Was Eddie Ever in Vietnam?

I used to work with a guy named Eddie. He retired this year but for about 40 years prior he worked in the mail room at KPBS. I still work there. He was very quiet and a little bit odd. He was bent over by arthritis and had a face that showed not much aside from his thick glasses, long hair and an unruly white beard. Eddie always wore a hat.

I was told that he served in Vietnam, and I saw a photo that supposedly showed him in the field. The picture was gripping. It showed a black soldier at the center who looked unsteady on his feet, his head bandaged in a bloody white cloth. To his right was a white soldier wearing a helmet and an anxious look who appeared to be reaching for the bloodied soldier.

The white soldier was Eddie, an Army medic when he first got there in 1965. Or so I was told.

As Veterans Day approached an editor suggested we record an interview with Eddie for the occasion and air it on November 11th. I did a pre-interview of him in which he told me he came from a military family and he was in the high school ROTC. He enlisted in Vietnam and was sent to Da Nang, where he carried out search and destroy missions in the countryside.

He said he came face-to-face with the enemy and there was hand-to-hand combat. He served in the Tet Offensive as a gunnery sergeant. I asked him if he killed men, and he said he killed 200. It was amazing to think that quiet, gentle Eddie had killed so many men. He also told me he received the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross during his time in-country.

A week later we recorded the interview and the conversation went pretty much the same, except this time he told me he killed 300 men. Afterward I started to ask him to show me some of the evidence of his honors. I told him it would be cool to get a photo, for our website, of his hands, holding the metals.

But he told me that the metals were packed in a box somewhere in the house and he probably couldn’t find them. Actually, he said, the metals were at an uncle’s home “back east” along with other family keepsakes, and they would be hard to get any time soon. I was starting to get nervous about airing this story.

I called him again and asked if he could show me something that could prove that he was in Vietnam. Were there any photos of him taken by news media that had his name in the caption? Could he show me his dog-tags or his discharge papers? Did he have any memorabilia or any snapshots that were taken of him in Vietnam?

His name wasn’t in any caption. The dog-tags and discharge papers were lost. A family member had destroyed any snapshots or memorabilia he had kept. I did some online research to try to verify his service and his receipt of metals but it came up blank. Interestingly, I did spot the name of filmmaker Oliver Stone in a list of recipients of the the Distinguished Service Cross because the spelling of his last name was close to that of Eddie’s.

I told Eddie we couldn’t air the interview unless we had some verification of his service in Vietnam. This was all too bad because, I said, “I believe you.”

Did I lie to help him save face? Maybe. Years gone by and the experience of war can change people and they say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But the cover of Eddie’s book is so unlike anything you’d expect from a battle-hardened veteran that it seems unlikely he ever set foot in Southeast Asia.

I’ll be glad to find out one day that his story was not just some fantasy. Maybe someday I will see a photo of his hands holding those metals. But this Veterans Day we’re going to have to salute someone else.

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