic. It’s not the image you might imagine. It’s not of a crowd gathered to pay homage to his sacrifice. It isn’t of a general draping a medal around his neck. Nor is it of a band trumpeting his glory. It’s far more humble—and more important—than any of that. It’s the image of a little boy holding a cat’s cradle string, and sitting on the lap of a true American hero.

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Kerry Patterson

Cofounder of VitalSmarts, Kerry has coauthored four New York Times bestselling books as well as co-designed the company’s line of award-winning training programs. As author of our most popular column, Kerrying On, Kerry shares his vision, experience, and advice through fun and insightful stories from his past. read more

51 thoughts on “Kerrying On: Uncle Vic”

  1. This is a very moving story and one that touches almost everyone we know. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of how honored we are from those that are protecting us each and every day.

  2. Beautiful Story. So many sacfrices made by so many. I believe too many of us live too comfortable, not recognizing the sacrfices those before us, and even those beside us are making on our behalf. Thanks for sharing

  3. One of your best posts. This is the story of the greatest generation. They lived through or affected by the depression, went of to fight in one of the bloodist wars the world has ever seen, those that came back home fueled one of the greatest economic expansions in the US while giving us the baby boomers. They did all of this and never really thought much of themseves or their contributions.

  4. Dear Mr. Patterson
    I´m not an american (not north-american at least), and my english is rather rustic (sorry). Anyway, I want to thank you for your last letter on uncle Vic. Thankyou for selecting that story that pictures in such a simple and touching way the most basic principle of pedagogy: we never forget what we learn in the heart. Why do you remember what you learned with uncle Vic as if you were living it all again, here and now? … Simply because you learned it within your heart. This idea is easy to understand in spanish, where our word for “remember” is “recordar” = from latin re-cardio … bring again to the heart.
    Uncle Vic will be my coach when I train our workers. That way, may be they will learn with their hearts too.
    Thanks again.
    Kind regards
    Alvio Lagos
    Training Manager
    CMPC Pulp Mill
    Nacimiento, Chile

  5. Thank you for sharing this story. It certainly helps me to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made for our freedom. God bless our troops.

  6. My dear Uncle Marlin came to see my brothers and I right before he left on his last tour of Vietnam. He told my mom that he wanted to spend every second he could with us before he left. He was young and did not have children yet and he had a feeling he would not be back. The pictures he took of us that day are some of my most prized possessions. He did not make it back and hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of him and that last day he spent with us. He was such a brave soldier that they called him Harry the Horse, but he was so kind and gentle with us. Your column today really moved me. We cannot ever forget that every soldier is special to someone. They are not just a number. They are sacrificing their lives whether they make it back or not so that we can live free. Thank you for your column. It really took me back to the last day I spent with Uncle Marlin.

  7. This has to be one of your very finest works! Thank you for sharing part of your life. We are part of a group that goes to the VA hospital several times a year to help the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Association when they sponsor a summer picnic and a Christmas party. It is an honor to serve those who have served us. We take them out of their rooms to the party site and sit and chat. Many do not get visitors, and that is sad. One man has been in “the system” for 40 years because there is no family to take him. Thanks for reminding all of us of the sacrifice our service men and women make every day. Bless you!

  8. Shared this with many as it truly underlines the incalculable cost of combat and the scores of unsung heroes in our midst. Well said, much appreciated.

  9. Deeply appreciated your story. We can all use continuos reminders of the cost of the abundance that we enjoy today. It is my hope that folks like you Uncle will have heard the words, “Well Done”. for they have served us all with no greater love.

  10. Kerry, thanks so much for sharing that story. I’m 61 and my father also served in WWII. He was in the Army and did “cleanup” after the Marines took the Solomon Islands – Guadalcanal, Bougainville, et al. Dad told occasional stories about clearing caves and cutting down palm trees with .50-cal. machine guns to get at the armored snipers, and his buddies getting blown away right next to him. Having been in the Army myself, I imagine it was pretty ugly. He was a quiet, gentle man, but not withdrawn – just utterly compassionate toward everyone.

    Thanks, Kerry. That’s all. Just thanks.

    Dave Birren

  11. @Liinda Odum
    Laying down at the feet of tyrants and dictators is a lousy option for any free-hearted people. Our magnificent military embodies our desire for freedom. Praise be to our soldiers who place themselves in harms’ way to protect their buddies, their units, the innocent foreign citizens, and the citizens of the United States of America.

  12. What a moving story. You are so correct….and those young men and women continue to come home changed. My nephew is currently serving in Iraq right now and I pray for him each and every day. My 95 year old father served in WW2 for 5 years in the US Coast Guard which was a part of the Navy during the war. He didn’t used to talk much about the war, but now that he is older he talks more about it that of current events. He and my nephew are both heros to me along with all the soldiers who so bravely give their all. It really makes one feel humble and thankful. God bless them all…and your Uncle Vic!!

  13. Thank you for sharing this story. I would love to be able to provide my thoughts – but they are so deep and profound – find it difficult.
    I as with another of the respondents, will think of this story each time I see a veteran. So touching, so real. How ignorant we are to only think the victims are the people who were killed or bear physical injury!
    Again, thank you.

  14. Kerry, what a gift you have of story telling! This one is a keeper I will find some way to share this story with others for Veterans’ Day 2011. Uncle Vic must have felt safe interacting with the kids. We have a challenge on how to make it safe for our veterans and active duty military to be able to come home and share the results of their willingness to fight for our earthly freedom so they may seek help without guilt. Making it safe,exploring others paths, and starting with heart are definitely applicable in our conversations with our veterans! My father was a tail gunner in WW II, my husband and I both served in the US Army, and now my son is an Ensign in the US Navy. Between both sides of our family we counted at least 17 family members that have served. Thank you for sharing this story.

  15. What a beautiful tribute to your uncle. It’s a good reminder to all of us that not all the scars of war are visible.

  16. What a deeply moving story. Truely crystallizes the price soldiers pay, and the price their spouses pay, for their selfless sacrifices. Thinking about it, your Aunt Mickey wound up with a completely different man than the one she married. It’s a testament to their upbringing and the quality of people they were, that their marriage survived and thrived. My Dad was in the Army in WWII, serving as a bombadier on a B-24, flying out of England. I have no relatives left who could tell me what he was like before the War and your story made me wonder …. Thanks again for sharing a great memory.

  17. Thank you so much for sharing this touching memory. With a daughter serving in Afghanistan, it truly touched my heart. My prayer each day is that God protect her from the emotional side of war — the part that those who do not serve do not understand — so that the soldier who returns is the daughter who left.

  18. I absolutely loved this story. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I appreciate people like your Uncle and my Father for their unwavering sacrifices for our Country. May the memory of your Uncle be an inspiration to us all!

    Again, thank you.

    Susan

  19. @Donna
    Donna, thank you for allowing your daughter to serve. I appreciate you for that sacrifice, knowing the danger that exists, and for her willingness to serve in spite of that. May the Lord Bless Her so that she will come home as you said, the daughter who left.

    Susan

  20. Uncle Vic was my uncle, too. My mother is a younger sister. Hope to hear from you, Kerry, as my mother knew your mother, too.

    Steve

  21. @Kerry
    My mother is the sister of Joseph Veloni, Adolph Veloni, Lizzie Zigler, Chuck Veloni, John Veloni, Maggie Moen, Victor Veloni, and Gene Veloni.
    My mother’s name is Erma. She lives in Everett. Maggie is the only
    other surviving sibling of the nine Veloni kids. Maggie still lives in Anacortes. There was a recent article in the Anacortes newspaper about three surviving high school basketball players. They were honored at a Anacortes high school basketball game. I was notified by a cousin who lives in Anacortes and I did a google search to find the article. My cousin told me there was a team picture with the article, which included Uncle Vic. That is when I ran across your tribute to our Uncle Vic. Thought I would reply after I figured out who you are. I contacted the paper and they sent me the article, but I did not get the picture. I can contact them and see if I can get it. Thanks for responding to my comment. Regards, Steve

  22. @Steven Linden
    Maggie is still alive?! Vic talked of her often and I may have met her once. I don’t believe I’ve met your mother. My mother’s sister Maxine Noonan (Micky) married Victor Veloni–that’s how I’m connected–I’m an in-law. The basketball picture you refer to hung on the wall of Vic’s den in Mt, Vernon. My guess is that one of his daughters (Sue or Kate) have the picture now. I’d love to get one from the newspaper if you can arrange for it.

    Thanks so much for updated me. You made my day!

  23. Kerry –

    What a wonderfully poignant story to remind us of what sacrifice others made so that we could enjoy this Wednesday in peace and freedom while enjoying a summer afternoon with those kids that perhaps we can teach and leave a lasting memory. I believe Vic and all other veterans come home hoping that their sacrifice might mean we never have to sacrifice any others. It is the hope of an ever brighter future that keeps all of us cherishing the American Dream.

    Thank you for the contribution you and the VitalSmarts team are making to the world.

    Rich

  24. This is a poignant and beautifully written story. Credit to you for asking the question about your Uncle Vic. Many might not have asked.

    The story reminded me of an excellent novel, “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, in which the main character is radically changed by his experience in the Philippines. The story is told through the voices of his wife and daughters and is beautifully written. It inspired me to read “Tears in the Darkness” by Michael and Elizabeth Norman about the Bataan death march. What an important piece of our history that has gotten relatively little attention.

    And thank you for inviting us all to think about the contributions of our veterans on this day.

  25. You tell this story beautifully and help us face squarely the tragedy of war. Many of us have seen this tragedy or known someone who has lost innocence and peace from what they have experienced in war. For me, the deepest pain is knowing that it is not always the protections of our ‘freedoms’ that is bringing this loss to so many and to their families. War is fought to secure the economic interests of the warring nation. It is not a pretty history. Until we can stop this motive for war, there will be more Uncle Vics returning broken to every nation that has sent its young people to bear the costs of war.

  26. Dear Kerry,
    I am sorry for your uncle Vic. Do you never have ask why your uncle Vic had this traumatic experience? Who did sent him to Philippines and for what? Your uncle Vic was defending the interests, of whom?, Was him really defending the interests of USA´s people or Philippine´s people? Was him defending the money and investments of someone more, sure not him?
    The most emotional part of the history is that your uncle Vic beleived he was in a just cause, but he was fighting for others that manipulated him for doing that.
    Only defensive violence is justified (and Gandhi did not beleive it), usamerican people invading others countries and killing “enemies” are motivates by money and/or are manipulated for others not in from of fire, for dying in the name of USA and their particular beleive on freedom.
    Iraq, Afganisthan, Panama, Granadas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Vietnam,etc, etc, how many usamerican people lifse lossed or converted (as your uncle Vic), only for increasing the hate about usamerican people around the word (and for securing the money of USA companies). The usamerican people do not deserve it, but the politicians you elect serving the money push the policy, but well, now are killing with drones, less usamerican lifes will be lossed, I hope

  27. Thank you for reminding us that what we see is not the whole picture, and that each of us has a unique history that others may not know. And thank you for sharing the story…

  28. I often think about the casualties we hear announced in the media almost every day from the wars, conflicts and terrorist attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other places around the world. It can be too easy to routinely accept this loss of life and only be more disturbed if it’s a large number of people killed in a particularly violent incident. But behind every single one of the statistics are families, like yours, whose lives are changed forever by the loss of a relative. The individuals lose their lives or have them changed forever, and that’s a terrible tragedy, but it is others who pay an even greater price.

  29. A story of quiet heroism, so well told that it moved me greatly. Your sharing of this personal experience, made me think more reflectively of all our warriors, men and women, who don’t always talk about their experiences but demonstrate the after-effects in a variety of ways in deeds of everyday remembrances. We owe them… more than mere words can express.

  30. Brought tears to my eyes. A true American hero. While we must always remember those who died and were wounded defending our country, we must never ever forget those who came home, especially those whose wounds we cannot see. Thank you for sharing.

  31. Thank you for relating such a genuinely touching and very real story. This one, for me, is even more profound as I leave in several days to hug my oldest son close before he deploys and to reassure his wife and child that they cannot fear the worst……..rather they have to cling to the hope of reuniting…..whether in this life or the next.

  32. Thanks for sharing a great story. Your story is something I can personally relate to after serving our country. While others often don’t see it, many veterans who have had the experience can see it in other veterans and know the effects of what it can do to a persons soul. The effects last a lifetime never to be forgotten.
    I think your story is a good reminder to us all that everyone has their cross to bear and that we should be more understanding towards one another.
    Semper Fi

  33. Thank you so much for sharing that story. I imagine it’s one that so many in the generation after WWII are not aware of.

  34. Thank you for the Story of your Uncle Vic. What a touching reminder that our freedom never has been or ever will be free. Great respect to them and to you for sharing.

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