War vet returns to 'Nam battleground
By RANDY GONZALES
Wayne Purinton, who was an Army infantryman in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, went back there last month for the fifth, and perhaps final, time.
The last three trips, Purinton was part of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. The VVRP, a grassroots, non-profit organization, has built medical clinics and schools in Vietnam in its 25 years of existence.
"The purpose is to send veterans and family members back to Vietnam to heal their spiritual and emotional wounds, and to reconcile with the Vietnamese people," said Purinton, who was with the 1st Cavalry Division.
When Purinton went in April, he wanted to try to find the site of a firefight, where his sergeant and good friend, Lee Danielson, was killed. Purinton knew he was there when he found a big rock, where he and fellow soldiers dived for cover.
Now, he was back, 46 years later.
"I actually wasn't expecting to find the rock," Purinton said. "I just felt very calm and peaceful. Just kind of like a hallowed ground, where it all happened, and people died."
Purinton, 66, grew up on a farm near Castle Rock, and graduated from Trego Community High School in 1965 before going into the Army at age 19. After he got out of the service, Purinton tried a construction job, then lived in Denver before moving back home. He eventually graduated from Dodge City Community College, where he met his future wife, Sandy, then worked the family farm.
In 1997, Purinton was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Biggest issue I had, and still have to this day, is survivor's guilt," Purinton said. "This one incident, this one firefight, has always been in my mind.
"As I crawled up behind Lee to help him with the machine gun, it just as easily could have been myself (who was killed), as him. I feel like I survived, and somehow became a voice for Lee."
Part of the healing process was writing a book about his Vietnam experience, based on the more than 100 letters written while serving his one-year tour of duty there.
After devoting three years to the project, in 2011 Purinton's book, "Journey Back from Vietnam: One Soldier's Long Road Home from War," was published.
"It's just helped me emotionally and spiritually, just getting it down into a book," Purinton said.
Purinton, who spoke in WaKeeney for Memorial Day services last year, will be speaking in Dodge City this year on Memorial Day.
"I just think it's important to tell my story, and help remember Lee, and remember all those who perished in the service of our country," Purinton said.