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Media Memorial Day Parade on Tap, Mayor McMahon Remembers Vietnam War

Media Mayor Bob McMahon remembers his year as a soldier in Vietnam like it was yesterday.

He volunteered to serve and, at 24, left for Vietnam in January 1968.

“My dad thought since I had a college degree, I’d get a desk job over there,” McMahon said. “So, I arrived as the Tet Offensive starts. We got off the bus, went to our shacks where we were going to be, and got attacked that night. The next morning a colonel came in front and said to me, ‘You are now in the First Infantry Division. You’re a platoon leader.”

During the Tet Offensive, which got its name from the Asian Lunar New Year holiday, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched coordinated attacks in South Vietnam. The U.S. and South Vietnamese militaries sustained heavy casualties but eventually drove out the Communist forces. However, according to the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian, that event weakened public support for the war in the U.S.

McMahon’s platoon had started out with only 30 men; only nine were left after the bloody first night of the Tet Offensive.

“What we did there, we went out on ambushes, and we also did road duty, guarding roads,” he said. After more people were assigned to the platoon, “we then went down and patrolled the rivers outside of Saigon where Agent Orange came down.” Many have gotten cancer from exposure to that herbicide, including McMahon.

They patrolled six or seven days weekly, drawing out the enemy and radioing in their locations. “We had firefights,” he said.

“The worst day we had was March 31, 1968, when we all got attacked and lost some people,” he said.

“In June, I got the job of my life. I became a senior advisor to the South Vietnam company (Mobile Advisory Team 44). I took over, made good friends with them, got into firefights with them, and really loved working with them. I got to know the Vietnamese people very well.

“I lived in the villages, and that was the best part of it. I loved it.”

In the villages, McMahon protected, trained, and patrolled he was the primary American contact for residents. He oversaw 126 Vietnamese soldiers and worked with his counterpart and the village chief. It was a pilot program for public safety for three villages.

He stayed in Vietnam for a year until his son, Robert, was born, and the Army sent him home. During his time in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star.

McMahon is also father to Mark and Vicki and has four grandchildren.

When he became mayor in 1992, after serving on Media Borough Council for 10 years, McMahon got involved with the Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day parades.

This year McMahon will be announcing the parade as he always does, along with resident James “Ziggy” Ziegelhoffer.

The parade will start at 10 a..m. on Monday (Memorial Day) in front of the Media Theater on State Street and will end up at the county courthouse, where there will be speeches and a ceremony. He said the Penncrest High School band will be in the parade, along with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and kids who participate in youth sports. He expects county, state, and federal officials to participate.

He said the Memorial Day parade is shorter and more somber than the Veteran’s Day parade, since it honors those who gave their lives fighting for this country.

McMahon also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the U.S. Veterans Legacy Project. Its mission is to provide a platform for veterans to share their legacy with younger generations by sharing their first-person accounts of what it is like to serve our country.


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Veterans of America’s Wars Know The ‘True Meaning’ of Memorial Day

Marsha Four still remembers the harsh rule.

All fallen soldiers were to remain outside the confines of the 18th Surgical Hospital, which was located south of the Demilitarized Zone. Because the bodies of dead American soldiers were presumed booby-trapped by the enemy, that cruel protocol was meant to save the lives of the other wounded soldiers who were hauled into the inflatable, rubber-tubed medical facility from the battlefields of Vietnam.

Nursing school didn’t prepare Four, now 75, for the horrors she witnessed as an Army nurse in the Vietnam War. She graduated from St. Vincent School of Nursing in Indianapolis in 1968 and was sent overseas a year later, serving in that fast-paced and dangerous environment until 1970.

“If you can kill one GI, why not take out 15 in an emergency room?” Four said. “We had to be very cognizant of that. … You never knew what you were going to face around the corner.”

For her tour of duty in one of the nation’s most unpopular wars, Four earned the Bronze Star and went on to have a successful career stateside in the medical field.

Over three decades, she earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for veterans issues, helping launch the annual Philadelphia Stand Down event and serving as director of services for homeless veterans at the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center. She eventually became the nonprofit’s executive director until retiring.

In recognition of her advocacy, Four was named grand marshal of this year’s Radnor Memorial Day Parade. She will ride with her son, Christopher, a lieutenant in the Radnor Police department.

“I know it really only has one true meaning,” Four said of Memorial Day. “It’s the day we give respect and honor to those who sacrificed their lives in defense of this country. If we forget what they have done, we have lost a belief in the strength that we have as a nation. … This is a pretty sacred day for all veterans.”

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Four was the oldest of seven children living a nomadic lifestyle with her father, who worked for a railroad. She remembered each time her family was uprooted and moved somewhere new, her mother told her the same thing.

“This is where you’re going to live the rest of your life, so unpack all your boxes and join an organization,” Four said.

It was advice that she took to heart when, later in life, she was drawn to the Vietnam Veterans of America and would serve for six years as the organization’s vice president.

Her calling was always nursing, as she felt fulfilled by helping others.

“It was the place I was supposed to be. It brought me great satisfaction,” she said.

Even though the Vietnam War was raging when she graduated from college, she never expected to end up overseas when she was first recruited to serve a two-year tour as a combat nurse.

“It was a very alluring [program] because we were pretty poor in school,” Four said.

She was shipped off to basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and then received her orders from the Army in 1969, boarding a plane for Southeast Asia.

“None of us could have imagined what we would face or what we would see or what we would have to do,” Four recalled.

The work was grueling, nonstop, and traumatic. A constant stream of wounded soldiers arriving at the makeshift hospital. They all had different ailments: Bullet and shrapnel wounds from artillery and booby traps, burns, blown-off limbs from stepping on mines, malaria from the bloodsucking mosquitoes in the swampy jungles.

“You learned real fast,” she said. “We became very proficient at our jobs. We had to make decisions that were not always easy to make. We knew we did as much as we all could do, and sometimes that wasn’t always enough.”

When she returned to the states, the combat nurse spent four months camping around the country with her future husband, Tony, also a Vietnam veteran, in a stripped-out Volkswagen that doubled as an RV.

The couple eventually settled in Springfield, Pa., where they raised their three sons.

Four’s medical and advocacy work afforded her opportunities to meet other Vietnam veterans, some of whom remembered her caring hands.

“A handful of times, I met people who said, ‘I knew you took care of me.’ They know you know what it was like, and I think that there is such a deep connection. In war, everyone is trying to kill each other. No matter what country you’re in, no matter what the culture, no matter what the weapons are, death is the same. The pain is the same. And the blood smells the same. And that’s the thing that all veterans of war share with each other.”

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