Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Restoring Bicycles Helps ‘Year Round Santa Claus’ Cope With PTSD
When Vietnam Veteran Bert Clayton is not refurbishing household items in his shop in Beggs, Okla., he is restoring old bicycles. Clayton restores approximately 30 bicycles a year and then gives them away for free to under-privileged children.
He buys all the parts and even pays to have bicycles chromed – all at his own expense – to bring joy to children who do not have a bicycle of their own.
“My wife calls me a year round Santa Claus,” said Clayton. “No matter what time of the year, I just love making kids happy. When kids are happy, they’re not getting in trouble. As long as they have a bicycle or something to keep them occupied, I just made that kid a little bit better and he won’t want to get into trouble.”
When Clayton was a teenager, he developed a love for bicycles when he delivered newspapers for the Tulsa World and Tulsa Tribune, which gave him his first bicycle when he began a route as a “paperboy.”
“That was the first bike I had ever owned and that bike was put up every night,” said Clayton. “It didn’t sit out in the yard and in the rain. I’ve loved them ever since.”
Clayton wants children to experience the same joy he felt with his first bike.
“I can’t stand to see a child not have a bicycle,” said Clayton. “It gives me a comforting feeling to know that I’ve helped a child whose parents can’t afford to buy them a bicycle and it makes me feel good to know I’ve made a child happy.”
Restoring old bicycles and giving them to children in need does a lot more for Clayton than simply bring him joy. It also helps him forget memories of war – memories from his time in Vietnam where he served as a machine gunner on a U.S. Navy river patrol boat.
“When I got back, (other Vietnam Veterans) said ‘man, you know your job and a pilot of Huey, your life expectancy wasn’t for very long,” said Clayton, who earned a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. “I didn’t know that then, but I know it now.”
Clayton developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his combat experiences and he receives treatment at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC).
Along with treatment, Clayton credits the time he spends in his shop for helping to reduce his PTSD symptoms.
“It takes my mind off of it,” said Clayton. “It gives me something better to think about. The only time (the PTSD symptoms) really ever happens is when I go to sleep at night. I’d rather not have it there, so that’s why I keep busy.”
Clayton’s wife, Cordelia, agrees that Bert is happier when he’s working in his shop.
“He’s more content and down to earth,” said Cordelia Clayton. “He likes doing things. If he doesn’t do something, PTSD hits him bad again. I want him to stay busy and he loves this and he loves kids.”
If you would like to partner with Clayton and help under-privileged children receive a bicycle, he would like your help. If you have an old bicycle or bicycle parts you would like to donate, please contact Clayton at 918-267-1347.
You can also stop by his shop at the following address:
Bert Clayton Bicycle Shop
509 N. Muskogee
Beggs, Oklahoma 74421