By Tyler Kehret
Forty-two years ago two young men were fighting for their country in the jungles of Vietnam. On November 9 these two men met once again here at McNaryHigh School during the school’s Veteran’s Day celebration.
Living history day is a day at McNary to honor the armed forces veterans. The veterans are honored at an assembly, and they go around to visit classes and tell their story.
Melvin McKinnon came to McNary on Living History Day to share his experiences in the Vietnam War. He brought along a photograph of his unit. Another veteran in attendance, William Pyle, noticed a familiar face in the photograph: his own.
The two had not seen each other since 1969, and had no idea they were living nearby.
“We met in 1969 when he was helping us pull out of a mission, we were in a deep firefight, Mel came in and helped us out,” said Pyle. William Pyle was in the U.S Army located in south-east Asia. Pyle went through a lot of training to enter the war.
Pyle was not a very big person back then. “When we were parachuting, the weight of the shoot was about 80 pounds, the gear I had to carry was 50 pounds, and I weighed only 130 pounds. It took several men to help me onto the plane because the gear alone weighed just as much as I did,” Pyle said.
Pyle carried out 142 jumps while in the army; he also went on 87 highly classified missions. “Within an hour and 15 minutes of landing in Vietnam, I was already in a firefight. We got there and they immediately sent us into helicopters and flew us into a fight, it was horrible and gruesome,” Pyle said. Over his time in the army William Pyle was awarded 15 medals for his efforts.
“I was able to see two sides of the war in Vietnam, I was in the Military Police for a while, and then I had to go back to war inside the bush,” said McKinnon who was a Marine in the Vietnam War.
“We were called out into a mission that was successful, and we made the landing. The Lord was with us that night, we would have never been here, and that was a gutsy move for us,” McKinnon said.
On this mission there were approximately 150 North Vietnamese troops, and there were only 12 American troops. The men that Pyle was with were heavily outnumbered.
“We took them on for about 8 hours, and we had to call in helicopters and they didn’t have any available, so they sent in Mel’s group, and helped us get out,” Pyle said.
“The American fighting man is very, very efficient. They had the advantage that we couldn’t attack them until they attacked us, it was a waiting game,” McKinnon said.
“In 1969, that was the last we saw each other, and seeing him again was the coolest part of the day,” Pyle said.
Throughout the war the two were unable to keep in touch with each other. “We didn’t know where each other were,” Pyle said.
“I did however one day see a little boy who made an M-16 out of wire; the little boy did not make a Vietnamese weapon, but a United States weapon, that’s how I knew were loved by the people there,” McKinnon said.
“When I got back from Vietnam, I never looked back, there was too much sadness, I just got myself into the friendship, and I took a friendship program and got on with my life,” McKinnon said. McKinnon went on to raise a family and live on a farm in Oregon.
The organizer of the event, teacher and student activities adviser Mr. Jason Heimerdinger, had no idea the two men had known each other before Living History Day. He was astounded at the reunion, he said.