Vietnam Vet Works To Repay Debt Of Gratitude (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
So as that April 15 tax filing deadline looms large, on today's show we've talking all about debt. And we've mainly been talking about it in the financial sense, but the thing is some of the debts we carry aren't about money at all. And a longtime Washingtonian who knows that fact all too well...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:20
All right. So you can start off by showing me what we have here?

MR. CLIFF BRODY

00:00:22
Well, I mean I have tons of pictures.

SHEIR

00:00:24
...is Cliff Brody.

BRODY

00:00:26
And these are amongst the thousands of pictures here, but you see a young Lieutenant Brody.

SHEIR

00:00:33
Is that you?

BRODY

00:00:34
That's me.

SHEIR

00:00:35
Oh, my gosh.

BRODY

00:00:37
And people said -- and I didn't realize it then -- that I looked very much like Bobby Kennedy.

SHEIR

00:00:41
I was going to say, it's an amazing resemblance.

BRODY

00:00:45
Yes.

SHEIR

00:00:46
From 1967 to 1968, the young Lieutenant Brody was serving with the 89th military-police unit in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

BRODY

00:00:53
This picture, I'm carrying a sack of food supplements with a young man names Joe Blakely.

BRODY

00:01:01
Joe was my sergeant. Skinny old Joe or skinny young Joe, a very, very, very slight guy, if he turned sideways, you know, he would disappear.

SHEIR

00:01:12
Both Cliff and skinny old Joe were in their 20s. Cliff hailed from New York, and Joe, from Philadelphia.

BRODY

00:01:17
Joe was the nephew of the mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo. And he was very proud of Uncle Frank. Uncle Frank was a little corrupt, but what can you say?

SHEIR

00:01:32
When Cliff and Joe met in Vietnam, they became fast friends.

BRODY

00:01:35
We drove around together in villages in what must have been the world's first army jeep. It was so old and broken-down.

SHEIR

00:01:44
The guys were driving around in that same jeep one day in 1968, when Joe did something, Cliff says…

BRODY

00:01:52
That saved my sense of being. For which I am incredibly indebted to him.

SHEIR

00:01:59
The May Offensive, Phase Two of the Tet Offensive, had begun. And Cliff and Joe were running a convoy of about two-dozen U.S. Army trucks to Saigon. Their jeep was in front, a military-police vehicle was in back, and Cliff remembers it was an absolutely sweltering day.

BRODY

00:02:14
You know, it was like 500 degrees outside. We're bedecked with all this military gear, the steel helmet and everything.

SHEIR

00:02:20
So they were driving and Cliff and Joe stopped at this one traffic light in the dusty, crowded city. And at that point, Cliff looked in his rear-view mirror, at the truck behind him and he saw something kind of unexpected.

BRODY

00:02:33
This person, reaching up under the 2-and-a-half-ton truck and he's grabbing something. So I grabbed my rifle, my carbine, and Joe's looking at me. And I said, Joe, someone is taking something from that truck.

SHEIR

00:02:50
That something, Cliff quickly realized, was a U.S. Army tool-kit. So without even thinking, he leapt out of the jeep and raced off to catch the presumed thief, who had dashed across the road...

BRODY

00:03:00
And then into a rice paddy. He's got the tools from the Army truck.

SHEIR

00:03:03
Now, our young Lieutenant Brody, at this point, was angry. It had been more than half a year since he'd been serving in the war, a war, to be frank, he didn't really approve of or even understand.

BRODY

00:03:14
And my temper wasn't building up, my frustration was.

SHEIR

00:03:19
So that's when Cliff did something he'll never forget. He raised his rifle.

BRODY

00:03:24
And I put a bullet in the chamber.

SHEIR

00:03:27
And just as he was about to pull the trigger...

BRODY

00:03:29
Joe comes flying over...

SHEIR

00:03:31
...grabs the gun...

BRODY

00:03:32
...pulls it down by the barrel...

SHEIR

00:03:34
...and says to Lieutenant Brody…

BRODY

00:03:34
Sir, sir, he says. It's just tools. He's just a kid. I remember that voice, it's just a kid.

SHEIR

00:03:44
And that, Cliff says, is when reality set in.

BRODY

00:03:48
If I had shot the boy, I would have never been happy with myself. Never. I would have run from the memory like I have run from a lot of other memories, but it would find its way to the surface.

SHEIR

00:03:59
Hence his eternal indebtedness to one Sergeant Joe Blakely.

BRODY

00:04:04
Joe was my conscience, obviously, at that moment. People do things, so we're all told, in the heat of war and I certainly saw the evidence of that while I was in Vietnam. We all do things we regret. That would have been a big one.

SHEIR

00:04:21
After the war, Cliff Brody served in the foreign service and lost touch with Joe Blakely. Cliff's done a little research, though, and it seems skinny old Joe died in 1988.

SHEIR

00:04:32
What would you say to Joe right now if he were able to listen?

BRODY

00:04:33
Joe, I don't think you have any idea of how much your being there at that time made me much more able to live with who I am. Thank you.

SHEIR

00:04:52
Cliff has been pretty big on thank yous ever since that fateful day in May 1968 and he believes we all should be.

BRODY

00:05:00
I think it's useful from time to time to look back on events in your life and answer the question, who has helped me become a better person? And then you should say, well, how do we pay those people back? In my opinion, you don't. There's no way to pay those people back. Some of them have moved on. Some of them have died. So the payback is by doing the same thing for someone else.

SHEIR

00:05:38
Do you have someone to whom you are ever indebted? We'd love to hear your story. Send an email to metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

00:06:05
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Martin Di Caro and Jonathan Wilson. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Robbie Feinberg. Lauren Landau, Robbie Feinberg and John Hines produce Door To Door. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

00:06:33
Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and our Door To Door theme, "No Girl," are from the album, Title Tracks by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, that's metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

00:07:00
We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you a show we're calling Law and Order. We'll learn how Maryland's new environmental laws could affect residents and businesses. We'll visit Georgetown Law and celebrate a big anniversary with the Georgetown Gilbert and Sullivan Society. And we'll head to the kinship community of Sandy Spring, where residents have been fighting for recognition of a road their families have used for generations.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1

00:07:25
All they have to do is give us what we deserve and what we have paid for all these years, over 100 years.

SHEIR

00:07:32
I’m Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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