(WDVM) — Anyone who has ever been in combat likes to bring home momentos: Things like shell casings, photographs and flags.
Frank Spacek, a platoon leader in the U.S. Army’s 11th Armored Regiment, returned home to Winchester, Virginia with only one item from the Vietnam War. The rest of his souvenirs, including photographs, were destroyed by the Viet Cong.
The night before Spacek left Vietnam, an enemy rocket hit the tent where Spacek lived during his tour of duty and hit the top of his wall locker. “My two 35mm cameras and everything in that wall locker was vaporized,” said Spacek, but the Viet Cong didn’t destroy one item that he always carried in his map case.
“This is my most prized possession,” said Spacek as he showed me a faded battle flag that he flew atop his command track. After he was wounded in March 1968, he stuffed the flag into the right pocket of his fatigues for safe keeping as he headed to an aid station to have medics look at his elbow where he had been shot. On the way back to base, bouncing up and down in his APC, the bandage came off and his wound bled. Drops of blood soaked the right corner of his flag. There are also three bullet holes in the flag.
Spacek’s superiors in Vietnam told him American flags were not to be flown from the antennae on any of his platoon’s armored personnel carriers, because they would look like imperalists.
“So I kept it in my map case in the cupola and as soon as shots were fired, or I thought we were about to get into a firefight, I would slap the American flag on [the antenna] and take it off when it was done [the fighting was finished,'” laughed Spacek.
Before Spacek decided to bend the rules a bit and fly the flag on his APC, he discussed the planned disobedience with his men.
“I was asking 45 guys to do dangerous things on a daily basis,” reasoned the platoon leader, “and I thought this was a way to show that we’re doing this for the United States, We’re not doing it for any political reason or anything to do with the Vietnamese.”
Spacek gave soldiers in his APC a chance to opt out of any flag waving, he asked them only one question. “If you were the bad guy looking at us coming across a rice paddy in eight vehicles [APCs] and one of them was flying an American flag, which one would you shoot at?”
When asked to step to a nearby APC if they had a problem with his plan, Spacek said, “None did” In fact, the whole platoon stayed put.
Spacek told his men it was their country, “and we’ll do our duty. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.” They did their duty, and all of them came home, however most of them came home wounded and like Spacek many are now involved in a life-threatening struggle against Agent Orange-related cancers.