03 July 2011

A Marine In Viet Nam.

When I started out this morning, I was boot deep into another rant that was going to be about our political system, the DemocRATS, Liberals, Obimbo and... whatever else! The things I started to write about will have to take a back seat because of a newspaper article that has nothing to do with any of the above ("back seat" -- I seem to remember some IDIOT using that remark.)


My wife handed me this morning's local paper and said, "You need to read this article." The headline didn't really interest me that much and my first reaction was, "Sure... right... whatever." The head indicated that it was about Texas A&M University. I come from a family of Aggie graduates. I never went to TAMU; I didn't graduate from ANY college (I like to tell people that I'm the only member of the family with a high school education!)  Even though I eventually retired from A&M and I owe my well-being to A&M, I never got that excited about the university. It was a job. However, the article was more than an article on Texas A&M. It was about something that I live and breathe. I'm glad I read the article; I owe my wife -- AGAIN!


What follows are excerpts from the article. For the full story:
Kimbrough will use military background to lead A&M System 
Jay Kimbrough, the newly named interim chancellor
of the Texas A&M System, stands Thursday next to
his Harley, a tribute to those who didn't make it
home from Vietnam
It's the second "birth" that infused Kimbrough -- who was named interim chancellor of the A&M System last week -- with the belief that his life, each day of it, must matter.  
The Marine machine-gunner, then 19, was badly wounded in the Que Son Valley in Vietnam as the helicopter he rode in was shot down. He bled severely and spent several hours waiting for help until his platoon sergeant, Jimmie West, led the charge to rescue him and others amid heavy gunfire. 
These days, to mark each anniversary of the day Kimbrough was injured, Perry and Kimbrough hop on their Harleys and take a ride. This year, they rode from Kimbrough's College Station home to his favorite hangout, biker bar Yankee's Tavern and Grill in Carlos, and then to Hearts Veterans Museum in Huntsville.  
"I didn't almost die that day," Kimbrough said of the May 10, 1967, incident. "I did die."  
Kimbrough hasn't returned to Vietnam since. But a part of him never left. 
"I just want to honor my platoon sergeant and the guys that didn't make it back," Kimbrough said. "That's part of what I've been doing all my life ... I'm not a hero. I'm just a kid that got shot."  
He keeps a stack of copies of citations that detail his platoon sergeant's efforts to save Kimbrough, for which West received a Silver Star. He keeps handing them out to new people he meets.  
In 2008, before he left his post as deputy chancellor and general counsel of the A&M system to be chief of staff to Perry, he set the system on the path to receiving a designation from a veterans group as being "military friendly," or making getting an education easier for veterans.  
Kimbrough now is heading up the Texas portion of the effort of digitizing all the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington. That's 3,417 names, including 112 Aggie officers. 
Kimbrough moved to College Station partly to be closer to West, who was police chief in nearby Madisonville. He died just before Kimbrough came to work for A&M in 2006, the victim of a Copperhead snake in his backyard.  
"Am I a crony?" Kimbrough said. "I'm a crony to one man, and that's Jim West."  
West's words still echo in Kimbrough's head, he said.  
"I can still hear him years ago, saying, 'What did you do that was relevant today? What did you do that matters?'" Kimbrough said. "I have to keep on keeping on."  
He has had no trouble with that.  
Kimbrough's known for his loyalty to a conservative Republican, but it was a Democrat that instilled in him a duty to serve. 
Kimbrough's path to Vietnam began sitting in a classroom in South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, listening to a report of President John F. Kennedy's motorcade as it scooted through Dealey Plaza.  
Shots rang out, and Kimbrough's world changed. As American involvement in the Vietnam War ramped up, Kimbrough wanted to honor the slain president's call to duty.  
Following his parents' divorce the year before, he left midway through his senior year for boot camp. He had Kennedy's words -- "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" -- printed on a medallion, and carried it into Vietnam. 
Late Thursday, the day Kimbrough was named interim chief of the A&M System, he roared his 800-pound Harley into the parking lot of Yankee's Tavern.  
His bike is a tribute to those who didn't make it back. Its shield has an image of a panel of the Vietnam Wall, engraved with names from the week he was injured, including some he went to school with.  
After a photographer leaves, Kimbrough unbuttons his dress shirt and reveals a Marine Corps shirt. It says, "The University of Vietnam."  
"That's where I got my degree," he said. 
And with that perspective comes what some, friends and critics alike, call a fearlessness. When asked if he was the least bit nervous about the new task ahead and all its potential pitfalls, he said absolutely not.  
"What are they going to do?" he said, smiling. "Shoot me?" 

The platoon sergeant, Jim West, was in a group of my fellow Viet Nam veterans and died just before I joined the group. The guys used to talk about him... a lot. From the stories that I heard about him, he was a "Marines' Marine." I wish I could have known him.


I've always said that I never came home. I was born at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. There was just a WHOLE LOT of me that got left behind in Viet Nam.


It's people like West and Kimbrough, Marines that have walked the walk -- Marines that gave more than I could ever even come close to, that inspire me to try to live my life a little bit better than the day before. I mean...


"What are they going to do -- shoot me?"

1 comment:

  1. What good did you do today and what did you do today that matters...both excellent daily guides. Wish I could have met Jim, too.

    ReplyDelete