Vietnam Vet Doubly Rewarded

01/25/04

James Ewinger
Plain Dealer Reporter


The nation honored an Olmsted Township man Saturday for a shrapnel wound he got in Vietnam 39 years ago.

But Gary Brooks got another reward: a chance to see the Navy medical corpsman who patched him up in a jungle clearing that day, when the air was hot,
the food was cold and the only thing they could depend on were the other Marines in their reconnaissance unit.
Michael "Doc" Morris was the corpsman, the job description the Navy and Marines use for enlisted sailors who dress like Marines,
live among them and provide most of the immediate medical attention in the heat of battle.


"I just thank God we made it home, and he [Morris] made sure I made it home," Brooks said after the men embraced at a Marine Corps reserve center in Brook Park.
"He saved my butt on two occasions that I remember," Morris said of Brooks. "I remember him patching me up."
Both men lived through two combat tours, came home, raised families and retired.
Brooks retired from a GM plant here and Morris from a career as an electrical engineer in Columbus.Morris is 63 and Brooks 58.
They have lived in the same state and remained in touch for decades. But they saw each other Saturday - for the first time
in nearly 40 years - when Morris drove up from Columbus for the belated presentation of the Purple Heart.

"It's my fault you didn't get it sooner," Morris said Saturday.

Their platoon was ambushed July 19, 1965, and Brooks took shrapnel in one hand. After that, and on many days just like it, "we had to go about our business,
" Morris said, and there wasn't always time for paperwork.

Most often they worked as a squad of less than a dozen lightly armed men.Their business was scouting, rapidly moving 13 or 14 miles ahead of larger Marine units.

Bravo Company, of the Third Marine Division's 3rd Recon Battalion, went on some missions the men could not even legally mention for 20 years after their service.
These included at least four missions into Cambodia and as many into Laos, both said.

The paperwork caught up with Brooks on Saturday because Morris and two other Marines were able to corroborate the events.

But valor and service can be acknowledged in many ways.

As Brooks got his medal, a unit of Marine reservists stood in formation. They wore the Corps' signature dress blues and many
had rows of ribbons over their left breasts.

Veterans from World War II to Desert Storm also attended, wearing civilian clothes and hats and jackets that declared their service more openly than cryptic service ribbons.

Brooks got a Purple Heart, a medal established in 1782 by George Washington. Over the pocket of his blazer, he wore colorful service ribbons,
including the one representing his new medal, a purple rectangle with a splash of white at each end.

A master sergeant told observers the medal is the oldest military decoration in the world in current use, then he read how Brooks earned it.

"I accept this Purple Heart on behalf of my country and the Marine Corps," said Brooks, who left the Marines a corporal but was a private first class when he was wounded.

After the ceremony, Brooks and Morris remembered the Marines who fought beside them.

Morris spoke of one man in their unit who survived the war and died years later in a car accident.

Another Marine who served with them told Morris he was afraid he never had a chance to thank the other man for saving his life in Vietnam.

Morris said he told the man: "You heated his food, you covered him, you gave him your .45 [pistol] when he went to the showers. I think you thanked him."

Those honors require no paperwork and are never forgotten.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

jewinger@plaind.com, 216-999-3905


© 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.