ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — For many veterans, talking about the trauma of war isn’t something they want to do.

Instead, they focus on work and find a new way to serve.

That was the path in life for Ed Alexander.

The Vietnam War veteran devoted his life to public education as a teacher, administrator and superintendent in the Elizabethton City Schools.

Ask Alexander about his 11 months of service in Vietnam and he’ll tell you it was minimal in comparison to others who served.

“We tried to do our job,” he said. “For me, it wasn’t in a whole lot of fighting.”

Ed Alexander volunteered for the Army infantry in 1970 as pressure grew for American troops to leave Vietnam. (Photo: Ed Alexander)

Alexander told us it was “presumptuous” to think anyone would be interested in his Vietnam story.

“I know a lot of people who really went through it,” he said. “Multiple tours and multiple injuries, and many of them didn’t come home.”

But the reality of Alexander’s service in Vietnam stands without need for explanation.

In 1970, as the drumbeat grew for American troops to get out of Vietnam, Alexander volunteered to join the Army infantry.

“I was a rifleman,” he said. “I would cut trail and walk point quite a bit. I would set mechanical ambushes and do what I was told.”

Alexander (left) says Vietnam left him with horrible memories. But it also left him with skills for life. “You learn to interact with people of all types.” (Photo: Ed Alexander)

Alexander spent the better part of the year in dense mountainous jungle in conditions he admits were punishing.

“You got wet and stayed wet for weeks at a time,” he said. “You whispered everywhere you went. And when you live with 30 people in a platoon 24/7, and anytime you go to the bathroom you have to let people know so they won’t shoot you, you learn to interact with people of all types.”

Alexander escaped the dangers of jungle warfare in Vietnam without sustaining a serious physical injury. When a booby trap caused parts of a tree to hit his body, Alexander said “it didn’t even hardly break the skin.” And an explosive device hit the truck in which he was riding, Alexander said he walked away unscathed.

But he did witness death. The details are memories he clearly wants to forget.

And Alexander says he came home with wounds you can’t see. Like so many who serve in war, post-traumatic stress disorder haunted him for years and still does to some extent.

“For years and still today, I check the doors,” he said.

He says therapy offered by the Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center helped him move on and understand.

Alexander said he and his fellow infantrymen spent weeks at a time in almost constant rain sleeping on the ground under makeshift tents. (Photo: Ed Alexander)

“I’m thankful to be an American,” he said. “But I’m proud to be a Vietnam veteran because our situation was unique, and it is unique today.”

“I served when it wasn’t pleasant,” Alexander said.

After 11 months in Vietnam, he came home and launched into a new arena of service in public education. He said his work as a teacher and an administrator was influenced by lessons learned in the Army.

“It gives you drive,” he said. “You know that things can be bad. So you’re going to work as long as you can, as hard as you can, and tell the truth.”