"It's not what you've lost:" Vietnam veteran from Racine is an inspiration to others

MILWAUKEE -- FOX6's Ted Perry has had the honor to spend some time with Vietnam veterans from southeast Wisconsin over the last few weeks. The one thing he said they all have in common, is their desire to help other men and women who served. Such is the case with the "Tunnel Rat."

Tunnels in VIetnam

On a recent trip back to Vietnam, a group of men who served more than 40 years ago spent an afternoon in tunnels once occupied by enemy troops.

"It was really quite intricate, there'd be several levels and it was an elaborate set up -- basically a city underground," said Gus Sorenson, a Racine native.

Sorenson knows those tunnels well. It was his job during the Vietnam War, to go into the tunnels and cause havoc for the Viet Cong. It was dangerous work.

"Sometimes they'd have booby traps set up, they'd have critters they'd turn loose. Sometimes there'd be diesel fuel -- and you knew when it was time to turn around, they could burn you alive," said Sorenson.

Sorenson was awarded the Silver Star for his actions that led to the capture of nine enemy soldiers.

Sorenson survived the war unharmed. But just weeks after returning home, he was injured in a car crash that left him paralyzed. Sorenson learned quickly -- life for a disabled veteran had its challenges.

Gus Sorenson

"Years ago, I ran into a number of brick walls here and there and learned to roll with the punches. You have no choice," Sorenson said.

But Sorenson figured out how to help himself and other paralyzed veterans adapt to their new world.

"Other veterans came along asking me questions and I realized I could help some other people," Sorenson said.

The "Tunnel Rat" was pretty good navigating above ground too.

Gus Sorenson

"I'd ask, why am I doing this? And then a veteran would come up and say, 'Thanks!' And oh, now I know why I'm doing this -- one of those things you can't put a price on," Sorenson said.

Sorenson often gets energy therapy at Milwaukee's VA Hospital. He made a career of helping other vets. He has no plans of stopping. Although retired, Sorenson is still an inspiration.

"It's not what you've lost, it's what you have left," said Sorenson. "You can make your choices. You can sit and home and not do much of anything and stare out the window and turn to drugs -- or you can get out and try to do something and get productive."