My father was recently able to follow through on a promise he made to a wounded war buddy 44 years ago.
Read the story in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
The last time Chuck Doole saw Frank Heidel, they were in the jungles of Vietnam. It was May 1966 and both were young soldiers in an Army reconnaissance unit. Doole was leading a patrol when an enemy soldier ambushed them, shooting him in the chest and knee.
?I was on point,? Doole said. ?I saw a guy about 20 yards away jump up with a submachine gun. He shot me at a cross angle.
?I was hurting.?
As the rest of the patrol opened fire on the enemy position, Heidel dragged Doole to safety. But the injured man believed he was going to die.
As medics put him on a helicopter, Doole asked Heidel for a huge favor. From his combat fatigues, Doole took out his grandmother?s rosary of brown beads. It had been her rosary as a child and she gave it to him as he left for Vietnam. Doole said he always carried it, along with a small New Testament, for comfort and inspiration in combat.
Doole stuffed the rosary into Heidel?s hand.
?He kept saying he was dying and I kept saying he?d be OK,? Heidel said. ?He said: ?No. You have to take this rosary and give it to my girlfriend.? So I took it and I promised to give it back to him.?
Though Doole ultimately survived, they never saw each other again.
Until Wednesday evening when Heidel kept his promise after 44 years.
In an emotional reunion at a Colorado Springs restaurant, Heidel, 62, delivered the rosary to the 63-year-old Doole. There were handshakes, hugs, laughter and tears as the two strangers met.
The men then started telling war stories, with Doole re-enacting the ambush and showing where he was shot. Then he reached into his pocket and asked Heidel, ?Do you want to see the bullet??
Heidel was shocked.
?It was a matter of five minutes after you relieved me that you were shot,? he said to Doole. ?I would?ve taken that bullet.
?I really appreciate it,? he said, evoking laughter from Doole and the family members who had joined both men for the reunion.
The men had not known each other long when Heidel took possession of the rosary. He had been assigned to a mortar unit before joining Doole?s recon outfit.
At the time, Doole was in a hospital recovering from his first battle wound, a gunshot to his leg suffered as his unit was trying to rescue a company pinned down by enemy fire in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965.
The two soldiers were so unfamiliar that Heidel never knew Doole?s name. He knew him only by a nickname.
As Doole was whisked away, Heidel remained in combat.
Doole?s lengthy recovery included multiple surgeries and a long convalescence at the Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver. That?s where he fell in love with Colorado. He left the Army in 1968, entered the office supply sales business and ultimately relocated to Colorado Springs in 1977.
Heidel, meanwhile, spent 28 years in the Special Forces before retiring and joining the Drug Enforcement Agency, which valued his jungle expertise. It?s where he still works.
Over the years, Heidel said he searched for his platoon mate. But all he had was a last name.
?The Pentagon wouldn?t give me any information and everywhere I went was a dead end because I didn?t know his name,? Heidel said. ?Finally, about six months ago, I got a message that our unit was having a reunion. I asked if there was a Doole and they had a ?Charles Doole? on the list.?
Heidel asked a coworker at the DEA for advice tracking him down and he recommended an Internet search database that led him to a ?Charles Doole? in Massachusetts and one in Colorado Springs. He found phone numbers, called, and left messages for both.
?I?ll never forget,? Heidel said. ?I was standing at a bus stop in Washington, D.C., when my phone rang. It was Charles Doole in Colorado Springs. He didn?t remember me.?
Heidel asked him if he?d lost a rosary and Doole said he always carried one but assumed it was lost when medics cut his clothes off him in the jungle.
?I said: ?No, I?ve got it. And by the way, you live in my hometown.? ? Heidel said.
That?s right, Heidel spent his teen years living near Prospect Lake, east of downtown, while his father was stationed at the old Ent Air Force Base.
Doole said he was shocked and thrilled to get the rosary back, noting he still has the New Testament he carried.
?I was very devout and that rosary means a lot to me,? Doole said. ?I was one of the fortunate people who came back. A lot of guys didn?t. Especially in my unit.
?I think that rosary probably had a lot to do with me coming home. I was very, very lucky the whole time I was over there.?
Heidel was equally thrilled at the reunion.
?I?ve been looking forward to fulfilling the promise I made,? Heidel said, his voice breaking in emotion. ?We were just two young boys on a battlefield and I made a promise. I did whatever I could to find him. It?s a big night for me.?
Read more: http://www.gazette.com/news/vogrin-101561-colorado-springs.html#ixzz0tq6sRpqM
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