WILMINGTON — For a conversation held in connection with Veterans Day, two combatants from different generations pulled out episodes from their times in the Iraq and Vietnam wars.
Jack Rose, 68, served in the Army from 1966 to 1968 and was in Vietnam for one year as a helicopter scout. Sean Denehy, 39, started in the Marine Corps in 1996 and recently finished in summer 2015 with the Army. He initially specialized as a machine gunner.
A vivid early memory is when he heard a bleak forecast for life expectancy as a machine gunner in battle.
“The first thing they teach you is that they’re [the enemy] going to come find you to get rid of your machine-gun nest, and then go after the regular guys that are carrying M-16s,” Denehy said.
That forewarning’s lengthy shadow “just sticks with you,” he said.
But what Denehy said he remembers most “is all my friends.”
He summarized a mixed bag of memories: “Camaraderie; being in the worst kind of situations ever; and talking about the Cincinnati Reds, trying to calm your buddies down.”
Rose said his recollections include, “Losing buddies. That sticks, always.”
He is not sure how many comrades lost their lives. But he said there were 10 to 15 whose names are engraved on the Vietnam Memorial that he has visited. There also were officers slain who, he said, “you weren’t as close with, as your buddies.”
A lot of people say the Vietnam Memorial offers psychological closure, but Rose said he didn’t see that.
A less painful memory is eating the Army’s C-rations, individually canned and precooked. In retrospect, he wonders how he could do that for an extended period.
“But you’re young. That’s the whole thing right there,” said Rose.
Denehy agreed. “It is definitely a young man’s game.”
Denehy said the military has blessed his family and his service had been “an incredible journey.” He praised his wife, Amanda Denehy, saying she is probably the strongest woman he ever met, pointing to the times they were apart because of his military service.
He said he was away for 2½ to three years of his oldest son’s life, who’s 9.
“That’s obviously why I got out. It was time to start raising them instead of being away from them. I love the military for what it was worth, but everybody’s got to stop sometime,” said Denehy.
Rose’s wife was six months pregnant when he left for Vietnam. He said at that time a soldier did not get to come home on paternity leave, and his son was 6 months old the first time he saw him in person.
“Yeah, they didn’t send you back [home], probably for good reason. You wouldn’t go back,” he said with a chuckle.
Rose has gone to a couple reunions of the 17th Cavalry, and at one he saw his helicopter pilot for the first time in 45 years “and that was pretty cool.”
The pilot is dying of leukemia, said Rose, adding that six or eight friends from his Vietnam experience are dying from some type of cancer from Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate the enemy’s forest cover.
“It keeps on killing,” Rose remarked.
He said the service in the military was “your job at the time; you did it the best you could.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.