LIMA — For many area veterans, talking about their experiences in combat is often difficult because civilians are unable to relate personally to their experiences.
“There was a time when I came back that I didn't want to talk about it either,” said Russell Reynolds, a Vietnam War veteran living southwest of Lima. “When we came back, it was unpopular, and nobody wanted to hear about it.”
For Reynolds, who attributes his ability to talk freely about his Vietnam experience to the spiritual healing he has experienced as a Christian, his experience in the military began in much the same way as many others who fought in that conflict: through the draft.
“I can still remember coming home and my mom and dad had a somber look on their faces,” he said. “They said, 'You've got some mail on the TV.' I went in and saw the letter.”
Reynold's uncle, who had served in the Navy, encouraged him to gain a skill through his military training that could be used in civilian life, so Reynolds took welding training in Maryland after joining the Army.
“The only thing was I had to volunteer to go to Vietnam,” he said.
Serving with the 704th Maintenance Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Reynolds was sent to LZ Oasis, located 23 miles southwest of Pleiku, near the Cambodian border. While Reynolds ended up serving in Vietnam for 18 months, one event early in his deployment is permanently seared in his memory.
“Mother's Day will never be the same for me,” he said. “On Mother's Day 1969, I had been in the country a little over 30 days. At about 1 a.m. we started hearing the sounds of rockets and mortars. Those of us who were sleeping had to go out to a bunker. People came around asking if people would take ammo to the bunker line. So my best buddy and I got out, crawled all over people and took ammo to the bunkers all night.”
That night saw a battalion of enemy soldiers attack Reynolds' base. By the time the smoke cleared in the morning, the base held, but 11 soldiers were killed, with many others wounded.
“I can still remember lining up at the mess hall and looking over at the helipad where 11 filled body bags were laid out waiting to be picked up by helicopter,” Reynolds said. “There were 11 mothers who lost their sons that day.”
After serving in Vietnam for 18 months, Reynolds returned to the States, faced with the difficult challenge of readjusting to life outside the military.
“I was very angry,” he said. “I used to be more easy and quiet, but after I got back, everything was a fight.”
That anger led to alcohol abuse and multiple failed marriages, finally leading to a turning point.
“In 1982, I hit rock bottom,” Reynolds said. “That's when I surrendered my life to the Lord, and God started healing a lot of things. Right now at this present time, he's working on purging that stuff out.”
Instead of welding chain link fence posts or tank parts, Reynolds used his skills to weld together the cross that stands in a pond at New Hope Christian Church on Baty Road.
“I always hope that when I give my testimony, it can help someone who went through the same things,” he said.
In talking about his wartime experiences, Reynolds is not looking to draw attention to himself, but rather to honor those who never made it home.
“They talk about the Greatest Generation, but I believe that in every generation, those who answer the call to service are the greatest of their generation,” he said.