Rotarians hear Vietnam medic, author Flory
Writing a book never made Leo “Doc” Flory’s bucket list.
The Decatur author of Vietnam memoir “Transition to Duty” is dyslexic.
Reading was “painful before I even got to the Dick and Jane series.”
Drafted into the Army at 19 in February 1968, the keynote speaker at Dowagiac Rotary Club’s fifth annual Family and Friends dinner meeting April 11 served as a conscientious objector to honor his parents.
After basic and AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Sam Houston, he served a 1968-69 tour as a combat medic with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division — the elite Screaming Eagles.
As B Company infantrymen, “Our job was to seek out and kill the enemy and destroy his stuff. Anything that moved in the jungle was a target.”
Flory, who worked at Special Lite until recently, shared military experiences with his wife, Ann, and his three daughters, but not until 2009, when he received an email from a woman inquiring about her Uncle Robert, did he start committing memories to paper. He never returned to Vietnam. Letters he wrote home were lost.
Flory didn’t know her uncle, but they perhaps crossed paths.
He felt a duty to tell Jennifer anything he could about his two years as a medic.
Her uncle was with A Company in the same area, Firebase Airborne.
“I was there a few days before it was attacked and overrun,” Flory said. “We guarded it one night at the beginning of an operation called Apache Snow. Everybody went by helicopter in a full company movement to the opposite side of the valley to the base of a hill called 937 for about four days. On the fourth morning, all hell broke loose. We could see red and green tracers and mortar explosions when it was attacked. We knew it was bad for those guys, but there wasn’t anything we could do to help. The battle went on until daybreak. We had to take care of a lot of bodies.
“Jennifer’s uncle died there along with 22 other guys and about 60 wounded. The enemy took it much harder than we did. We began to correspond and she’s since talked to guys who served with him and knew him well.”
For a year he handwrote 400 yellow legal pages following the advice of his high school English teacher that every story needs a beginning, middle and end.
In 2011, after military reunion friends massaged his prose, plus several edits and a glowing forward by former commander Pierce T. Graney Jr., the book published.
If you have any questions, “It’s in the book,” he repeatedly assured his audience at Elks Lodge 889.
“I suffered from survivor guilt” after returning home “almost without a scratch. Writing TTD, I ran into the right people, like Larrie Massie, a Michigan historian with probably 20 books, and he helped me. It’s about a young man faced with a decision to serve or not serve his country. It’s about a Michigan farm boy who ended up as an infantry combat medic in the twinkling of an eye. It’s about baptism into reality, the true miseries young men endure at war and their resilience. I think I captured that fairly well. You come away knowing what life was like day to day. TTD is about the horrible mass media and what they can do to young soldiers. TTD is about healing and for others to understand what we had to do. The book set me on a path of really good stuff I couldn’t have anticipated. I’m in contact with helicopter pilots who gave me a wild ride and A Company men who knew Robert and captured an 18-foot python. I made two mistakes. I wish I put more maps in and more names, which give credence and make their experiences real.”
‘We did not
lose that war’
Flory and Don Alsbro, both asserted the American military prevailed, but the media lost.
“We did not lose that war,” said Alsbro, Dowagiac’s 2010 Memorial Day speaker. “We saved the Far East from communism.”
Alsbro, president of Lest We Forget and a retired U.S. Army colonel, developed the Dump Your Plump wellness program in 1985 while teaching physical education at Lake Michigan College from 1972-1991.
Alsbro recalled trying to interest a Time magazine photographer in covering schools and playgrounds built. “This is fantastic,” the journalist said, but “not what my editors in New York want to see.”
“Three weeks later on the cover was a GI with a cigarette lighter setting fire to an abandoned hut. You cannot believe what you read and see from the media. All these units in Afghanistan and Iraq do these kinds of things, but they don’t get reported like isolated incidents with IEDs,” Alsbro said.
“We were called ‘baby killers.’ Guys took that hard,” Flory said. “No GI ever purposely went after civilians. Media tried to make it look like we were doing that sort of thing on purpose, which wasn’t true. I don’t know why, except to form an opinion.”
“This book made a difference in my life,” said Barbara Groner, who learned of it last summer from her brother-in-law, Charlie Goodrich. “I think one thing which gives it so much depth is the fact it was not written upon his close return. Running through the story is how that experience on the front lines changed his life. I can tell he felt lucky to come home and live a meaningful life to make a difference in his own little corner of the world. He gave a copy to every person mentioned in the book.”
“Leo is an old friend of mine. We worked together for a number of years. I always felt bad about that era for the lack of respect given to returning veterans.”
— Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons, leading a standing ovation