Letter to the editor

The heart of a giant

To the editor:

I am writing this letter to tell you about Little Joe. He passed away tragically a little more than a week ago. Hundreds of people were at the graveside service on Sunday (Nov. 3) afternoon. They came from all over the United States. You see, Little Joe, was a very special man.

I didn't know him really well (I wish I had). We were friendly acquaintances. We had our big thing in common -- we were Vietnam veterans. We had been there about the same time in some of the same places. He was straight-leg infantry doing a dirty job. I was a support troop getting the infantry the things they needed to do the dirty job.

We met occasionally at the post office and always exchanged cordial greetings. We sometimes visited and swapped stories.

Joe was very proud of having served, but he never spoke about his awards or wounds.

From the obituary, and other sources, I learned that Joe had volunteered to serve at a time when others were shirking and bailing out. He had the usual "been-there" awards we all got. But he also was awarded the combat infantryman's badge and the purple heart. In a manner of speaking, he took a bullet and bled for our country. He was awarded two bronze stars. The bronze star medal is a combat medal awarded while facing a hostile enemy force. It can be awarded administratively or for valor. Joe had one administrative BSM which shows he was one heck of a soldier. He was awarded one with "V-device" for valor. He was a genuine recorded hero for an act of bravery beyond that expected of a soldier. His citation was read at the ceremony. He was NCO-in-charge of a four man listening post well forward of his company's position when they came under attack by a much larger enemy force. He managed to get his three troops (some wounded) evacuated back to safety and maintained his fighting position to cover their retreat until he ran out of grenades and ammunition. He then somehow evaded the enemy and returned to his unit.

In addition, Joe was a tunnel rat, going down into the enemy tunnels of Cu Chi to clear the tunnels, armed only with an M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol and a flashlight. Talk about nerves of steel and bravery.

Joe was very proud of his nickname "Little Joe" as he was coined by his fellow unit members. You see, Little Joe, was the smallest guy in the company.

He told me a story one day. One day in the field, a general helicoptered in to visit the troops. He probably was the assistant division commander (brigadier general) or the division commander (major general). The general asked Joe's name. He replied, "They call me Little Joe." The two then had a nice conversation. Some months later, the general was again in the area. Seeing Joe, he called, "Little Joe, come on over here." They had another nice conversation. Joe was thrilled that the general remembered his name.

Little Joe was small in stature, but had the heart of a giant. Especially his family, but also his friends will surely miss him.

God bless you, Little Joe. You are now in the company of your comrades who have gone before. I'm sure they welcomed you with open arms.

Michael A. O'Dockerty,

COL, AUS (ret),