Photo by Johnny Jackson
Retired U.S. Army Col. Walter Marm was a guest speaker at Woodland High School on Friday, during an annual event highlighting Vietnam veterans.
By Johnny Jackson
Many of them were denied a hero's welcome when they returned home from the Vietnam conflict in war-torn, Southeast Asia. But some were heroes, and have the medals to prove it.
Woodland High School, in Stockbridge, hosted its fourth oral history event Friday. It featured area Vietnam War veterans, including a Medal of Honor recipient -- retired U.S. Army Col. Walter "Joe' Marm.
"There are so many veterans that live here now," said Hal Dayhuff, also a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Tunnel Rats organization. The group was formed in 2005, as the Southern Crescent charter to the Atlanta Vietnam Veteran Business Association.
Dayhuff, who served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1965, meets with fellow veterans monthly for lunch. "We're trying to get the sons and daughters of Vietnam vets," said Dayhuff. "We want the young people to come in and share."
In that effort, he said, the Tunnel Rats partners with Woodland annually to put on the day-long oral history event.
Retired Col. Marm had a story to tell.
Students sat silently, but were attentive, and allowed Marm's words to flow over them. The 69-year-old, dressed in civilian attire, said he was born and raised in Washington, Pa., the son of a state policeman. He graduated in 1964, with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, Pa. He said he hoped to land a career in banking. A year later,
he had volunteered for the draft. Once enlisted, he was deployed from Fort Benning, Ga., in August 1965, to Vietnam, with 15,000 other soldiers.
Marm recalled his harrowing experience as a young man, fighting in the Battle of Ia Drang, on Nov. 14, 1965. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
"There was too much resistance," recalled Marm, who was then an Army first lieutenant. "I charged an ant hill -- a big solidified rock surrounded by trees -- where there were enemy soldiers," he said.
Armed with a bazooka-like, "light anti-tank" weapon, Marm said, he fired on enemies progressing from a bunker about 100 feet away. Then, with a single firearm and a few grenades in hand, he charged across an open field toward the bunker. "There was a lot of battle noise," he emphasized. "I used my M16 [rifle] and silenced some more enemy soldiers."
Marm said soldiers serving in Ia Drang faced steamy day-time conditions of heat and humidity, interrupted by rain, and night-time chills from the surrounding mountain range.
Marm remembered deliberately standing upright in tall, elephant grass to draw enemy fire. He then charged 30 meters across open ground, and hurled grenades into the enemy position, killing some of the eight insurgents manning a concealed machine gun, according to Marm.
Hot metal pierced the left side of his face, exiting straight through the other side. The single bullet, he said, shattered his jaw. "When you get shot, it's really tough," said Marm. "We had a lot of upper body wounds."
The wounded first lieutenant was evacuated that November 1965. He said he received the Medal of Honor on Dec. 19, 1966, given to him by the Secretary of the Army, for his selfless actions in helping reduce the fire on his platoon and breaking up the enemy assault.
Marm returned to duty in 1969, however, and served a one-year tour as a company commander. The father of four said he served in the U.S. Army for 30 years and 10 months, before retiring. He now lives in Fremont, N.C., the hometown of his wife of 22 years, Deborah. The colonel encouraged students to strive for whatever career they desire.
"No one hates war more than a warrior," said Marm, "but I felt it was my duty."
Marm and the Tunnel Rats received many expressions of gratitude Friday from students at Woodland.
"I thought it was very interesting," said 11th-grader, Toni Edwards. "I couldn't imagine being up there during the war."
Edwards, 16, said she appreciated the opportunity to learn from the, sometimes, graphic stories told from the Vietnam era.
"We really enjoy them coming out and speaking to us," said classmate, Markayla Bogus, 16. "We have to have a lot of respect for them, because they help save our lives."
Added 17-year-old Krystal Carter: "I respect them, because they do a lot for our country."