Memorial Day is a time for reflection and remembering those who have died in the service of their country. This year I had the opportunity to read a book about a fallen soldier from my unit in Vietnam. It is truly a small world that 48 years after the battle and 10,000 miles removed from the location I would have to opportunity to get to know this soldier and gain some solace from a former enemy. Below is the book report I wrote after buying and reading the book. I have placed this in my files as another God Wink ( See my original post here for explanation. ). If ever I am tempted to lose faith, God reaches out and touches me with a gentle or not so gentle reminder that he is and always has been watching over me. (Tony Adams aka Bobby Tony)
Today, I am writing my most difficult book report ever at 70 years old. It is about another GI I did not know, and an enemy I never wanted to know. Yet we were all in the same place forty eight years ago along with a bunch of others, with us trying to kill him and his comrades and he trying to kill us. Of the three of us two of us survived and one did not. Many others on both sides also did not make it. But the real story is not about the battle. It is about warriors, love, hate, and eventually forgiveness and absolution if you will. As we approach Memorial Day 2016, I implore you to take more than a few minutes to acknowledge those who are no longer with the living as a result of their service to this country. Perhaps you can find some sympathy for the dead of our former enemies as well. Bear with me on this. Sometimes forgiving your enemies takes more than a Bible verse.
I arrived in Vietnam on February 6, 1968. The Tet offensive was probably the worst battle of the entire Vietnam War. It started during what was a traditional truce period on January 31, 1968. After in country processing, I was assigned to Alpha Company of the Second Battalion, Twelfth Infantry Regiment (2/12) of the 25th Infantry Division. I joined the company in the field on or about February 19. I met up with the company on Highway 1 which runs from Tay Ninh to what was then Saigon (Now Ho Chi Minh City, because the winners get to rename the place). The battle was still raging in the countryside and the cites. We convoyed down Highway 1 toward the village of Hoc Mon, a reportedly deserted village just north of Saigon. Hoc Mon was the source of intense shelling of Tan Son Nhut air base which is southeast of Hoc Mon. Google says it is 16 KM (about 10 Miles) and about a 26 minute drive. It took us a bit longer to make the trip due to certain obstacles along the way.
On March 4, 1968 the battle of Hoc Mon took place between our units and entrenched Viet Cong and NVA. (Here is a list of our KIA and WIA that day)
Since I was so new to the unit, I did not know the names or faces of the wounded and killed. A FNG in Vietnam was generally shunned until they made their bones. No one wants to know your name, where you are from and what you did back in the world. Just do you job and try not to get any of the old-timers killed.
The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment
was also in the battle and took the brunt of the losses that day. Here is one description of the battle:
"Ambush at Hoc Mon - In 1968, 92 American soldiers of C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division began a search-and-destroy mission near Saigon. They were looking for a Viet Cong force that had been firing rockets into their Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As they rushed along a road without flank security to catch up with their battalion, they ran into an ambush. Within eight minutes, 49 American soldiers were dead or dying, and 29 were wounded". Lost Battles of the Vietnam War
In mid to late March, I was transferred to Bravo Company to reallocate the unit's authorized strength. With no personal attachment to the members of the other companies, I never gave it much thought. One of the first things you learn in an infantry unit is not to make too many friends outside of your unit. It is easier on the mind when the word comes down that Company B, C or D lost a few guys the other day. Keeping a tight circle is the grunt's way of self-defense against war's carnage. You're stuck with the friends you have but you don't make no new ones.
What has all this have to do with the book report? Well recently one of my 'Band of Brothers' posted a notice on Facebook about a book published in 2015 by the niece of one of our KIA during the March 4th battle. PFC Edward A. Schultz (21) of San Luis Obispo, CA along with others died that day. I did not know Eddy nor did I have any recollection of him. Eddy was a member of Charlie Company and I was with Alpha Company. But the fact that we were both probably within a few yards of each other 48 years ago is enough reason for me to buy the book. In remembrance of him I ordered the book from Amazon. Paying homage to fallen brothers is a lifelong duty. You can buy the book here: The Box: A Memoir
I know that most will not order the book but it is a very moving story told by his niece, Lynne Lorine Ludwick. Eddy was only three years older than Lynne and she describes him as more like brother. She tells the story of Eddy and his family before his 55 days in Vietnam. This is not a war story. It is a story of a people dealing with life, death, redemption and possibly closure. It encompasses both sides of the war, the residual effects on the survivors and their relatives and friends.
The book would never have been written or published were it not for the anguish of one of Eddy's combat brothers trying to close a chapter in his life. Andy Wahrenbrock was a medic in Eddy's unit and since they were both from California, they became fast friends from the start.
The book tells the story of two parallel lives. One is the all American farm boy drafted during the Vietnam War. The other is her narrative of the real Vietnamese boy raised in a country that has been at war for centuries. She has a firsthand knowledge of Eddy but she does a creditable job of describing the feelings of the enemy VC soldier. I was always amazed how the Vietnamese people endured the hardships of life in general as well as life during what to them was an endless war. Most children in Vietnam saw more in their first 10 years than an American sees in a lifetime.
It is normal for families to wonder about the specifics of how their loved ones die. It is also a driving compulsion for some veterans to contact the families of their dead buddies and tell them the story. Like most combat veterans, Andy put the war and the memories in a metaphorical "box" for twenty-five years, but unlike a fine wine, the memories do not mellow with age. They ferment into bitter vinegar. At some point, you must taste of the rancorous liquid, if for no other reason but to remind yourself of your own good fortune and the sacrifice of others. (Matthew 27:48)
In 2008 Andy made contact with Lynne and made plans to visit her and tell the story of Eddy. Suffice it to say that Eddy did not suffer but died instantly from a head shot.
Lynne met Jim Peterson in June 1968, three months after Eddy was killed. Jim did not know Eddy. Jim and Lynne were married but later divorced. They remained friends. In 2009, Jim called Lynne and told her he was traveling to Vietnam. She asked him if he were in the area of Hoc Mon could he stop by and take a few pictures of the village just for closure.
Modern Vietnam is very accommodating to visiting US Veterans. Any country that has endured as much war as the Vietnamese have can put things in a perspective that most Americans thankfully do not have to learn. Jim was able to visit Hoc Mon area during his trip.
Through the translators, he told the villagers that he was visiting the area because the uncle of one of his friends had been killed in the area. During the back and forth through interpreters, one of the older villagers began to cry silently. He was a veteran Vet Cong soldier and a participant of the battle on March 4, 1968. He was our enemy and a relatively uneducated peasant then. He told of his losses of family and his fiance during the war. He told of how his only wish was for his country to have freedom from the Chinese, Japanese, French and Americans. There was no politics involved in his thoughts; he just wanted the foreigners gone.
As Jim prepared to leave the village, the old man pleaded, "Please wait while I get something. I have something for your friend".
He pedaled away on his bicycle. After twenty minutes, Jim was not sure if he was going to return but soon he did with a small metal box in his hand. He handed the box to Jim and said simply, "Give this to your friend".
I guess he too had tried to put the memories in a "box", which indicates that human nature is remarkably the same everywhere.
I cannot do justice to the emotion or narrative of this book or maybe it is just the old grunt in me getting sentimental. But when Lynne received the box from Jim and opened it up it contained the orange, blue and yellow Viet Cong battle flag that was flying at the scene of Eddy's death. The military tradition is to protect the flag at all cost. It is a symbol of the dedication and sacrifice soldiers are willing to make for the cause of their country. The symbolism of lowering the flag of the losing side and raising the flag of the winning side is a long honored tradition. Also, the presentation of the flag at the funeral of a veteran is an acknowledgement that they did their duty. For this Viet Cong warrior to present his honored flag to Lynne as a gesture of respect is way beyond what one would expect from a former enemy.
This flag is not a war trophy and the picture below is not a bunch of older Combat Veterans holding a captured enemy flag. It is a present from a former enemy. An enemy, who perhaps understands that at some point you must make peace with your adversaries.
Here are Lynne's words describing the meaning of the old VC veteran's gift " He offered his amends with outstretched hands to a family he had never met. This aging veteran of a war he didn't choose, a war he abhorred, a war that killed his loved ones, reached out his arms to the family of his enemy, reached with a gift, the only gift that could matter, a gift that survived time and distance, the offering of his battle flag, the symbol of his county, his honor, his duty. A peace offering, an absolution."
If you follow this link you see the comments about Eddy that have been posted on the Vietnam Wall website including this post by Andy:
Eddy Schultz –Panel 42 line 72
Eddie: wanted you to know that for the past 6-7 years the platoon has had a reunion. The first order of matters is to drink a toast to you & Lundley. Lt Ford (who passed away in 2004) Glass, Coulter, Counts, Abney, Morrill, Nevers, Belue, Quesnoy and a couple more.
Miss you buddy
Andy (doc) Wahrenbrock
Jun 1, 2007.
Click here for Enlarged Picture
This picture from 2012 shows four of the Combat Veterans holding the VC Flag that was offered by their VC counterpart 44 years after they met in combat. Click here for enlarged Picture of the Flag Only
A suggestion: When you hear someone mention someone or had a friend or relative who has died in combat, stop and ask him or her "what was their name"? If possible, get a pen and paper and write the name down. I always carry 3 x 5 index cards in my pocket (a lifelong habit for notes pre-computer age). I ask the dead person's name. I write it down on the card and I may make some notes on the back. There are several reasons for doing this.
- It attaches a real person to the memory in your mind.
- It only takes a few seconds but it may give some comfort to the grieving relative or friend.
- It provides a personal hard copy memory of a fallen soldier.
- You will not remember it later and it will not change the world, but it will take a few moments away from the current hustle and bustle of life.
- It makes it a personal tribute and I think they earned and deserve those few moments.
- Lastly, it requires you to make a decision later when you decide what to do with the 3 x 5 index card with a fallen soldier's name. My solution is simple. I put the cards in a 3 x 5 box and every year on Memorial Day, I review the cards.
Don't you think they deserve at least that much time and effort out of your busy day. Any combat veteran has some dates and names embedded in their memory. It may be some solace to them to know that others take a few seconds to pay respect and honor to the memory of someone they did not know. However, rest assured that there is always someone somewhere who has a chasm in their heart for a fallen soldier.
Research sites used for this article
- You can order the book "The Box: A Memoir" here
- The Box Facebook page
- The Box Website
- Here is an extract from the Battalion Journal Page 3
- Here is an extract from the Battalion Journal Page 5
- C CO, 4TH BN, 9TH INFANTRY, 25 INF DIV
- Our 212 Warriors Webmaster's pictures from his return to Vietnam in 2010
- March overview from our unit website
- March 4 Issue of Tropic Lightning
- March 11 Issue of Tropic Lightning
- Eddy Schultz –Panel 42 line 72