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

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Vietnam Vet Works To Repay Debt Of Gratitude

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And you know how you'll hear a story on the radio, a story about a particular person, say, and it just sticks with you. You've never met the person in question, but something about his or her tale, his or her struggles or triumphs just really strikes a chord. Well, that kind of thing happens to us all the time. So we've decided to go back to all the stories we've aired over the past year or so and pluck out those pieces about people we simply cannot forget.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:37
That's why we're calling today's show Profiles.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:47
We'll hit the water with a guy who has spent his entire working life there.

MR. ROBERT T. BROWN

00:00:50
It's tough. It's a hard way.

SHEIR

00:00:51
We'll shadow a rookie cop on the overnight shift.

MS. KIMBERLY CURRY

00:00:54
There are times when you get on the scene of a call and you're like, I feel like a rookie. I don't know what to do with this.

SHEIR

00:00:59
And we'll hear how one man's drug addiction inspired him to teach others to just say, "No."

MR. KEVIN CRANFIELD

00:01:04
I can't say I'll never get high again, but what I can say is that I don't ever want to get high again.

SHEIR

00:01:12
But first, back in April, as the April 15th tax filing deadline loomed large, we did a show about debt. We mainly talked 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…

SHEIR

00:01:29
All right. So you can start off by showing me what we have here?

MR. CLIFF BRODY

00:01:31
Well, I mean I have tons of pictures.

SHEIR

00:01:33
…is Cliff Brody.

BRODY

00:01:35
And these are amongst the thousands of pictures here, but you see a young Lieutenant Brody.

SHEIR

00:01:42
Is that you?

BRODY

00:01:43
That's me.

SHEIR

00:01:44
Oh, my gosh.

BRODY

00:01:45
And people said -- and I didn't realize it then -- that I looked very much like Bobby Kennedy.

SHEIR

00:01:51
I was going to say, it's an amazing resemblance.

BRODY

00:01:53
Yes.

SHEIR

00:01:54
From 1967 to 1968, the young Lieutenant Brody was serving with the 89th military police unit in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

BRODY

00:02:01
This picture, I'm carrying a sack of food supplements with a young man named Joe Blakely.

BRODY

00:02:10
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

00:02:20
Both Cliff and skinny old Joe were in their 20s. Cliff hailed from New York, and Joe, from Philadelphia.

BRODY

00:02:25
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

00:02:40
When Cliff and Joe met in Vietnam, they became fast friends.

BRODY

00:02:44
We drove around together to villages in what must have been the world's first army jeep. It was so old and broken-down.

SHEIR

00:02:53
The guys were driving around in that same jeep one day in 1968, when Joe did something, Cliff says…

BRODY

00:03:00
…that saved my sense of being, for which I am incredibly indebted to him.

SHEIR

00:03:07
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

00:03:22
You know, it was like 500 degrees outside. We're bedecked with all this military gear, the steel helmet and everything.

SHEIR

00:03:29
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

00:03:41
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

00:03:59
That something, Cliff quickly realized, was a U.S. Army tool-kit.

SHEIR

00:04:03
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

00:04:09
…and then into a rice paddy. He's got the tools from the Army truck.

SHEIR

00:04:12
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

00:04:22
And my temper wasn't building up, my frustration was.

SHEIR

00:04:28
So that's when Cliff did something he'll never forget. He raised his rifle.

BRODY

00:04:32
And I put a bullet in the chamber.

SHEIR

00:04:35
And just as he was about to pull the trigger…

BRODY

00:04:38
Joe comes flying over…

SHEIR

00:04:39
…grabs the gun…

BRODY

00:04:41
…pulls it down by the barrel…

SHEIR

00:04:42
…and says to Lieutenant Brody…

BRODY

00:04:43
Sir, sir, he says. It's just tools. He's just a kid. I remember that voice, he's just a kid.

SHEIR

00:04:52
And that, Cliff says, is when reality set in.

BRODY

00:04:56
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

00:05:07
Hence, his eternal indebtedness to one Sergeant Joe Blakely.

BRODY

00:05:13
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

00:05:29
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

00:05:39
What would you say to Joe right now if he were able to listen?

BRODY

00:05:42
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

00:06:00
Cliff has been pretty big on thank yous ever since that fateful day in May 1968 and he believes we all should be.

BRODY

00:06:08
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.
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