I Almost Didn’t Come Home: 45 Years On, Dave Morgan Shares His Vietnam War Story [PHOTOS]
The Vietnam War unexpectedly ended for me on September 8, 1971 … 45 years ago today.
It wasn’t the exit I’d expected to make from the war 15 months earlier, back when I was just another “lucky” winner in Nixon’s lottery, but things are what they are. I don’t really know how you go about telling a story like this, but I very nearly did not come back from Vietnam.My draft number was 44 and it came up in 1970. I’d thought about joining the National Guard to bypass a tour in Southeast Asia, but I’d waited too long. I was disappointed as hell to be drafted, but once I got there, things fell into a routine. Some days were busier than others. We drank at night and worked hard during the day, outfitting, prepping and maintaining operations.
I was in a place called Fire Base Mace serving with the First Cav Division near Xuan Loc in Long Khanh province, and I was two weeks away from my discharge. While I was showing my replacement how to reload a Cobra Helicopter Gunship, a rocket misfired from the craft. It (the rocket, that is) was about the thickness of a Coca-Cola can and was around six feet long. It struck me in the abdomen, just above my waistline.
I remember flying through the air, landing about 10 feet in front of the chopper, still conscious. In fact, I was conscious from the time of the firing through the end of the Medevac flight all the way to the hospital. I don’t know how long it was. It seemed like forever…
I don’t know how long it was before I was transferred back to the States; I recall a longer-than-expected stay at Clark AFB in the Phillipines, due to some complications. It did not occur to me that I might die — even though my parents were flown to Clark to see me — because a chaplain never gave me last rites. When I got my glasses back and read the info on my wrist tag, I discovered the reason why. My tag had me listed as a Protestant; I was Catholic.
After being stabilized, my trip back to the States resumed. I spent the next year at Valley Forge General Hospital, about an hour north of Philadelphia. It was there that my rehabilitation began. Having been in a partial body cast for a few weeks, my weight had gone from about 170 to 90 pounds. I had to learn how to do everything again. It was a chore to even lift a cup of water. But thanks to the staff at that Army facility, including the doctor who surgically repaired my wounds in Vietnam, I was able to return home after a year.
I returned home to Detroit in November of 1972, and went back to my old job at Amoco in January of 1973. I was back in the data processing department, doing shift work. Eventually I transferred from nights to the day shift.
A short time after that transfer, at afternoon break time, I saw people I had worked with before I’d been drafted. No sooner had I sat down at their table than I heard the supervisor say, “Well, time to get back to work.” Most of them got up and left. Was it because I had gone to the war or because I was now different? Either way, after it happened again, I got the message.
In 1974, Amoco announced it was consolidating its regional offices and moving their Detroit operations to Atlanta. Whoever wanted a job could have one; the rest could opt for a severance package. Since I wasn’t really thrilled sitting behind a desk, I opted for the severance package, and attended The Specs Howard School of Broadcasting, which still exists today.
I got my first radio job in 1975 in Middleport, Ohio, and I haven’t looked back since.
Ninety percent of the people I’ve met and worked with couldn’t care less that I’m a disabled Vietnam veteran. There are a few limitations I have — I have to wear a brace, I can’t stand for long periods of time, and I don’t do a lot of heavy lifting. But I have no reason to complain. Sure, there have been some bumps, but overall, it’s been a good ride!