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The Green Beret Medic Gary Beikirch Who Had to Come to Terms with Himself

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 18, 2022 3:00 am

The Green Beret Medic Gary Beikirch Who Had to Come to Terms with Himself

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 18, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, special forces medic, Gary Beikirch, shares how he faced more than his fair share of battles—and overcame them through perseverance and faith.

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories and we tell stories about everything here on this show from the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between including your stories. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. They're some of our favorites and today we have the story of Medal of Honor recipient Gary Bicurk. Gary didn't have the most stable upbringing. He moved 11 times before he was in the ninth grade. He finally settled down in high school, fell in love with a girl and followed her to SUNY Brockport College where they were both studying to become phys ed teachers. Here's Gary. We had gotten there and started college.

After about three or four weeks, she broke up with me. So there I was in college in 1965 with not any really good reason for being there anymore. And in the meantime, a very good friend of mine, he had suffered the same kind of experience. And so one day we were sitting together and we got talking and his name was Don, Don Jocks. And he said, so Gary, what are we going to do? And I said, I don't know, Don.

You know, we were both two young guys, 20 years old with our hearts broken. And he said, well, I come from a Marine family. All my family were Marines. He said, let's go into Marine Corps together.

Buddy system, Gary. And I said, Don, I'm not going to go into Marine Corps. Those guys are crazy. I had recently read a book called the Green Berets by Robin Moore. And, and to me, that was exciting. That was challenging. And besides that, from what I knew about the war, that just seemed a really good way to fight the war, to become assimilated into the, into the culture, become one of the people. And that sounded very, very challenging.

And not only that, but it felt like the, the way that the war should be fought. And I said to Don, I'm going to go into Green Berets, Don. And we shook hands, said goodbye. He went on into the Marine Corps.

A couple of years later, I received word that he was killed at Quezon. Well, I had gone down to the recruiting station in Rochester here. And I told the guy, I said, look it, I want to be a Green Beret.

And he kind of laughed. And he said, well, you just can't enlist in the Green Berets. And he was saying, you know, you don't really know what you're getting yourself into. I can't sign you up to be a Green Beret. Plus he looked at me, maybe I didn't look like the type that could do that way.

But he threw down a challenge to me. He said, but if you're really interested, I think I can get you into the airborne infantry. And then it's up to you whether or not you're going to get to be a Green Beret.

So in August of 67, I raised my hand and took the oath. And I was on my way to Fort Dix for basic training, stayed at Fort Dix for infantry training after another, after eight weeks of basic, did eight weeks of infantry. And then I received orders to go to airborne school down to Fort Benning, took off down to Fort Benning, had three weeks of airborne training. The challenges that I encountered in basic and in AIT, advanced infantry training, were challenging but it was, I never really felt like I wanted to quit or do anything, even though they tried a lot of mental and emotional things that nowadays are illegal, but back then they weren't. But each one of those things just kind of made me more committed to achieving my goal of becoming a Green Beret. And then airborne school was another physical challenge where I say that I had the first experience of hitting the wall, you know, the mile, the five mile run and everything in combat boots and stuff. I really hit the wall. It's like where you feel like, well, I think I might quit, but if I just, I just told myself I can do one more step and I just did that and that's what got me through the wall. And that was an important lesson is that I realized that I was capable of doing much more than I thought I could.

If I could just do one more, one more push up, one more step, take one more breath, I could break through that wall. And I finished airborne school, graduated, had the silver wings put on my chest. The last week we had a group of about four or five of these poster men from the, for the Green Berets.

They looked like they could have been poster guys advertising Green Berets. They came down and they interviewed, I think there's probably about 15 of us or so that were trying out for special forces. And we had a, a couple of days of physical tests, some, some written exams, something interviews. And after that, I think there's probably about five of us that were told that we were accepted and we were on our way to, on our way to Fort Bragg to begin special forces training. It was during special forces training that I probably received most of the things in my life that impacted me and changed me and helped to make me the person that I am today.

It was just a tremendous, tremendous challenge, both physically, emotionally, mentally. Briefly, we had the first phase that was eight weeks of just intense military training, tactics, operations, physical, a little bit more of guerrilla warfare, weapons training. And that was called phase one back then.

Back now, I think it's called selection. After that, we were allowed to wear a beret, but we didn't have a, our group flash light yet, which signified which group you're going to go to. But being able to wear that beret the first time was a real sense of achievement. It was a goal that I had had.

I was part way there. I had a green beret. I wasn't a green beret yet, but I could wear the green beret. At that time, then they, they interviewed us and they said, okay, special forces has a specialty of medical, weapons, communications, engineering, demolitions, or operations and intelligence.

Which one do you want to go to? I chose medic because at the time, and it still is one of the most challenging programs that the military has, a special forces medic is just a tremendous accomplishment to be able to achieve that. At the time, this would have been in 67, 68. Most guys, after our training, we expected and wanted to go to Vietnam. I was assigned to the third special forces group, which our area of operation was Africa, but we were based at Fort Bragg. Our time there, we were welcomed by our Sergeant Major, Company Sergeant Major.

There was about four or five of us that went to the third group. He welcomed us in a morning formation. There was the five of us standing up in front of the headquarters building. And for about two minutes, he just walked up and down in front of us, stared us in the eye, walked behind us, was giving us the once over while we stood at attention. Then he came around to the front of us and began his official address. And basically he was telling us, I know that you all think you're pretty special.

I actually want you to know that you are really only maybe about two or three inches above whale dung at the bottom of the ocean. He said, you think you're a Green Beret? He said, what you are going to experience now, and you're going to realize is that you just learned and earned the right to begin to train, to know what it is to be a Green Beret.

More with this remarkable American voice, Gary Bikirk's voice, his path to the Medal of Honor and beyond here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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It's easy. Simply go to Geico dot com or contact your local agent today. And we continue with our American stories and the story of Medal of Honor recipient Gary Bykerk. And after being dumped by his high school girlfriend, he and his pal decided to enlist his friend Don to the Marine Corps. He was killed in Vietnam. And Gary, well, he decided he wanted to be a Green Beret.

Let's return to Gary. One of the things that special forces looks for is an independent attitude of a person who thinks out of the box, almost like a rebellious kind of person who doesn't like to conform to the norms. And boy, I fit that to the T. During basic training, every trainee usually got KP once just so they'd have the experience. I had it nine times in basic training because of my attitude. And so I met these challenges.

But along the way, my attitude got in the way many times. And so I was always getting extra duty or things like that. And one of these times I had guard duty. The day that I had off, I went down to Fayetteville. I hit a bar early in the morning, started drinking. And the only thing I remember about that time was going out to the parking meter about every 25 minutes to putting another coin in so I wouldn't get a ticket for parking. The next thing I remember is I woke up and I was, tried to move and I just ached.

I was really, really sore, could hardly breathe. And I looked up and I saw my team sergeant behind bars and I said, Sarge, what are you doing behind bars? And he said, I'm not behind bars.

Bikirk, you are. And I said, what did I do? And he said, well, you really did it this time. And I said, from what I got from the police report, you spent most of the day in this bar, got in your car, tried to drive back to base, Fort Bragg. You bounced off a couple of parked cars in Fayetteville. The Fayetteville police tried to pull you over.

You wouldn't pull over. You took off to the Interstate 95. Then the North Carolina State Police got involved with this chase. They ran you over. You came out of the car with a billy club.

I usually carried a billy club under my seat. I came out with a billy club and assaulted the North Carolina State Police and they beat me up really bad. And they said, and now you're in jail. And he said, right now you're facing charges of driving while intoxicated, hit and run, assault with a deadly weapon.

And those are the only charges that I can remember. And I said, what do you think I should do? And he said, you better get yourself a lawyer. So I took his advice.

I went down to Fayetteville. I got a lawyer, started telling him my story. About 30 seconds into the story, he pushed himself away from the desk and he said, you can stop right there.

I've heard this a hundred times. He said, here's what you got to do. How quick can you get yourself out of the country? And I said, well, I think we're on alert to go to Mali, Africa. And he said, when? And I said, maybe six months. And he said, not good enough. He said, you got to get yourself out of the country in 30 days. Can you do it? And I said, I don't know.

I can try. So he said, you better. So I went back to base and I thought, and I said, well, the only way that I know of is I'll go re-enlist for Vietnam. Re-enlisting, I could go to Vietnam within 30 days.

So I re-enlisted for Vietnam, was promoted to E4, received a re-enlistment bonus at the time, which was $600 for re-enlisting. Went back to the lawyer and I said, look, I'm going to Vietnam within 30 days. And he said, good. And then when we get to court, when I tell you just say guilty, your honor, I said, okay. So we went to court. There were a lot of military guys facing the civilian court and they were getting handed tremendous sentences, jail time and everything.

And then they were going to receive military discipline as well. My case came up, they called my name. I stood up before the judge. He read off a bunch of things, asked me, how do I plead? My lawyer looked at me. I looked at him and he shook, he nodded his head. And so I said, guilty, your honor. And he said, okay, I find you guilty of reckless driving and I find you $100. So apparently what my lawyer had done was he had talked to the DA and they got, he said, look at, this guy's on his way to Vietnam.

Show him a little grace. But I was on my way to Vietnam. So I got into camera on bay and I was sent to a replacement company. And one of my first duties, because I was an E-4, was I was on burnout latrine duty, which meant that I had to take those 55 gallon drums that they used for burnout latrines. And I had to pull them out of latrine and pour diesel on them and stir them up with, and light them on fire and just stir and stir them up. So there I was in Cameron Bay doing this one day with my, with my beret on. And I saw a Sergeant Major walking over in the distance and he had a beret on and he happened to see me and he said, hey beret, what are you doing there? And I said, what's it look like I'm doing? And he said, what's your MOS?

What's your military specialty? And I said, a medic. And he said, come on with me. And I said, but I don't have any orders. I don't have anything. And he goes, that's okay.

Don't worry about it. And he said, look, I work up in two core. We need medics with our special operations groups up there.

I'm going to put you on a plane and we'll get you, we'll get you up there. So while I was there, I met, I met this crusty old E-8. Turned out, he was a veteran from World War II, Korea, and he had spent like five years already in Vietnam. And he was just a tremendous, tremendous medic.

He was my, became my mentor. And while I was there, he said, look, you don't want to go to special operations. He said, you were trained as a medic.

Do what Green Beret medics were trained to do. Go out on an A camp. And he said, I've got the perfect A camp for you. He said, it's the camp that I helped establish back in the early sixties. Throughout the highlands of Vietnam, there were probably close to 30 mountain yard tribes. Now the mountain yards were not Vietnamese. They were an ethnic minority, about 30 different tribes.

Each tribe had its own area, had its own territory, had its own language, had its own village culture and community. And so I was assigned to Daxiang and the mountain yards in that area were called Sedang. I remember flying out there the first day and just seeing the beautiful lush jungles that were, that were, that made up the central highlands and the mountains. It was just a beautiful, beautiful country.

And so I reported into Daxiang. There were 11 other Americans there. And we lived in the middle of this mountain yard village. There were 2,300 mountain yards. And in the mountain yard culture, because of their need to exist in that kind of a environment, when an individual reached 12 years old, they were considered an adult, which meant they had responsibilities to fulfill.

And they depended on each individual to fulfill those responsibilities. We had a 12 year old that was an M60 machine gunner in our company. We were instructed to pick out a bodyguard, someone that we could befriend and develop a special friendship with. I picked a young mountain yard boy named Dayo.

He was 15 years old, which meant that he had already had three years of combat. And I remember saying to him, Dayo, you got to help me. The word for doctor in Vietnamese is bok sì. So they all called me bok sì. And he said, how can I help you bok sì? And I said, look, I hate snakes.

I'm afraid of tigers. You got to help me learn how to survive out in this jungle. And he laughed and he said, bok sì, he said, we don't survive in the jungle. He said, we live, the jungle gives us our way of life. We need the jungle to survive, to live and exist. I'm going to teach you how to live, not just survive in the jungle.

That was an important lesson that he taught me about the difference between surviving and living. Because these people had found a way to, in the midst of this beautiful but hostile environment on jungle that was just filled with snakes and tigers and things that could kill you in a minute, they weren't afraid of it. They found a way to live, to thrive, to develop a village and a way of life, a culture. It helped them become the people that they were. Under Deo's tutelage, he helped me assimilate into the mountain yard culture.

I became one of them. On April 1st, early in the morning, we started receiving incoming and we had had a lot of incoming in the past, many times, but many times, but this was different. I mean, it was just intense. We had a barrage. It just, it never stopped for hours. It was continuous artillery and rocket attacks.

I was up because I was attending an all night funeral for one of our security mountain yards who had recently died. So when the barrage started, I started to run towards the, my alert position on my way to go there to meet some of the other yard medics, because I was going to distribute medical kits and things to them so that they could go to their respective companies and start treating the wounded. I didn't make it to the bunker because halfway there I saw a yard that had been wounded.

So I stopped and started to treat him. I heard a rocket coming in. I threw myself on top of him and the rocket landed about 25 feet away from us. As rocket exploded, much of the shrapnel slammed into my back.

And I remember thinking that that must be what it feels like to get kicked by a horse. And you're listening to Gary Bykerk. He's a Medal of Honor recipient and he's telling his story in the best way he can, which is straight as an arrow. This great storytelling continues. Gary Bykerk's story here on Our American Stories. Should we continue with Our American Stories and the story of Medal of Honor recipient Gary Bykerk, we left off with him working at a camp in the central highlands of Vietnam as a special forces medic.

Camp had been attacked by the North Vietnamese. A rocket had landed about 20 feet away from him and the mountain people he was embedded with. Gary laid on top of one of those men to protect him.

We returned to Gary. As I was impacted by the shrapnel, I did have an out-of-body experience because I saw myself going head over heels. And as I was going head over heels, I looked back and the mountain yard that I was laying on top of was just blown apart. And so I landed in the four-dose pit surrounded by sandbags. I realized what I needed to be doing, so I tried to get up but I couldn't move because some of the shrapnel had been lodged in my spinal column and knocked my spinal column unconscious. I couldn't move, couldn't get up.

The next thing I remember is I felt somebody picking me up. I looked and it was Dale, my bodyguard. And I said to Dale, how did you find me? And he said, this is where I belong.

He said, I belong by you, by your side. So he picked me up and he wanted to take me down to the medical bunker and I said, no, we need to stay up here. During this time, Dale carried me and we had been notified that an American officer, our XO, had been shot out of the, we had a John Wayne tower in the middle of the camp.

And we heard that he was in a real dangerous spot. We went out, we got him, brought him back down to the medical bunker. Dale reminded me to stay down there. I said, no, we need to get back to the battle. So Dale carried me back out into the battle.

During that time, I was shot another time in the side, in the back. Dale again took me down to the bunker. The other medic on the team, Dan, said, you got to stay down here.

I got to take care of you. And I said, no, we need to get back. And so Dale carried me back out into the battle again and we continued to fight, continued to provide aid to the women and the children and the men that were being wounded at the time.

We were in our bunkers in the trenches area and we ran into, I remember running into the NVA that had encircled the wire. And I remember him seeing him, he shot me and the wound hit me in the stomach. Dale took me back after that wound.

And by that time they were looking at me and saying, it's going to be pretty bad. And I said, look at Dale, if I'm going to die, I'm not dying down here. I'm going to, I choose to die in the battle.

I guess that's a warrior creed. If you're going to die, you die in the battle. So Dale took me back out into the battle. Once we got back out there, Dale, now keep in mind, this is a 15 year old kid that's doing this. He got shot in the leg and he couldn't carry me anymore, but he didn't want to leave me.

He didn't want to go down and take care of himself. He began to drag me as we continued to fight and continue to provide aid to those who were being wounded. I can remember that there were times that we both, you know, both feeling like we couldn't do any more and we would look at each other and we would just smile and say, we can do this.

We can do this. And Dale's strength became part of my strength. My strength became part of his strength as we continued to do what we were trained to do, which was minister first aid to those that were being wounded. We heard a rocket coming in. Dale rolled me over and laid on top of me to protect me from the blast because we knew this one was coming close and the rocket exploded. We both went up in the air, came back down and I said, okay, Dale, come on, let's go. I found out Dale was killed by the rocket blast because at the time there wasn't really, people say, how did you feel at that time?

And I honestly say that there was really no time for any kind of guilt or anything. There was just, I knew what we had to be doing. I don't remember feeling anything except looking back now, there was just a tremendous sense of love, love that Dale had for me, the love that I had for Dale, the love that I had for those people.

I wasn't afraid that I might die because I think love was a much more powerful emotion that was motivating me at the time. And we continued on doing what we were doing until I finally collapsed and then I was medevaced. I actually don't, I only remember being thrown in the chopper. That was my last conscious moment. And the next conscious moment that I have is waking up in the ICU ward in the 71st evac at Pleiku.

I remember doing a, doing like an exam of myself, my surroundings, where am I, what's going on. My abdomen had been ripped open from the shrapnel and from the gunshot wounds and my large intestine was just lying in a bag on my stomach. I looked up and I saw all kinds of tubes running into my neck, into my arms. I was catheterized. I couldn't feel my legs, but I reached down to make sure that they were there, they were there. And then I felt this darkness overcoming me, unconsciousness.

And I had been unconscious plenty of times before in college, but this was different. There was a darkness and a finality to this. And so I, it's what I call my hand to hand combat with death because I knew that death was overtaking me. And so I brought every weapon that I could, every skill that I had been taught, all of the things that had brought me success in the past.

I took those weapons, those skills and those strengths and I fought death. I said, I'm not going to go unconscious. I can't because I don't want to die. I don't want to die. But it was like death was saying, is this the best you got, Gary?

You're not going to, you're not going to live. And I'd go unconscious. Well, that experience of waking up and fighting death hand to hand and then losing, that happened a couple of times. And each time it became more and more certain in my mind that I was dying. One of the times I came to, and there was a chaplain standing there. He said to me, he was a young guy, maybe about my age. And he said, I'm glad to see you're awake. And I said, I'm glad to be awake, sir. And he said, do you want to pray? I've been praying for you. Would you like to pray? And I said, I don't know how to pray. I don't even know who to pray to. And he handed me a cross and he said, that's okay, son.

God knows how to listen. And so at 23, 24 years old, I made my first prayer. I said, God, if you're real, I sure need you. And something happened at that moment. I wasn't miraculously healed.

There were no bolts of lightning or things like that. But all of a sudden I had this peace that came over me in a sense of something bigger than me, more powerful than me that was real. All of a sudden I wasn't aware, afraid of dying anymore.

I wasn't even afraid of I could never walk again because at that time it wasn't clear whether I would walk again or not. But I just knew that there was something greater than myself. And I say that when my courage failed in that hospital bed, my faith was born. I said, I need to find out who this God is.

I mean, think about it. If you believe that there is a God, the greatest thing you can do in your life is to find Him. So I started this journey of trying to find God. I eventually healed. I went to Japan. I then came back to the States.

I went to Valley Forge in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Well, I eventually was fully recuperated and I was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group, which I didn't want to go to. When I was discharged, they said, where do you want to go? And I said, well, you mean I get a choice?

And they said, sure, you get a choice. I said, okay, well, send me back to the 5th in Vietnam. If I can't do the 5th, send me to the 8th group in Panama or Okinawa. Or that was the first group in Okinawa.

If I can't do that, I want to go to the 8th group in Panama. So I got my orders and I didn't get Vietnam, Okinawa, or Panama. They sent me to the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Nobody coming back from Vietnam wanted to be stateside. It was like playing army. And it was just being stateside in the 70s was a difficult place to be for the military.

At the time, they were offering opportunities for early outs. So I got an early out to go back to college. And now I wanted to go on with my medical goals. I wanted to become a doctor and go back to Vietnam. So I remember going back to SUNY Brockport where I'd attended before, changed my major to pre-med. I got out of the military on August 31st.

September 3rd, I was in classes at Brockport. And you're listening to Gary Bykerk, recipient of the Medal of Honor. And what a story he tells. More with this remarkable storyteller and this remarkable story, his story, Gary Bykerk's story, here on Our American Stories. And we return to Our American Stories and to the story of Medal of Honor recipient Gary Bykerk. And by the way, you want to read this story. The book is Blaze of Light. Go to amazon.com and order it.

You won't put it down. Gary had just returned from Vietnam after nearly dying from his battle wounds. He received an opportunity for an early out of the military and he decided to take it.

He returned to school to become a doctor so he could go back to Vietnam. But in the 1970s, being a service member on a college campus was nothing short of a hostile atmosphere. I didn't have many clothes, so I had to wear my army fatigues and stuff, fatigue jackets, field jackets. Didn't have a place to stay, so I was sleeping in my van. And it wasn't too long before I started experiencing some of the things that many of us back in the 70s who returned from Vietnam experienced, and it was a lot of the anti-war stuff. I would be studying in the library.

People would see that I was a vet. They'd walk by and push my books off the desk. One morning I woke up in the van and the van was being shaken. I looked out and I saw probably about 10 or 15 students out there shaking my van and yelling at me, saying, hey, come on outside, baby killer.

We want to know what it's like to burn villages and kill babies. It was just another hurtful experience. Finding one day a group of them surrounded me and spit on me. And I said, I got to get out of here because if I don't, I'll end up in jail. So I took off, got in my van, and I drove down to Massachusetts because I remembered that my cousin, that she and her husband lived in Massachusetts. And because I knew that there was a God, I said maybe she can help me. So I went to Massachusetts. I ended up staying with her and her husband.

Her husband's name was Buck. One day he said, Gary, do you value our friendship? And I said, I sure do.

You're the closest thing I've got to a friend. And he said, do me a favor then. Read this book. So he gave me a book and I started to read it. And I went back to him and I said, what kind of book is this?

It's about the same guy. And he said, just keep reading. And he had given me a New Testament. So I had read through Matthew and Mark, Luke.

I got to John. And when I got to the 14th chapter of John, it starts out by saying, let not your heart be troubled. And my heart had already been troubled. I was afraid of the anger that was inside of me, the guilt that I had, the anger, the pain. It was just eating away at me.

The experiences that my homecoming had provided for me were much worse than what Vietnam had done to me. And so I was just a troubled, troubled guy that was ready to explode. And I said, let not your heart be troubled. Do you believe in God? And I said, yes, I do. I said, believe also in me.

I am the way, the truth and the life. And it was Jesus speaking. And when I read that, I realized, I said, wow, Jesus is the God that I met in that hospital bed. And then in the 15th chapter, he said, you have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. And that stuck with me too. You've chosen me for a purpose. I just felt God saying, yes, Gary, I've got you chosen for a special purpose.

So that was July 2nd, 1972. I prayed and became a Christian that night, three o'clock in the morning. I knew that God had forgiven me. But I just couldn't forgive myself. And I still didn't, I still didn't have the ability to have a relationship with other people because I was afraid to let them in because I was afraid of my anger. I was afraid of the things that I had done. I was afraid that if they saw me, they would reject me, much like what the people at SUNY Brockport had done.

And my thought was, you guys are calling me names, but I could call myself worse names because of how I feel about myself. So I decided that what I needed to do was to continue this journey and find out more about this God that I now knew was real. And so there was this little seminary up in Lancaster, New Hampshire, up in the White Mountains. I decided I wanted to go up there and just learn about this God that I now knew personally. So I went there. One of the days that I could, I went out to the, just took a ride because that's what I did many times when I just felt overwhelmed by the way that I was feeling still. And I took a ride on Route 2 out of Lancaster, New Hampshire. And I found this little parking spot that said Appalachian Mountain Trail. I started to hike the trail. All of a sudden getting back into those mountains, into that nature, reminded me of being in Vietnam. And all of a sudden there was this peace that came over me.

And I said, this is beautiful. This is where I want to stay. And so I ended up making that my home. And what I would do is I would go into Lancaster, attend classes.

After the classes, I would go back out into the mountains. And I remember when I, I remember when I found that sanctuary of being in the mountains, I made another prayer in September of 73. I said, God, you gave me my life back in Vietnam. I'm giving you my life back now, whatever you want for my life.

That's all I want, God. I made that prayer in September of 73. Two weeks later, I was notified that I was being awarded the Medal of Honor after I made that prayer. So here I am hiding in this cave because I was trying to forget about Vietnam.

I wanted to just know about God. And I felt that the best way I could heal was just to forget about Vietnam, thinking that if I could forget it, I would get better. And now I'm praying to God and God says, here, I'm going to help you heal.

I'm going to give you a Medal of Honor. And people say, well, what brought you out of the cave? And actually what brought me out of the cave was, is that there was a girl that I met in that, well, actually I didn't meet her. I went down to my post office box and there was this note in my box that said, hi, my name's Lolly. I've seen you around town.

And I would get these notes in my post office box about two times a week or so. And then one day she put her picture in there and I said, wow, that's pretty cute. So I said, I'm going to find this girl.

There was only 2000 people in the town of Lancaster. And I was going to go in every door until I could find this girl. And one day I met her in a laundromat. We had one date and I asked her to marry me. And she said, okay, I'll marry you, but you got to come out of the cave.

And we've been married for 45 years. And I found out that forgetting isn't getting better. Getting better is finding someone who will come into your hurt, come into your caves, listen to you, support you, maybe not understand everything that you went through, but that's okay because they accept you and support you without judgment. And in doing so, they give you a hope for tomorrow.

They give you a reason to live. One of the things that's common among us where the medal is that we receive a medal for a battle, but a tougher battle begins when you wear it because now all of a sudden you're having to deal with why me? I don't deserve this. I only did what I was trained to do. There are so many others who did greater things that should be here, that should receive this.

Why me? What God helped me to understand is that Gary, this medal is not about you. I've come to understand that the medal is not about me. It's not about any one person who did any one thing on any one day, but there is an honor. And the honor that comes with it is that the medal represents something that's greater than one person. It represents millions of men and women who love this country and who love others more than themselves.

It represents the millions of acts, selfless acts done by every man and woman who served this country. And the other honor that comes with it is that this medal, when people see it, there's a message that goes with it. The message of there's a different way to live your life. To really live, you must almost die.

Maybe not die physically, but learn how to deny yourself, die to yourself, experience what it means to really live by caring for others more than yourself. That's the message of the Medal of Honor. And that's the message that has allowed me to be able to wear it. When I put that medal around my neck, there's no room for self anymore. Well, after I had received the Medal of Honor with President Nixon, I came back to my cave and I put the medal in my duffel bag and I never took the medal out again for seven years.

I'd come back to Rochester, married with my family because I was attending grad school. Some of the veterans in the area had heard that I had the Medal of Honor. And they asked me if I wanted to participate in this demonstration at the Liberty Pole, which was downtown Rochester, because the Iranian hostages had just been released. And many of us were, you know, we were glad and ecstatic that they were released and we loved the reception and the welcome home that they received. But there was a part of us that said, wow, I've been held hostage ever since I returned from Vietnam and nobody has ever welcomed me home.

So we had this rally down there and they asked me to speak. And I had this friend, Tom Cray, who was the director of a local veterans outreach center here in Rochester. And Tom had the unique ability of being able to look through the walls that all of us as veterans tried to put up to protect ourselves. And he could look through those walls and see something great. And he had the ability to help us pull that out, to work through all that guilt and that anger, and to be able to get in touch with some of the good things that we needed to build our life on.

We couldn't build our life on anger and hate and guilt. And so Tom, on this day before we spoke, we were standing in the dais. He said, you know, Gary, you've got a special mission here. And I thought about that verse that said, you have not chosen me, Gary, I have chosen you. And he said, wear the Medal of Honor. And I said, I can't, Tom. And he said, quit being so selfish, Gary. It's not about you anyhow. He said, you're not wearing it for yourself. Wear it for us. And he reached in and took the medal out of my pocket and gave it to me and I put it on. And that was the first time that I'd worn that Medal of Honor since President Nixon hung around my neck in October of 73. And you've been listening to Medal of Honor recipient Gary Bykerk, a beautiful story, a story of pain and suffering and redemption. Gary Bykerk story here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 01:39:09 / 2023-02-17 01:55:27 / 16

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