Purple Hearts- Battle Scars; Memories from the Forgotten War

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Ironically, just a short distance away, a group of five former North Vietnamese Army NVA soldiers lined up for their own group photo. It is understandable why he felt that way. In , his squad was checking bunker complexes near An Khe after a B strike. Viet Cong VC popped out of spider holes, killing two medics, his lieutenant, a sergeant and one other man.

Nine other soldiers, including Potter, were wounded—five severely.

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One exhibit shows a crashed B, though among the airplane parts is a prop engine. The museum comprises several buildings, the main one displaying art, photo exhibits and other memorabilia tracing Vietnam's military events. A theater allows visitors to see a movie about the French defeat— a much-heralded event that showed up repeatedly in memorials and exhibits throughout the trip. The further most building houses the American Vietnam War exhibit. Its location, plus the poor lighting, makes it appear largely forgotten.

Few photos actually show Gis.


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One image depicts President Lyndon Johnson with his hand to his head with a worried expression. It was one of several POW camps where captured Americans endured torture. Here, propaganda permeates the exhibits on a grand scale. Photos show smiling POWs playing cards, volleyball, planting trees and enjoying packages from home. A video explains how the prisoners enjoyed abetter lifestyle than the average North Vietnamese citizen who suffered because of U. Small, dark cells, some with ankle-irons bolted to the floor, reveal the hardships the prisoners had to endure, both during French rule and the Vietnam War.

It is hard to imagine that Navy Cmdr. James B. Stockdale survived three years in solitary confinement, two of them strapped in these irons. Ben Eyre was angered by the lies. Eyre was a rifleman with A Co. Abusio agreed that it was too much propaganda to absorb. He was struck hardest by the prisoners' legs being shackled: "I didn't expect to see that.

Despite that, one of the youngest in the group, Sal Crimi, was upbeat about being in Vietnam in general. He said he "felt like he was 18 again. That feeling was partly due to arunin he had with a woman in her late 20s at the hotel. She openly resented the Vietnam veterans, asking Crimi, "How many Vietnamese did you kill? When a grenade landed on the back of his "track" on Sept. One piece caught the side of his nose and laid it over, nearly tearing it off.

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His fiancee wanted nothing to do with him because of his duty in Vietnam. When Crimi pressed the officer about his own service, he said he was on a ship during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As they were leaving the airport, Larry Gerhart strained to see beyond the fence. His first tour was w i t h B Co.

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He was wounded on Jan. Then small-arms fire hit him in the left hand and right thigh. During a lull, he was carried by stretcher to a medevac helicopter, but the bullets started flying again. He spent a full year recovering, the last part at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

He still suffers from ear damage. The first stop after landing was the former site of Camp Eagle outside of Hue. Little remains of any American presence except for a small section of the airstrip's tarmac. Tombstones and mausoleums cover part of the area. It was a familiar scene that was repeated the next day. LZ Sally was now a brick factory; Camp Carroll, a rubber plantation. Just outside of Quangtri are the remains of a bullet-riddled Catholic church. It probably should have been demolished, but it is kept as a reminder of the fierce fighting there during the Easter Offensive in Abusio spent the first part of his tour neardongha, Camlo and Therockpile, which now has a red Vietnamese flag at its peak.

He said the general countryside off of Highway 9 looked familiar, but as far as t h e cities, he couldn't say. Abusio was just seven years old when his family emigrated from Italy to New York City. At 19, he became enamored with the Marines and enlisted, hoping to be stationed as a U. His duty in the Caribbean in aboard a helicopter landing platform ended when his 2nd Marine Division unit rotate d home, just before the Dominican Republic intervention. In , though, he landed in Vietnam at DaNang.

The next thing he knew he was in Dong Ha. Operation Hastings was the largest action he remembers, mostly because he was 32 days in the field. During the second part of his tour, his unit was sent to a base south of DaNang.


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It was there during a patrol that he suffered shrapnel wounds from a fragmentation grenade. Being able to see his old area of operation again brought back not only memories, but prompted a realization. First off, in the small village of Khe Sanh, a towering monument topped with statues of NVA soldiers stands at the road leading from Highway 9 to the base.

Multiple battle scenes in bas-relief ring t h e monolith, including one showing Marines running in fear. Now a tourist attraction, only two other people were there that day besides the vets. A restored bunker system allows visitors to walk f r om post to post through a maze of trenches. It also is easy to spot where the airstrip laid.

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A museum there is a "masterpiece" of Vietnamese revisionism. The exhibits leave visitors with the impression that the NVA were victorious and caused horrendous U. Covering an entire wall in the entry hall is a bronze-colored relief of scenes of the battle—all depicting NVA fortitude in combat.

A couple of scenes illustrate a U. The photo exhibits are laughable. One image shows Marines in a bunker with a caption reading, "Americans shutting themselves in their bunkers for fear of their own shadows. Among them was one by Eyre: "We beat the hell out of them. Our Marines went through hell, but we did win. Guide Nguyen gave an impressive background talk about the Vietnamese monarchy, the Nguyen Dynasty The Imperial City, bounded by the Perfume River, encompasses some acres. A 6-foot thick wall stretching 1. What buildings were left standing by the French after the s were nearly all destroyed during the Vietnam War.

There is some evidence of the Marines' day battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive in , such as bullet marks in the masonry walls. Inside, a giant bronze urn shows similar scars from stray rounds. Only a couple of photo displays show any Marines at all, and then it is only to point out that they were responsible for the destruction. During the Vietnam War, American troops there guarded the route from DaNang to Chu Lai, a vital link when planes had to be grounded during the rainy season.

DaNang harbor is visible on the descent, though the smog does not allow you to see far. Familiar landmarks— Monkey and Marble mountains—form the backdrop to a very contemporary and industrial city, quite a contrast to Hanoi.

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At the outskirts of DaNang, the tour stopped at Red Beach. There exactly 50 years ago in March , U. Marines came ashore, signaling the start of America's ground war. A marker designating the event stood there at one time, but like other traces of the U. Another well-known site is the famous China Beach.

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Today, its resorts and spas would make visitors think they were in Hawaii. John Guarin and Keith Shirrell had visited Hill 10 that day. Guarin had served there with B Co. The two planned to travel next to the A Shau Valley where Shirrell had fought. After further inquiries, Quirin learned that Shirrell had been in his old unit—D Co. He had quit wearing them because of "immersion" foot.

Quirin received two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars with "V" device during his back-to-back tours.


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One of his awards came during his time in the A Shau. Quirin was ordered to send one of his platoons up a hill to flush out the enemy, but he felt a less risky plan would be better. His battalion commander wouldn't have any of it, and insisted that Quirin's men go up. Just as he suspected, the NVA sprang an ambush, killing one and wounding 10 others.