The Defining Generation
Defining Human Rights
In the Twenty-First Century Don Bendell still thinks he is a cowboy, straight out of the American West in a century gone by. The popular author/poet appears in public in cowboy hat and boots, usually wearing his trademark buckskin jacket adorned with fringed sleeves, ostentatious bangles, and oversized belt buckle. One can quickly imagine him astride his horse and driving herds of cattle south on the Chisholm Train. The fact remains, though Don does have and frequently rides his horse Eagle near the modest ranch he shares with his wife Shirley in the mountains near Canon City, Colorado, he jokingly notes that his ranch only boasts four head of horses, no cattle, four dogs, one cat, and six peacocks.
What makes Don a cowboy is not his garb, his ranch, or even the many Western novels he has written. Don is a cowboy by philosophy. In a twenty-first century world where politicians are jailed for bribery, where religious leaders are exposed for hypocrisy and sex crimes, and a new generation seems preoccupied with "ME", Don remains a man of chivalry and service. In the parlance of another cowboy, popular in his youth, Don is "A fighter for Truth, Justice, and the American way." Fiercely patriotic, he lives ever ready to tip his hat to a lady or to stand toe to toe with a villain to rescue the damsel in distress, a child, or for that matter any other person in need. He is a "throwback" to another generation, although not as far back as one might think. He is the product of a generation when thousands of young men wore a different hat--green in color--and lived by the motto De oppresso liber "To Free the Oppressed."
First Lieutenant Don Bendell arrived in Vietnam in May of 1968, a member of the elite Special Forces (Green Berets). Young, tough, and "gung-ho", he had become highly trained to kill with any number of weapons, including his bare hands. Following a year of training with the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he commanded an A-Team, Lieutenant Bendell was assigned to Vietnam. He arrived there in 1968 however, not only kill Communists, but to make war on poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Often overlooked in the military history of the Vietnam War is the fact that only about 40% of a Green Beret's job was to fight the enemy in combat. Far more time and energy was expended in building schools and hospitals, digging wells for fresh water, teaching efficient agriculture, and treating both wounds and disease in the native villages.
In April 1962, six years before Lieutenant Bendell was sent to Dak Pek, the first Special Forces troops arrived. At that time the camp was a small outpost on a hill top near the Laotian border, carved out of triple-canopy jungle and manned by South Vietnamese soldiers. The three Americans, members of Special Forces Team A-13, were Senior Medic Richard Doc Gladfelter of Colorado, Junior Medic Frank Burke of New York, and Senior Communications Sergeant Hoyt Henry whose job it was to keep the isolated soldiers in contact with their base camp.
Scattered throughout the neighboring hills beyond Dak Pek's perimeter in Vietnam's Central Highlands were scores of small Montagnard villages. "Yards" as their inhabitants came to be affectionately called by the Special Forces men, were small, dark-skinned indigenous people of Vietnam's mountainous border terrain; their very name defined by the French expression La Montagne--"mountain." Early French involvement in Vietnam brought culture, education, and a sense of nationalism to more than twenty million typically traditional Vietnamese citizens. Larger of stature and lighter of skin, the South Vietnamese developed a prejudice against the 3 million Montagnards in the Central Highlands, certainly not unlike the prejudice that existed between Whites and Blacks in the United States. Furthermore, though the Vietnamese were a heterogeneous civilization they spoke the same language, shared the same culture, and lived relatively modern lives. The Montagnards comprised six different ethnic groups and were divided among some 30 tribes with differing dialects. Their sole desire was to live a simple lifestyle in harmony with nature. The Vietnamese found them primitive and called them "moi"--savages--and in the 1950s drove them deeper into the jungle hills and stole the fertile lands they had farmed further inland.
In those heavily-jungled hills the Montagnards found their hopes for a simple life crushed not only by prejudice, but in the early 1960s they were caught between warring factions. The "Mountain People" were innocents pressed between fanatical Viet Cong insurgents (South Vietnamese Communists) hoping to reunite their nation under Ho Chi Minh, invading Communist North Vietnamese under Ho Chi Minh, and Republic of Vietnam Soldiers of the corrupt Ngo Dinh Diem Regime that continued the fight for South Vietnam's sovereignty.
To further exacerbate an already precarious position, the hills into which the Montagnards were pushed bordered Laos; only a few miles to the west of their villages ran the main North Vietnamese route of supply from Hanoi to Communist Soldiers and insurgents in the south. Recognizing this threat President Diem fortified the region with South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers to interdict the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and stop the flow of supplies from what later became known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail." To accomplish this end, with American assistance the "Strategic Hamlet Program" was initiated, an effort to bring rural peasants and Montagnards into or just outside an armed outpost. Admirable on the face of it, the program backfired; it was in fact, nothing more than a relocation program unlike many that free-living people had endured before. Further, farmers resented having to walk long distances to their field while others resented at being required to work (for the Vietnamese government) without pay to erect fortifications. ARVN patrols provided security during the day but returned to their fortified outposts at night, leaving the villages unprotected.
Caught in the middle, men and boys from outlying villages were involuntarily pressed into slavery by NVA forces in order to move tons of supplies through the mountains. Peaceful villages were robbed of their crops and herds to feed the invading army. Rape and murder were not at all uncommon and sometimes entire villages were wiped out. Because these victims were "moi" the ARVN soldiers had little concern for their safety. They were also not adverse to using local men and boys as their eyes and ears in the jungle, actions often resulting in reprisals against those individuals and their families by the NVA.
In 1961 the C.I.A. devised a program to build a Civilian Irregular Defensive Group (CIDG) wherein the villagers themselves could develop a defensive force. The program was implemented by the men of the U.S. Army Special Forces who were given private checking accounts for each A-Camp, such as Dak Pek, to fund, equip, feed, and pay the CIDG strikers). The success of that program was further contingent on "winning the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese in general and the Montagnards in particular. The latter, in reaction the early problems of the Strategic Hamlet Program and facing often cruel treatment at the hands of the Diem Regime, was already beginning to become sympathetic to the North Vietnamese. When Doc Gladfelter and his two fellow Green Berets arrived at Dak Pek they came to earn the Montagnard's trust and loyalty.
"It was cold when we arrived," Gladfelter recently recalled, "and the people were living in enclosed shelters which they had to constantly warm with wood-burning fires. As a result, virtually every person in every village suffered from eye infections." Trained as medics, Doc Gladfelter and Frank Burke began dispensing medication and the healing process was both immediate and remarkable. "That was what won them over," he says. "The positive influence was immediate."
Repeatedly the two Green Berets made near-daily medical missions to the outlying Montagnard villages, treating not only eye infections but disease, wounds, and other maladies. "I went about my duties like a misplaced Peace Corps Volunteer," Gladfelter says. The difference was the element of risk; the Peace Corps has a tradition of caring for its volunteers by never sending them into an area racked by military turmoil.
Escorted by CIDG troops they had trained for combat, the Green Berets faced danger every time they went outside the perimeter at Dak Pek. They were in good hands; though a peaceful people by nature the Montagnards were masterful and courageous warriors when pressed into war. "I can't prove it," Gladfelter states, "but I think the NVA tried to avoid getting into a shooting match with us. I know of instances when they were in a village when word arrived that we were coming and they left so that we could come in and treat the people. They didn't like us but they liked what we were doing." (In 1961 the United States was not yet at war in an active and offensive sense. The primary threat to early Special Forces and other American advisors was one of being wounded or killed while accompanying an ARVN or CIDG force on a combat patrol.)
Eventually the three Green Berets at Dak Pek welcomed the rest of Team A-13 to the mountain outpost where they organized and trained a battalion-size Montagnard defense force under the leadership of their Commanding Officer, George W. Speedy Gaspard. They defoliated the nearby hills establishing mutually supportive defensive positions manned by the small, dark Mountain Men. In the middle of it all they built housing for the team and their new friends, as well as a medical clinic and a school. Dak Pek became both a fort and a community where soldiers of the CIDG could bring their families to live inside the protection of the outpost's mined and wire-strewn perimeter. In March 1963 Team A-13 handed control of Dak Pek over to Team A-242, a new group of Green Berets. Gladfelter and his comrades bade farewell to a family of people they had lived with, indeed come to love, during a year of service. The joy of returning home was tempered by sad farewells to friendships forged with a people whose only hope was an underground bunker on a barren hilltop surrounded by barbed wire.*
The one consolation for the departing soldiers was the realization that a new team of 12 dedicated young American soldiers now served Dak Pek to Free the Oppressed, bind up wounds, and defend against both the prejudice of South Vietnamese soldiers and the indiscriminate and deadly attacks of the NVA. If the war lasted more than a year they knew, another team would come to Dak Pek, followed by another and then another. In their hearts they believed that America cared for the people of South Vietnam, including the Montagnards, and would stand behind them to insure their safety as long as it took. Indeed it would take far longer than any of them could have imagined, longer even than the six years that passed before a young Special Forces officer from Ohio rotated in as yet one more American replacement. That young man would find, as had so many before him, that his life was irrevocably changed by what he saw and learned from a simple but proud people who only wanted to live alone and in peace.
Born in Akron on January 8, 1947, Don Bendell was the youngest in a hard-working family of five. Dave Bendell was a sewing machine salesman and manager whose wife Alma also worked, as a legal secretary. Bruce, Don's brother was 9 years older than he and his only sister Bette was 11 years older; the age differential sometimes almost seemed to make Don an only child. "I lived and loved and 'became' the (TV) characters of the Range Rider, Roy Rogers, Zorro, Cochise, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Kit Carson, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and all the old heroes. I believed the things they said."
The positive influence of those Truly American heroes had a lasting impression on Don, instilling in him principles of right and wrong as well as service to others. These were further reinforced by scouting, a family interest; David Bendell was a Scoutmaster and Explorer Post Advisor. "We were about scouting, camping, and church," Don remembers. He took an interest in and learned Indian fancy-dancing at a young age, started bow hunting in grade school, and "loved the wilderness, spending as much time there as possible."
In the footsteps of his uncle Roy Bendell, who had served in World War II and earned 4 Bronze Stars, as Don became a teenager he was driven toward military service. He enlisted as a private in the Army on June 19, 1966, and volunteered both for training with the Special Forces and for service in Vietnam. After Basic and Advanced Individual Training he served briefly as a Military Policeman at Fort Dix, New Jersey, before attending Officer's Candidate School. On June 1, 1967, he received his gold bars to become an Infantry Second Lieutenant.
Determined to put "silver wings upon his chest" he was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but first had to attend Jump School at Fort Benning Georgia. During Tower Week his dreams of ultimately winning not only Wings but a Green Beret were crushed. Diagnosed with double pneumonia and pleurisy, he was confined to Martin Army Hospital for 5 weeks. When he was recycled to begin Jump School once again, his buddies were already at Fort Bragg to begin the Special Forces O-Course. When Don earned his Wings and at last joined them he was weeks behind, and was only allowed to take some of the classes, though his unusual circumstances did open opportunities for him to attend some of the specialized courses (Underwater Hand-to-Hand Combat, Quick Kill Shooting, Survival Swimming, etc.) When his class graduated to receive their Green Beret with its distinctive flash (badge), Don was not a full-fledged graduate of the course. He did receive his beret but for several months he had to wear a red "candy stripe" on it. Setbacks and candy stripe aside, Don was justly proud of what he had accomplished despite adversity. Only three out of every 100 young men who volunteered for Special Forces training ever completed the course and earned the right to wear the now-legendary Green Beret.
Though still a "candy
stripe" Green Beret, Don commanded an A-Team for a brief period. In
April 1968 he at last received his flash and, soon there after, his
Neither the training Don had received at Fort Bragg, nor the stories of returning veterans, could have adequately prepared him for what he saw when he stepped off a helicopter near the Laotian border. By 1968 there were fortified positions on seven hills at Dak Pek, manned by a CIDG Strike Force numbering 700 men. The Montagnard soldiers lived in earthen bunkers inside the protective wire of the compound with their wives, children, and even their parents. Even the youngest children knew well that death could reach out for them at any time. Indeed all had at one time or another been forced to race for shelter when NVA artillery rained mortars on the camp. It was for them, much like the "fire drills" children their age practiced in schools back in the United States, only far more deadly and far more frequent. Many of those families had also lost one or more members to combat actions in the jungle beyond.
Eight thousand souls were scattered among the 11 villages under the care and support of the 12 men of Team A-242, as well as thousands more living a precarious existence in outlying villages. Virtually surrounded by North Vietnamese Forces in the remote regions, it was in the parlance of the American soldiers in Vietnam, Indian Country--an appropriate place for a young man who was a throwback to the Old West to find himself called to service.
In addition to his title as XO Lieutenant Bendell, whom the Montagnards nicknamed "Lieutenant Cowboy," also carried the title Civil Affairs/Psychological Operations Officer. "Civil Affairs" referenced what the Army called Civic Actions Programs to win the hearts and minds of the Montagnards. A major part of that work was medical missions, MEDCAPs. Medical Civic Actions Programs had begun in the early 60s as an expansion of the Provincial Health Assistance Program under which American physicians and nurses came to Vietnam under the auspices of The Agency for International Development. A.I.D. teams however, generally operated only in the hospitals of the more modern and more secure Provincial Capitols. Deep in the jungles the needs of rural Vietnamese and Montagnards would have gone untreated if not for daring and dedicated Special Forces soldiers, as well as some Regular Army Medics and Navy Corpsmen.
"My medics, in fact all Green Beret medics--outside of medical doctors themselves-- were and remain the most highly-trained medical professionals in the military," Don recently remarked. "They literally would deliver babies, deal with tropical parasite diseases most doctors have never heard of, and treat bullet and shrapnel wounds, snake bites, a wide variety of medical needs for a large group of indigenous mercenaries and their families. They even performed dentistry." Many of these medical needs were treated in Dak Pek's simple but efficient dispensary, which even included a pharmacy. Still, there remained many needy people in outlying villages who were fearful to be seen entering the American compound by infiltrating Communists, or who simply were too old, sick, or severely wounded to come for help. So despite the danger, help came to them.
On a regular basis the team medics, accompanied by a patrol of Montagnard Strikers, would trek through the steaming and enemy-held jungle to reach the needy. As Special Forces officers receive medical training even more detailed than that of a regular Army medic or what we know in America as EMTs, Lieutenant Bendell always accompanied the medic or assistant medic on these important MEDCAPs.
In the primitive outlying villages the day a MEDCAP arrived was much like the circus coming to town in early America. Despite the deadly seriousness of the medics' work and the pain and suffering of the people they treated, MEDCAPs brought both hope and not infrequently, some entertaining moments. Even before the incoming squad-sized patrol emerged from the jungle village children, tipped off that the American Green Berets were coming, would race out to greet them. Seldom did they find an unprepared American with empty pockets. Within minutes the children raced home with smiling faces, their raucous laughter echoing across the village as they proudly displayed the treasures freely dispensed by a smiling G.I. For Lieutenant Bendell and his comrades such visits seemed like Christmas; a wonderful holiday in which THEY got to be Santa Claus. Perhaps more amazing however was that these children who had nothing, and who could be so easily pleased with simple things, so willingly shared their treasure. Older children returning with a hand-full of candy they had struggled with other children to claim for themselves, willingly shared with siblings too young to run out in the welcoming crowd. Not forgotten by them in their moment of joy either was mom and or even more importantly--Grandma.
When the patrol entered the village the small Strike Force would fan out, searching diligently for hidden Viet Cong waiting in ambush, and setting up security. In Vietnam death could come at any time and without regard for women, children and the elderly. Missions of mercy could quickly end in a rattle of machine gun fire.
Lieutenant Bendell would then find a suitable location, one that provided both shade from the scorching sun and ample room for a large crowd, and begin triaging scores of women, children, and the elderly. (Usually the younger men were either serving at war or tending the fields. Many had been kidnapped and pressed into slavery by the Communists.)
With practiced efficiency Lieutenant Bendell would separate the sick, wounded and injured, dispatching them to his medics based upon their condition and the unique experiences of his trained healers. Some of the less serious he treated himself, though the press of the crowd and administration of the mission could be all-consuming and not infrequently, interesting to say the least. Occasionally treating people who had never seen a syringe or for that matter even a stethoscope, could demand diplomacy and ingenuity.
"I remember one humorous incident," he says, "when a grandmotherly lady complained of being shot in the buttocks by the AK-47 of a North Vietnamese soldier while she had been outside the village harvesting mountain rice. She had been lucky; the two women with her had been killed. I knew her condition was so serious I needed to take her back to Dak Pek.
"Superstitious and frightened, the old woman refused to go to the dispensary, as the wound had become severely infected. The villagers laughed uproariously when I pulled out the waist-band of her atok (black skirt) to look down at her buttocks, smiled and rolled my eyes. Still, she adamantly refused to go to the dispensary and argued with me for several minutes while the whole village looked on in amusement.
"Finally, in frustration I told the interpreter to tell her if she did not go, evil spirits from the jungle would invade her body and her ass would rot and fall off. The Montagnards were indeed superstitious and the tactic worked. She at last agreed she would go to the dispensary if, and only if, I would carry her there piggy-back.
"When my medics finished their chores we started back to Dak Pek with the cheers and laughter of the village ringing in my ears as I hoisted the old lady on my back. It was a mile-and-a-half back to the dispensary, the temperature was one hundred plus degrees, and we had to ford a swollen white-water river on the return. She refused to be carried by anyone but me and I had to force my body to the limit, and beyond. When we reached the dispensary I delivered her to the medics and then passed out on the cot next to her. My medic wound up having to treat ME--for heat exhaustion."
Would he have done it again? Silly question!
In addition to treating the villagers the medics at Dak Pek and other such camps in the Central Highlands took the time to train some of their Montagnards as medics. The need was so great there was always a crowd seeking help. "We had a sick call every day and people would come in from some of the villages, sign their name or make their mark, and would be treated by one of the medics," Don remembers. "Our medic came to dinner one night with the logbook, and we were all laughing because one of the patients signed their name "VC" (Viet Cong). I guess "Charlie" could have a sense of humor, too.
Medical missions were not however, only reactive treatment of wounds, injuries, and disease. Proactive efforts to vaccinate against disease or improve hygiene for improved health were equally important. Before arrival of the Americans, due to the heavy insect population the Montagnard people coated their bodies with dirt and bathed only once a year. It was not only a practical process but a religious rite. Once Lieutenant Bendell had convinced the natives to bathe he would have a squad of CIDG Strikers stand guard while he led the women and children to the Dak Poko River, which he had once crossed with an old woman on his back. He and his medic or assistant medic distributed bars of soap from the Red Cross and attempted to teach the people how to use it. Usually at first, the Green Berets found themselves having to wade into the water where they "bent over bare-breasted, leathery-skinned grannies to scrub their backs." Then they would shampoo the hair of naked little Montagnard boys and girls while the villagers rolled on the river bank with giggles and laughter.
The joys of providing repellent to ward off insects, of breaking the fever of a sick child, or a community "bubble bath" aside, the Green Berets were first and foremost soldiers. They taught people who still fought with cross-bows how to shoot a rifle, mount and fire a claymore mine, and strategically set up an effective ambush. Essentially these Yard soldiers were mercenaries, hired by the United States and paid by the Green Berets to seek out the enemy and interdict their route of supply into South Vietnam. When a CIDG patrol went into the jungle to face danger they were almost always accompanied by at least one Green Beret advisor.
Though the Montagnards hated both the North and South Vietnamese, having suffered greatly at the hands of both, they appreciated, respected and indeed truly loved their Special Forces comrades. Many Green Berets were assigned at least one, and usually two (one to walk behind and one to walk in front) bodyguards. These intensely loyal men would literally take a bullet for their Green Beret. In the most dire of situations, should a patrol face imminent capture, they were under orders to shoot and kill the American. Better a sudden death from a friend than a slow and agonizing death at the hands of the enemy.
Lieutenant Bendell had six such bodyguards, any one of them willing to die for him. One of them was a small guy with five sons that all served in the strike force "I don't remember his name but you can call him Klem in your book," he told me. "Klem means LEACH. The Yards gave themselves nasty names to ward off evil spirits."
On patrol one day Bendell's company of CIDG strikers walked into an ambush. The enemy, camouflaged and laying in wait with captured American Claymore mines, allowed the point element to pass before detonating the explosive charges that threw out 600 white-hot steel balls. Behind the point element walked Lieutenant Bendell, Klem in front and Klem's nephew behind to protect their Green Beret.
Klem took the full blast of the first Claymore and a burst of AK-47 fire struck him in the torso and legs, wounding him critically. Klems nephew lost one eye and two white-hot pellets struck him, one in each of his shinbones. The two bodyguards' Green Beret Lieutenant was blasted on his back but was spared, at least for the moment, as the remainder of the Strike Force returned fire. After several minutes of fierce fighting and maneuvering, with support from Tac air and artillery, the now-surrounded the NVA unit was forced to retreat. Immediately Yard medics carried the wounded Klem to a cleared area and Don called for several Dustoffs (Medical Evacuation Helicopters), then set up an IV and started mouth to mouth resuscitation while another Yard began CPR.
"I'll never forget that moment," Don says. "Klem was in a very bad way but as I worked on him he regained consciousness for a moment. He looked me in the eyes, smiled weakly and then said 'I see Jesus.' Then he died."
Looking around Don saw Klem's nephew, himself seriously wounded, moving about the area and carrying other wounded men to the makeshift LZ for evacuation. "Both legs were covered in blood from the painful wounds of Claymore pellets in his shinbones and one eye was shout out, but he was big and husky for a Yard and ignored his pain to do what he had to do."
Seeing the bloody socket of the young soldiers eye, Don reached up and removed from his neck the cowboy scarf he always wore and wrapped it around his body guard's head to cover the eye. Then Don lit two of his favorite cigarillos and handed one to the wounded Yard. "He got this great big smile on his face," Don recalled. "You'd have thought I had just given him the Medal of Honor. When the chopper arrived he waited for all the others to board first, and only boarded himself after I forced him at gun point to be evacuated."
History is replete with examples of the close relationships that develops between soldiers at war when men face deadly danger and stand back-to-back to survive as well as protect a buddy. Perhaps no where in history is there a more vivid example of that often-lifetime bond than the one that developed between Special Forces soldiers and the Montagnards of Vietnam. Green Berets spent many hours building camps for these people. Together they built churches and the soldiers would bring in missionaries. The Americans even hired teachers to come in and educate the children in simple but important base camp schools. "We taught the adults animal husbandry and even flew in pigs, chickens, and cows for the villagers to raise and harvest for meat, dairy and eggs," says Don.
In return the Montagnards repaid the young Americans with their love and loyalty, many laying down their lives for the men from America. Perhaps however, the most important thing these simple, tribal people gave the young men from a distant foreign land was a new sense of what was important in life. To them laughter was more important than livelihood, compassion greater than corporate wealth; loyalty and devotion were prized above all else, and these people had learned to find a small measure of simple joy under the most dreadful of circumstances.
Lieutenant Bendell was
subsequently Medevaced back to the
The same year in which Don received his honorable discharge the outpost at Dak Pek was turned over to the control of ARVN Rangers, tough South Vietnamese fighters but men who despised the Montagnards. Within months the camp was overrun by the Communists. The ARVN 8th Ranger Battalion suffered 100% casualties; the death toll among the Montagnards cannot even be imagined.
By 1975 the Americans had all gone home and the North Vietnamese Army swept victoriously through the south, at last uniting the two countries under Ho Chi Minh and the Communists. Hundreds of thousands of Montagnards were murdered in reprisals and the wave of ethnic cleansing that followed. Some trekked over the mountains for sanctuary in Cambodia; where their fate proved to be no better. A few, thanks in large part to the efforts of Green Beret Veterans back home, were brought to the United States to build new lives in the land of the free.
"I loved those poor but great people and still hurt for their fate," says Don nearly forty years later. Then in his typically frank Cowboy fashion that sees only black and white--never shades of gray, he notes, "The blood of thousands of them is now on the hands of wimpy (American) war protestors, news media propagandist, and pussy politicians who once gave those people hope, and then abandoned them to die."
At home as a civilian Don faced new battles, confronted with indelible memories of Vietnam and a problem with alcohol. He beat the latter decades ago but the memories remain to this day.
Motivated by a great uncle
who, when Don was much younger had inspired him with his repertory
portrayals of Abraham Lincoln, Don began to put his thoughts and
philosophy on paper. "Great Uncle Roy was the Manager of the Lyceum
Theater in Chicago and traveled the country performing as Abraham Lincoln
and giving speeches. He had a booming deep voice, giant vocabulary, was
65, and very distinguished. He inspired me to become a writer,
performer, and speaker." More than one and a half million of Don's 24
published books have been sold to date. Though perhaps best known for his
popular Western stories or his more recent Criminal Investigation Division
series that takes place in the Global War on Terrorism, four of his
earliest books were stories of Vietnam. He is contracted to write a series
of novels about modern day Delta Force.
Don also found a personal outlet in the Martial Arts, ranking as a Seventh Degree Black Belt Master in four different martial arts. In 1995 he was inducted into the International Karate Hall of Fame and in 1996 was inducted into the Martial Arts Museum of America. Today he and his wife Shirley operate 2 martial arts schools where they train men, women and children not only in the disciplines of defense, but in Don's Code of the West: "I make all of my male students do ten knuckle push-ups if they walk through a door in front of a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or any female without holding the door open for her."
Despite the multiple vocations and interests that keep Don Bendell busy today, he, like most of his Special Forces comrades is still concerned with the post-war plight of the Montagnards. Though living Special Forces veterans of that war are small in number, they are a loud voice for human rights, monitoring world affairs and political movements that impact their former families. Given the opportunity, Don and many like him would gladly return to the Central Highlands, or any place else in the world to do what they could for the Montagnards.
On May 31, 2007, Don did
return to Fort Bragg where for him, it had all began. He was joined there
on that day by his son, Special Forces Staff Sergeant Brent Bendell, a
decorated veteran of the Global War on Terrorism who had already forged
brotherhoods of his own while fighting al-Qaida in
The torch had been passed
to a new generation of Freedom
Fighters and noble cowboys.**
* Gladfelter returned to Dak Pek for a second tour of duty as a Special Forces Captain in 1966. By that time the United States was fully, if not officially, at war with the NVA and the Viet Cong.
** When former Captain Don Bendell appeared wearing his Green Beret with his two sons, each also wearing the distinctive headgear and legendary flash, it marked only the third time that TWO sons had followed their father in becoming elite members of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
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