Monday, April 04, 2011


Introduction by Larry Downing, Story by Roger Lutz, Jr.

My cousin, Roger Lutz, Jr., has seen the effects of war like few others. And he is alive! He was drafted when he was 19 years old. His first post was to Fort Polk, LA for the induction Ceremony. At the newly appointed rank of E-1, he made the decision to become a conscientious objector and was sent directly to Fort Sam Houston for basic training and advanced individual training as a front line combat medic. At the end of his training he was promoted to Private E-2.

Roger was originally assigned to be with the Big Red 1 in Vietnam, however when he arrived in Vietnam in early December of 1967 he was reassigned to the First Air Calvary. As a teenager Roger became a member of that infamous Calvary battalion called the Second of the Seventh. This was Custer's outfit at his Last Stand. For Roger, a new recruit, the action became very specific and very personal. At Phan Thiet, South Vietnam, Company D of the 2/7 was decimated in heavy action. Roger was a replacement medic in the unit. He replaced a medic that was KIA (Killed in Action). “Several that came to replace me were KIA”--and, says Roger, he continued in his medic role under the sponsorship of the good Lord. He saw action throughout his time in Vietnam: in Phan Thiet, Hydrang Valley Hue-tet 68, Khe Sanh, Ashaw valley and the Iron Triangle.

Roger returned to the United States in the Spring of 1969 at the emotional age, he says, of 60 plus, "…having seen more death and dying than I would wish on anyone. I was 21 years old and a Specialist E-5."

In 1991 Roger returned to active duty and served in Desert Storm as a member of the US Air Force Aeromedical Evacuation group. "It was," he affirms, "good to again be under the Lord's sponsorship." Roger retired from the Air Force in 2000 as a Chief E-9.

Four years ago my wife and I went to Vietnam with the Project Vietnam Medical Mission sponsored by the Orange County California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. My wife, a pediatrician, returned each year for the next three years. In conversations with my Cousin Roger, I described the work that Project Vietnam does among the remote villages. The reports caught Roger's interest. He had participated in numerous mission trips in both the South Seas and South America but had not considered returning to Vietnam.

As his interest in returning to Vietnam deepened, I put him in contact with the Project Vietnam director. The result of their conversations was that Roger joint the mission to Vietnam in March of 2010 and again in March of 2011. What follows is the story of his first trip. Next week, the story of his second.

Roger Lutz, Jr.

We were hard at it. Our team was doing medical and dental support in Phu Da North Vietnam. The place is about an hour and a half from Hanoi by bus. The Primary Med team was busy seeing the lame, blind, those with leftover deformations, the results of polio. These patients were part of the older generation of men and women that had a lifetime of pain and hardship written on their faces. The dental team was pushing hard to get as many kids as possible examined along with fillings and extractions as needed.

One man stood out in the crowd of those seeking medical help. He was a white-haired 60 plus distinguished looking Vietnamese man standing in back of the crowd, yet near enough so that he could converse across the crowd barrier. Thuam, my counterpart and lead coordinator with the local Vietnamese, carried on an animated, emotional, and intense conversation with him in Vietnamese. They talked far faster than I, with my limited Vietnamese language-skills, could follow. For some unknown reason my attention was focused intently on Thaum, and at this moment in time, this evolving situation had my total interest. For me this is a bit unusual. My focus is usually on the kids, checking them for dental problems, skin rashes, wondering eyes, or some sort of physical deformation or hardship. But this was different!

The white-haired man blurted out some words I did understand. He was a North Vietnamese army veteran, and he wanted some medicine to help with his aches and pains. He said that during the war he had been in one of the elite fighting battalions stationed in South Vietnam, and due to the physical stress of the war, he had carry over pain and other problems.

Thuam waved him forward and lifted up the man's shirt to check for scarring and arsenal wounds. Seeing none, Thuam informed me that the guy's spine had been abused in some fashion, and that during the cooler, wet winter days in Northern Vietnam his back and joints caused him severe discomfort.

Thaum had fought with the ARVIN forces in the Vietnam conflict. Perhaps our shared experience explains why we get on so well together. Although we did not serve together in the same unit, there is a bond that runs deeper than life among those that have served in those shoot-em-up situations that have had as a resolution either death or a deep change within the very depth of the soul. When we first met, I felt the bond, and now the bond is so enduring, and my admiration for him so heartfelt, that I consider his family and mine one family.
In 1975 when America withdrew from Vietnam, Thaum was left holding the bag, so to speak. As an enemy refuge he escaped from the south coast of Vietnam as a boat person. He experienced all the horrific things that others have reported who went that route. Thaum minimizes the experience and chooses to put all those memories into to a “6x6x6 pit” and tried to forget them.

Thaum made it to the USA; was sponsored by a family on the east coast where he was re-united with his brothers. He worked hard, went to school and ended up an aerospace engineer. He assisted each of His bothers, Joe and Paul, to become aerospace engineers as well! Thaum married Catherine, who is a dentist. Catherine along with her sister, Bicky Lee, have a dental practice in Southern California. The result: an amazing mission family of engineers that does tech support for the dental team that includes me.

I found out later that Thaum told the white-haired warrior that he was a veteran as well, except that he fought on the other side. The reaction of the man was immediate—he drew back as if hit with a hard ball. His eyes widened and then narrowed. There was a hint of animosity—evolving toward hate. Thaum pointed out the American team members that were volunteering and offering their service to the people, veterans of the same terrible war, now helping people that at one time were considered enemies with love and compassion.

Thaum pointed out Ed, a doc who has been coming back to Vietnam for years. He called the man's attention on me, a combat medic who took part in some of the heaviest engagements of the war. He then pointed out other veterans. At that moment, I wondered if I had met this aging warrior on the battlefield, and I’m sure he was wondering the same thing.
Thaum made a fast re-supply run to the pharmacy and demanded a large package of 500 mg of something that was strong enough to give the man pain relief. In a flash it was in the hands of the NVA veteran. The NVA warrior, once an enemy, now a friend, turned in wonderment and with thanksgiving walked away! I will never know all the thoughts that traveled with this man, yet I like to think that, like myself, he is tired of this hate and death thing. He may, like I, be open and ready for life and love.


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