During last night's Democratic Debate, the candidates were asked which enemy they were most proudest to have made. Most of the politicians answered with political enemies—Wall Street, the Republican Party—but former Virginia Senator Jim Webb didn't take that route.
Instead, the Navy combat veteran made an uneasy stir when he alluded to a Viet Cong soldier he killed, at the age of 23, while out on patrol with his Marine Corps unit outside Da Nang.
"I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me, but he’s not around right now to talk to…," he said.
The line launched a million jokes on Twitter and elsewhere; however, as Gawker points out, this wasn't really meant to be a laugh-line. And in fact, the story reads like the script notes to a long-lost Sam Peckinpah take on the Vietnam War.
Jim Webb received a Navy Cross for his heroism during the war; the Navy's website contains his story. Webb's company was in the middle of a search-and-destroy mission when they discovered a series of well-hidden bunkers. Approaching the first one, Webb was set upon by three soldiers armed with hand grenades, but he somehow managed to subdue and apprehend all three with only his sidearm. Continuing:
Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel.
That's not the end of it! Surrounded by smoke and debris, and with an unknown number of opposing soldiers inside, he and his team searched the bunker and seized equipment and intelligence data. And there was still a third bunker to search:
he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.
According to Webb's official biography, he also received the Silver Star, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts for his service.
The incident inspired Webb to write several books including his first piece of fiction, published in 2001.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org