Return to the Battleground: Veteran visits Vietnam for first time since war


(Left to right) Tour Guide Tran Thanh, John Hembrough and Ken Ward pose for a photo in front of a former church that was destroyed during the Battle of Hue.

Special to The Log
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 04:53 PM.

John Hembrough was just 19 when he first left his Illinois home to go to Vietnam. Less than a year later, he returned without most of his right leg below the knee.

Just short of 44 years later, the retired telecommunications worker returned to Vietnam to see the land he fought to secure from communism, now ruled by that very governmental system.

The Dothan, Ala., resident and owner of a condominium in Destin recently visited The Log office, less than a week after arriving home from his return to Vietnam, to share his story.


Surprise Attack

On the morning of Feb. 25, 1969, Hembrough closed his eyes and tried to catch a little sleep inside a roofless, unfinished bunker at Landing Zone Russell, a small, hilltop U.S. military holding on the edge of the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. He was one of about 300 Marines who, along with a small group of Navy medical corpsmen, guarded the helipad and six 105mm Howitzer artillery cannons at LZ Russell.

Moments later, at 3:50 a.m., North Vietnamese mortar shells bombarded the bunkers. One of the first mortar shells exploded right by the bunker where Hembrough was trying to sleep, mortally wounding one of the other men in the bunker. Hembrough rushed to the side of the Marine, who was still alive, but barely.  

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