LE MARS, Iowa (KCAU) – Not once or twice, but three times did this veteran go to Vietnam during his time in the Marine Corps, earning Purple Hearts along the way.
“We had decided that when we left, we weren’t going to be able to go to college,” Marines Veteran Wayne Thieman said.
In 1962, Wayne Thieman was fresh out of high school and on his way to boot camp. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
“When we got off of the airplane and on that Marine Corps bus, and what awakening, you know, the drill instructors started hollering at you and barking orders and ‘you’re no longer a flunky civilian,” Thieman exclaimed.
Thieman would be part of tours in Okinawa and the Philippines until 1965 when he first stepped foot in Vietnam.
“Stayed there for 3 months in Da Nang on the southeast side of Da Nang just as guards, we went on a few patrols,” Thieman said.
It was during one of those patrols that Thieman earned his first purple heart.
“Got into a firefight and of course, you’re there lobbing grenades and mortars. So when they go off, you know, the shrapnel and I got a little shrapnel wound,” Thieman said.
Thieman returned stateside after his time in Vietnam, but it wouldn’t be for long.
“I re-enlisted for rank, money, and a school. They wanted Marines that already experienced combat,” Thieman said.
Thieman’s second purple heart came during a firefight where he was shot in the leg.
“You feel it, and then it burns. And then you say oh hell, but you keep fighting. When it all calms down and all my men were okay, you start patching everybody up…and I looked down and sure enough and there was a hole. I went oh geez, it’s still there,” Thieman said.
He would return home in December 1968. While back in the United States, his younger brother David joined the Marines. This prompted Thieman to ask his Major an important question.
“I thought jeez, they’re going to get him. He’s going to go. So I went to the captain. I said can you get me into Nam? He said haha, when do you want to leave,” Thieman said with a laugh.
4 days after asking, Thieman would receive his third order for Vietnam. It was during this tour that he would be medically retired when his convoy was hit while trying to get through a road with mines.
“The convoy couldn’t get through. The driver of the wrecker had been shot and he was med-evaced. So I got in, I said I can drive the darn thing and I just made that shift and kaboom. I can remember flying, you know with no wings,” Thieman described.
It was a hectic situation to get him to safety all during the firefight.
“Shot me here, went across here and into this arm. And it broke that bone and it threw me enough that it rolled me off. Then when I was there, they shot me through the leg,” Thieman said.
Thieman remembers losing consciousness and waking up 2 weeks later in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. It would take him 13 months to recover.
“Thank god I’ve survived 78 years. You know, and I’m going geez, I didn’t think I’d make it near this long,” Thieman exclaimed.