Archive for Thursday, November 13, 2003

Faith, love of country paramount to local veteran

November 13, 2003

War isn't John Wayne leading Green Berets on a suicide mission; it isn't Arnold Schwarzenegger mowing down 100 bad guys at a time without suffering so much as a scratch.

In short, war isn't the movies.

The true definition, nature and lifeblood of war can only be told by those who are in the know. Those who have been there with boots on the ground, to see it, taste it and live with it.

Among the people who have been there are members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a volunteer, service-minded organization. A handful of members of the Basehor VFW Post 11499 donned their uniforms, medals and caps and participated in the Veteran's Day parade in Leavenworth on Nov. 11.

One of those members, Fred Box, a Vietnam veteran, recipient of the Bronze Star and a man as pious as an oak tree is thick, knows war. He's seen it up close, too close, and has perhaps as pure a perspective on it as anyone.

"Looking back, I think I'll go to heaven because I've spent my time in hell," said Box, 60, a lifelong Basehor resident.

Box spent four years in the jungles of southeast Asia and saw the bullets, the bodies, the pure violence of it all. He did it for one reason and one reason alone -- his country.

"If you run down this country, you're walking on the wrong side of me," Box said. "Freedom isn't free. Someone has got to keep this country free. Someone has got to protect our freedom."

After a stint from 1964 to 1966, he returned to Vietnam in 1969, walked back into hell, in place of his brother.

He was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device that year for heroic acts during "military operations against a hostile force," according to the military announcement.

On July 19 of that year, Box, at the time 27 years old, was serving as an adviser to a group of Vietnamese Rangers and accompanied them on a

reconnaissance mission. On the mission -- a search for weapons at an enemy burial site -- Viet Cong troops ambushed the unit and command detonated two claymore mines.

The ambush took its toll: five Rangers were killed and seven injured, including Box, who was shot in the back and suffered other injuries as result of the explosions.

The firefight, however, was just beginning.

Despite his wounds, Box attempted to radio the command post for aid. Unable to, he contacted a nearer unit and requested gunship support. Upon its arrival, Box, wounded and without treatment from the mine explosions, directed fire until the Viet Cong withdrew.

A landing zone could not be cleared in the dense canopy of the jungle, so Box then radioed for patrol boats and requested they carry the dead and wounded to a suitable landing zone.

Ignoring his wounds, Box helped load the dead and wounded. On the way to the landing zone, the Viet Cong continued fire, which Box returned from a machine gun on the boat.

At the landing zone, Box assisted in the evacuation; only after everyone else was secure did an injured and bleeding Box accept an evacuation for himself.

As with most combat veterans, Box is hesistant, even disagreeable to call himself a hero, and when he returned from Vietnam for good, no one did.

"When I came back home, people were calling us baby killers," Box said. "I never killed any babies and I never saw anyone kill any babies. We were there fighting for our country. Every soldier over there, and the ones overseas now, is doing the best they can."

Just weeks ago, Box, Post 11499 chaplain, gave a speech to a crowd of Basehor residents gathered for the dedication of the Basehor brothers monument. It was during that speech that one could hear the strong religious faith Box possesses.

"If it wasn't for my mother's prayers and God, I wouldn't have made it through," he said. "God's not responsible for man's ways. He gave us a free will. The first time you're out in those jungles, you don't turn Him away."

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