Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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Larry Mitchell, Vietman wounds are healing

Larry Mitchell, another Potawatomi from the reservation recalled a moment from his youth.

"I used to go hunting by my mother's house, when I was sixteen, hunting squirrels and often wondered how war would be like."

In 1969, Mitchell volunteered for the U.S. Army and no longer had to wonder.

In a few short weeks, Mitchell was in Vietnam at the age of 18. His first impressions of the country were the stifling heat as he got off the plane in Cam Rhan Bay, Vietnam and seeing many returning soldiers.

One soldier said, "It's all over but the crying," because he had survived the Vietnam experience.

Mitchell was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and went from the overwhelming heat in Cam Rhan Bay to the monsoon season further north. He recalled how it rained all the time.

"You don't know misery until you've slept in the rain all the time."

After three days, his unit was sent out into the "bush," an area that was all mountains with thick triple canopy jungles.

The first day out, his unit was engaged in a firefight with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). He can still visualize the dead NVA soldiers lying by the trail. That scene remained in his mind for many years after and it was replayed many times in the next several months.

In one battle, Mitchell was wounded in a shrapnel attack. He recalled all the blood coming from his arm and thinking he had lost it. But after spending a few weeks in a hospital, he was sent back out to the fighting.

"I was lucky I didn't die there," he stated.

There were nights when the firefights lasted all night and he said it was a sight to see all those "gunships" giving them support and the impressive courage of the pilots.

Mitchell was released from the army soon after and drifted around the country in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, often going days without eating. Life on the road was harsh.

Mitchell eventually ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he was hired to work for the postal system. He raised a family, and generally put his life back together.

Mitchell said for the longest time, his generation was never appreciated for the sacrifices they made in Vietnam. Like so many others who went through the Vietnam war experiences, he tried to compensate by getting caught up in drugs and alcohol, but then stated simply, "You can't blame Vietnam forever."

He realized his visions of war from his youth, but it carried a price tag!

Martin Jim was like his friend Larry and cousin Joe Hale, a young man from the reservation who went off to war looking for his fame and fortune. He paid a costly price -- his life.

The war was starting to wind down in 1971, but not soon enough. Martin was a quiet young man who respected the many elders on the reservation, respected the religion of the people and enjoyed life with the friends he had around him.

No one knows why he wanted to join the army, but one day he announced to his friends he was leaving and did. He joined the Army, took the training and came home on a short leave to visit his friends before leaving for Vietnam.

During this leave, he said he wasn't coming back.

His friends tried to reassure him that everything was going to be all right, but he left the reservation on a January day in 1971, convinced he would never see his friends and home again.

And it happened that way.

After eight days in Vietnam he was killed by a booby trap set by a people who were doing everything they could to preserve their country from the Americans, but that was little consolation to his friends and family. As noted earlier, it truly was "all over but the crying."

An anonymous author once wrote that people will always live if you remember them and his friends never did forget Martin Jim. One man thought so much of him that he named his daughter after him.

Martin Jim was the second Potawatomi killed in Vietnam. Ironically, the first one was his cousin.

Victor Hale had died in December 1968. Joe Hale was ready for a second tour of Vietnam when this tragedy occurred and subsequently didn't have to return there.

"I sometimes think maybe he gave his life for me. I was very proud of my brother. He received the Bronze Star, the third highest medal for valor in combat. He covered his body over another Marine in a battle and saved his life."

Time has a way of healing old wounds for these young soldiers, and now, many years later, they have adjusted back to the quiet life of the reservation. They contributed to a war not fully understood, but they served honorably and did their part.

Many war veterans share the sentiments of Joe Hale: "I pray that our Indian boys, and my sons, do not ever have to witness any combat experiences."

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, Thursday, July 27, 1995
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