Uncommon Valor

My father died last year.  He had just turned 70 years old.    The official diagnosis was Agent Orange Related Parkinson’s Disease.   The official cause of death was asphyxiation.   He died choking on his own blood.  And though he may have died on January 29, 2020, the truth is, Agent Orange exposure killed him 50 years before.  

For the first two years of their marriage, my mom was the recipient of many a late-night trip to the floor as my father would grab her and toss her,  yelling “incoming.” The only story I had ever heard about his time in Vietnam was one in which he was riding shotgun, holding a gun, as their convoy passed through a small village.   As was often the case, the villagers in town would gather on each side of the road as the soldiers would throw provisions and food to them.  

The young Vietnamese children would run up yelling, “chop, chop,” which meant candy.   My Dad said he often knew when they were among the Viet Cong because no one gathered.   But this particular day, as the crowd parted, a young Vietnamese girl about four years old walked from the crowd and stopped about 20 feet ahead of them.  My father saw the grenade.  As the truck stopped, he got out and slowly made his way over to her.  He spoke to her in Vietnamese and asked her to drop it.  He asked again, and he asked again.  But the child reached for the pin. In one fail swoop, my father made a decision that changed his view of life forever. 

The only other story I have heard about my Dad, and Vietnam, came last week at his service. This letter was written by one of my Dad’s platoon buddies. Jay had reached out to my Dad via email before he died, but my Dad could not respond. So after letting him know about the email, Reverend Apple decided to reach out to Jay. This is the letter that Reverend Apple read…

Hello Reverend Apple,

Thanks so much for letting me know about Glenn’s passing.  I am sorry to hear that he is gone and wish we might have had the opportunity to reconnect.   My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Glenn saved my life on Easter Sunday 1969 (April 6) in a clearing in the jungle near Black Virgin Mountain Nui Be Den) in Vietnam.  Our company’s lead platoon was ambushed earlier in the afternoon. Two men either killed or badly injured lying in the clearing, exposed to fire from North Vietnamese Army soldiers concealed in well-camouflaged bunkers.   Our platoon was called forward to try to reach the casualties, and the platoon leader instructed me to send a fire team (3-4 guys) forward toward the nearest body to pull it back. 

Leading the team, I crawled across the clearing but was suddenly hit by a burst of fire from an AK-47, which tore my rifle from my hands and also punctured my left lung, just missed my heart, and wedged within an inch of my spine.  About the same time, a rocket-propelled grenade went off in a tree at the edge of the clearing, and I was also spattered with shrapnel.  I did some serious praying, and God sent Glenn Dale and the platoon leader across that bullet-swept field to pull me back. Unfortunately, the enemy was still very much present, as I was shot again in the leg after being pulled back to our side of the clearing. 

I suspect Glenn did not receive an award for bravery for his actions that day (enlisted men seldom did). Still, he certainly deserved to do so, as he openly exposed himself to the enemy fire to carry me to safety.  Without his action, I would certainly have died there and then.

Later in the afternoon, I almost missed the medevac helicopter, as they thought I was a goner.  When I finally lay on an operating table at a MASH hospital in Tay Ninh, a priest gave me the last rites. You cannot imagine my surprise when I awoke the following day.  I spent the rest of 1969 in military hospitals until discharged – from the hospital and the army – on December 31, 1969.

Please express my condolences and my eternal thanks to Glenn’s family for sending him to me on that Easter over a half-century ago.

Jay Phillips

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