As Told to Hartley Holte

I was written up for a Purple Heart in Vietnam by our overly eager Personnel Department after I took shrapnel courtesy of our USAF dropped cluster bombs which landed too close to our ground position. Metal was removed successfully from right side shoulder area, but left side not so lucky; with scar tissue and nerve damage—same doc, wrong day I guess! Most of my other damage came from a helo crash eight KM WSW of Moc Hua in the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong during an attempt on our part to block a night infiltration by the NVA. We stopped the infiltration but I lost my chopper (see photo) with damage to my lower back. The chopper went down because we caught fire and lost hydraulics—probably not enemy initiated. In those days, I was not thinking of Purple Hearts, but only of survival. My persistent fantasy dream was to emerge from Nam in one piece, fairly sane—to once again walk along a quiet stream in the Norse mountains, fishing for trout.

It was hard to turn personnel off on the idea of the PH, but I finally told the G4 (Corps Personnel Director) that friendly fire (B 52) didn’t count and that he should “kill” the award. He mumbled something like, “No one will ever know”. “That’s a great mistake”, I replied, “for I shall always know.” Besides, there is always the example of our former CNO who awarded himself (falsely) a couple of valor awards---then committed suicide when it was discovered. Time wounds all heels!

On a much lighter note: My immediate boss in Nam, Mr. John Paul Vann insisted that all his officers walk thru one night operation a week with the ARVN (South Nam). I hated it! Half the ARVN were likely Vietcong and they were walking BEHIND me. Well, I returned from the field after a grueling night (one of 51 such incursions I made) in the rice paddies; sore, tired, covered with mud and slime, but decided to throw on a quick “dry shave” before briefing the Commanding General at the 6 AM brief. In so doing, I cut myself—a major vein I think and couldn’t staunch the bleeding, so pressed a compress against the flow and went to the briefing. There I stood at the podium, bleeding like a stuffed hog in front of four general officers and a Navy Admiral. My Corps Commander says, “J… C…the G2’s been hit!! Get a corpsman. Sit down “2”, your assistant can do the brief.” “No,” Says I, “It’s really nothing general”, and I carried on with the briefing. I never had the heart to tell them how I got that “wound”, but my stock went up for the second time that week.

The first time was also for an event that didn’t happen. An NVA Captain, whom I was “escorting” back from a battlefield in Cambodia was bound hand and foot lying on the floor of my chopper when he decided to jump out. Apparently, he put his feet up against the radio console and out the door he went! Inasmuch as it was 2 AM, pitch dark and we were at 5,000 feet, he was a goner. The word was quickly circulated that I had “dangled” him while interrogating and then cut him loose. Totally untrue: he was much more valuable to me alive than dead. Anyhow, the enlisted men from then on regarded me as a man not to be trifled with. The CG and the CO’s were convinced that I cut him loose, and that I was an officer given to extreme violence. Those rumors, however untrue, lived a long time and new officers who came to work for me regarded me with extreme caution--- and with some strange admiration, I might add.


Vern and the remains of a Huey after a crash and burn in Vietnam - 1970