Two Guys From Ohio
Imagine you knew a man from Cleveland, Ohio.
This man had one sibling, an older sister.
During Vietnam, he volunteered for dangerous assignments, operating far behind enemy lines.
After the war, he battled drugs and alcohol.
Eventually, he sobered up and went to work for a vending machine company.
For many years, he traveled in a van around Los Angeles fixing coffee and soda machines.
Now imagine knowing TWO men with the exact same history. (But different vending machine companies.)
I was honored to be friends with such a pair. They came into my life at different times out in California and it was eerie how their backgrounds meshed in such odd intimate ways. Once I introduced them to each other at a party, figuring they'd have lots in common, but after a few polite minutes they separated.
They'd experienced stranger things.
The Rockpile and Dak To: 1966 - 1968A Marine, Kurt initially served in Bravo Company, 3rd Recon Battalion in 1966. Wounded twice, he was stationed in I Corp in northern South Vietnam monitoring enemy forces infiltrating across the DMZ. By early 1968, Kurt was operating out of Khe Sanh, running patrols in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail on operations so secret that Americans who died there were never officially acknowledged. Kurt had extended his service to go to Vietnam. He rotated home before the siege, returning to America only to be confronted in a bus depot by a man angry over the war. (The angry man didn't fare well against Kurt.)
T.J. originally fought with the 12th Infantry on Operation MacArthur near Dak To. He loathed the brutal randomness of combat—here one second gone the next and decided his odds would be better in the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol). Instead of waiting to be hit, TJ crept around North Vietnamese base camps in the Central Highlands, calling in air and artillery strikes, picking off sentries, and making the enemy nervous. He returned to serve out his last few months at Fort Knox, conducting tours of the U.S. Gold Reserve. One night while watching television he started shaking and broke into tears.
Years would pass before he learned about PTSD.
In 2002 I made a business trip to Vietnam. I brought Kurt back a little Buddha and some red clay from Khe Sanh. TJ collected Buddhas the way some people collect Pokemon cards. So I picked him out a honey in Saigon: a big, fat happy Buddha, smiling like he'd just won the Power Ball, holding up the Pearl of Knowledge.
It Is FinishedKurt died in 2003 from liver cancer.
T.J. died in 2009 from emphysema and other complications.
In the end, health and psychological damage from the war shortened their lives.
But they were decent men, regular guys who performed extraordinary deeds, and friends I will always cherish.
This weekend I remember two guys from Cleveland and all who gave their lives in service to the country.
|New Rochelle Talk|