By Lou Kern
I flew to the Twin Cities on the 6th of May, got things in order on the 7th and started interviewing Vietnam Marine Recon veterans on the 8th. I was able to get 6 in depth interviews in the next 3 days. David “Doc” Hilgendorph, Bob Lake, Floyd Ruggles, Floyd Nagler, Tom Boland and David Thompson. I am also a Marine Vietnam Recon veteran and just being able to say that fills me with pride and a sense of completion. We all saw heavy combat…almost beyond imagination.
Our missions were both unique and extremely dangerous. Human beings bond deeply under those circumstances, and that bond never wavers. I studied their faces as they talked. Doing these interviews in video format (rather than just audio) will allow thousands if not millions of other people to also hear their stories and get a deep sense of who these men are as human beings. This is a deep look into humanity itself. At least that is how I perceive it and that is also the part of these men's stories they want to tell....not just the war stories but the deeply human stories. That is what connects combat veterans back into the general population. That is what allows these stories of selflessness, determination and resiliency to become part of the national dialogue.
That is what we fought for, to be part of something much larger than ourselves. We proved something to ourselves in mortal combat. No doubt. That can never be taken away from us. And we also deeply yearn to feel understood and appreciated by those who never will have any understanding of how terrifying and difficult actual combat is.
Here is just one example. Tom Boland's 8 man Recon team found themselves surrounded by hundreds of NVA soldiers near the DMZ in I Corps. Without some type of support they would have been wiped out within minutes. They had only one chance for survival and that was to call in heavy artillery very close to their own position. Hundreds of rounds of heavy artillery landed all around them. This is not some questionable war story. This is documented from the actual records of the artillery units. The team did get out alive the next morning, heavily concussed from all the explosions. It seems odd today but in 1969 there was no concussion protocol. We were expected to take what ever the enemy dealt out and to keep on fighting.
Here is Tom telling the story.
By Lou Kern
3rd Force Recon