Today’s veteran: Mike Landrum, 70
Service: Army, 2 years
Recognitions: Army Commendation Medal (with valor); Air Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; National Defense Service Medal
Duty stations: Vietnam; Fort Benning; Fort Jackson, S.C.
His story: A commemorative issue of Time Magazine has made it difficult for Mike Landrum to bury memories from his service in Vietnam.
His photo is on the cover of a commemorative issue dedicated to the year 1968, described as “the year that shaped a generation.” The magazine is still on many newsstands in supermarkets and bookstores.
Landrum said he didn’t know about the photo showing him and other men carrying a wounded soldier until a member of his congregation at Bible Baptist Church showed him the magazine.
Landrum, who has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for years, said the photo dredges up old memories, but it’s such a powerful image it’s not upsetting.
“It’s about time,” he said. “I knew there were always reporters taking pictures.”
The cover photo shows Landrum, shirtless, helping to carry a wounded soldier after a firefight near the Laotian border.
“They overran us,” he said of the battle. “Anywhere from 15 to 20 were killed.”
He never learned whether the wounded soldier he helped survived.
It wasn’t the only brush with death, Landrum said.
“We went into a lot of fire on day one,” he said.
Four fellow soldiers were killed during his first patrol. Landrum credits his survival training, where he learned to hit the ground and not move if enemy snipers starting firing.
“It was the only thing that saved my life,” he said.
After hunkering down for three hours, a sergeant motioned for Landrum to jump from his hiding place into a nearby bomb crater. By the time enemy troops started shooting, Landrum said he had already dove into the crater.
During the shooting, his sergeant was shot in the neck. He used patches issued to stem the bleeding, which he learned months later in a letter, saved his sergeant’s life.
Within three months, Landrum was promoted to sergeant “through the process of elimination.”
Helicopters took his unit to different parts of the war-torn nation to search for and destroy enemy troops.
“If we didn’t have contact, they’d pick us up and move us to another place,” he said. “Sometimes, we’d chase a group two or three weeks.”
Though he was involved in fire fights at least once a week, Landrum said the time he thought he was going to die was in a helicopter that was flying over 1,000 feet high. It was hit by enemy fire and both pilots and the gunner were killed.
“I thought we were gone after that,” he said.
He was in two other helicopter that were shot down by enemy fire, but they were close enough to the ground where he managed to jump to safety.
Landrum said so many fellow soldiers died, he didn’t believe he’d make it home alive.
“I didn’t think, ‘Why not me?’ I thought, ‘I’m next,’” he said.
Though the soldiers in his unit were close, Landrum said he didn’t make many close friendships.
“I struggled to make friends because they’d get blown up tomorrow,” he said. “We were so intent on living we were reacting to live. You don’t sit and think too much.”
He carried a calendar that he marked with the passing of each day and still has it, he said.
Landrum made it home physically intact but mentally wounded from all the death he had seen. It makes it difficult for him to make lasting friendships to this day, even though he has been pastor of the same church the past 41 years.
It was during his service in Vietnam, that Landrum made a promise to God if he returned home alive.
“As a lost person, God wanted me to be a Christian,” he said.
He worked as a mailman for more than five years before he decided to live up to the promise he made in the jungles of Vietnam.
“I couldn’t figure out what the Lord was doing,” he said.
He is still trying to determine why his picture has been on the cover of the special edition of Time Magazine and another time in a special edition of Time published 10 years ago.
“God’s got something planned for me to do,” he said. “Why did this picture pop up two times in Time?”
After being shot down three times in Vietnam, Landrum said he has never flown since.
“I preach the Bible and I preach it hard,” he said. “I’ll do anything for God except flying.”
Despite the painful memories, he has a greater appreciation for life.
“I’ve told people I’m so glad to be alive,” he said. “It’s hard to get me down.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.