Mission accomplished: Provider Tom Polston reunites with fellow veterans
LEWISVILLE, Texas – Provider Tom Polston received his draft notice 30 days after he graduated from college. He spent 10 months in Vietnam’s central highlands in 1969 and, upon discharge, “buried everything” for decades. In May, he traveled to North Carolina to reunite with his fellow soldiers and the Vietnamese translator who helped them communicate with locals during their tour. The former first lieutenant and owner of Specialty Medical Sales spoke with HME News recently about his mission in life.
HME News: What made you look up your Vietnam buddies?
Tom Polston: About two years ago I had a lot of slide format pictures (from Vietnam) converted to digital. I’d never shared them with anybody. I thought, “There’s a story here.” I decided to see if I could find some of my old teammates. After six or seven days, by pure chance, I found my second lieutenant. That started a communication. One thing I tried to find out was, “Where is our Montagnard interpreter, Phian Siu?” Everybody had bits and pieces of information—they thought he got to the states. I made it my mission to find him.
HME: And he had settled in North Carolina?
Polston: He and his wife arrived there in 1988 or ’89. His son couldn’t get out. I rounded up four other guys that knew him in 1968-1970 and we agreed to meet him. He looked thinner and older, of course, but he still had that sparkle in his eyes. He had advanced liver cancer (Siu died in June). He probably contracted hepatitis C after he was taken prisoner in 1973.
HME: How has your military background served you in the HME industry?
Polston: In my 20s, I didn’t understand about building relationships, but clearly we did that in Vietnam. We were five Americans surrounded by everyone else. When I came back I felt like I had to put my nose to the grindstone so I got an MBA. After getting kicked around the corporate world for many years, I wanted to do something myself. I bought this floundering company, Specialty Medical Sales, in 1994, and tried to build a good quality team and do it the morally responsible way. If you do that, people think highly of you and they tell other people.
HME: What is your take on the Veterans Affairs scandal?
Polston: It’s been that way for a long time. It goes back to congressmen and political appointees and cronyism. I had to go to a veterans hospital in 1972. It was a dingy experience, just the smell, the look, the wait.