By Mike Lander on
The calendar says it is 2014, but for me it will forever remain 1968. In addition to the traumatic events which shaped U. S. and world events it was a lifetime compressed into a single year for me. My biography explains this in some detail.
My maternal grandfather was a “doughboy” in 1917. After training in Spartanburg, South Carolina and at Camp Gordon in Georgia he never made it to France. He was attached to the 71st New York Division that was reorganized as the 105th Infantry Regiment.
My father served in the 27th Division of the Army in the same 105th Infantry Regiment during World War II. He saw combat at Makin (Butaritari) Island in the Gilberts in 1943, and especially on Saipan in the Marianas in 1944. He was an Army Ranger, trained by LTC Henry Mucci at the Jungle Warfare School at Ft. Shafter on Oahu, Hawaii in 1942. The way the story goes he was the lone survivor from his unit of the largest banzai charge of World War II on July 7, 1944. Known as “The Raid” or “Sake Raid” by the men who lived to tell the story. My father was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge (Bronze Star). At the end of the war only 15 men from his company had survived. He once told me that he thought that I had things rough growing up too. I didn’t think much of what he said at the time, but coming from a man like him I now realize that it was a high compliment.
I also had an uncle who landed at Inchon, Korea with MacArthur in September 1950 as part of the 7th Division of the Army. He was wounded in action as he killed a North Korean soldier who was about to kill him. He later saved a soldier’s life in training and was seriously wounded for a second time.
So it is not surprising that in my own time I was sent to Korea attached to the 502nd MI Battalion, 8th Army. If you think about it, my father fought the Japanese who had occupied Korea during the war, then my uncle fought in the Korean War and my time in Korea was from 1969-1970. The period was known as the Second Korean War, a/k/a the DMZ War, a/k/a Low Intensity Conflict. At least they did not call it a “police action”. If the Korean War is the “Forgotten War” then my war was something less to many people. Some people do not realize that we are still committed to defending the Republic of Korea today. When I came home I was met with indifference and hostility as a result of the anti-war movement. It did not matter that I did not serve in Vietnam. I could not even wear my uniform in my own country without fear of being attacked.
I think that to concepts of sacrifice and commitment are missing among many people today. The Republic of Korea stands as a shining example of successful American foreign policy. Next time you use your Samsung smartphone or drive away in your Hyundai remember to thank a vet!
Finally, I need to need to speak about two of my friends who served in Vietnam. Every time that I meet a Vietnam veteran I give an extra special salute, because if not for him maybe me. He may have taken my place. Pete Bonnachi served in the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam. While on a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta an RPG rocket fired from the shoreline took off his right leg below the knee. Pete’s photo is on the homepage of Dispatch Press Images. He is the one on the right with the Purple Heart and Silver Star. He asked me to march with him and others in a welcome home parade for Vietnam veterans down Broadway in New York City in May 1985. I told him that I did not serve there and that the parade was for those who did but he convinced me otherwise. One of the most emotional days of my life was pushing Pete down the Canyon of Heroes in his wheelchair with all of the tickertape in the air. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Pete was married and has a son, but Pete died more than a decade ago a victim of Agent Orange. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
My other friend that I need to mention was Alan Parry. Parry was a LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) serving as a sniper in Cambodia where we were not supposed to be. He told me horrific stories of what happened to his friends who were captured at the hands of the Viet Cong. When he returned home after the war to Staten Island, New York he spent his time living in parks. PTSD in the extreme. Most of the time when we were speaking he was singing “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. One day he put a bullet in his head.
And so our blog page needs to pay homage to my family and friends who served and to all veterans who served. I think that we would be living in a better society if there were some sort of two year national service requirement for both men and women. Those who are physically and mentally capable need to do this, if not directly in the military, then in some other capacity. This is why I think that the Peace Corps was a fine idea.