Uncommon Valour

My father died last week. 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 blood. And though he may have died on January 29, 2020, the truth is, Agent Orange exposure killed him 50 years before. He died a slow, painful death.

He told my mom once that being a soldier was the only thing he was ever really good at. Yet, after doing his duty (with honors), he came back to a nation that spit and yelled at him. Can you imagine?

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 an M-16 rifle, 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. 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. In one failed swoop, my father made a decision that changed his life forever. He never got over that little girl.

I get pretty indignant when I see opportunists and careerists treat our Constitution like a placemat. Why have good men and women died brave and honorable deaths while the reprehensible cowards and power-hungry seem to thrive? I fear I’ll never know.

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 the pastor know about the email, he decided to reach out to him. This was his letter.

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 did indeed save 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, with two men either killed or badly injured laying 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. 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 that Glenn did not receive an award for bravery for his actions that day (enlisted men seldom did), but he certainly deserved to do so, as he openly exposed himself to the enemy fire in order 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 next morning. 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
P.S. The two men we were hoping to rescue, Angelo Figueroa and Melvin Lee, did not survive, and their names are on panel 27 West, lines 24 and 25 of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

I love you Dad.

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