Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sacrifice comes full circle

My cellphone rang at about 6 on Tuesday evening.
"May I speak with Michael," asked a raspy, unfamiliar voice.
"Speaking," I said.
"Hello, my friend. You sent me a letter last week trying to get in contact with me."
It was Frank, the Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam whose Purple Heart medal I bought at online auction last year.
He was calling me from a veterans home in upstate New York.

My heart skipped a beat.
This was the man, the complete stranger, to whom I needed to return what rightfully was his.
Frank said he lost the medal three years ago. I didn't ask how. I figured it was none of my business. I thought that asking about its loss might somehow imply doubt on my part. Anyway, it wasn't important.
He wanted to know how I found him. I explained how I searched a public records database at work and came up with a name that I hoped would be the right one. And then I sent a letter to the address exactly one week ago.
"Just a stab in the dark," he said.
He asked me how I acquired his medal. I told him about eBay.
"I didn't know they could sell medals on eBay," he said.
Unfortunately, they can. It seems that everything in our society, even recognition of valor and blood sacrifice, can be bought for the right price.

The paperwork that accompanies Frank's Purple Heart indicates the date it was bestowed, but not the circumstances. I wanted to know, and asked Frank if he would be uncomfortable in relating the story.
"You're not asking questions about blood and gore, so it's OK," he said.

Frank was stationed in the village of Phu Bai on Highway 1 near Da Nang in April 1968. His Marine squad of about 15 men was living in the village on a one-year assignment, working side-by-side with the villagers in defending their homes against attack.
"I caught a Chicom grenade [manufactured in mainland China] and got shrapnel in my back," Frank said. "I was medevac'ed out and was in the hospital for a month."

I asked Frank what it was like living in that village.
"You had to be on your toes," he said. "We had a compound in front of the village. Then we got rid of that and moved into the village.
"At night we had to set ambushes. I don't trust anybody, I don't care who it is. You couldn't tell friend from enemy because everyone looked the same.
"You had to stay alert."

Frank was very glad that I had sent that letter. I told him how I had agonized over whether to try to find him, not knowing what wounds of his I might be reopening. He said he was grateful, and that I shouldn't worry.

I, too, am grateful. Grateful that I had the chance to close this circle.


LBseahag said...

This story just leaves me feeling so many different things. I am so glad there are people like you and him to make this world so much more than face value...

Michael said...

Thank you, LB!

Matt Kohai said...

Wow - Michael, this is a really good story, worthy of a newspaper article, I'd think... The world should hear this man's tale, as well as yours, particularly in these times of war we're in now.

Michael said...

This story leaves me wanting more. More than there's room for in this blog perhaps.

What does he look like now compared to his youth? What did he feel when he went overseas? When he came home? What did he do with his life? What does he think of GB's current campaign?

How did he feel about getting the medals back? How did he feel when he got them in the first place? Were they a meaningful reward for his sacrifice?

Maybe I'm less sensitive than you, but I want to know how he lost the medals. I think that's a big part of this little story.

Best regards,

Michael said...

Thanks, guys! Yes, there's likely a lot more to this story. I'm curious as to how the medal was lost, and perhaps someday I'll find out.

Lone Wolf said...

Great! Congrats on finding Frank. What an amazing story.

Based on last post-I will keep you im my thoughts and prayers Michael.

Michael said...

Thanks, Lone Wolf!

C~ said...

You are a wonderful person.

Oxeye said...

you two guys are connected from now on.. I hope he is ok with his story being available to hundreds/thousands of people. I guess he will let you know..

Anonymous said...

Just was eamiled the information about the PH you found & returned. Neat story and great that you established a link with that 'group' of Vietnam era Marines. Semper fidelis,

Best wishes with your battle, may you win and live a long life!

Michael said...

Many thanks, everyone!

C~, thanks, but this just happens to be one of my better days. Those are mighty big shoes to fill.

Oxeye, in some respects, we were never disconnected. We just didn't know we were connected, corny as it may sound.

Hey anon, thanks very much for your kind wishes. I'm glad this story is unfolding the way it is. It has been a wonderful experience and a great lesson for me.