Today we toured the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hue. We started out by taking a leisurely cruise down the Perfume River which separates the northern and southern parts of the city. Afterwards, we visited The Citadel, a massive walled structure which was home to the Nguyen Dynasty, who ruled the country from 1802-1945. The Citadel was also the site of one of the most fierce battles of the Tet Offensive. Even though US forces were vastly outnumbered by the North Vietnamese Army, the battle for Hue is known as one of the Marine Corps’ finest hours. My veteran, Corporal Joseph Tiscia, Jr., fought here.
Joe was drafted in 1967 at the age of 24; he was also newly married. Although Joe was placed into the Army, he preferred to serve as a Marine. He requested a transfer and soon found himself in Okinawa serving as a fiscal Marine allocating funds for the Vietnam War. Joe felt that since he was drafted, it was his destiny to fight, so every three months, when the commanding officer visited the base, he asked for reassignment to Vietnam. After ten months, he finally got his wish.
Joe was sent to the 2nd BN, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Phu Bai. He arrived early in January of 1968. A few weeks later, the NVA launched the Tet offensive, and Hue was a primary target. Since Joe was a Corporal and had a wife back home, his commanding officer kept him at Phu Bai, ten miles away, to supply the newly arriving Marines. Joe could not stand equipping soldiers and sending them into Hue only to have them come back a few days later in body bags, so on 7 February 1968, he joined a convoy that he thought was going into Hue. Instead, the convoy of 50 Marines was going to resupply an artillery base south of Hue. But as they were passing by a graveyard, two battalions of NVA ambushed them; Joe was suddenly in the fight of his life.
The Marines were heavily outnumbered. Both sides used ditches on opposite sides of a small road for cover, but hand to hand fighting was commonplace. Joe took out a heavy machine gun that had been firing on the convoy and rescued two of his wounded brothers. Soon afterwards, a grenade exploded nearby sending him flying through the air. Even after he was injured, Joe tried to offer cover fire as he came in and out of consciousness. He told me that as the NVA were waiting for nightfall to finish them off, he prayed to God, “If it is your will, take me. I just want to go home; I miss my wife; I miss my family.” He still feels a lot of pain and regret from that day. As he finished his story, he said, “I wanted to do more, I could’ve done more, but I didn’t.” He blames himself for the loss of his friends, but for his heroic actions, Joe was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.
This snapshot of history has haunted Joe for over 50 years. He still remembers the young men who fought desperately and died alongside him, and he continues to stay in touch with those who survived the fight for Hue. He also devotes time to an organization that holds proper military burial services for Veterans. Joe is very passionate about ensuring that Veterans receive the benefits they deserve for answering their country’s call.
Joe came on this trip with one mission in mind—he wanted to return to the same cemetery. Yesterday, March 27, 2017, we found the site. The cemetery has changed since the last time Joe had seen it, but it still offered the same painful memories. He needed to free himself from the burden he had been carrying. Joe brought with him a bottle of Holy water that he had received as a gift from his mother, who was told it held healing powers. As we departed the bus, Joe walked with a newfound energy. He was determined to accomplish his mission that had been on hold for far too long. As he sprinkled the Holy water, it was as if his chains were lifted. He held with him pride for every man he had fought alongside. As he prayed, our group couldn’t help but be filled with joy for the miracle of healing that we had just witnessed. Afterwards, Joe said, “I feel like a new man.” As with any true soldier, Joe accomplished his mission. If his fellow Marines could have witnessed this, I know they would have been proud. I know I am.