By Mark Haws of rural Lac qui Parle County
We met in 1974 on the north end of Okinawa, Japan, where only Marines and Navy Corpsmen did time. Both of us made the Marine football team competing with Army, Navy and Air Force. With the exception of our Irish ancestry, we were opposites in every way. John had classic neanderthal features and exemplified the profile of a “Marine’s Marine.” I was small framed and more suitable as a long distance runner. John was born on the east coast and raised on the west coast, and I was from the midwest. Within weeks we became friends.
Football ended and by luck of the Irish we both received orders to ship out and were attached to the USS Okinawa. We spent months at sea and in April of 1975 were dropped into Saigon for the most intense event of our lives -- “The Fall of Saigon.” John was sent to the US Embassy and in the center of the action as I escorted evacuees to the designated LZ’s (landing zones) and cleared buildings of snipers. John was in his element, I was not.
Over a nine-month period, John became my closest friend. Our friendship had something I had not experienced with schoolmates or neighbors I had known since childhood. I trusted John with my life, and on several occasions without him by my side my life would have been in danger. He was not an aggressive person but had a confidence that seemed naive to danger. He loved America, the Corps and only wanted to serve and protect. Not a hawk, not a killer, but a kind person with a simplistic view of life.
I left the Marines, John stayed five more years. We would talk or meet every couple of years but eventually went our separate ways. For some time both of us struggled finding cause or direction in life.
I received a call from John in 1984. He had a nurse dial my number and hold the phone so he could speak to me. John was paralyzed after being shot two times during a robbery. True to his nature, John had attempted to disarm the robber but failed. He described the incident in detail but seemed focused on the frustration of laying on the floor for what seemed like hours unable to move his hand even an inch to dial for help.
For the next week he had the nurse call every day. The conversations were uncomfortable and it became evident that John was confused about his future. Four days passed and no more calls. It was over. John had died. The Irish luck was gone and he was no longer naive to danger. I lost a great friend and again struggled to find cause and direction.