Roc Whitted, Incarcerated Veterans Oral History Project, interviewed by Jason A. Higgins, May 31, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA.
Mr. Whitted grew up in Philly, the son of a single Black woman who labored as a domestic worker. He joined the U.S. Navy and volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War. He worked at Da Nang air base during his deployment, supervising laundry detail. Occasionally, Roc brought clean linens to the field hospital. He still recalls the tortured faces of Vietnamese victims of the war.
After Vietnam, Roc tried to put the war behind him. He did not identify as a veteran until after he was diagnosed with cancer. Exposure to Agent Orange has given Mr. Whitted treatable but incurable cancer. He has survived it three times but expects it to return. He says surviving made him much more aware of and sensitive to the suffering of other human beings.
After coming home from Vietnam, he experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled with his memories of the war. He managed to suppress his traumas by focusing on a career in law enforcement and building a family.
He and his wife adopted two children, a daughter and a son. He recounted the tragic story of his five-year-old son, who suddenly and irreversibly slipped into a coma.
After his son passed, Roc’s world fell apart. His marriage failed. Roc decided to end his life. He says that most people will develop a plan. His plan was interrupted and delayed. After Roc decided to live, he became dedicated to saving other lives.
Roc served thirty years in the Philadelphia police department and volunteered almost two decades, working the overnight shift for the suicide hotline. He served as a counselor to police officers dealing with trauma and mental health problems. Since 1977, he has carried the weight of killing in the line of duty.
Today, Roc focuses his time on veterans. He serves as a Veteran Mentor in the Philadelphia Veterans Court and volunteers at the V.A. hospital. He seeks to relieve others of their burdens, and by doing so, Roc has found peace.