WASHINGTON D.C. (WCMH)–In 1966 Gary Rodgers was sure he wanted to serve his country in Vietnam. Like many veterans, he became more unsure about what he was fighting for. His scars of war run deep and joining honor flight to revisit those memories was something he wasn’t sure he wanted to do.
“My wife said are you excited to go, “ Sgt. Rodgers said as he walked down the path to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. “I said I don’t know, I’ll let you know when I get there.”
Rodgers was just a kid when the Marine Corps sent him to a hill in Vietnam. “Every place was a number. I was on Hill 41 southeast of Danang,” he said.
He was a combat engineer demolitions expert.
“These guys are all heroes all 58,000 names on this wall.”
Gary was a smaller soldier, so he was sent into tunnels first, to sweep for mines.
“There’s booby traps in there. There’s a snake over there called a bamboo viper and they tie them to the wall. We used to call‘em three steppers. You get bit by one and you get about 15 seconds and you’re dead.”
“A south Vietnamese girl is the one who designed this wall.”
Then there was that day on Hill 41.
“So we walked into the meadow and they opened on us with machine guns. They had three on one side and three on the other and caught us in the crossfire.”
A soldier Rodgers didn’t know was hit.
“I’m going out to get him, ran out and I grabbed the one by the collar and dragged him and got about a foot from the bomb crater and one caught me in the knee right here.”
Still, with another soldier down, Rodgers had one good leg.
“When I got almost to the same spot the other bullet caught me in this knee and one went through my stomach and we both fell back into the bomb crater again.”
The doctors told Gary he was lucky to be alive. One of the men he saved was lucky too. The other’s name is on this wall.
Rodgers didn’t know either of the men he tried to save.
“No idea who they were, to this day.”
The nightmares Gary tells lasted 5-10 years after coming home. Those were another hill to climb. He’s done a lot of healing.
“I don’t worry about it much anymore,” he said. “(Chokes) It’s just emotional.”
That emotion is now joy he said. When he came home from Vietnam he remembered protestors throwing rocks at him.
The welcome home he received on this day felt more appropriate. Rodgers loves our country.
“I love it to death! I’d do it all over again regardless.”