Vol. 14


70-Pound Soldiers

1969; near Da Nang, South Vietnam;1 near Dothan, Alabama, USA

I don’t remember my grandfather very well — he was dying before I was born. But I do know that he was a hero. We called our hero “Papa Lee.”

On a hot summer day my mother and grandfather Thomas Lee Shannon (Papa Lee) were driving in his truck. Cotton fields were in full bloom on either side of the country road. My mother loved riding along, listening to music and to my grandfather’s stories. Papa Lee didn’t enjoy talking about Vietnam, but my mother asked him about it. Maybe he thought she was old enough, maybe it was a whim. He did not tell this story to brag about himself — he just told the story.

It was April 27, 1969. My grandfather was stationed near Da Nang in the Republic of Vietnam. Papa Lee and his unit were attacked. The North Vietnamese bombed their ammunition supply, causing fires and explosions all over the camp. The building where the Marine sentry dogs were kept, caught on fire, and my grandfather could hear the helpless cries of the dogs trapped inside.

Papa Lee and a few other men decided to disobey direct orders from a superior officer and rescue the dogs. The sentry dogs had been willing to die for their trainers, and Papa Lee was willing to risk his life for them. My grandfather carried dogs from the burning building. He saved the lives of five 70-pound German shepherds.

Papa Lee was awarded a bronze star with a “V” for “valor.” “Only the military gives out awards for surviving bad decisions,” he said.

Later Papa Lee got cancer. His cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide that was sprayed from planes over the jungles of Vietnam. Although he didn’t die during the Vietnam War, it was the Vietnam War that eventually killed him.

Few of the soldiers returning home from Vietnam were welcomed as heroes. To all of the soldiers who served in Vietnam, I would like to say, “Welcome home, and thank you for your service.”

Lily Naylor; Alabama, USA


1. South Vietnam’s official name was “Republic of Vietnam.” In 1976 North Vietnam and South Vietnam were merged to form one country: Vietnam.



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