Great stuff, Nancy. Upper Darby, Pa is where I was raised. "Graves" Roth is a hero. All of them are.
This is long and seems daunting, I know, but I think you will appreciate it and find it inspiring if you take the time to read it.
‘A Marine Three Times Dead’
On a sunny but chilly morning in March a bus from Collingdale, PA loaded with veterans, friends and supporters helped Chuck ‘Graves’ Roth meet up with Gil Hernandez from Elko, NV. Two Marines not knowing if each other were still alive reunited for the first time in 42 years at ‘The Wall’.
The following is their story as told by Linda Reilly Times Correspondent of how this miracle came about.
Washington, D.C. — A Vietnam veteran, pronounced dead three times in a combat zone in 1968, came face to face this week at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with the man who miraculously saved his life.
Gil Hernandez, 63, of Elko, Nev., knew he died twice, but he didn’t learn until last September that another Marine was responsible for giving him the medical care that revived him 43 years ago. Charles “Graves” Roth, 62, of Collingdale, and Hernandez arranged to meet in March at The Wall in D.C. for a reunion.
“I saw him three times when he was dead, but he never saw me,” Roth said, noting the pair had spoken on the phone and exchanged letters after learning in September that Hernandez was alive.
Forty-nine people, primarily members of Darby VFW Post 598 and Upper Darby Marine Corps League Detachment 884, and family members, accompanied Roth on a bus for the reunion.
“I’d spoken to (Hernandez) a few times on the phone and wrote him a letter,” Roth said. “I invited 49 people because I wanted to give Gil a welcome home. The meeting at the Vietnam Wall was something that needed to be shared."
"Normally, I try to make it down (to The Wall) in February to acknowledge the Tet Offensive and my best friend, Robert L. Stanek, at panel 37E, line 28. I didn’t want to talk to Gil at any other place. This time, it was more about wanting it to be a good day for many of the Vietnam vets who have never been to the Wall.”
At The Wall, Hernandez and Roth greeted each other and hugged. Hernandez removed his jacket and said, “I just wanted you to see I’m in pretty good shape. It’s amazing it’s taken us this long to meet and that both of us are still alive. It’s God’s will."
"I’m one of those that came back alive. I had a death certificate. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for ‘Graves.’’ Roth disputed the acclamation.
“I’m no hero,” Roth said. “I’m a Marine. It’s what we do. The heroes are on that wall. I didn’t save his life. Four of us carried him back and forth. The guy who did the surgery saved his life. I was just doing a day’s work in a bad place.”
Were it not for Roth, Hernandez would have been fingerprinted and bagged for burial like the other bodies brought to the Graves Registration at Dong Ha, a site closest to the DMZ.
Roth, assigned to the Graves Registration during his second tour of duty after serving in combat several years, vividly recalls April 25, 1968. Hernandez, on the other hand, has no recollection of Roth’s intercession, since he was unconscious and critically wounded with life-threatening injuries, including a collapsed lung, broken bones and kidney and liver damage due to shrapnel from charges and grenades blowing up the tank he was riding on.
“To me, it was like a dream,” Hernandez said. “I remember going into D-Med (Delta-Medical triage) one time.”
Last September, the dream became reality after receiving a phone call from Neil McCrossen of Springfield, who read about Hernandez in a VFW magazine and urged him to contact Roth. “Neil put this whole thing together,” Roth said.
Roth remembers working side-by-side with another Marine, Bob Boutwell, fingerprinting and bagging the dead.
“The only reason I noticed Hernandez is because he was the only one moving,” Roth said. “There were so many bodies that day, we couldn’t even use the slabs. The bodies were lined up on the floor. Sometimes, a body does move in the morgue, from rigor mortis, but something in his stomach moved.
I said, ‘dude, I think he moved.’ Then I saw him twitch again. I pulled his arms and hit him a couple of times.”
Roth and Boutwell took Hernandez back to triage and informed doctors of their suspicions saying, “This guy’s still alive.”
According to Roth, he returned to working on bodies, and Hernandez was brought back out and dropped in the same place.
“They said, ‘he’s dead now,’” Roth said. “I looked at him and had a bad feeling. That’s when I hit his chest three times. I hit him hard and blood came out of all the bullet wounds, and again he went back to triage.
“I’m saying, ‘this guy’s moving.’ We were (ticked). Things were pretty hectic. We were overloaded with bodies and they were overloaded with wounded. It was busy that day. I heard later he was still living, but only knew his name was Hernandez. I had no idea where he was from.”
Hernandez says his name would be on the Vietnam Wall were it not for Roth, his own mother’s prayers and God.
He remembers being shipped to Japan for treatment, rather than stateside, due to the severe injuries before returning home for a yearlong recuperation.
“I was told I would never walk, and you can see I’m walking,” Hernandez said. “I lost a toe, and my shoes are two sizes shorter, but I can still walk and I can run, but not very far. I wanted to die. I told the doctor it hurts too much, and he said, ‘it hurts until you get better.’”
Roth talked of having flashbacks when someone asked them to remove their hats. “When you take your helmet or hat off, you have helmet hair,” Roth said. “When I looked at him, I went right back to the Vietnam experience. It was very, very overwhelming.
The whole experience, meeting him at The Wall, was spiritual. I’d always hoped he made it. It was the only good thing about Vietnam. Until I met him and shook his hand, I didn’t know if it was a dream or that it really happened and to see that he actually made it.”
Roth worked in Graves Registration in 1967 and 1968. “I went to Graves to identify my two friends and was asked to help because bodies were laying out in the field and none of the others assigned were field trained,” Roth said.
“I went from search and recovery in ’67 and then to Graves Registration and bagging bodies.” According to Roth, the 2,700 dead included Americans, Australians, Koreans, ARVN’s (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and civilians.
Particularly vivid in Roth’s mind were two dead children who bring tears to his eyes, a 14-year-old girl struck by a truck on her bike and a 2-year-old boy.
Not surprisingly, Roth and Hernandez shared parallel civilian-life experiences after honorable discharge from the Corps, both suffering and receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and devoting their efforts to veterans’ issues.
Hernandez, a member and past commandant of VFW Post 2350 in his hometown, represents veterans in Nevada and lobbies in Washington, D.C., crusading for their rights.
“All I remember is how I was treated when I came home,” Hernandez said. “People were hollering at me. I want to make sure veterans are not treated like us. I take pride in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. I will help the vets until the day I die. Only 1 percent of Americans give a crap. We can’t let the veterans down.”
Roth, a member of Darby VFW 598, which was founded by his grandfather, has escorted veterans’ homecomings with the Vietnam Vets and Leatherneck Motorcycle Clubs and supports outreach groups for Iraq and Afghanistan vets.
Hernandez and Roth exchanged patches and commemorative coins and promised to keep in touch.
“It’s not the end, it’s the beginning,” Roth said. At the conclusion of the reunion, the entire group offered a brief prayer and placed wreaths in honor of Stanek and all those named on The Wall.
Follow the link to see the photos of the reunion:
Patrick J. Hughes "Welcome Home Veterans"
Great stuff, Nancy. Upper Darby, Pa is where I was raised. "Graves" Roth is a hero. All of them are.
The enemy of truth is distortion.
Yes, Rick, and thank you for taking the time to read this.
Yes Rick, Upper Darby as you know is outside of Philadelphia where I grew up. This is wonderful story that should have been in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Thank you Nancy for sharing it with us.
Angel, if you know somebody there at the Enquirer you may want to send them the link to the photo site. This story is there too but not as easy to read as it is here in black and white.
Remarkable story, thanks, Nancy - and Semper Fi to these brothers in arms.
When You're Here, It's Family
Absolutely INCREDIBLE Story! True heroes - both of them, Roth & Hernandez. Kudos too, to Neil McCrossen, who led to their reunion.
So sad to think, though, that because of an exceptionally busy day in the field, trooper Hernandez was given up for dead. Makes one wonder about others. No finer description was ever written than the words, "War is Hell."
"Living Well Is The Best Revenge"
What a story. I read it again on the website. Gives me chills.
No more lives - no more dollars.
Hi Nancy, thanks for the story. It just highlights how terrible war is and how our soldiers , sailors , marines and airman are absolutely heroic, even though they say the are just doing their jobs. When you're in the service, the Marine Corps is part of the Navy Department, so there is a friendly "tension" back and forth between the two, which, after a couple of drinks in a bar, usually results in a fight or two.
Even though I was in the Navy, the great guy who worked for me was a Gunnery Sergeant (Gunnies as they are called are higher in the enlisted ranks, at least what's called an E-7, the highest being E-9). My Gunny taught me, even though I technically was of a higher rank, how to do my job and accomplished all tasks efficiently and superbly. Marines are "special" to me.
The Marines have a saying that every Marine is a rifleman, from cooks, to mechanics, etc. Their training is superb, their bearing ramrod straight. The article made me remember my marine buddies. They used to call the Navy just ship drivers. But if I had to go into battle,and I'm not knocking other services or Seals or Rangers, I would have been proud to lead a platoon or company of Marines. They never, never, never would leave anybody (alive or dead) behind. Great article. Makes me think some one up there is pulling the strings.
Bump.I wanted to die. I told the doctor it hurts too much, and he said, ‘it hurts until you get better'
I translated the whole story. I am not American and perhaps seem strange that I reply in this thread, but to give a tribute to heroes of the Homeland is a duty.
I especially liked this passage:
"I'm no hero," Roth said. "I'm a Marine. It's what we do. The heroes are On That wall. I did not save His life. Four of us Carried Him Back and forth. The guy who did the surgery saved His life. I was just doing a day's work in a bad place. "
Each soldier gets his duty deserves a thought and a lot of respect!
This is civil and that's what I think.
Thanks to all the soldiers who love their Homeland, true heroes!
(I hope I have not made too many errors in translation )
Stories of war soldiers survival memories...Buddies forever..
Forever Frank ~ Forever Betty ~ Forever Dina ~ Forever Bobbysoxer
Amen, Irene.Thanks to all the soldiers who love their Homeland, true heroes!
Thank you, Nancy for allowing us to read this. It brought tears to my eyes.
LEATRICE (LEE) Fort Myers, Florida, USA
Sinatra, Sinatra,Sinatra! Pray for Robin!
Very well worth the read, thankyou for posting Nancy.