Miles Mrowiec, Mike McGinnis, & Emma Bachali
As we departed Hue this morning, we drove through a mountain range called the Hai Van pass. We stopped at the beautiful Lang Co Bay fishing village, called the Village of the Stork, which was originally built for French vacationers. Surrounded by water and mountains, our group walked out onto a sandbar to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. After sharing local coffee in Lang Co, we headed up the mountain pass switchbacks, stopping long enough to see French-Vietnamese bunkers overlooking the Da Nang skyline and ocean view.
Outside of Da Nang, we paid a visit to the Ba Na Hills resort for lunch at a restaurant 4,763 feet above sea level. To get there, we rode on the second largest cable car system in the world, enjoying a panoramic view of Vietnam mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and giant rocks. Afterwards, we walked to Love Garden where we saw a massive stone Buddha and Golden Bridge, a bridge held up by the chiseled stone hands of Buddha.
Along the way, we had the privilege of hearing the story of our veteran, Sergeant Major Gary Littrell, who is an outstanding, relational individual. He adopted the three of us from the very first day of the trip, with open arms and hugs at the Tokyo airport. Our respect for him has grown as we’ve watched him interact with students and native Vietnamese. Without using the Vietnamese language for about forty-five years, Gary has recalled several words and phrases through the interactions of the past week. He used the language to daily motivate Vietnamese Rangers in training and battle, as he was an advisor to the 23rd Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. According to Gary, training was everything. If a leader did not properly train his troops, he denied them the right to live. Gary attributed his own survival to the laser-sharp Ranger training he received in the US Army.
Gary served in the U.S. Army for twenty-two years. His two tours in Vietnam were from 1969-1970 and 1972-1973. Noteworthy to Gary’s incredible story of service was his Medal of Honor that was awarded on October 15th of 1973. This morning, Mike read his official Medal of Honor citation to the group, and Gary told us of the four-day four-night nonstop battle of Dak Seang. If it had not been for his faith and love of his men he would not have found the strength to continue the fight, considering the lack of water, food, ammo, and sleep. Gary shared how the trust and security he had built with his men became an asset during the onset of the battle. There were two Vietnamese soldiers assigned to Gary specifically, whom he affectionately called the “cowboys.” When he arrived in Dak Seang, Gary recalled feeling uneasy, almost as if he had a sixth sense telling him that something was wrong. He told the lieutenants with him that he was going to roll off the hill with C-4 explosives and blow a landing zone just in case there was trouble. He instructed the cowboys to dig a fox hole in the meantime. As he proceeded off of the hill and into the jungle, twelve enemy mortar began to fire overhead. Knowing he had twenty-one seconds to find cover, Gary ran back to the other men hoping they had dug the fox hole. They had, but it was full of men as he quickly ran past the scene to shield himself with the protection of a tree. After the mortar rounds exploded, he ran back to the fox hole only to find dead men. Filling in as the battalion commander over the course of the four days, Gary saw his men through the battle despite the 5,000 NVA enemy soldiers surrounding the hill they maintained. For his gallantry and self-sacrifice displayed during the Dak Seang seize, Gary was awarded the Medal of Honor by president Nixon.
Any amount of time spent with Gary Littrell is time well spent. He has added value, relationship, and education to each member of our team. As a Medal of Honor recipient, Gary has a responsibility to represent the Medal and all that it means, as well as the U.S. military he served. He does this well and honorably, inspiring us with his commitment to our country. His laughter and friendship, his stories about his dear wife Susie and their family, all add to the humanness and genuineness of this true American hero. In Gary’s words, “Life is beautiful,” and we see the evidence of this in the way he approaches life adventurously.