Preface: When I wrote this letter I planned to send it to the Tulsa World. However after learning of the limit of 250 words, I decided to post it here.
Letter to the editor by Jack Burr, Retired LTC, US Army, Infantry, February, 27, 2019
I am an old soldier trying to escape the clutches of PTSD and have made much progress. About two years ago I was reunited with two soldiers who served with me in South Vietnam. Here is our story. I hope it will inspire you to reach out to others who need encouragement.
I’m 78 years old. After years of denial, I admitted that I had been troubled with depression. I never believed in the crock of PTSD. People who are unable to deal with hard times are simply weak. But I’ve changed my mind and decided to confront my illness.
I sometimes would wake at night reliving the heartbreak of a lost comrade or carrying a dead soldier away from enemy bullets. After sharing these memories, my understanding wife listened and offered ways to regain my emotional balance.
She suggested I write about the events bothering me. One thing led to another and now I am writing about people and events that are important to me: My family.
Enough about that. Let me get to my purpose, which is to describe events which have made this endeavor worthwhile. It was my good fortune to have located several soldiers that I had served with in South Vietnam who helped me find two of my friends.
While searching the internet for a story I was writing, I found an email asking for anyone who knew the Platoon Leader, 3rd Platoon, A Company, 1/35 Infantry Battalion who served in Plieku, South Vietnam in 1967. The email had been posted many years years earlier by the unit Fire Team Leader, SGT Pace Caldwell, who had been severely wounded in battle.
Pace was evacuated under extraordinary circumstances. A brave CH-47 helicopter pilot and crew voluntarily hovered over the battlefield while lifting SGT Pace through the triple canopy forest to safety. After many surgeries he recovered. (see story, search for 20 Jan)
I called Pace who lived in Florida. We talked and cried and made arrangements to met.
On January 20, 2017, my wife and I met SGT Pace and his wife, Dot, at Fort Benning, GA. Exactly 50 years after the battle in which he was wounded, we visited the miniature Wall and traced the names of the three soldiers killed that day many years ago.
To our great sorrow, Sgt Pace passed away a few months ago. He was an outstanding leader and decorated soldier who served his country with distinction. My wife and I feel fortunate to have found Sgt Pace and are particularly happy that he gave evidence of salvation in Christ, which gives us great comfort. We have talked to Dot several times since and intend to continue our friendship with this wonderful lady.
The rest of this story is about a special friend, SGT Eddie Dill, AKA Pickle.
Several soldiers helped me locate the Battalion Radio Telephone Operator, SGT Dill, a close and loyal friend who served his country in South Vietnam in 1969. We both were assigned to a small command group and talked several times each day and developed a close bond. (see story, search angry)
My wife and I learned that Pickle was in Hospice care on January 17, 2017. We left the next morning, driving to North Carolina.
We met Eddie’s wife, Donna, who explained that her husband had obtained a theological education and worked in a local church but seldom talked of his time in Vietnam. She explained that her husband suffered from multiple unsuccessful operations in an attempt to remove brain tumors. SGT Pickle did not seem to respond when family members talked to him.
My wife and and I encouraged the family and I spoke about the things SGT Dill did in Vietnam. Of course, they were eager to learn about these things and asked many questions. As I stood by his bed, I told Eddie what a good soldier he was. However it was not possible to know if he understood.
As we returned the next day to continue our stay with the family, Donna handed me a letter of appreciation that I had written 48 years earlier. I had no memory of writing the letter. It was addressed to SGT Dill. I placed my hand on Eddie’s arm and read the letter of praise, pausing at times to keep my emotions in check. As I was about half way through the letter, Eddie reached with his other hand toward me. As I grasped his hand, I noticed a tear had dropped from his eye and ran down his cheek. I finished the letter and we said our goodbyes a short time later.
A few hours later as we were driving back to Oklahoma, Donna called and told us that Eddie had passed away. It was a sad time. But we were fortunate to have been able to talk to him and his family before he was taken home to be with the Lord.
As we look back on the unlikely circumstances that fell into place allowing old soldiers to be reacquainted, we are heartened to know that all of us had experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior.
I believe that God has used this endeavor to further HIS purpose. Perhaps HE is not through with me yet.
I appreciate my wife’s insight and her encouragement. I am grateful to the soldiers I wrote about in my stories who contacted me and ultimately led me to Pace and Pickle.
God is good,