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Vietnam veteran counts his blessings

With 11 grandchildren, Tom Bayer, 70, has never lacked for something to do on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

"My grandkids always have things going at school for that," said Bayer, a Marine who served in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart.

But this year will be different. The parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua in High Ridge plans to attend the Veteran's Day Prayer Service on Friday, Nov. 10, at Bishop DuBourg High School, his alma mater.

"I haven't been there since I graduated," said Bayer, who didn't really have a chance to return after graduation in 1966. Bayer joined the Marines after graduation, then shipped out to Vietnam in August of 1967. He celebrated his 21st birthday there on Dec. 21 of that year, but that was his last birthday in relative normalcy.

A month later, on Jan. 21, 1968, Bayer was shot twice in combat. The first bullet hit him in the left side, but he said he wasn't even aware of it. He reckons the second bullet hit him about five minutes later, nearly killing him and changing his life forever.

Bayer suffered a broken rib and massive internal injuries, including to his stomach and intestines. He later was told that three teams of three doctors operated on him for 25 hours — the first of 34 operations related to his injuries, he said. He reported that a doctor later told him that his odds of surviving were minuscule — one-tenth of 1 percent.

"The doctors put me together; I wish I could have met them," he said. "They were excellent mechanics. They put me together the best they could."

Bayer figures "the Holy Spirit was leading them" and that he had God on his side with many prayers offered on his behalf.

Parishioners at his home parish of Mary, Queen of Peace in Webster Groves, students at DuBourg, an uncle belonging to the Jesuits, and many others were "in constant prayer for my recovery," he said. "I knew then that God's love for me is why I am here today. ... I mean, just for me to live is a miracle."

Physical healing took time, about a year in the hospital, but even then, pain remained a constant companion as he lived with emotional and spiritual wounds from that day in Vietnam. For pain abatement, he wore a TENS unit — the acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. The small device sends a low-voltage electrical current to stimulate nerves and negate pain impulses. He also relied on pharmaceuticals to numb the pain.

After Vietnam, he married his wife, Emily, in 1971, and they had five daughters, born between 1972 and 1980. He worked landscaping jobs related to his college degree in forestry, but found the physical work too difficult. He then became a mail carrier and endured pain until he discovered the archdiocesan Healing and Deliverance Ministry in about 1993.

In addition to physical pain and maladies, his "stress was off the chart," said Bayer, whose first step in the intangible healing process was "forgiveness." In forgiving, "so much stress left my body, along with the pain," he said.

To that point, simply walking had been difficult, and navigating stairs nearly impossible. But after the stress-reducing first session of healing, he said, he was able to take the stairs and to jump out of bed in the morning.

"I was hooked; I was going to healing services, Masses and laying of hands sometimes two or three times a week, and every time, my injuries improved," said Bayer, who recently gave witness to the ministry at Catholic Renewal Center's Fall Conference, "Arise Be Healed," at the Cardinal Rigali Center. "I still get prayed over two or three times a month."

Bayer said he's experienced numerous healings over the years, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. "You can't separate them; one helps the other," he said.

Needing neither the TENS unit nor stress medication these days, Bayer said, he also has vastly reduced pain and other medications related to the injuries. "I feel very, very fortunate."

Bayer retired as a mail carrier in 2007 — on Nov. 10, which happens to be the birthday for the Marines. He now serves as a volunteer in the Healing and Deliverance Ministry, through the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center.

"I thank God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on a regular basis for restoring my health," he stated. 

Healing and Deliverance Ministry

Prayer teams for the Healing and Deliverance Ministry are available from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first Wednesday and the third Tuesday of every month, with walk-in days Tuesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment at the Catholic Renewal Center, which is at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Crestwood. For information, contact Anne Hruz at (314) 731-6100 or annehruz@archstl.org. 

Duplicate of Vietnam Memorial Wall brings healing to Perryville 

About 50 percent the size of the original, replicas of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., have been traveling throughout the U.S. for the past 30-plus years, spending a week at each venue to give veterans, family and friends the chance to honor fallen soldiers whose names are memorialized on the wall without traveling to see the original in the nation's capital.

But a full-scale duplicate of the Vietnam Wall will soon be permanently stationed in Perryville, about 80 miles south of St. Louis along Interstate 55. Expected to be completed by Memorial Day, Perryville's Vietnam Wall is the only full-sized, black granite replica of the Vietnam Wall. It already is flying United States and POW flags that also flew over the Wall in Washington, D.C. The flag was transported to Perryville via a 900-mile motorcycle escort in September.

"There's just a lot of great local people who have a lot of love for God and country doing this for people to heal," said Don Fulford, the president/CEO for the Association of the Miraculous Medal and a member of the Missouri's National Veterans Memorial board. "That's the power of this ...the love for God and country. These guys put it all out there for us. There's evil in this world but they were doing their best."

For more information, visit www.americaswall.com 

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