At Veteran Energy, we believe in The Power to Give Back™. That’s why we’re proud to work with organizations who are dedicated to helping the men and women who serve our country. And we want to share one very special story from our Affinity Partner Paws for Heroes. This organization pairs trained rescue dogs with active duty or retired military members, and this is just one of many inspiring stories about a deserving veteran and a dog in need finding one another.
Nurses who served during the Vietnam War were extraordinary people—they were all volunteers. They joined the military when duty called and served their country admirably. Sonja was one of those nurses.
In March of 1968, at age 24, Sonja was sent to Vietnam. She supported the 12th Evacuation Hospital in the city of Cu Chi, one of the hospitals with the heaviest casualty rates in Vietnam. The hospital could accommodate up to 300 casualties at a time and was situated in a violent corner of Vietnam between Saigon and the Cambodian border.
Sonja worked 12-hour days, six days a week, treating wounded soldiers for severe phosphorous burns and amputations. Many times, her 12-hour shifts turned into 36-plus. Her nursing unit took incoming rounds and mortars on a regular basis causing them all to live, work and sleep in flak vests and helmets. When Sonja finally laid down at night and closed her eyes, she’d be jolted awake with nightmares of more soldiers being brought in to the hospital.
During her year-long tour, Sonja and so many of the other nurses were plagued by the helplessness they felt. A lump grew in Sonja’s heart every time she heard the whirring of helicopter blades as she knew that meant there were more soldiers being brought in than their small medical unit staff would be equipped to help.
Every day, grim decisions had to be made as there was never enough time to save everybody. Soldiers with massive traumas were immediately brought to the operating table. While some would survive, others would soon die from infections or septic shock. Often times, nurses were caught in what seemed like an endless stream of mangled and severed bodies in the evacuation hospital performing lifesaving procedures.
But the nurses stood by their patients, holding their hand and telling them that their families back home would know they were good soldiers. Thanks to the dedication of nurses and physicians, 98 percent of those who were wounded and made it to the hospital survived. But to this day, Sonja still wonders what happened to so many 18- and 19-year-old boys she cared for in her unit.
Sonja was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, among many others awards for her service. Upon returning home, she worked for more than 13 years as a neonatal nurse.
After retiring, Sonja decided she needed the companionship of a good dog. Bailey was her faithful companion for 14 years and after she passed away, Sonja was heartbroken. She began to panic at the thought of getting another dog and wondered how she’d train one with her mobility issues. Then, caring Marine veteran David Cantu with the Harris County Veterans Services mentioned Paws for Heroes.
And that’s when everything changed.
Somewhere on the streets of Baytown, Texas, a shy, 12-pound Cairn Terrier mix was found. He had been hit by a car, leaving both hips shattered and inoperable. Days went by and no one claimed him.
Many shelters in the area were full and unable to take in any more fosters. Then, they called Judy Jones, and Judy soon learned that saying yes was the easiest part. The dog would have to be on crate rest for eight months to heal. It was during this time that she started to notice his big Texas personality and the name “Stormin’ Norman” came to life.
At the same time, Paws for Heroes was looking for a small, laid back dog for Sonja. When they evaluated Norman, the volunteers just smiled. “This is it. He’s the one we’ve been looking for.” Norman and Sonja were matched one day shy of Sonja’s birthday.
Sonja fell in love with him immediately. “Norman is the perfect dog for me. He makes me laugh chasing the squirrels as if he is on squirrel patrol during the day. At night, he is curled up on my lap or sleeping quietly by my feet. He’s a really great dog. Thank you so much for bringing him into my life.”