Sometimes people are presented with options having life changing consequences. Such was the case with Sergeant Russell J. Wright, U.S. Army, when he received his draft notice in May of 1970. With the war in Vietnam winding down and protestors clamoring for draftees to flee to Canada, Russ could have evaded the draft and kept himself safe from a war that had already killed tens of thousands of Americans. Instead, he chose to do his duty and report for service because he knew it was the right thing to do. Now, looking back on his service in the jungles and rice paddies of South Vietnam over fifty years later, Russ is proud of his service and would do it all again. This is his story.
Voices To Veterans
Let’s help veterans tell their stories. Maybe they worked in the mess halls serving chow, or helped load ordnance onto jets waiting their turn to launch on combat missions, or maybe they had to watch their friends get hit in an ambush or a firefight in a rice paddy in Vietnam. It’s time we hear what they have to say!
If you are a veteran, or you know a veteran you’d like to have considered, send an email to [email protected] with the name of the veteran, a short summary of his or her story, and a picture of the veteran in uniform if you have it. I’ll then select veterans from the nominations I receive and write-up their stories for the Voices to Veterans Spotlight. Every veteran whose story I feature will receive a free signed copy of my latest Steve Stilwell legal thriller, Sapphire Pavilion, which is dedicated to “Wounded Warriors and Vietnam War veterans, especially those heroes still waiting to come home.”
Master Chief Petty Officer Donald Gohman, U.S. Navy (Retired) – Keeping the Navy Flying During Three Wars
Master Chief Petty Officer Donald Gohman, U.S. Navy (Retired) is a humble man. When we began to talk, he told me his career was routine and he didn’t think he’d done anything special. Then he told me about how he helped keep planes flying from Henderson Field during the six-month long battle for Guadalcanal during World War II and kept carrier aircraft in fighting shape for missions over Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Needless to say, I was spellbound. Weaving in and out of peacetime and war, Don’s career is a thirty-year American history lesson taught at the individual level. I could not get enough of it, and I think you will share the same view. This is his story.
It’s easy to take for granted the freedoms we have because we live in a country isolated from its adversaries by two vast oceans. As a result, most of us live our lives unconcerned with the possibility of an invading foreign army. Many U.S. allies do not enjoy the same luxury, as they find themselves bordered by authoritarian regimes ready to cross their borders at the first sign of weakness. The U.S. has supported its allies since the end of World War II by sending forces to stand with them against would-be aggressors. Sergeant Thomas Lucken, U.S. Army, was one of those soldiers called to hold the line during the Cold War by spending over thirteen years overseas in South Korea and Germany as a Cavalry Scout. This is his story.
Chaplains in the military are a special breed. Not only do they assume the hardships of their own military service, including long family separations and deployments into combat zones, but they also try to lighten the burdens of the men and women they serve with by helping them carry their loads. Chaplain Lavern W. Gardai, U.S. Army (Retired), who served with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam and then went on to a distinguished twenty-eight-year Army career, knows these stresses all to well—he lived them firsthand. From ministering to the wounded, to surviving a deadly helicopter crash, he’s done it all. This is his story
Everyone faces adversity in life. How an individual deals with that adversity determines the course their life will follow. Specialist Ashley Hawkins, U.S. Army (Retired), has dealt with more than her share of adversity, yet she’s never let it define her. Instead, she confronts it head on and overcomes it, always looking toward a better future. This unwavering determination resulted in her being the first female soldier in U.S. history to be awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor in combat. This is her story.
Photographs are like time capsules, forever freezing a moment in time. They provide us with a window into the past, documenting our history in a way the written word cannot. Yet for Sergeant Ron Haeberle, U.S. Army, a photograph he took on March 16, 1968, did more than just look back in time. It foretold the future—a future built on courage and survival and shining as a beacon of hope to all who see and understand it. Now, over fifty years after Ron’s Nikon camera captured the image, it serves as an inspiration for Ron in every aspect of his life. This is Ron’s story.
In the 1965 World War II movie classic In Harm’s Way, the character Commander Paul Eddington, played by Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas, describes the coming war in the Pacific as “a gut bustin’, mother-lovin’ Navy war.” All the men who served on ships in the Pacific theater from the start of the war at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to the end of the war in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, know just how true that statement was. One of those men was Seaman First Class Edward Collins, U.S. Navy, who joined the fray in 1943 aboard the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30), a light aircraft carrier that participated in all the major Pacific War Navy campaigns in 1944 and 1945. Manning his station on the USS San Jacinto’s flight deck during everything from hurricanes to kamikaze attacks, he lived and breathed the history that has inspired generations of Americans ever since. This is his story.
Many people who serve in the military are inspired to do so by a family member or friend who served before them. Oftentimes the role model is a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or even a brother or sister. Technical Sergeant Mark Himmer, U.S. Air Force, had two family members in whose footsteps he followed. He also had the unique experience of serving with one of them for fourteen of the fifteen years he spent in the Minnesota Air National Guard. This is Mark’s story.
Less than five years after the end of World War II, the United States again found itself at war, this time on the Korean Peninsula fighting Communist aggression. Despite 1.8 million U.S. military members serving in the theater of operations during the bloody three-year conflict, Americans know little of their service and sacrifice. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Keith Bunton, U.S. Navy, experienced the Korean War off the shores of Korea onboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CVA-9), which launched airstrikes against enemy targets during two Korean War deployments. This is Petty Officer Bunton’s story.
It takes courage to enlist in the military. Once you raise your right hand and take the oath to serve and defend the Constitution, you must go wherever the military says you are needed most. When the nation is at war, that need could very well be in a war zone where your life is at risk. Such is the case with Specialist Andrea Marshall, who enlisted in the Army in 2008. Four years later, she found herself assigned as a combat medic at a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. This is Andrea’s story.