My alarm goes off every day at 7:30. After whipping up some breakfast, Leah and I get out to the bus stop at 8:10. I usually kibitz with the neighbors for a minute before and after the kids head off to school. Thursday my neighbor Sheri told me the story of her father, a Vietnam vet. It's a story she didn't know really until recently. Her father James Rademacher didn't talk much about his tour, and even less about June 19, 1967.
As Sheri told me, there was a lot about that day her dad didn't remember. What he did know, was while fighting the VC, he took a bullet in the chest, that just missed his heart and rattled around before exiting around his side. He and another soldier were left for dead in the middle of a rice paddy, screaming in pain. Someone finally came to his rescue. With bullets whizzing by their heads, he was pulled on a poncho out of that field and to a chopper. Just when there was hope, there was more gunfire. Seconds after taking off, the chopper crashed.
I can see the tears welling up as Sheri tells me about how another chopper was able to fly in and get the rest of the wounded who survived the first crash and get out safely. What her dad didn't know about that day until recently was, who was the man who pulled him to safety and why did he risk his life for him?
Earlier this year, Jim was looking around the Internet and found this website. He read a letter written by a chaplain about a huge battle on June 19, 1967. In the letter to his wife, the chaplain talked about a boy with a chest wound in a rice paddy and how he helped pull him out. Jim believed it was him he was referring to. A phone call to the chaplain turned into a weekend meeting in Illinois which turned into maybe the longest conversation of their lives. Jim got his answers about the man who saved his life and Rev. Bernard Windmiller found out what happened to that boy he dodged bullets to save. The Reverend heard how Jim was shipped home and proposed to his high school sweetheart on the way back from the airport and went on to raise a family. Jim got his answers, too. Bernie Windmiller toes the line many heroes do, saying anyone would have done what he did.
It gives Sheri chills to talk about it herself. If the bullet is a few centimeters the other way, if Windmiller doesn't charge into that field, if Jim doesn't survive a chopper crash... she's not here. Not here to put her son and daughter on the school bus and watch them grow up.
My mom always held a special place for her classmates of St. Johns High School who didn't make it out of Vietnam. And I know some vets who have a very difficult time dealing with their service in that war. Men who drink to forget and sometimes just stop and stare in the middle of a conversation. On Memorial Day remember the men who died and who died a little in Vietnam and every other war fought for this country.
Remember the fallen.