Music, where i grew up, was uh really here in motto: i went to high school here. I was president of the senior class of 1963. and my dad was in the coast guard. You know, i never even told him when i was 18. I joined the marine corps and they came home and i said dad i’m going to be going down to south carolina and he said what the hell are you going to do with south carolina. I didn’t tell you i. I joined the marines. Meanwhile, in this jungle war, the united states is becoming more fully involved with each passing day. I landed in vietnam on the christmas eve of 1965. christmas eve, i’m sitting there had to go on my first night patrol they all assumed. I i had the rank of corporal that then i knew everything you know. I i told them. I knew everything and i pretended to know everything i just didn’t know what to look for in the middle of night in the jungles of vietnam. So i said the guys with me say: if anything moves shoot, it shoot it twice and jungle fighting is a dangerous and frustrating affair in the steaming jungle you are always damp or wet and you rarely see the enemy, but you feel him all around you. A little more is the war that’s never going to end for anyone, especially those who were there. You know when i come home in 1967.
Everyone expected me to be the johnny bm that left. They expected me to be the same. You know when i left to go to vietnam. I was six foot two, i weighed 215 pounds when i came home i could only use a wheelchair and i was about 4 foot 10 and weighed 125 pounds. That was the big shot for me to accept. With more troops committed to vietnam by the u.s, forecasts are being made for an even stormier period ahead, but i was wounded marine corps found out. I had a brother in in the marine corps, but when i got to the philadelphia naval hospital who was standing there with a school bus, but my brother, i said jim, what the hell are you doing here, he said well, i’ve been assigned to take you guys Down for rides, so this is my transportation. I know it’s a school bus, but the only thing they got you know so for the next few months. You know they went to bowl games and football games. He went to see something that was going on. Instead of spending the all day in the hospital steering at the ceiling, you know you know, not only did it blow my legs off, but my arms were full of shrapnel and my my butt was full of trouble. I mean some of the stuff was as big as a quarter to my hand and say doc, you’re going to give me any pain, relief here i said wow you can feel it.
You felt everything you did back there. It was like one of those deals when the doctor was coming: hey, son you’re doing pretty well, but we have to take a little bit more of your left leg like that. How much is a little more and you went like that doc, that’s, not a little more to me, that’s a goddamn, a lot. You know they were gon na make me a pair of legs. They took the forms and they sent me home on leave for 30 days. So for for 30 days i ate mom’s cooking and probably gained 30 pounds of being here. You know the legs. I couldn’t even get my stump in that leg. 2 inches, you know, so it came the day that um i had to go before the executive board and show them my new legs and how i like them, and so i opened the door i went in. I threw my leg down on the floor in front of them and said that’s, not a wooden leg, that i could wear it’s, not a wooden leg, that anybody could wear having no legs getting around. So that became a challenge to me, and i knew that i was going to accept that challenge. How good i was going to do it. I just didn’t know, and nobody could tell me, because there weren’t too many double amputees with their legs off above the knee that ever wanted to walk before and whenever i went to the vet at the va i said yeah.
I want a pair of legs made that i could use and they made my ear first purl legs and i could actually walk in. You know they weren’t perfect for the help of the blisters. You know because when they noticed they were actually a wooden leg, it wasn’t it wasn’t like what they’re making today what’s about what i did in vietnam. What happened to me in vietnam, with only third to vietnam, not the proudest thing that i or anyone else who started there is most proud of that when the country called we answered, we didn’t go to canada or mexico or get on a boat and go wherever We answered our countries called and damn we were criticized for that for the next eight to ten years, but we didn’t we didn’t, give a it. Never oh we spoke about it. We we knew, we were going to see people burning the american flag, but how could that be in america where people would burn the american flag in public and people would be on the sidelines, cheering them on? Where had this country gone? Vfw was the first guy to call me up, invited me to become a member, and then i started to participate with them at all the events they had and the first one was a memorial day parade. I showed up in my uniform. We all got into a open air jeep and rode in the parade and much of my liking.
Even the people on the side who just got for the weekend were applauding us when we went by after that event, the vfw guys took me down to the american legion when we walked in stood up and uh gave me a standing ovation. But i want to thank john uh john gearing in the vfw, and i want to thank bill, martin in the american legion, for carrying on this tradition in our hometown. We come from a country and a hometown where the word freedom really really means something like no other place in the world. We have our freedom to do as we wish. You can pray, we can bank, we can use our religion and we can use all of the recreations that are available to us as free as we wish to, and only an american can say that we also know by today that freedom is not free. America is still the greatest country in the world because of the sacrifice and the life that other americans have given. So we could live free from seed to shining seed. God bless america and thank you all Applause. It was one december day when i was on the the green that’s right up the block here: selling christmas trees with marilyn on behalf of the montoya wines club, and this fella came by and stopped his car, and his name was eddie ecker and he’s. Saying johnny b i want to get you involved. I said, involve the one.
I said no politics. I said okay, and that sounds good to me, so that’s kind of how how it started the crazy reason, otis pike who was our congressman for 18 years, perry duriet, who was our selling man for 18 years, both decided to retire in the same year. So yes, the assembly fee was vacant, but so was the congressional seat. So anybody who was anybody was, you know he had 25 people trying to run for congress and he had me and a couple of people who wanted to run for the assembly and – and i won – i went there in 1979 and retired in 1995 and i retired Only because governor george pataki is a good friend of mine wanted me to run his his division of veterans affairs. But then, when those four years were up marilyn – and i spoke, it was time to come home i’m. A republican – and i was in the assembly and and the assembly is run by democrats and the speaker at the time. His name was stanley fink, he and and another democratic assemblyman. They decided to send me back to vietnam. You wanted to fight about about the admiration. Children and pows, if you don’t, believe all our pws were, but we released to go home so we’ve been over there for for two weeks and we didn’t have any troubles when you know they knew. We were americans and the people didn’t bother, but i was able to go to the limb shop where they make your legs and braces.
You know so i went into the limb shop and there was a two or three guys there with one leg trying to hop around there wasn’t anybody in there making links they had a half a dozen legs hanging from the ceiling. As i was standing in front of them talking – and i i dropped my pants so they could see – and i not only had one one leg, but i had two so i sat in the chair. They wanted to see the whole thing. I had to take my leg off and let them handle it and play with it. I could, and they did, that they were the kids that never met me before. Never even thought about meeting an american in in hanoi but that’s how they were. They were very uh, calm and pleasant and cheerful all the time that we were there. Don’T ask me to defend the war. I can’t imagine the congress or the senate selling anybody. The kind of war they they sent us to when they didn’t know anything about it. Certainly, we didn’t know anything about it. While we were there what they were fighting for and how what the what a bit of enemy they could be. You know the mom would go the damn regal, two or three kids would go. They were seven, eight years old to throw anger. Grenades to me that to me was unbelievable when he found families like that and that’s.
Why i went back i’ve been back to vietnam. Twice, i never got a bronze star or pat on the back for the battle that i was in the day that i lost my legs. When my corpsman, my medical guy, came and came to me on the ground. You know they gave me every kind of pain. Pin pills and pins they had on them. You know because they knew how bad i was. Both legs were off and my stomach was open, but nobody thought i was gon na live, but i i never looked at it, so i didn’t, i didn’t, think i was dying, but they got me on the helicopter and because of the drugs they gave me. I was doing these jobs rocking my head and closed my eyes and all i could think about how the hell well, what the hell are they gon na tell my mom and he kept poking me: wake up wake up, wake up, wake up, hey! If i wake up i’m going to kick your ass right out of this helicopter, and so i made a big impression on him to where uh a year ago, he came to visit me him and a friend of his they drove up from pittsburgh somewhere and uh Tomato point places they had never been before we spoke. We had a few laughs, he we had lunch together and he went back home. You know, but i told him occasionally because he’s on uh on facebook, with somebody you know, but that that was a surprise to me that you know i didn’t you know, because i wasn’t attached and helicopter unit had a whole different attachment.
You know what one helicopter guy would want to come back and see a guy. He may have saved them.