Rudy Gomez says that when he was a Marine deployed in Vietnam, he was warned not to get too close to the guys in his unit:
“I always heard, ‘Don’t make very good close friendships because you might not be here in the next minute.’”
So, he told 10News, he didn’t. In fact, he’d avoided getting together with his buddies for all of the subsequent 48 years.
Gomez enlisted in the Marines because as he put it:
“I’d seen too many John Wayne movies and I always wanted to be a Marine. They were instilled in my brain, watching those war movies.”
Gomez was part of the storied 3/26 Marines, men who fought in World War II in the Battle of Iwo Jima before the 5th Marine Division was deactivated.
The 3/26 was reactivated in 1966 when Rudy and his buddies saw action in Vietnam. They fought in the bloody Battle of Khe Sanh, a battle in which, for 77 days, 6,000 Marines — including Rudy Gomez and his buddies — protected a crucial air strip by holding off a 20,000 man communist force.
History.com describes the scene:
“U.S. Marines and their South Vietnamese allies fought off an intense siege of the garrison, in one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, with U.S. and South Vietnamese attention focused on Khe Sanh, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched the Tet Offensive, a series of coordinated surprise attacks on cities and towns throughout South Vietnam.”
Sergeant Gomez served under Marine legend Chesty Puller’s son-in-law and was assigned to protect “Hill 881 South” in Khe Sanh.
“We lost a lot of people. One of the snipers that they had missed me four times from about five inches away, kicking up the dirt as I’m face down, laying on the dirt. I moved to the right. He shot again about a foot a way. Backed up. Missed again. …[G]renades were thrown overhead.”
He was in the middle of hell. He kept his head down amid the sniper fire:
They were surrounded. He said he warned his Lieutenant to keep his head down, but he didn’t — something that “pisses off” Gomez to this day.
Gomez told 10News it was horrible:
“A lot of fellow Marines falling down to the left and to the right of me. All of the sudden I see this explosion.”
The next morning, the Tet Offensive started and his hill was one of the targets.
He was wounded — blinded in his left eye. While in the hospital thumbing through magazines trying to find information about the war, he saw a photo of himself in Newsweek Magazine:
Despite all those movies he’d watched as a kid where John Wayne was best buddies with his guys and all, he couldn’t remember the names of the men he’d served in combat.
He avoided his unit’s reunions. Though he’d worked for 33 years at the Post Office, his PTSD made going outside and engaging in unfamiliar activities awkward. Hard. He still didn’t want to get too close. He just wanted to forget.
In Gomez’s oral history recorded by YouTube user, “Visual Journalist” (see below) he said maybe someday he would change his mind about seeing guys in his unit. Maybe someday, he reasoned, he’d want to see these guys, whose names he couldn’t even remember, again:
“I’m hoping to go to one of these reunions very soon.”
This week after 48 years, Gomez decided to reunite with his old unit at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the reactivation of the 3/26 Marines, which was held at San Diego’s Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.
The memorial sits atop a peaceful hill overlooking the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean. It has been the subject of legal battles over the cross that marks the site.
But it was here that Gomez found peace:
Gomez’s unit sealed the reunion with a plaque honoring the unit and its sacrifice:
Rudy Gomez’s unit in Vietnam lost 391 men from 1966-1970.
Looking back on his service, Gomez said the only public display of thanks after he came back from Vietnam was a bartender at a bowling alley who bought him a drink and escorted him home.
See his story below.
Source: independent journal
The post For 48 Years He Didn’t Want to See His Old Vietnam Marine Buddies. This Year, He Made an Exception. appeared first on .@tonygreene113.