When Pittsfield resident and Vietnam Vet Roger Siciliano learned that his veteran’s benefits would not pay for the extensive dental work he needed, he was desperate. “I’m considered only 10% disabled, rather than 100% disabled!” said Siciliano. “I really needed help to restore my bite. The Veteran Administration suggested I call VIM.”
Siciliano made that call to Margot Rockefeller, VIM’s Dental Care Coordinator, and began a two-year journey towards regaining a healthy mouth.
“Despite semi-annual cleanings, my teeth just kept wearing away, breaking down, and I was losing my bite. By the time I got to VIM I was in pretty bad shape,” said Roger.
There was a daunting amount of work to be done. Margot asked Dr. Gerald Goldberg, one of VIM’s most active dental volunteers – and also an army Vet – to work with Roger.
“I was really worried,” says, Roger, “I knew it was a very expensive job, but Dr. Goldberg put me at ease and told me not to worry. He said: “We’re going to be able to do something for you. One way or another we’ll get this done.”
Dr. Goldberg’s “can do” attitude fits well with Roger’s own life story. Here are a very few highlights of his eventful life:
Roger grew up and attended high school in Niagara Falls, New York. He and his buddies used to skip school to swim in a watering hole 180 feet down a cliff about a mile below Niagara Falls. “The tourists used to watch us through the big binoculars at the Rainbow Falls, and occasionally the border patrol would chase us, but by the time they got to where we were, we were always gone”. The rushing waters were dangerous, but the boys were young and fearless, and he found out in later life that not only his older brothers, but also his father had done the same thing, in the same spot, when they were each about the same age.
In 1965, before he had finished High School, Roger volunteered to serve in the army. He was quite determined to go to Vietnam, so his mother signed papers to let him leave school early. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, two brothers and several other family members who had joined up before him. He thought he would like to be a helicopter gunner, but the army put him through a battery of tests and decided that, because of his high scores, he was best suited for “medical” … this didn’t thrill him. He had several cousins who were nurses, and had been hoping for something different – for work in another field.
After basic training at Ft. Dix, he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas – the “Home of Army Medicine” – where all the army’s medical personnel were trained. He put in for an early transfer to Vietnam. Roger was a quick study – learning the basics of suturing and other techniques that he would later employ in the dispensary in Vietnam. His next stop was Germany where he “learned everything – from minor surgery to pharmacy.” He loved the work. After further training in Germany, and with only 10 months left to serve, he received orders for Vietnam – by this time, he was about to marry and had planned to do some European touring – so his enthusiasm had waned somewhat – but duty called. He and his older brother signed up at the same time – each tried to talk the other out of going, but to no avail – they both served out their tours of duty in Vietnam. After a brief leave back home, Roger said goodbye to his new wife of just two weeks, and deployed with his unit to Nha Trang, right across from Cam Ronh Bay.
Roger was assigned to a military dispensary – not quite a M*A*S*H unit, but he had his share of excitement. During his first week on the job a very young child presented with an unusually clean bandaged hand. The bandage turned out to hide a hand-grenade – fortunately seen on a radiograph screen before the bandage was removed! This kind of caution was an everyday requirement of the job. Roger’s duty was to evaluate patients as they arrived, treat them on the spot if he could or refer them to the medical staff. “I would handle anything the doc didn’t want to do. If he thought I could manage it, he left it to me. I was good at it. ” There were 5 physicians and about 30 support staff. Burns and infections were the most frequent cases, as well as small suturing jobs, incisions etc. The 14-hour workdays went by quickly because Roger enjoyed the work so much – he rose to be Sergeant (E5) and his time was extended to the better part of a year.
Back from Vietnam, Roger was encouraged by friends and family to look for something at General Electric (GE). “Everyone in the neighborhood was talking about GE. If you were working there, you were making a good living.” When he first approached GE they said they weren’t hiring, but he persisted, was hired, and, over a 30-year career at GE, went from entry level work, to piecework, and on up, completing his time as a missile machinist. He left just before the company transitioned into General Dynamics. Unfortunately, many of the jobs he had taken during his working life – both as a civilian and in Vietnam – exposed him to toxic materials: pyranol and other PCBs, asbestos and agent orange – “I’m a walking glow stick!” he says cheerfully.
Roger has nothing but praise for VIM, for Margot Rockefeller and for Dr. Goldberg. “I wouldn’t change a thing about VIM. It’s an excellent facility with caring people, and it’s not just dental – they do everything. Everybody I met there was pleasant. VIM not only took care of me, they also took care of my wife, Sally, who needed extensive dental work too. It took a good year and a half, and I know Dr. Goldberg had to be very patient and creative as he worked on me. I now have a decent bite, and the best thing is, when you look at me you can see I have teeth!”