The year now is 1965, and his son (me) joined the Marine Corps while still in High School -- gave me some extra time to use toward promotion. So, I was Dennis Wasson, U.S.M.C.R. That worked from March 1965 'til June when I rode the train to Parris Island.
I joined up because of several reasons. First, my dad was a Marine and because of what our recently killed President said. Some pretty powerful things for sure. Pay any Price. Bear any Burden. Ask not what your Country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your Country.
In November 1967, I left the free confines of Okinawa, Japan, and jetted to Danang, SOUTH Vietnam. During the months from then to August 1968, I did a lot of things. I was even lucky to be on the first group of Task Force X-Ray to go to Hue City during TET of 1968.
During July, we (2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment) moved to the Tu Cau bridge area of Danang. I requested to be the generator operator for the lighting on the bridge. I was there when a 1st Lieutenant named Puller arrived. The officer before him allowed me to sleep in a house that was part of the command center there. He felt that way I would be available anytime something happened. So there I was when Lt. Puller arrived, which is described in his book in Chapter Four.
In the evening, I had some time to talk to him. I described the instance in China some 34 years before. We talked a few times about home, joining the Corps, and how our fathers responded to our being here. We had also written letters to our fathers about these things. Mine sent a greeting for Chesty, and Chesty responded in kind.
After I left Vietnam, I didn't hear anything more about Lew until I read that he was learning to dance with his wife, Toddy, on his artifical legs. That was a shame to have that happen to such a nice person as him.
In the 1980s I found his address someplace and retrieved the phone number. I spoke with him briefly over the years on the phone, which gave me personal contact. I had spoken about making the trip to see him sometime which never happened. For that I am sorry as he was a great person in his own right.
Then he wrote his book "Fortunate Son." It made me remember that he had told me, "If they expect me to fill my dad's shoes, they are crazy."
In the book, where he talks about the engineer Corporal, he was referring to me. I quizzed him about that; and he said, "I just promoted you, do you mind?"
We both laughed about that one. I explained that I felt his book would help many people, as I had gone through 18 months of PTSD group sessions.
The last time I talked to him was upon his arrival home after his brother-in-law retired from the Marines at Camp LeJeune. He was tired but still found about 20 minutes to talk to me. He cared about people in general and his friends in particular.
Well, Vietnam took another American son and killed him. He had kicked alcohol and drugs that returned to haunt him. He was not dealing with his wounds and PTSD as well as he thought. His wife was so happy when he was clean and doing so well. She had helped inspire him, he told me once.
For some unknown reason, he started drinking again. This for someone with PTSD is a real bad thing to do. It intensifies the thoughts which leads to more drinking to forget. Toddy had had enough as she tried to get him to quit. She decided that she would end the marriage if he didn't change his ways. He must have reacted by just drinking more. This led to the end of a real hero in his own right -- all he had done helping people, and taking care of the troops under his care in Vietnam.
Toddy and his children suffered the most as they miss him terribly. I wish he would have viewed things a little differently. I wish he would have found the help I did. I wish, I wish, I wish.
I will always have these fond memories of speaking to him. Even spoke with Toddy once when Lew was not there. She is a wonderful person, too, and was a very loving wife. They were a perfect match for sure.
Lew was expected to be his father, a man of steel -- to be that highly-decorated Marine, maybe do something to get the MOH -- he only award his dad didn't get. So all the outside pressures for Lewis Burwell Puller Jr. were always an awful lot.
We that knew him were proud of him the way he was. Proud of the book he wrote and the award he received for writing it. Proud of the family man. Proud of the help he extended to others. Just wish we could have helped him over the rough spots so he would still be with us.
God Bless you, Lew. Rest well my friend, as we will have a lot of catching up to do someday. Semper Fi!
The "engineer Corporal"