Veterans line up to receive COVID vaccine

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Robert Masterson, a U.S. Army veteran, waits patiently Saturday morning to hopefully receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the William C. Tallent VA Outpatient Clinic. Photo by Cliff Hightower

Robert Masterson has seen war.

As a 21-year-old infantryman, he lost his legs in Vietnam as he walked across a minefield.

But, he faces a new invisible enemy and sat in line Saturday morning to hopefully receive a precious shot of vaccine to combat his new foe – COVID-19.

He heard the William C. Tallent Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic was administering the vaccine on Friday. He, like others, came to get in line.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m 71 years old and I got scars on my lungs from that blast and all,’” he said. “I hope I get it.”

Two lines wound around and into the outpatient clinic, wrapping both sides of the building, as veterans showed up early to get the Johnson & Johnson shot, a one-time shot.

The vaccine was approved last weekend by the Federal Drug Administration for emergency use and it joins the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are two-shot vaccines.

The efficacy for the vaccine is slightly lower than the other two at 85 percent compared to around 92 percent. But, the FDA has said it is still effective and during trial those who had the shot and contracted COVID did not require hospitalization and there were no deaths.

The scene Saturday morning was peaceful as veterans stood in line, hoping to get a shot.

Some came to the clinic as early as 5 a.m. to get vaccinated. Others brought lawn chairs to sit on or books to read.

James Brandon, of Lenoir City, said he got to the clinic around 7 a.m. He walked out of the door of the clinic around 9:30 a.m.

The 71-year-old Army veteran, who served from 1964 to 1970 in the Signal Corps, said he has diabetes and felt he needed to get the shot. He said it went smooth and he felt quick getting his arm stuck.

“I never felt anything,” he said. “I didn’t even know she gave me a shot.”

He said he was especially thankful for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I’m just glad it was one shot and I don’t have to go back.”

Masterson, sitting to the side in the sun, patiently waited his turn. He reflected back on his time in Viertnam where he did a six-month tour before coming home earlier than he ever expected.

He was in the 2-12th Thunder Horse Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. It was May 1970 and he and another soldier were in a foxhole. A fresh 2nd lieutenant came to them and said they needed to go to the perimeter of a location in Cambodia where a large cache of weapons were stored.

He said they told the lieutenant usually a squad of six or eight did that work.

The three of them went out into a field and then stopped.

“We walked into a minefield,” Masterson said. “I knew it.”

He also saw the lieutenant was on a trip wire. He went to get the young officer off the mine, but he froze up. As he tried to tug him off, the mine went off.

“It killed him and got me and the other guy,” Masterson said.

Before Saturday, he found a new trip mine. Trying to find a way to get an appointment to get vaccinated. He said he had called around, but could never get through to the health department.

He was hoping to find some peace of mind Saturday as he sat waiting.

“I feel pretty good about getting the vaccine if I can ever get to the door and get in,” he said.

Published March 3, 2021

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