I received this note via email from my new friend, Gale Fechik. In it, he tells three different stories: confronting a suspected stolen valor poser, thanking me for indirectly helping him through difficult times with my books and weekly posts, and lastly, sharing a memory that continues to haunt him.

John, this just bothers me. I suspect I should have done something about a person lying to reap accolades. A couple of years ago, I was at the Wasilla Walmart and saw a guy wearing a Viet Nam ball cap. Though I wear nothing to draw attention to my service, I always engage guys and ask where they served and wished them, “Welcome Home.” When I asked, this guy’s response was, “I served all over, Cambodia, Laos, and all over the country.” Most Nam Vets usually respond with a specific area or “big” town nearby their camp. He was with, I presume, his two preteen grandkids, so I didn’t push for more information and wished him a hardy, “WELCOME HOME.”     

Then last week, I was at a tire store in Wasilla and waited outside; catching the rays of the warm sun while they installed new tires on my car. I watched as a truck pulled into a nearby parking space and noticed that it had a Marine Corps plate installed. When the driver got out of his vehicle and was within earshot, I hollered out, “Hey Jarhead, Semper Fi.” He must have heard me, and it surprised me that he totally ignored my welcome. In passing, I noticed him wearing a Vietnam Army Veteran hat. This confused me, and I needed some clarification.

This guy was in the store for a short while when I finally went inside to engage him. As he stepped back from the counter, I asked where he served. He didn’t blink an eye and gave me the same response as the Walmart guy. “I was in Laos, Cambodia, and all over.”

Suddenly, I realized that this was the same guy. So I asked what’s with the Marine plates and Army ball cap?

He responded smartly, “Oh yeah, you Marines would notice something like that, wouldn’t you? When I bought the truck, the DMV was out of Army plates, so I kept the old Marine plates.”

Again, I didn’t want to create a scene, so I backed off and just said, “Welcome Home.” 

The Mat-Su Valley is small compared to what we refer to as ”outlying cities”. Still, I believe this guy was exhibiting “Stolen Valor”. I lost close friends and damn near died twice there. Bothers me that someone undeserving would do something like this, but what could I prove?

After the supposed poser left, I thought that I could have pushed the point and maybe looked like a perfect asshole in front of everyone. Would they have supported me? Oh well, it’s water under the dam. It amused me though that somebody would lie to ‘be like me.’ 

I’m currently listening to the free excerpts of your books. Thanks! The Slavish in me loves free. I found the story of “Cherries” to be familiar, especially in the vernacular used. Army and Marine Corps are different, but much of what we did was the same. We all wanted to survive!

John, continue doing what you do. Your blog has helped me to crawl out of that hole of isolation where I wanted to be alone and never had to share my experiences. Now I’m finally able to speak of both the good times and the bad. My wife and three daughters still don’t know about all the bad stuff that I keep bottled up. They’ve heard my giant daddy long legs story, my drinking water situation on the hilltop/ LZ, and about the nasty shithole there.

I remembered that during the daytime, Nate Turner and I got permission from the ROK Marine CO to go to Dien Bahn to buy ice and cans of pop. They created the village when engineers bulldozed a clearing, punched in a well for water and built dozens of tin corrugated huts. Razor wire, which subconsciously afforded the residents some protection, surrounded the small village. None of the huts had doors, windows, or flooring. Just a box on dirt.

Prior to our visits, the platoon saved C- Rat candy, gum, and cigs to pass out; kids got candy, and adults got cigs. Didn’t always work out that way as the kids also grabbed cigs and fired them up on the spot.

On one visit, kids grabbed us by the hand and led us to one of the many ten-by-ten-foot hooches. Inside, a small child rested on a wooden pallet left on the ground. He was maybe eight or ten years old and was just skin and bones. He was so skinny he reminded me of pictures I’d seen of starving Jews in German Concentration Camps during WWII. I saw no muscle, just bones. He looked up at us from that wooden pallet with his deep brown eyes. I thought he might have MS or something fatal. I remembered him reaching out and grabbing my finger as we handed him a large share of the bounty. After that, his was the first hooch we visited on return trips.

Later, the Corps reassigned me to Cam Mau. I never learned of the kids’ fate, but suspect he met his demise. It’s a memory of my helplessness I can’t shake! This is one story I’ve shared with my wife and kids. After the military, I was a math teacher for over thirty years and felt comfortable sharing this story with my students to remind them how lucky they really were.

Seriously, I want you to know how you’ve helped from afar. I’ve never watched Hollywood’s interpretation of what happened in Vietnam and tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s sad they paint such a bad picture for civilians and stray so far from the truth in making Vietnam Vets appear scary and unbalanced.

Thanks for reading my complaint and letting me vent. It’s a catharsis for me. I pent up my emotions for five decades and now I’m ready to let them flow like water if allowed.

I have a severe case of PTSD and was deep in thought when my wife walked into the garage and surprised me. I was like Fred Flintstone paddling my feet in midair and trying to escape. I suspect it might look comical, but it made my heart burst from the shot of adrenaline. I was afraid until I realized she was my wife…I was safe…and okay. It’s embarrassing to put on that cartoonish show over and over. It’s one reason I’m trying to be more at ease and open to sharing past war memories, hoping this will banish the demons that sometimes haunt me.

Know this John, if ever in Alaska, please let me know. I can steer you in the correct direction for different adventures. Again, you have helped me and affirmed my experiences. Everyone who served in Vietnam saw different aspects of the war. I tell my daughters we all are human and have emotions; us, them, and the civilians.

Gale Fechik was born/raised in Flint, MI, and is a fortunate lucky survivor of the Beecher f5 tornado. “My sister saved me by hugging and covering me from flying debris. Unfortunately, she suffered hospitalization for her efforts.

The hole in the ground was all that remained of my home after the tornado. It moved the neighbors’ house in the background several inches off its foundation. Behind the tree and slightly beyond the planking, you can see the crumbled bricks from the destroyed basement wall. Sister Suzanne took the brunt of that wall and protected me. I was a month shy of two, so my memories are from first-hand stories. The storm killed 116 people, and survivors have some horrific stories. I’m blessed. My Dad, wounded on Iwo Jima, posted the sign.

Welcome Home, John, and thanks for the help. You are an inspiration to others.


Thank you, Gale, for allowing me to post your letter. Thank you, too, for your service and sacrifice. Hang tough and let the demons out.

What advice do you have for Gale if he runs into the Marine/Army poser again? How many of you can share your good/bad experiences of the war with family?


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