If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Vet – Bowling Memoirs of Johnny Petraglia

My apologies to the readers, but I have to finish Vietnam….In the next installment (as per request) I’ll tell two bowling action stories.

I flew home from Vietnam by going through Tachikawa Japan and then over the north pole and landed in Seattle, WA. It was great getting off the plane in Japan, it was chilly and the thought that nobody is going to shoot at you was wonderfully peaceful. On the flight from Japan I could hardly stay in my seat. We were in the air 6 or 7 hours when the captain came on the intercom. He said, “Troops, look out the window, left and right.” I did, and all I could see was snow and ice on the ground. The captain waited a few seconds and then said, “That’s Alaska down there, we just entered U.S. Airspace, welcome home.” The flood of emotion was amazing, everybody on the plane was cheering and hugging each other. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

We landed in Seattle, a bus took us to Ft. Lewis, gave us new uniforms to go home in, and 6 hours later I’m on a plane for home. I landed at 5 a.m. and had the cab driver take me past my High School, the bowling alley, and the corner where I had hung out before taking me home. I got home just before my dad was leaving for work. After that everything is a blur except when my mom asked me if there was anything special I wanted, and I said, “A glass of real milk!”. It seemed so unbelievable, I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my family and 24 hours earlier I was in a combat zone. But that’s the way it was. The Army spends a year getting you ready for combat, but then lets you go home in one day when you’re done. Okay you can be a civilian again. It just doesn’t work that way. When you almost get hit you don’t have time to think, you only have time to react. That’s a traumatic experience in real time. But years later (mostly when you’re lying in bed) and you have time to think and realize how close you came to being killed… that’s POST traumatic stress, and it never goes away and there are different degrees but everybody that’s been in war has it.

There is however every once in a while an upside to PTS. The Tet Offensive started on January 31st, 1968. For those that don’t know, Tet was the North Vietnamese plan to attack 130 military installations and towns at the same time and kill all 400,000 of us. The north Vietnamese suffered one on the biggest defeats in military history. In one week almost all 130 facilities were back in U.S. control. I was a squad leader at that time. On the first day of Tet, two of my guys were wounded and medivacked to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. Five days after Tet, I went with my C.O. and platoon Sgt. to the hospital. The C.O. wanted to see all his men that were wounded, and I wanted to see my two guys. They were eventually sent to Japan, but they turned out okay.

To try and explain a field hospital or MASH unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) try and imagine a gigantic emergency room on a very bad day. Nobody is there because they have the flu. Everybody capable pulls guard duty. If you can’t get out of bed they push your bed to a window.

Five days after Tet there were still some small pockets of resistance and you could hear sporadic gunfire. And there were the nurses…no weapon ,no flak jacket, just going about their business doing their job. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But years later lying in bed, thinking about that day it suddenly hit me! What it must have been like the first day of Tet in that hospital. What those nurses must have gone thru while under attack. If you ever need a definition of brave…try Combat Nurse! And it gives me great pleasure to be able to publicly thank them today. “If you love your freedom.. thank a Vet!”

Sorry I was so dogmatic, next memoir will be fun….cento anni’…Johnny Petraglia

5 thoughts on “If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Vet – Bowling Memoirs of Johnny Petraglia

  1. Jeremy Domingo says:

    Johnny,

    You never have to apologize about us (readers) for anything. We are the ones who are grateful for your service, not only to our country, but also to the bowling community. You are a great ambassador for our sport. We are glad you are sharing your stories! Happy 4th!

    And THANK YOU, Johnny!

  2. Terry Clayton says:

    Thanks Johnny, never knew you went through that, I have enjoyed and cheered you on for a long time though. Hope you keep bowling for many years to come. Terry

  3. Spencer Watts says:

    JP, I personally thank you. I have an uncle who was a Ranger in Viet Nam. (He eventually retired as a Lt. Colonel among other notable accomplishments.) He’s told me stories as well about being in combat. He often described you simply had to be tough mentally not to click, and adjustment is a matter of attitude. But I’m sure you can relate to some or all of what he meant.

  4. Chuck Herman says:

    Johnny P., You are a true legend, gentleman and hero. Thank you for all you have done !
    Just another aspiring bowler, -Charlie

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