Each year, we at the Courier-Tribune shed light on the personal stories of local veterans in time for Veterans Day as way of honoring their service and sacrifice. This year, we are highlighting those who served during the Vietnam War.
I’ve always held these veterans in special reverence because I have several in my family and friends circle. One of these veterans is my great-uncle Ronald Rundel, who we loving call Noonie.
Following in his father’s footsteps, my great-uncle enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and by 18 was on his way with the 1st Marine Division to inevitably see some of the most horrific atrocities of the war. Noonie was part of the boots-on-the-ground force that served during the Tet Offensive. He served throughout the country on the South China Sea, was ravaged by Agent Orange five times and spent time in death traps like Da Nang and Khe Sanh, where he said he put more servicemen on both sides of the war in body bags than he can count.
On Nov. 19, 1968, my family almost lost Noonie. While on patrol on the porch of a French-built facility, three RPGs ripped through the complex, detonating behind my great-uncle. The explosion caused shrapnel to tear through his torso. By some miracle, he lived and spent months rehabilitating before being discharged with a Purple Heart and a slew of other medals as a sergeant.
Like many veterans from the war, Noonie still has complications from physical and emotional damage suffered in the fighting fields of Vietnam.
Also like many returning from those battlefields in Southeast Asia, Noonie and other Vietnam veterans like Kearney VFW member Mike Brooks, who is profiled in this edition of the newspaper, did not receive a hero’s welcome. Because of the political climate at the time and many in America not believing the war was just, veterans returned home not to ticker tape parades but public opposition and indifference.
For me, this is one more atrocity of that war. For years, these veterans were told the war they fought was not an actual war and some were told the sacrifices they made did not matter. Whether or not you or I believe the war in Vietnam was just, the reality is hundreds of thousands of those servicemen were not given a choice and were drafted. Despite barely being old enough to be considered a man, those men stared death in the face and served our nation.
While I was not alive when the fighting in Vietnam began or ended, the bravery with which these men and women fought insurmountable odds is not lost on me. Knowing the stories of those close to me and of those I have interviewed in my career, I wept earlier this year at the nation’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., as I watched men and women trace the engraved names of those not lucky enough like my great-uncle to make it home.
In recent years, the nation’s attitude toward these veterans has softened. While decades later than it should have happened, I hope this change comes as some solace to those who served. To all of those who served in Vietnam, I offer you my sincerest and heartfelt thanks for your dedication to our nation and for being willing to place your life on the line for it.