Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Brothers Love


War, is never easy nor without great cost for those who serve and their families. In 1967, both of my brothers were in Vietnam. Mike, the youngest of my brothers, had joined the Marines rather than waiting to be drafted. My older brother Bill re-enlisted to serve, not so much country as to watch out for our younger brother Mike.  

It all began early one spring morning in 1967, when my parents received a telegram from the state department, which reported that my younger brother Michael was missing in action in Vietnam. Another telegram stating that Mike had been located, but was in critical condition followed this. Shortly thereafter, a Marine officer and a chaplain arrived on my parent’s doorstep to inform us that Mike had perished from his wounds.  

For the next twenty-four hours, our world was turned upside down. The phone lines across the country began buzzing with the news and the need to make arrangements to fly home. My oldest brother Bill was in College Station, Texas attending Texas A & M University. Bill had served his time in the Marines and was in his second year working on his degree to become an Engineer. Early the following day, my parents received a call from Japan. A call which was from my brother Mike, stating that his death was a clerical error and that he was very much alive and on the mend. He would soon be returning to the war front, when his wounds healed.  

It was at this point that my older brother Bill decided to put college on hold and rejoin the Marines. He asked for duty in Vietnam to be with my younger brother Mike. His hope was to convince Mike to file for a transfer under the Sullivan ruling. A ruling which, allows military family members to ask for relief from hazardous duty if more than one family member is serving in the War zone. 

Bill wanted Mike in a safer place- out of harms way- while he served in Vietnam himself. Bill had always looked out for his younger siblings, and he was determined to do so again. Of course, Mike would have no part of it. He was determined to stay the course and finish his tour of duty. Even though Bill could not persuade Mike to leave Nam, Bill decided to go forward with his re-enlistment so that they could at least be close to one another and he could watch out for our younger brother Mike.  

The last thing my father did on the day Bill was to leave for retraining was to make sure Bill was wearing his Sacred Heart Badge. My parents had always had a special devotion to the “Sacred Heart of Christ.” They had all of us children consecrated when we were still babies. As a family tradition, we all attended the Mass in honor of the “First Friday Devotions” that were given to Saint Margaret Mary Aloque.  

Dad handed Bill his own Sacred Heart Badge just before Bill walked out the door and said: “Son, it might not stop a bullet, but it can keep you safe along the way. Just remember, it is only as good as the faith you put with it. If you wear it as a scrap of material and you don’t follow Christ, it will be no help at all. Remember what is important…”Trust Christ” and follow Him. He will get you safely home. That is all the protection you really need.”  With that last bit of spiritual advice from my father, Bill left for boot camp wearing his Banner of Christ, Dad’s “Sacred Heart Badge.” 

After retraining Bill landed in Vietnam on August the 21st. Sadly, the very day that Bill arrived in Vietnam, our brother Mike was again wounded and this time his wounds were much more serious. A land mine struck his amphibious mobile unit and Mike was badly burned in the explosion. Bill managed to track Mike down in a hospital in Dong Hoa within a couple of days of his arrival.  Unfortunately, because Mike’s wounds were serious and infection was a danger, Bill was not allowed in to see Mike before the Medic’s transported Mike for treatment. All Bill could do was stand outside Mike’s room and say a quick prayer for Mike’s recovery and then report for his own duty station in Da Nang.  

In order not to worry the rest of us, Bill wrote letters home to us in Ogallala, telling us that he was assigned to an officer in Da Nang as a clerk. He jokingly referred to his great quest to serve as being reduced to shuffling papers. That was our Bill –always protecting others from worry or fear. His ploy worked, and we believed that he was fairly safe in Da Nang. We focused our worry and prayers on our little brother Mike and his need for healing and support during his recovery. Bill seemed to be safe and we were grateful for that. All that would soon change in an instant. 

On September the 28th, the Marines again paid a visit to my parent’s home. This time there would be no follow-up phone call saying that it was a mistake. The Marines reported that on September 21st, while on patrol, Bill’s entire unit was caught in an ambush. They were trapped in a crossfire of rocket and mortar fire. Bill managed to survive long enough for another unit to find him. Bill had received the last rites and was able to make his last confession before he expired from his wounds. Bill’s Sacred Heart Badge was enclosed with the letter.  

Even deep in the Jungles of Vietnam… “Christ kept His Sacred Heart Promise and came to take our Bill safely home.
 I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment."


John 15:12,13 " Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Post script. Many years after I wrote this story I was tracked down by 2/4 Marines who survived the attack and it's wonderful to be part of their lives

Copyrighted 2005