“The courage that it took was just simply amazing. And these were 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old boys just out of high school. They’d been sitting inside a classroom just a few months before. ... I think of them with reverence, and think, ‘My gosh, how brave they were.’ “
“The courage that it took was just simply amazing. And these were 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old boys just out of high school. They’d been sitting inside a classroom just a few months before. ... I think of them with reverence, and think, ‘My gosh, how brave they were.’ “
For much of their marriage, Diana Brown knew very little about her husband, Denny Brown's, military service.

She knew he served in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Vietnam. She also knew he was injured in battle and was medically discharged.

Few other details were given, though. And for years - decades even - things stayed that way.

"He never talked about it," she said.

But about 10 years ago when Brown decided to write down his experiences from Vietnam - encouraged by a college professor who had interviewed him for an article - Diana became the official secretary for the project.

Since then, the Switzerland County couple has compiled a 28-page essay about Brown's military service that chronicles his time overseas and gives thanks to those he served alongside.

For the piece, they spoke with family members of those who served with Brown and did extensive research to find a detailed timeline of his deployment.

"Once I started, I just kind of wanted to get it all down," he said.

It's all there.

A summary of the full story goes like this: Brown served in Vietnam for 32 days before being shot three times - twice in the leg and once in the shoulder - and taking on shrapnel from a grenade during "Operation Oregon," a seek-and-destroy mission conducted by Marines.

During that whirlwind month, he saw his squad leader killed by a land mine. Brown also saw another fellow Marine shot to death attempting to save his life.

Today, Brown, now 66, is fighting a different battle. The veteran was diagnosed with brain cancer in April 2011, and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Since being diagnosed and receiving treatment, he said his condition has improved greatly.

Because of the cancer treatment, Brown finds it laborious to speak at great length, and his voice is sometimes airy and unsteady. But he insists that he's ready for his story to be told.

In his writing, his appreciation for his comrades takes absolute precedence over his being injured.

And to this day, he stands in awe of the conscious and intelligent decisions his fellow Marines were able to make on the battlefield.

"The courage that it took was just simply amazing. And these were 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old boys just out of high school. They'd been sitting inside a classroom just a few months before," he said. "I think of them with reverence, and think, 'My gosh, how brave they were.'

"They were the best we had to offer."

32 days

When he landed in Chu Lai, Vietnam, in February 1966, Brown was met by his sergeant, who greeted the green group of Marines with a cautionary piece of advice: "Get eight hours of sleep, because this will be the last eight hours you'll get until you leave Vietnam," Brown recalled in his essay.

The sergeant was right, or at least that was the case for Brown, who between night patrols and standing guard, got maybe four hours of sleep each night, most of which was spent in a tiny foxhole.

At the time, Brown was 19, and not long before, was also sitting at a desk in high school. He said he was one of 16 boys in his graduating class of 1965 to volunteer for the armed forces.

"I was as ready as I could have ever been at that age, really," he said. "I wasn't prepared for it, but I don't think anybody at any age could have been, to be honest with you. I just happened to be 19 years old at the time."

During the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 U.S. troops were killed in the fight against North Vietnam and 300,000 were wounded. America's involvement lasted from 1957 to 1975. In all, about 2.7 million American troops were deployed, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

As a child, Brown remembers being surrounded by family members who served in either World War II or Korea. His father, Bob, was an Army Ranger who stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, in World War II on D-Day on June 6, 1944.

"Now, none of them talked about heroics or anything, but I knew they served," Brown said.

His writings begin from the time he entered boot camp as a young Marine. It also includes excerpts from men he shared the battlefield with, as well as those whose loved ones were killed in action.

Brown joined the Marines on Aug. 25, 1965, and his journey to Vietnam began on Valentine's Day the next year. He was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.

"During the flight, the C-130 stayed low, and I observed the lush and green vegetation below. It looked so beautiful and peaceful. I thought, 'Is there really a war going on?" Brown wrote.

He soon found out the harsh reality of that war, and the danger that lurked in the thick jungle brush he had seen from above.

At his base camp near Chu Lai, Brown described the relationship he forged with his squad leader, Sgt. W.H. Norman. In their short time together, the sergeant would form a lasting impression on Brown.

Norman, of Macclenny, Fla., had been in the military for 10 years and had spent six months fighting in the jungle terrain of Vietnam before his death on Feb. 23, 1966. Norman was leading Brown and his team through a field when he stepped on a land mine and was killed instantly. He was 29.

Brown only experienced five days with Norman, but in that time, he knew he had found a great leader.

"I felt comfortable with him from the first second I met him. With his quiet manner, gentle smile and common sense, he made a 19-year-old boy feel at ease in a strange environment," Brown wrote.

In Vietnam, Brown reflected that much of his time - day and night - consisted of patrols. His squad crossed through countless villages and saw men and women farmers who used powerful water buffaloes while working in the rice paddies.

"As we passed through villages on day patrols, the Vietnamese people would stand on each side of the trail close to their home and stare at us," he recalled in his story. "If we waved at them, they would wave back."

The villages themselves contained no running water, sewage or electricity, but Brown said he made no judgment about the place the natives called home. In fact, at times he was amazed by their generosity of taking in soldiers and even offering food.

One of the few moments of leisure Brown received was just a few weeks into his deployment in Phu Bai. With a small crowd of 80 Marines, Brown saw Ann Margaret and Johnny Rivers perform. The two sang and danced for about an hour, and Rivers delivered such hits as "Secret Agent Man," "Memphis" and "Poor Side of Town."

"Both could have been in their air-conditioned homes, eating great food, sitting around a swimming pool or going to parties with famous people. Instead, they chose to travel halfway around the world and entertain us on a small plywood stage in the heat and humidity of Vietnam," Brown recalled in his essay.

He attended the show with friend and firing team leader, Lt. Cpl. Richard Groover.

On March 20, 1966, the two men, along with a few others, boarded a helicopter and flew north from Phu Bai. It was the first day of "Operation Oregon," and Brown was soon tasked with a mission that he was certain would claim his life.

Once finding their drop-off point, the team quickly jumped off the aircraft, and soon, the last of the helicopters flew out of sight. "Then there was absolute silence," Brown wrote.

Brown recalled that there were 30 yards of open rice paddies and two dikes separating them from the North Vietnamese.

Both sides knew of the other's presence, but nobody fired. That's when Brown, Groover and another Marine received the order to cross the rice paddy and seek out the tree line.

Brown checked his rifle and removed the safety.

"At this instant, I knew this was going to be my last day in combat and that all three of us were going home - probably in body bags," he wrote.

Not long after Brown ventured out with his team, a North Vietnamese soldier hurled a grenade in his direction. As he went to hit the ground, he was struck by machine-gun fire and then the shrapnel from the exploding grenade. He lay helplessly on the ground until he was approached by a fellow Marine, Groover, his team leader.

Based on Brown's account, Groover inched through the mud, cradling his rifle. When he approached Brown, he pulled him a few feet closer to the Marines' location. But at that moment, North Vietnamese soldiers shot Groover four times. He died immediately.

The assault prompted both sides to open fire with machine guns and grenades.

"I lay there, listening to all the gunfire, as the bullets cut down the rice and went over my head," he wrote.

Even as the firing continued, more Marines came to Brown's aid, but not before Brown suffered another gunshot to the shoulder. A Marine eventually slung Brown over a dike for cover. He was then transported to a nearby schoolhouse.

But, as Brown wrote in his essay, he wasn't the only comrade his fellow Marines pulled off the battlefield that day. He noted that several Marines went back for the dead under intense enemy fire.

"These are the kinds of boys I served with during the Vietnam War," he wrote.

Throughout that day, Brown recalled that Marines brought in countless bodies, some severely wounded, others who were killed.

"I do not recall the names of all the dead, but I remember their faces ..." he wrote.

Brown, along with other wounded Marines, flew to Phu Bai and spent two days and nights in a plywood hut. He was finally flown to the Philippines, then California and finally to a naval hospital near Chicago. There, he recalled seeing soldiers who had lost arms, legs or were paralyzed or blinded.

"I had all four limbs; someday I would walk and I would be going home. I felt lucky," he wrote.

Life Back Home

Several years ago, Brown took time to align each of his medals on a wooden plank. Not far from his Purple Heart is a military picture of himself and his wife's high school senior picture.

When his service ended, their story began.

"My life really took a turn when I started dating her just because she was so nice and soft-spoken and gentle," he said. "She was the opposite of me. It was a great thing for me."

Shortly after receiving his medical discharge, Brown met Diana, who was still in high school in 1967.

He suffered no lasting physical effects from the injuries, though he did spend a considerable amount of time rehabilitating himself.

Brown worked as a painter and then as an industrial arts teacher at Switzerland County High School for 27 years. He retired in 1998.

He and Diana still live in Switzerland County.

With the help of Diana, his aunt, Norma Lee Brindley, and grandmother, Mollie Neatherland, Brown said he was able to grow as a person after his military service ended. In fact, the three women gave him a new outlook on life.

"Those three women made a tremendous difference in my life," he said. "I've changed completely."

To read Denny Brown's manuscript, visit The Madison Courier website, www.madisoncourier.com.