When Charlie Sheen and Johnny Depp were put through the paces of a mock Vietnam boot camp in preparation for the movie Platoon, retired U.S. Marine Corps officer Dale Adam Dye Jr. was the man who ran that intense 30-day boot camp.
The decorated war veteran was also given the small role of Captain Harris in the movie – a role that would blossom into a career playing tough-guy soldiers in scores of military films.
Under Siege, Saving Private Ryan, Spy Game and Rules of Engagement are just a few of the films to which Dye brought his square jaw, wry smile, wartime experience and insight.
But, this week, when he and small band of other wartime journalists joined The Signal’s Bill Reynolds in a return to Vietnam and to the scene of the war’s bloodiest combat – the veteran soldier broke down.
Dye and Reynolds were among a group of war journalists who returned to Vietnam this month, the latest group to revisit the scene of their wartime experience thanks to a nonprofit foundation specializing in reuniting soldiers with their battlefields.
Reynolds, who serves as The Signal’s Director of Veteran Affairs, was with the group of eight combat reporters – all U.S. Marines who covered the Vietnam War – when they set foot in Vietnam Friday.
The trip and reunion were made possible by a group called the Greatest Generations Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to honoring America’s veterans. The foundation has sent vets back to battlefields in Germany and Italy. And, last year, began sending vets back to the battlefields of Vietnam.
Returning to the scene of the Tet Offensive, however, proved unique and profound, Reynolds said.
Dye, together with Mike Stokey and Steve Bernston, returned to the scene of the Tet Offensive – one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched in a series of surprise attacks on Jan. 30, 1968.
“The rest of us were fascinated as we listened intently to their description of the brutality there,” Reynolds told The Signal Thursday.
“We stood exactly where Dye and Bernston were wounded as fellow Marines fought to their deaths. These three men could not hold back their emotions and tears, recalling special friends’ last days,” Reynolds said.
After the emotional visit, when the visiting wartime journalists had a chance to relax, Reynolds – who himself survived the Battle of Ap Bac in June 1967 – had a chance to thank Dye for his service, soldier-to-soldier.
“I told him what impressed me to my core was having a most successful Marine right here in our midst who experienced one of the most successful campaigns in Marine Corps lore, that deep down past his rugged exterior that he was truly one of us…. a combat warrior.
“He grimaced a smile and said ‘thank you.’”
While Dye has given many lines in many movies, it was the unscripted lines of a soldier returning to the battlefield which molded him into the man he is that resonated deeply with his traveling comrades.
“After walking the ground there in Hue (site of the Tet Offensive), Dye was heavy in emotion while he collected a bit of dirt where a special friend gasped his last breath,” Reynolds said.
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