Finally after cutting a trail down one mountain and up another carrying everyone, it must have been around midnight when they finally got to an area where the helicopter could land to take the wounded. The dead would be taken out the next morning.
Gunfire could be heard farther in where the original three that they couldn’t get to were left. Daybreak brought in jets that blew everything up and they went back in. At this point they realized they had walked into a bunker complex. They took out the three original men that had died and then set up a perimeter.
Suddenly there was a huge explosion. A 155 mm friendly fire round landed in the perimeter. A lot of guys were hit. Some missing body parts….one blown in two laying next to the guy they came to help. This is Sgt. Greenberg. They realize his left arm is about to fall off and his stomach is wide open and his left leg still in his boot is lying beside his head. They work under their ponchos so their lights will not be seen. They manage to stop the bleeding. Three more men were killed in that friendly fire round and several more wounded. In all there were 9 dead and 40 or so wounded. Sgt. Greenberg’s Captain called for a helicopter to come in to get the wounded. It was a hot zone and they couldn’t get in. Captain continued to call demanding that they come in to get the wounded out. Sgt. Greenberg was one of the first to be put on the chopper. While he was waiting, he asked, “Captain, am I going to make it?” These guys had the utmost respect for their Captain. If Captain said it, you could count on it. Captain Smallwood, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “You’re going to make it son.” Thirty years later, Captain Smallwood would tell me, “Young Sgt. Greenberg visibly relaxed.”
The year is 1969, the month is July.
Sgt. Greenberg did make it home. But there were no Welcome Home Ceremonies for the Viet Nam Veteran. He spent over a year recuperating. He had surgery on his leg to make it ready for a prosthesis and they had him up and walking in it before it was even close to being healed. Doctors told him he would never use his left arm and suggested he let them amputate it. Sgt. Greenberg refused in no uncertain terms. He spent 6 weeks with a pin through his elbow in traction waiting for it to heal. Coming home on weekends he had his arm in a sling. Each of his fingers was attached to a rubber band and he was to pull those rubber bands with his fingers to strengthen them. Sgt Greenberg would take his arm out of the sling, place a rubber ball in his hand, and then use his right hand to help his left hand squeeze that ball to strengthen his left arm, hand and fingers. He was determined, and it worked.
He tells me it is difficult to hear everyone protesting what he was doing…fighting for freedom. Freedom for these people to look down on all of these Vets who gave life and limb…literally for them to protest, and even spitting on returning Veterans? When these Veterans came home, they were not esteemed and they could not feel proud of what they had done. They lost…and they were called “baby killers.” He tells me, we just wanted to hear, “You did a good job.” But one hot night in July, Sgt. Greenberg became so distraught over all that had happened, so disillusioned about the war; all this loss seemed for nothing. The horror of what he saw, the pain, the loss of life, including one buddy, who had just gotten a picture of his new baby as he walked around bragging, showing pictures and talking about his wife; he was killed the next day. It all ended with the North Vietnamese taking over, and America losing the war. It all seemed for naught. With thousands of questions and no answers, and one would continue to haunt him. Why couldn’t he have died that night instead of his buddy? He wasn’t married, he didn’t have any children? Now the mental trauma proved greater than the physical. He would have gladly given his life so this man could live. And remember, he was only three weeks short, and all this was from friendly fire. So, this night the mental anguish became greater than the physical. He took his medals tore them up, destroying every one of them. They meant very little to a man who was not much more than a shell. No matter what he had done, they were reminders of the horror of what he had witnessed and he now considered himself a freak. Who would want him?
But God had other plans and this is where things were when he met Carol. They had their first date on July 25, 1969 and they got married on December 12, 1969, a mere six months after they met in July. She was 17 and he was three days away from his 22nd birthday. Sounds really ripe for a disaster, right?
Fast forward again:
The year is 1991, the month is July. By now he and Carol have two sons, Brandon 17, and Trey 20. Greenberg was working at RRISD. In speaking with some of his co-workers He had expressed his regret over destroying his medals stating, “I’d like to pass them on to my sons.” Larry Jacobson and a couple of other co-workers went to work. They ordered Greenberg’s medals and one of them made a shadow box. On July 18, 1991 they held a real Welcome Home Ceremony for Sgt. Eugene V. Greenberg Jr. They called the Round Rock Leader, Carol, his sons, his mother, and the grandmother who gave him a New Testament Bible, attended this momentous occasion, held at Camp Mabry with previous co-workers. They presented Greenberg with the shadow box and his medals that he had once destroyed. Tears, hugs and plenty of thanks and appreciation flowed freely along with food and beverages. WELCOME HOME Sgt. Greenberg!
Gene Greenberg Jr. as he was called by all his friends, passed away in 2006. The Shadow box is shown to the left with all of Gene’s medals displayed, including his Purple Heart. The small picture to the left is a picture of him receiving the shadow box taken by the Round Rock Leader photographer. You will notice the large shadow box holds the flag that was on his casket and a smaller one in front. There is a story behind this one too.
His comrades began to search for their platoon members and they discovered Gene Greenberg was alive and well residing in Round Rock. You see, none of these men never knew whether Sgt. Greenberg ever lived or died. When they located him, they called him up and told him they were having a reunion, please come. Gene declined to attend. There seemed to be too much at stake. Would this open old wounds that he was sure he had closed? Did he dare go? This first year, no! But the second hear we did attend. It was at these reunions where God continued to heal the heart wounds of this band of brothers as they began to share and open up about their hurts and what God had done in their lives. I have to admit there are not words to describe what I felt as I stood on the outside looking in as his brothers saw him for the first time in 30 years after they put him on that chopper in 1968, wondering, would he make it? Captain Smallwood told us at the reunion in 1998 that when Sgt. Greenberg asked him if he was going to be okay, he stated, “I lied through my teeth. I never expected him to pull through.”
The second flag was given to me at the Memorial Service held at the Viet Nam Reunion in 2006, just after Gene’s passing. It belonged to the Chaplain of his platoon, his personal retirement flag, and he presented it to me stating it was in honor of Gene and his sacrifice. He was a great soldier. The rose that you see was also presented to me as well. To the left of the flags, there is a New Testament in a plastic sleeve. This is the Bible Gene’s grandmother gave him when he left for Viet Nam. He carried it with him the entire time he was gone, in his pocket over his heart. He had had it on him when he was wounded. It is the only possession he had that returned with him to the states. To the left of that is a Willow Tree Figurine holding the American Flag close to her chest. This was given to me after Gene’s passing by Chris and Sharalee Johnson, in his honor.
The recipe for disaster didn’t occur. Oh yes, we had more than our share of difficulties, but divorce was never an option and God blessed us more than we ever could have imagined. I think we figured out what God meant marriage to be this side of heaven and I will proclaim that if we can make it….anyone can. Gene's healing began with letting go of the past and reaching for the future in and through Jesus sacrifice on the cross. He will tell you that the healing of the body is a piece of cake in comparison to the healing of the heart. But again...GOD makes it all possible. There is much more to this story, and there are plenty of heroes out there, but on this Veteran’s Day, I want to honor my hero, my beloved, Eugene V. Greenberg Jr., lovingly called "Baby" by his wife,Tunny by his family, Dad by his sons, PaPaw by his grandchildren, and Gene by friends and co-workers.
God bless you all.