A year in Vietnam was one of 30 that Rod Consalvo served his country
RIMROCK - On March 24, 1967, Rod Consalvo received his Purple Heart. Since then, not a day has gone by that he hasn't thought about the circumstances behind the award.
It is the first of many explosions the Rimrock resident and Vietnam veteran recalls that gave him a concussion that "knocked me stupid."
"But I was methodical," he says. "I stood up, opened my grenade pack. And there were six grenades."
Consalvo says that the Purple Heart is "not something you want."
"It's something you get," he says. "Two guys behind me died. They got the Navy Cross. And I went from a 12-man squad to a four-man squad."
Though he hesitates to admit it, Consalvo also thinks about how fortunate he was to return home with both mind and body intact after a war that claimed many lives and left some people questioning their country.
Consalvo still carries a calendar from 1967 in his wallet. He calls it his "short time calendar." And he points out the Vietnam dirt still on it.
"That's what we live for," he recalls as if it were only a day away. "Your rotation date to go home."
Though he's lived a hard-working, well-disciplined life, Consalvo can immediately be moved to tears when he thinks of a photograph he only first saw six months ago. The photograph is of a fellow soldier, a man to which he was never formally introduced.
"I remember we carried his body bag back. He was wrapped in a poncho," Consalvo says. "I never knew who the young man was."
The reception his country afforded him and other Vietnam veterans has left a bruise on his heart. What also hurts him, he says, is how the country, especially the media and the movies, oftentimes portrays Vietnam soldiers as drugged-out hippies.
Though his father served in the Navy, Consalvo was in high school when he first considered a life in the military.
"I had a book report due my junior year. They gave us a list of about 200 books to read. One of them was Guadalcanal Diary. And that put the seed in my head," he recalls. "Then a couple of months later, I read Battle Cry. That's when I decided to become a Marine."
Once a Marine, always a Marine, Consalvo says. Though he spent 12 months and 13 days in Vietnam, he served 30 years, six months in the Marine Corps.
On Veterans Day, Consalvo will likely will think of his father, who taught him responsibility, honor and duty.
"Dad was a hard worker," Consalvo says. "And I knew that. He gave 110 percent. He did that every day. We weren't rich. But he provided. That set the tone in my life as to what to be."
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42 and on Facebook at @CampVerdeBugle