During a time of war, boys leave home, not really knowing where they will end up. They fight for freedom, and if lucky, they get to come home. But they don’t come home like the boy when they left. They come home a soldier.
In 1966 Ron Brown was a 17 year old who had just enlisted into the United States Marine Corps. He was sent to Vietnam and served there from 1966 u til 1968, during some of the most fierce battles of the war. Brown saw Hamburger Hill, and the Tet Offensive. Only eight days after arriving in Vietnam, Brown was in a Huey helicopter that was shot down by enemy fire.
Brown was recollecting his time in Vietnam at the American Legion Post 471 Thursday afternoon. The Daily Times sat down with him, as well as a couple of veterans to speak with them on their experiences.
Brown said he comes from a military family. He said he had two family members shot in wartime, but none were fatally wounded. He said his grandmother had four sons serving in the Second World War at the same time. “She lit a candle for each of her boys every night,” Brown said. “One candle for each boy.” Brown said his son also joined the military and served active duty in Panama.
When he was in the Marine Corps, Brown said he “got to see the world” before he turned 21. “The government paid for it all.” He is a Past Commander at 471, saying he has visited many Legions throughout the country and 471 is one of the nicer ones in the country. There will be a special Marine Corps Birthday tonight at the Legion to honor the birthday of the Marine Corps.
One of the common answers to the question of would you serve again if asked, the answer was almost always “yes I would.” Brown said although he has lost a kidney and part of a lung due to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, and now uses a cane, “Yes sir. If they would need me I would go again.”
Another veteran from the same time period at the Legion Thursday was Walter Florek, who served in the United States Navy from 1965 to 1969. He also got Agent Orange during his time in Asia. He said his entire family is on the walls of the Legion, noting his father was in Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He said his father-in-law was Air Force and he has a nephew who is a Marine. “I’m proud of it,” he said of serving. That’s why I’m in here. All these guys in here are family.”
Florek said his wife is putting together Angel Flight, tomorrow (Sunday) at 10:30 am at Cedar Street Church to honor local veterans. He said the public is invited to the ceremony.
The Vietnam War, or conflict, as it was termed, was an unpopular time in history. When the soldiers came home, they weren’t always greeted as heroes. Florek said he was departing a flight in Los Angeles, Ca. when he was coming home from Vietnam and was spit on. “A hippie spit on me. I knocked him out.” he said. “I just came out of war and he spit on me.”
Brown has similar recollections, noting a “hippies tried to remove our stripes.” Brown went on to say “they did not remove our stripes, We did the Marine move on their heads.”
Fast forward a couple decades, Sgt. Dave Gilley served in the United States Army from 1981 to 1989. Gilley served on the border of East and West Germany when the Berlin Wall was still intact. He duty was to make sure it stayed secure.
He said he witnessed an individual in East Germany trying to escape. As he was running toward the border, Gilley said he was shot in the back. He said he was there in 1989 when the border was opened and witnessed thousands of people flood West Germany.
After his time in the Army, Gilley spent a year in Germany after marrying a German lady. He said the Army had chosen him to be a drill sergeant at Ft. Knox, Ky., but he declined to re-enlist. But looking back, he said “it was an honor” to serve in the greatest military on the planet.
Gilley suffered a broken ankle while serving and eventually was able to get full retirement from the injury. “I’m proud to be a veteran,” Gilley said.
He said while in the Army, he met entertainer Bob Hope and also was in the presence of then Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger.
“It was an honor to serve and wear that uniform,” Gilley said. “I wore it with pride.”