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Homecoming King Candidate is Already a Winner

Date: Oct. 5, 2000
Oct. 25, 2000 Update
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Archive: General News

UC's Homecoming celebration holds a very special meaning for Evening College student Larry Walling. It's bringing him something beyond the colorful floats in the Homecoming parade, the reunion hugs at the alumni tent, or the cheering crowds at the football game.

image of walling

This nominee for Homecoming king has been both surprised and humbled by the praise he's received from his peers -- applause he never heard when he came home from Vietnam more than 30 years ago. Back in 1969, Walling says the Vietnam veterans' homecoming was an unwelcome one. The nation was in turmoil over the U.S. role in Vietnam, and the veterans -- their lives forever changed by what they witnessed in modern war -- remained under attack in their own homeland by angry protesters.

image of walling family

Now, the crowds will be smiling and waving at Walling on Oct. 28, as this 51-year-old father of five and grandfather of five rides in a '59 pink Cadillac in the Homecoming Parade as a nominee for Homecoming king. He was overwhelmingly selected by the Student Senate even though most of those members are decades younger than he is.

Even if he doesn't make the Homecoming court, Walling's fellow students say he's victorious. He's emerging from the personal battles that resulted from the scars of Vietnam, and it's that journey that led him to the University of Cincinnati.

Through the College of Evening and Continuing Education (CECE), Walling is a third year honor student earning his bachelor's degree in social science with a focus in addictions studies. He wants to show those who are struggling with battles like alcoholism and substance abuse that with understanding, patience and perseverance, they too can regain control of the demons that have devastated their lives and the lives of the loved ones around them. Walling's own path to recovery took more than two decades, dating back to the turmoil in Vietnam.

"I served in 1968 and 1969 and ran over 200 convoys through hostile and enemy fire. I can still ride down I-71 and I-75 and think I see the convoy when it's a line of tractor trailers. Generations and generations of my family had served in wars. I lost my innocence. I turned 21 in Vietnam and when I turned 21 years old, I stopped growing emotionally, mentally and in every other way."

Walling says his battle with substance abuse lasted 25 years when he sought treatment five-and-a-half years ago. When he arrived at the Center for Chemical Addiction Treatment on Ezzard Charles Drive, he was struggling to hold together his third marriage and at six-feet tall, he weighed only 118 pounds. Walling was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a common condition among Vietnam vets.

"Twenty years ago, they would just medicate us," Walling says, as he referred to treatments for veterans suffering from the disorder. "Today, medication is used only when necessary. They try to educate us, to get us to take care of ourselves. I still get counseling and I go to the VA (Veterans Administration) once a week and talk with people diagnosed with PTSD. I also attend 12 step groups."

image of walling and wife

Now healthy and over five years into full recovery, Walling is excelling academically and is working as a mentoring program coordinator at Beech Acres, an agency that works to strengthen families for children. Walling also is a mentor to many students who've crossed his path at UC...students who are children of Vietnam veterans.

"What amazes me is that I've given talks in classes, and kids will say, 'This is why my dad's like this.' I'm helping to open an understanding between today's students and their parents."

Walling also is building a bridge of understanding through his work as a student senator-at-large, one of six student senators who represent the entire university. Walling has served on the senate about a year, and he and other CECE senate members work to address the needs of the nontraditional UC students, the people who are scheduling classes around the responsibilities of work, family, even grandchildren.

Walling was selected as the senate's Homecoming king nominee by fellow senate-at-large students who represent colleges across the university. His nomination makes him the first CECE candidate for the Homecoming court.

"I can honestly say Larry has the respect of just about every student and faculty member who has come in contact with him," says Brenda Smith, a CECE student senate representative who's adding to her bachelor's degree in addictions studies with a certificate in domestic violence counseling. "The nomination says a lot for Larry, but it also says a lot about nontraditional students...that we're a new nontraditional student and that our college is part of the university as a whole."

The field of candidates for the Homecoming court will be announced Oct. 20. The king and queen will be crowned during halftime, but Walling embraced the spirit of Homecoming long before the votes are cast or the finalists announced.

"I'm doing what I should have been doing after Vietnam. I'm finally becoming the person I should have been, but didn't. This is a homecoming. I'm welcomed. I'm finally home."


 
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