Life After the War
Eddie Major found a passion for baking
following his service in the military.
John Dodson returned to Vietnam after his service
to help care for fellow veterans.
Throughout the decades, U.S. military veterans have experienced a slew of reactions for their service to the country. Transition to civilian life is typically complex for veterans, and three local veterans each shared their experiences coming home from war.
Life for Highland Falls resident John Dodson was not as hard as it was for some of his fellow soldiers. The former Army commander and Vietnam veteran described himself as a “psychiatrist” of sorts when it came to hearing of the problems his friends were going through. “Many of those I knew became doctors and lawyers, but still had no one to talk to,” he said.
He was aware that coming home from Vietnam was not going to be the same as the aftermath of World War II. “World War II veterans were treated much better,” he said. “They drank and partied.” After serving, Dodson graduated from Harvard University and worked as a professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. He still made it a point to come back to take care of those who the U.S. military left behind in Vietnam. “I was there for seventeen days, and I found that the Vietnamese love Americans in spite of everything,” he said. “We did things to them that we would never do over here.”
West Point graduate Eddie Major served in the U.S. Army for 11 years, and was deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq during that time. The New York City native was met with a positive reception from friends of his who did not support the War on Terror. “I appreciate the depoliticization of the American soldier,” he said. “I have liberal friends who supported me even though they disagreed with the war.”
Major returned to Highland Falls to start a bakery called Bear Mountain Bakery. The business opened in October of 2018 and has developed a following among the veteran community and others in the area. “It’s been great to come back,” he said. “We are doing it for the community.”
Being in the Army has prepared him for running a business. “You have to make sure your keeping the employees in line and serving the customers well,” he said. Major saw a need for the bakery in the area as a cadet. “I enjoy food and the way it brings people together,” he said.
As he pursues his new passion, Major recognizes that he is losing touch with his identity as a member of the U.S. Army. “Many folks in the Army talk about the uniform they wear as an identity of sorts,” he said. “When you give 11 years of your life to something, it gives you an identity.”
Still, it is the interactions he has with civilians that always remind him of where he came from. “I’m very thankful for the way America at large has welcomed its soldiers back,” said Major. “It is a life-changing experience.”
He is grateful for the support from civilians, but he understands that they do not realize fully what it is like to serve your country. “I think it is a real effort to say ‘thank you,’” he said. “There is a contrast in terms of life experiences, but I don’t feel as though these differences diminishes the gesture of saying thank you.”
A Marine from Clinton Corners
A former Marine who did three tours in Iraq declined to give his name, but went in-depth about his time in the military. His views on the War in Iraq changed as he was serving. He felt as though there was no basis for fighting in Iraq, and that people who he speaks with about his service seem to not remember that there even was a war.
“Iraq has now become a forgotten war,” he said. “Getting home was not what I was looking for.” He went on to say that veterans of the 1991 Gulf War came back to a parade and fanfare, while Iraq War veterans did not receive the same treatment.
Still, the former Marine has used his time in the military to give back to the local veteran community in the Hudson Valley. After returning home from war, he pursued an associate’s degree in human services at Dutchess Community College and then became involved with veteran-related nonprofits. He co-founded the Hudson Valley Veterans Alliance in 2016, which provides peer advocacy services for military veterans to aid them in their transition to civilian life.
“Having a veteran run an organization helps veterans assimilate easier,” he said. “Some organizations don’t get off the ground because they don’t have that veteran connection.” He also is involved with Heroic Food, an organization that provides veterans training in organic farming, as a board member.
The former Marine credits his time in the military for helping him learn leadership skills. “You have a training and understanding that is different from what civilians have,” he said. “Being in the military is like extreme job training.” Ultimately, he views his time in the military as a building block for a future career, and compares himself to Luke Skywalker in his decision to enlist. “It was like a calling,” he said.
He was a rebellious teen who listened to bands like Rage Against the Machine, and felt that joining the military would provide a sense of discipline. This proved to be correct, as he has garnered a number of leadership roles in his community.