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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

Just when you’ve completely given up on someone, it happens.  Actually, I had long ago dismissed ever knowing the whereabouts of Hiawatha Jackson, a black man who I knew better than most others in Vietnam.  This was because “Hi” and I were fire team leaders in the same squad and we ended up on countless patrols, night and day ambushes, and various other missions together during our 13-month tours in Nam with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Mar Div.

I suppose what makes this story a good human interest piece is that I’m white and Hiawatha is black.  Another thing is most people are surprised to learn that Hiawatha is his real name and that he is not a ‘native American’.  No, I have known no other black people by the name of Hiawatha my entire life, either, and I probably am not about to run into another Hiawatha of any descent for the remainder of my ‘tour’ on earth.

Anyway, it is no secret that there was a terrible racial problem in America during the late 60’s and into the 70’s and those of us in Vietnam at the time felt the tension just like people back home did.  No, not to the scale that created rioting, looting and killing of each other.  But, believe me when I say not every white and every black solider got along with each other.  The two races tended to stick together in their own sub-groups, if you will, especially in the rear areas.  Out in the field, not so much, but this was because of the need to take care of each other so we all had opportunity to spend a few good times in the rear, and then make it home alive.  When there was killing to do, no one cared who was by their side firing back at the enemy.

Jackson and I hit it off immediately.  Maybe it was our lowly leadership positions as fire team leaders (which meant we each ‘supervised’ 4 or 5 other Marines).  Or, perhaps we had some things in common like our own humorous personalities that blended well with the horrors of war and manifested itself as ‘gallows humor’.  It was a way to stay sane, I suppose.  But, whatever it was, we just ‘clicked’.  As the days and months went on and we saw more and more combat, Hi and I focused on keeping each other and our team members out of body bags headed to the morgue in DaNang.  We were smart and knew how to handle vicious situations.  Our two teams learned how to run efficient patrols and when any of our men suffered we suffered right alongside them.

By and by we left Vietnam and, of course, promised to keep in touch.  That fell by the wayside almost right away, because it just did.  After a year or so I started to think about Hi and I attempted to find the address he had given me.  All I could remember was that he was from the Dallas area.

Remember, we didn’t have Google and the Internet back then, so finding an address for a guy named Jackson in the Dallas area would prove to be completely futile, even with a first name like Hiawatha!  You’d think it would have been simple.  I tried every year for about 20 years and then gave up.  As it turns out, he was doing the same thing by trying to contact me but again, could not find a clue.

I wrote an article in this web site a few months ago about an in-country R&R that Echo Company was sent on in the spring of 1969.  In there I described how Sergeant Olson, me and Hiawatha Jackson hung out drinking beer and eating burgers for three days!  In mid-February of this year (2012) Hi’s wife, Marcia, stumbled across my web site and saw that article posted within.  She showed it to Hi and asked him if I was the Lisi he had been wondering about for 4 decades and, of course, it was.  He then called me up and made the first contact.  It was fabulous!  We talked for a long time about what had happened after the war, who we were married to, our children, and our after-effects from Nam.  Hi did not know that Echo Company reunites every two years on the even years, and he is planning to come to the next one (October, 2012) in Quantico to meet up with us.

A lot of soldiers would like to simply forget about Viet Nam and just live out their lives.  I felt that way for along time, too.  I realize now that going back to the past and connecting with the Marines that shared my same experiences is important.  I don’t like forgetting about what happened to me and them forty years ago.  I don’t necessarily want to relive those days, but the people I met in Nam are important to me and it helps maintain a fiber between sanity, insanity, and complacency.  Sometimes I want to forget, but mostly I don’t want to give up those memories.  That’s because the Marines, the Warriors, I met in Viet Nam were a good bunch of brothers who looked out for each other, whether we were white, black, purple, green, it didn’t really matter what color or creed we were.  Those were  the worst of days but the best, too.  Reconnecting makes me realize that other people watched out for me.  They are the reason I made it home alive, and I’ll never forget them for that.

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