The Hero Next Door
American Veterans For Equal Rights
Marshall Belmaine is the newly
elected President of
AVER's Gold Coast Chapter in Ft.
Lauderdale, Florida. I had a chance to meet Marshall
when I was in Ft. Lauderdale for the 2009 AVER National
Convention. Marshall is the kind of guy you
could probably look at and tell that he was, or rather
"is", a Marine: he's a big guy, serious looking, kind of
quiet and unassuming. Until he gets a few
drinks under the belt, then he becomes the big,
boisterous guy with all the best "dirty" jokes,
most of which would make, well, a sailor blush. If you
were to see Marshall Belmaine sitting on a bus
across from you, or doing yard work next door, you
might guess that he served in the Marine Corps. But for
the most part, you'd see pretty much a normal type
guy like so many others you meet every day.
But that's exactly what makes Marshall such a remarkable
guy. It's precisely that "normal" part that makes
Marshall Belmaine a hero.
Around Veterans Day last year a
number of chapters reported in to me the media
coverage they were getting. With the repeal of
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so much in the news, the
media was very interested in stories about gay veterans
on a day established to honor the sacrifices of those
who had served in the military. The Gold
Coast Chapter had been contacted and the local press had
run a story on Marshall. The story was
available on the Internet and I was able to read
it myself. Florida's "Sun Sentinel" wrote a
very supportive article which started out with a story
about Marshall's service in Vietnam:
"Under fire near Hill
861 in Vietnam, Lance Cpl. Marshall Belmaine proved
his mettle the way tough Marines always have,
through bravery and loyalty.
As the North
Vietnamese Army pounded U.S. positions near Khe Sanh
with mortar fire that April 1967, Belmaine saw his
right leg sliced open by shrapnel just before he
spotted another Marine, mortally wounded, screaming
in pain as he lay draped over a bush.
Crawling about 100
feet over napalm-scorched ground, Belmaine was hit
in the left arm by AK-47 fire before he reached his
Nov 10, 2010, Sun-Sentinel
The rest of the article went on the
talk about Marshall's life after Vietnam and his
thoughts on DADT and military service by LGBT
veterans. Never being one to miss an
opportunity, I wanted to know what happened to
the Marine that Marshall rescued. I
thought that would be a great story we could use
to show how Marines in combat were better off
having gay Marines with them than not having
them there at all. So I emailed Marshall and
asked him for the rest of the story. What
I got was not what I expected.
Lance Corporal Belmaine served in
the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, a unit known as
the "Walking Dead". I have to admit that I
have little knowledge of the Vietnam War.
When I was in high school, US history ended with
the Korean "Conflict". Vietnam wasn't
mentioned; It still isn't, probably because most
Americans still feel very uncomfortable talking
about it. In Vietnam the 1/9 endured the
longest sustained combat and suffered the
highest KIA rate in Marine Corps history.
The casualty rate is frequently listed as 93%.
Following is Marshall's firsthand account of what
happened over the course of a few days in April, 1967.
I considered editing it to make it a little more
"comfortable" to read. But I decided to leave it exactly
as Marshall wrote it. Otherwise the impact would
be too diminished to understand the realities of combat
in Vietnam. I have to warn readers
that what follows is a deeply disturbing account, and if
you suffer from PTSD you may not wish to read further.
This is the rest of the story after Marshall reached his
"I got to him and gave him the
last of my water and called for a corpsman. The
corpsman came down and we lifted him off the thorn
bush. The corpsman went to work on him while I
positioned myself between them and the enemy. Then I
heard the corpsman scream "I'm hit" and crying in
pain. The bullet that hit the corpsman in the ass
took off a piece of his dick while he was bending
over the Marine. This entered the wounded Marine and
finished him off. He was a Marine from my squad,
from St Louis. The corpsman survived, lives in
one of the Dakotas. I spoke on the phone to him 8 or
9 years ago. We could hear screaming and pleading a
distance away. Some of our men were captured and
being tortured: some burned by gasoline, some
beheaded, and our Lieutenant tied naked to a boulder
with his genitals in his mouth..... After the
shooting stopped this is how we found them."
When I finished reading what was on
my computer screen I just sat back in my chair for a
moment, stunned. I think my mouth was hanging open.
It didn't make me sad. It didn't make me angry. I just
felt shocked. After a few minutes I wrote back to
Marshall. "My God, man, how could you live through
that and maintain your sanity?"
Growing up in rural Georgia I was insulated from the
Vietnam War. I had a cousin in the war. He was
distant. We didn't talk about him. Later he
committed suicide. One of my classmates has a dad who
was a pilot. He was shot down, MIA. We didn't
really understand that, either, at the time. All I
know is that when I grew up I wanted to be George S.
Patton, like in the movie. Later I wore a POW/MIA
bracelet for many years, even while I was serving in the
Army myself. We had a few older guys in my unit
who had been in Vietnam. They were the ones who
didn't care about having gay service members fight next
As a nation, America bears a "collective" shame over the
way we ignored the men and women who fought in Vietnam.
We lost. We'd rather just forget about it. If we
ignore it, and them, it will just go away.
This must not happen again.
When people talk to me about the
current wars, of which most Americans remain purposely
oblivious, I have one statement I say to them over and
over again. "I don't care if we have to pay taxes
until our eyes bleed; we are going to take care of these
soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
They did their part, by God-Almighty, we will do our's."
I don't care what political party someone belongs to, or
whether or not they supported the war. The President of
the United States made the decision to take our nation
to war, and the nation will take care of those who went.
No questions asked. It is "part and
When I remember Marshall Belmaine
sitting out on the bar patio, a beer in his hand, a
sweaty Marine Corps cap on his head, and a loud laugh
bursting out of his mouth, I didn't realize I was
looking at a hero. I know now. It's not because he
won medals, or "took" hills, or rescued battalions.
It's because he still laughs. He works, he breathes. He
loves. He lived a life.
To Marshall Belmaine and to all you other men and women,
who saw so much and never even got a "thank you", let me
tell you this: You Sir, and You Ma'am, You are a hero.
Don't you ever doubt it. Thank you for your service, for
your life, and for your inspiration. May no
American ever doubt, what makes our nation great is not
the statues or the monuments or the waving of the flags.
It's so much more subtle. So much more special. So
much more quiet.
It's the hero next door.
May it always be so.
Editor's Notes (from a
Marshall Belmaine did not become an activist for our
rights just last November. He's been speaking up
for quite some time. His first march in a gay
pride parade, in 1970, was just six months after he was
discharged from the Marines. As a VA PTSD patient
in the 1990s, he came out in order to insist that
hospital rules be amended to prohibit discrimination and
abuse due to sexual orientation. In group
treatment he singularly spoke up about racism and the
exemplary service of gay veterans. In 1993, at
risk to his own safety and employability, he came out as
a gay veteran in a
feature news story. "I agreed to do it
out of my sense of duty," he noted.
Of his PTSD, resulting
from events such as those described in the story above,
he said, "I carried around the souls of my dead buddies;
I had a dragon that I kept in box.. ." Being able
to be open and honest in treatment is, of course,
Marshall Belmaine earned
the following medals and ribbons for his service to our
Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Presidential Unit
Citation, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, National
Defense Service, Vietnam
Service Medal, Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation, Unit
Citation, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions, Republic of
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