I recently had dinner with a friend who handed me a Bible. He showed me a piece of shrapnel embedded in it.
While serving in South Vietnam's Quang Tin province in 1969, he carried the Bible in his chest pocket. Even though he had never actually read it and has never had any particular exposure to or interest in religion, he nonetheless put the book there as a good luck charm. And good fortune has followed him.
John Weber, born in Belleville, Illinois, was in his last semester of high school when he volunteered for the draft. He turned 18 that summer and was inducted a few days later. After infantry training at Fort Ord in California, Weber became a rifleman with the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal).
Weber planned to use the GI Bill after the war to start a career as a diesel mechanic. His dad, a truck driver, was sure that would be a good fit for John, a "motor head" who kept his 1956 Oldsmobile in top condition.
On March 18, 1969, after watching a U.S. airstrike, Weber's squad set off to rejoin its platoon. Suddenly, the unit was in a close-range fight. An enemy rocket-propelled grenade exploded near Weber, lifting him off the ground and pelting him with fragments. Then a round from an AK47 assault rifle hit his leg.
Weber, one of more than 150,000 Americans wounded in the Vietnam War, floated in and out of consciousness and was medevaced to the nearby U.S. base at Chu Lai. After a stay in Cam Ranh Bay, north of Saigon, he was taken to an Army hospital in Japan. His physical condition remained grim. May 1969 found him in a hospital quarantine ward at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. The wounds were infected. Weber spent days barely conscious. Finally the fever lifted. He would live.
By 1970, Weber was a discharged Army specialist 4 after 18 months on active duty. He feels he had some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even today Weber avoids watching war movies or reading about warfare and violence. "Why should I focus on something that stresses me out?" he says.
Weber recovered well enough to become a policeman and again experienced his share of unpleasantness. His partner was killed by another police officer over a love triangle, he says, noting that the killer was a draft evader. Weber wanted out of law enforcement.
He went to law school at Northern Illinois University and was hired as an attorney for automotive-equipment maker Borg-Warner Corp. in Chicago. He is now a top intellectual property lawyer at BakerHostetler in Washington, D.C.
For many Vietnam veterans, their injuries led to an early death. But for some, getting wounded changed them, not for the worst, but for the better. My wounds allowed me an all-expense-paid education at American University in Washington. Through the research I did there, I became an authority on post-traumatic stress. From that work flowed the idea and plans for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Weber is a legal adviser for the proposed Global War on Terror Memorial in Washington honoring post-9/11 troops for their service in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Weber hopes the memorial, like the Wall, will be a place where troops are remembered and reunited. Legislation is moving through Congress to authorize a site. The effort to build the memorial, led by veterans of the ongoing warfare, will take five to seven years.
Weber has not recovered from being a motor head. His vehicles include two motorcycles—a Harley Davidson V-Rod and a Honda CB100R— and a 565-horsepower, six-speed Cadillac CTS-V sedan.
John Weber, at home with his Harley and Cadillac in Annapolis, Maryland, holds the Bible he carried in Vietnam.
Photo Credit: Jan C. Scruggs
Did the Bible save Weber's life? Well, it did stop a small piece of shrapnel from hitting his chest, while a couple of dozen entered his body and remain there. Regardless, Weber's life after the war is a good story. Like him, many Vietnam veterans have had great careers and successful lives. Let's celebrate that.
Psalm 37 is the verse the shrapnel hit. It was written late in the life of King David and later echoed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. "The meek shall inherit the earth and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
Jan C. Scruggs is president emeritus of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. He is chairman of the National Appeals Board of Selective Service and an adviser to the Global War on Terror Memorial. This article first appeared in Vietnam magazine.