Veterans' Voices / We The People

Veterans Day Recognizes Special People – Who Inspire

veterans day

He was my high school history teacher forty years ago.  Called him today – just to talk.  His name is Dave.  True blue, dutiful, realistic and well-read.  101st Airborne, 1st Brigade in Vietnam, he saw combat July 1965 to July 1966.  He inspired us then, still does today.  No better time to remember than on Veterans Day.   

Not drafted, Dave volunteered – youngest child, rural Maine.  By mid-high school, he had read William L. Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” knew all about World War II, wanted to teach history.  Then came the Vietnam War.

When I say he volunteered – I mean, he never stopped volunteering.  He volunteered to go to Vietnam, for jump school, 101st Airborne, first into Camron Bay, immediately into the jungle, and back into the field with days left on orders.

He reminds me, he did not go to avoid things – but to do things.  In that last month, company strength was down 50 percent.  Volunteers were asked.  He could have avoided it – but that was not his spirit. 

“Not a great patriotic upsurge, just something that had to be done … and I was there.”  Pressed, he says, “lying in a rice paddy, you look over at that patch on your left shoulder …”  He had seen plenty killed.  Saddest was a medic trying to save a gung-ho guy who charged a 50-cal at 100 yards.  They both fell.

Does he think himself lucky?  Yes, for sure.  Assigned with five guys to take 100 Vietnamese to a mid-jungle swap that presaged an ambush, he ended up back in camp “at four or five in the morning,” leg covered in leeches.  Deet killed them.  He grabbed sleep on a board, poncho overhead.  Next morning, the leg was huge – mass infection.  Inconvenient.  

That was lucky?  Well, it forced a medivac.  “I was the mortar man, and carried the radio,” but they insisted I go.  “A few hours later, someone says, ‘Hey did you hear what happened to Company C?’ and it turns out a round went off in the tube, killed those around it.  He pauses.  “That would have been me.”

A month remaining, he volunteered.  Combat got intense.  “We are on a hill, two of us, one guy about five feet away, and a Chicom grenade comes … plunk, plunk, plunk … lands right in front of me.”  Details get etched deep when life stands still.  “I lost my helmet night before, so was just in my field cap, not that a helmet would have helped … I looked over at the guy beside me, you know, our eyes met …”

“You never knew with these Chicom grenades … we found them afterwards, like the boobytraps.”  I waited.  “Well, I reached over, threw it down the hill…”  It was a lucky day – and he knows it.   

Maybe that is why he kept volunteering.  For 18 years, he wrote columns for “the airborne guys” of the 327th Regiment, 101st Airborne, 1st Brigade.  Doing that, he connected upwards of a thousand guys. 

Once he got a letter from the father of a Navy vet.  His son owned an army knife, originally issued to a member of the 101st Airborne.  A name was on the knife.  This Navy father wanted to get it home.

Dave reflects on what happened next.   That letter came 40 years after the war.  Two days later – just two days – he got a second letter.  This one was from California.  It mentioned the same name, the one on the knife.  The second letter was from a relative.   

The name was a 101st comrade – who had fallen in combat.  Dave called the fallen paratrooper’s sister, asked if their parents were alive.  Would they like the knife?  Yes, it would mean a lot.  Dave made it so.  He seems to imply that life, like history, is curious, unpredictable, but details matter.

Today, he tells one more story.  Other connections made?   He thinks.  One guy wrote him asking if he could find a paratrooper from the 101st named “Jack.”  Jack, what?  No idea, just “Jack.” 

Dave put out the request.  Low and behold, Jack appeared.  What pulled the men together?  Forty years earlier, on a no-name battlefield, mid-firefight in life-leeching Vietnam, a man named Jack happened on a medic trying to save four guys. 

Jack saw three being tended, the fourth ignored.  Why?  “Too far gone,” said the medic, “have to save the guys who have a chance.”  Why?  “Lost too much blood, he can’t be saved.”  Jack recognized the fourth guy.  They had just been drinking beers on a three-day pass in Qui Nhon – a week ago.   

Jack pressed the medic.  Why can’t we get plasma into him?  “Too late, no veins.”  The dying man had bled out, turned white, veins gone.  Jack dropped everything, checked for a vein in neck, wrist, armpit – nothing.  Then he checked an ankle, found one.  It worked.  The medic gave him plasma, and – in Dave’s words – “got the guy going.” 

Forty years later, Dave connected Jack with the man he saved.  Small things in a big world, big things in two lives.  That is what Veteran’s Day is about – being grateful for life, the chance to live free, and those who protect our freedom.  Dave was one.   

Veterans Day is about those who served and serve – about inspiration and life experience, duty and what history teaches, what unsung heroes do, and how to pass the spirit forward.  Veterans, like one who served in the 101st Airborne, Vietnam, and later taught me history, are a treasure.  They pass along rare truths, and the importance of volunteering – doing what we can, while we can.  Dave still does.  

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Rich

Stories like these are tear jerkers for sure, more so for people who love our country, and people that respect other people.I’m 66 just missed out on Vietnam Nam but do respect our service men and apologize for the inconsiderate asses that treated are service men coming back like dirt.

Ed J

Freedom is never free. It is always bought and paid for with blood in every generation. Out of my high school graduating class of 105, 30 of us served in the Armed Forces, with most making the choice to serve, while some were drafted. One of us did not make it back. Bruce Rowe, a Navy pilot, was shot down over Viet Nam. He was one of the best of us and he gave his last full measure in defending our freedom and way of life. As a veteran myself, I salute all veterans, both past and present. For it is because of all of them that we have our America today, our freedom today, and our way of life today. Hopefully, those misguided segments of our current society will get back on track and cease drifting away from the principles our Founding Fathers enunciated in the Declaration of Independence… Read more »

Phil Hammersley

Great article about a brave patriot! We need more of them, instead of “woke” snowflakes! My dad was on a ship in the Central Pacific in WW@. Tarawa, Saipan,Guam, Leyte Gulf.
His brother was in Europe in Battle of the Bulge.

carol

What stories! They touch at my heart big time! So many giving of themselves for all of us – wow! Thanks to all the veterans out there! Without them, we wouldn’t be free and to those who serve now – thanks for serving and keeping us all free!

J. FARLEY

THE MEN AND WOMEN THAT SERVE ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST PEOPLE OUR COUNTRY HAS , THEY HAVE SERVED AND SOME HAVE SACRIFICED ALL TO KEEP AMERICA SAFE AND STRONG , WE ALL OWE THEM MORE THAN WE CAN EVER RE-PAY THAN , SO ON THIS DAY GIVE A SPECIAL THANKS TO THOSE WHO SERVED , THEY SERVED WHEN WHEN BECAUSE OF A PHYSICAL PROBLEM I COULD NOT , THANKS AND GOD BLESS YOU .

Maria A Salazar

God bless America

Morbious

Awe inspiring people. Thanks for a great article.

Mike B.

As an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam I was honored to serve with some of the greatest people I’ve met in my life. If a may-day call went out you could be assured someone would be on site in minutes. If Americans troops were in trouble we would be there with resupply and medivac . Fifty years later I still meet with my brothers every two years. It’s a brotherhood those who haven’t served can’t comprehend. “We were strangers once, now brothers forever”. I am sure the same goes for our current generation of warriors. People who volunteer to serve their country because it’s the right thing to do.

Anonymous

I will NEVER forget. I am inspired by their stories and their service. We can learn so much from history, Veterans and the older generation. God Bless America, God bless our Veterans and God bless our President Donald Trump.

JoEllen Deasy

My Dad was career Air Force during WW2. He never talked about it but the impact on his life was apparent! God bless all who served during any war in any capacity. God bless every one of them🙏🙏

Paul W

God Bless Dave…and all who serve. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice. For some…it was the ultimate sacrifice. As we are, sadly, becoming a nation that is losing touch with whom the true heroes are…may we never forget these great men and women.

Gabriele

God Bless our veterans, and all our active military too!! We owe them soooo much and they don’t ask for anything in return. I am proud to be an American citizen. We must never forget all those who served to keep us free.

Jimm

I got back to the States in ’72, not from Vietnam but a three year tour in Europe. Next duty assignment was working in downtown St. Louis in dress uniform. Every day included a trip to the closest Post Office (about a half mile hike) during which time I received “appreciation” from civilians. Never bothered me – much – until about five years ago, just after the death of my wife, when her brother stated, proudly, that “everyone knew that you enlisted to avoid Vietnam”. Since I had filled out a “dream sheet” volunteering for “Nam every year until I was told that I wouldn’t be going there – and since neither he nor his agreeing brother-in-law (married to his sister) had never served – I was offended and haven’t spoken to them since. Only had a bit over eight years total service but the brother-in-law of mine (who was… Read more »

Richard Waldrop

Good stuff. Thanks for sharing

Josephine pooley

God bkess these Vets, every one! What tremendous courage! Thank you!

KGB Gestapo

I joined the Navy in the summer of 1971. I had planned on becoming a corpsman with the possibility of being assigned to the Marine Corp…as I wanted to be a physicians assistant for the towns Doctor in any small town in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico (you get the idea) when I got out of the Navy. I ended up in an opposite job…rated as an Aviation Ordnanceman…as corpsman billets at corpman school were full when my boot camp time ended, and if I didn’t take the AO (Aviation Ordnance) school/rate…I’d end up “non-rated” and chipping paint and washing clothes and working the galley and cleaning heads on the USS Never Dock. Anyway…I ended up in a Naval Air Squadron that provided target drones to the Naval Air fleet for them to fight against at “Top Gun” at Miramar. The first week of real “Top Gun”… Read more »

Jim

Thank you for your story, and a “Right Hand Salute to you and AMAC! USAF 1967-1974

Barb

THANK YOU VETERANS FOR SERVING OUR COUNTRY !!

Catherine

Wow.

Terry

Great articles like yours help us to NEVER FORGET what sacrifices have been made for our & other’s freedom. I also volunteered in the US Navy 1966-1972 but never saw combat. I do not feel that I come up to the bootstraps of those who saw combat but I went where they told me to go & did what they told me to do like many others. I am proud to have served. God Bless the USA!