JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tony D'Aleo says he served proudly in the United States Marines.
He believes it's not too late to show more respect to our Vietnam vets, 61,000 of whom still live in the North Florida and SE Georgia area.
He is open about his combat experience.
Most painful are the experiences of losing a buddy in battle. "I had to hold his intestines in. He got blown up," D'Aleo recalls.
"I was trying to wrap him in a poncho to keep his intestines in his body," he says.
And the memory, has it faded?
No. Now, some 50 years later, he says, "I wake up with sweats. Cold sweats."
Agent Orange, battles with the Veterans Administration, and frustration over recognition for veterans' issues all plague D'Aleo.
But he still cannot forget the evil tactics of the enemy in Vietnam.
He says the American soldiers' bodies "would be mutilated." He says because 'you never leave an American behind," he and his fellow marines would come back to the battle site.
But there they might find their fellow marine butchered, his private part "put in his mouth," and his body wired to a tree, he says.
The tactic was evil and tricky. "We would find it and that was to get our minds crazy...'cause that would be the guy in our squad or our platoon. They used that to make us run" right into an ambush in a mad rush of revenge," he says.
He says some of their leaders figured out the strategy of the Vietcong and put a stop to the possibility of more fatalities.
He says, "I wish I didn't go to Vietnam." But he says, kids ask him why he went. His answer is this. "I went to help a country that was overrun."
But even all the trauma, D'Aleo continues to work in the community to garner more respect for veterans. D'Aleo was chosen for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. He's frequently at veterans' gatherings, such as the Semper Fidelis Society, to encourage his fellow vets.