WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – One Kansas Marine says the branch he joined is the only service that has intense training in every facet of life.
Ben Mitchell signed up to serve when he was just 17. He is one of the founding members of Kansas Veterans and Family Reunion, the only one of its kind in the country.
As they prepare for the event in just a few weeks, Mitchell reflects back on his time in Vietnam, and why his tour made him realize veterans need to come together.
“This is a Vietnam issued jacket,” Marine Ben Mitchell said. “We went over as individuals, and we came home as individuals.”
Mitchell earned many medals in the Vietnam War.
“That was a country that was hard getting used to,” Mitchell said.
He held on to a few other things, like the knife he carried, he also kept another unique item from his service.
“M-33 grenade,” Mitchell said.
He signed up for the Marines and went to basic training in 1967.
“That’s my fire team,” Mitchell said. “I hope that I taught them well.”
Mitchell was a leader, a corporal in charge.
“I have a lot of troops that they respect me, and they’ve told me so,” Mitchell said.
The Marines were a long way from home.
“These were some of the bases I was at,” Mitchell said.
He also has a list of operations he was part of.
“We worked out of those base camps and did patrols in the jungles there and then the mountain areas,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell says one time his entire squad was taken out as they were making a sweep going up a hill.
“We went up, and next thing I know, we got blown clear across the B-52 crater,” Mitchell said.
He couldn’t leave any of his men behind.
“So, I was dragging people down, because I knew there was another squad coming behind us,” Mitchell said.
He said as he went back and up and down the hill, he had no idea he’d been hit.
“I was on my way to get the last guy, Barooney, when I couldn’t get to him,” Mitchell said. “That’s when I finally realized I was wounded.”
That’s when Mitchell earned his first Purple Heart.
“I was at the Danang hospital there,” Mitchell said.
That wasn’t the last time he saw hospital time.
“When it’s 130 degrees out, you don’t argue with where you are sleeping,” Mitchell said.
He learned the hard way, that the base was hit with artillery rounds, every morning.
“We had a piece of artillery hit and blew me off the top of a bunker into the ditch,” Mitchell said.
He ended up on the hospital ship where he said the Mess Chief offered him all the fresh milk he could drink something much different than the C-rations they lived on in bush.
He said no matter where the guys went they were always looking out for each other even when getting a shave.
“My buddy Jim behind has a .45 pointed at his head, if he sees any blood, he pulls the trigger,” Mitchell said.
Once Mitchell earned a third Purple Heart, he then moved to a security platoon.
“I was in charge of the Seabees security,” Mitchell said.
Through it all, he never asked his guys to do something he wasn’t willing to do.
“You take care of your troops, they will take care of you,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said coming home was an adjustment.
“You didn’t have anyone shooting at you anymore,” Mitchell said.
In just 28 days, Mitchell and other veterans put together the first Kansas Veteran’s and Family Reunion.
“There’s a lot on their minds, but they can come out there, and that mind can travel anywhere it wants,” Mitchell said.
He said people travel from all over the world for the reunion year after year.
“That comradery is really something that needs to happen, needs to happen more than once,” Mitchell said.
That comradery has now been happening at El Dorado State Park for more than 30 years.
“I didn’t think it was going to last this long,” Mitchell said.
Organizers are now gearing up for the 33rd event.
You’ll see Mitchell at the reunion, and he’ll once again bring out the jacket he wore in war more than 50 years ago.
“I still wear it every year out at the reunion,” Mitchell said.
The reunion is coming up June 18-20 at El Dorado State Lake.
There will be live music, a kid’s tent, a car show and so much more.