Spec. 4 John Flinn returned home from Vietnam in 1969 to vitriol and name-calling. [National Veterans Memorial and Museum photo]

Spc. 4 John Flinn: Prison led to purpose

When Spc. 4 John Flinn arrived back in Akron on Christmas Eve 1969 after serving eight months in Vietnam with the U.S. Army and earning a Purple Heart, he found adjusting to a country in peacetime to be jarring.

From sleeping with his loaded gun, a finger on the trigger, to being called a "baby killer" by strangers at the airport and at school, Flinn, now 70, said he went into hibernation for years about his military service.

Alcohol helped him ignore his past, but it wasn't until Flinn was incarcerated on a rape conviction at the London Correctional Institution from 1978 to 1986 that he realized how valuable his background could be.

Flinn noticed the number of incarcerated Vietnam veterans who weren't receiving benefits or couldn't access resources. So he became the president of the first Vietnam Veterans of America chapter in an Ohio prison.

"It was the first time I looked upon my military career as an asset to help others," Flinn said.

Flinn said his time in prison galvanized him to do more work with veterans. He eventually became a veterans program coordinator for the state and spent years helping veterans find employment. Flinn retired in 2013.

Several years ago, Flinn finally shared his story with historians at the Ohio History Connection for an exhibit on veterans, and eventually with the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

"Sharing my story gives me a certain calmness, acceptance and peace with it," Flinn said.