CLINTON, Okla. (KFOR) – The courtyards and walkways at the VA Center in Clinton get a little more colorful with each passing week, partly due to mild spring weather, but mostly due to Larry Dobbs’ efforts at planting flowers in the first place.
Dobbs put a little bit of everything here, petunias to honor his mom.
Everything else, succulents, yucca, begonias, and day lilies go to honor his comrades, the ones who made it home from war and the ones who didn’t.
“They will calm a soul,” says Larry of his flowering plants.
He was an Army Medic during the bloodiest months of the Vietnam War, a conscientious objector from Rock, Oklahoma thrust into combat for almost a year.
Citing statistics for that time, Dobbs says, “Usually, one man in six will die.”
Wounded three times, a Bronze Star recipient, he wore a camera strapped to his helmet to take images of what he saw.
The men he couldn’t save were the ones he couldn’t forget.
“A lot of us are haunted, especially us combat soldiers,” he says. “I’m haunted by the ones I couldn’t pull back. I lost 66 men.”
The gardening skills his mother taught him as a kid served him well when he got back and began recovering.
New life, first in tomato plants, gave those horrible memories some meaning.
“I grew large plots of tomatoes,” he recalls.
The tomato plants he started when he moved to the Veterans Center helped nourish other old soldiers too.
“They kept disappearing,” he smiles. “One would just get ripe and it would be gone.”
This spring his efforts re-doubled.
He ordered more pots and planted more flowers.
Dobbs placed more at the Center’s north tower for the veterans there.
As a result, traffic picked up in the courtyards.
Larry points out, “You go down there now at 3 o’clock in the morning and it’s full.”
The bigger plants, some of his favorites, get names.
“Meet John,” exclaims Dobbs pointing to a healthy, green shrub. “John is looking over us.”
They are his friends, and some are named for the fallen.
“The plants have names,” he states as a way of remembering.
“How dare I forget. How dare I.”
Dobbs moved to the VA Center in Clinton in 2019.
He says he feels lucky to still be alive after losing a leg to a construction accident several years ago, and surviving COVID-19 last year.
He has 19 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren who live close enough to visit him now.