Planning My Return to Vietnam
In Memory of Jack O’Neil
At approximately 1700 hours 31 January 2015, Jack O’Neil died. Jack was my best friend. We first met on the airstrip at Quan Loi in September 1968, as I arrived to temporarily replace him as PSYOP team leader with the 2d Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). A few months later, Jack moved to start up a new team with the 82d Airborne Division, and I returned to Quan Loi to take over his Team. He was a tough act to follow.
Jack and I had long discussed returning to ‘Nam together, but it simply couldn’t happen. Over the past few months, as my trip solidified and his health continued to deteriorate, we talked long and often about the trip, about the places I’d visit. He wanted me to take the tour for both of us, an honor I gladly accepted. He thought he might die before I left, and we agreed I’d take some of his ashes back to Quan Loi if at all possible. Over the past few weeks, he seemed to strengthen, and the “ashes” idea became a new source of humor for us; we won’t go into that here. We had no idea that he’d pass so close to our actual departure time; who could know? I wish I could have honored his wishes and return some of his ashes to the place we met, but it wasn’t going to happen.
The funny thing about our friendship is that we came to generally dislike each other in ’68 and early ’69, but we couldn’t remember why. When we reconnected in 1989 in Washington DC, we couldn’t remember why our feelings had been hostile because we had good memories of our time in ‘Nam; it was so good see him and we rekindled a friendship that had started well but then deteriorated. For the last 26 years, our friendship was the best of my life. We shared a special bond, we saw each other through hard times, we chewed each others butts when it was needed, and we commiserated with each other to cover our pain. We shared the pain of the deaths of fellow ‘Nam veterans, and talked about our own futures, how we wanted things to be. We kept each other up when we were down, and we stood tall and strong when the other needed that strength. I guess that is what friendship is about.
We served in the same unit, but were widely separated by our team assignments. Jack replaced me on Operation Montana Raider, the massive joint infantry-armor operation in the Michelin Rubber plantation during which I was wounded in April ‘69; he replaced me on the operation and was himself wounded. He suffered to his last day with his injuries. Jack has lived a hard life, but he did it with grace, class, and dignity.
You’ll read later in this journal about the Robert McClure Gold Medal that I was awarded; Jack was awarded the McClure Gold Medal at the same time. That is brotherhood at its best, recognizing our service, our work, and our commitment as veterans and as Psywarriors for nearly 50 years. Long life, Brother Jack!
Jack, this return for my “Third Tour” of Vietnam is in honor of you. You haven’t been gone long, but I am missing you already. It does “mean something.” But, we both know that it always did.
You’re home, now, Jack. No more pain, no more worries. You’re safe now. Welcome Home. RIP, Brother.