This is a powerful, even in its own way, a beautiful piece, about the costs of war that we Vietnam veterans paid on the battlefield and here at home, even to this day. It focuses on two Marines and their experiences in Vietnam and afterwards.
They are both truly honorable men.
There is some language in the first story that might offend some, but it is the language we veterans spoke and recognize. Its meaning is deep in us and comes out only when we “are there again” among ourselves. It is appropriate in this situation.
The second man’s story will raise your spirits through the veil of his life long contemplation and acceptance of his own pain and suffering. He has risen far above both. The paradox is unspoken, but very clear.
The Greatest Generations Foundation (TGGF) is an NGO (non-government organization) that takes veterans back to their former battlegrounds and memorials to ensure their legacies of those that made and endured the sacrifices of combat are recorded and retold in perpetuity to future generations.
This video is produced by the TGGF on one of their trips taking 14 Marines and a Corpsman, back to Vietnam, to Da Nang and Hue where they had personally fought. You will meet two of those Marines in this video and hear their stories. Buckle up. It is powerful. As a Vietnam combat veteran myself, I write these comments through my own tears. I think you will see why.
The first Marine you will meet is Joe Getheral. Like most of us who came home after Vietnam to a nation divided and unwelcoming, he just shut his experiences up inside and went on with his life. He became a cop, retiring from that profession after 30 years. In all of that time, he never once talked about Vietnam, not with his colleagues, not even with his wife or children. But again, like so many of us, the realities of PTSD were real and constant.
Most of us, like Joe Getheral, just found ways to deal with it alone, within ourselves. But those memories, those emotions, those dreams, were there, rooted deep within us.
This trip with fellow Marines was the first time Getheral opened up about his Vietnam experiences and shared his story. These things that he had been carrying with him for 50 years. The trip to that battlefield opened up the locked box of his memories and you can see that they come rushing out in words, in language and in overwhelming emotional waves as he remembers them on the ground where they were made. All I ask is that you listen with your heart as he remembers those hours there in the thick trees, those memories that are 50 years old, yet as real as when they happened. As he tells the events of that battle, hear the heroism that runs through the story without any hint of braggadocio, just a job that had to be done in the face of the present and violent threat of death.
When you first meet him in the video, you will see him and hear him talk about his hesitancy and doubt about going on this trip. After he tells his story and has returned home you will see the peace that trip brought to him, allowing hem to finally free himself from the oppression of those memories.
The second man, Richard Prince, was a LCpl 50 years ago in Vietnam during the fierce Battle of Hue City during the Tet Offensive of 1968. In this gentle giant of a man, you will encounter a true philosopher, one who has thought deeply about service, about his experiences in Vietnam, about his fellow Marines, about what makes human beings noble, and about what being an American means.
Prince was serving with 1st Bn, 5th Marines at Hue when his company was ordered to take the Dong Ma Gate at the Citadel in the center of Hue. The fighting at the Citadel was some of the most intense and bloody in the Vietnam War. You will see and hear what he did there and what happened to him. He was in the thick of it, fighting the entrenched enemy and pulling wounded Marines back to safety while under the most intense enemy fire. Finally, an enemy sniper’s bullet hit him in the neck. That wound would effect his speech for the rest of his life, as you will hear.
Listen closely to what this man has to say. He has given it much thought. He has looked at his experiences both in war and as an African-American and his insights are as clear, deep and true as any I have read or heard in any academic philosophy book. His thoughts and words are rooted in the common reality of his life and they are recognizable to all who have ears to hear and hearts to feel.
Listen as he tells of being medevaced to the USS Repose Hospital Ship and what he says about the Corpsman who cared for him, who took care of his every need, without hesitation, without complaint. In that context, listen then and think about what he came to realize about life in and through those experiences on the battlefield in Hue, and in the care of that Corpsman on the USS Repose, when says things like: “We are better than this. America is better than this. Do not shut the door on your fellow man.”
We are in this complicated, often paradoxical life full of great suffering and great compassion, together. He is right, of course.
The fact is that these men represent all Vietnam veterans. They were among the greatest of their generation, not only because they fought in that war, but because of the contributions they made to this society on their return, even though they were welcomed home with indifference by most and condemnation by many.
The goal of the The Greatest Generations Foundation is to ensure that the legacy of men like Joe Getheral and Richard Prince and the countless other veterans is not forgotten. In the voices and stories of these to men, Joe Getheral and Richard Prince, you will see both nobility and great courage. They, and their fellow Vietnam veterans, are among the greatest of their generation and it is with pride and honor that the Veterans Site shares their stories with you.
Remember them. Thank them. And, more importantly, when you see a Vietnam veteran say to him, “Welcome home.” Those two words are more sweet to them than any others. Welcome home, my Vietnam veteran brothers and sisters. Welcome home!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.