When you talk about the Vietnam War, it might invoke difficult memories for some.
Not so for retired Army Colonel Tom Faley. He was one of the first to go into Vietnam and among the last to leave.
If you ask the South Middleton Township supervisor to talk about the war, you’d better settle in and prepare for a long, enthusiastic story about faith, friendship and good old-fashioned luck.
“Luck plays a great deal in combat,” Faley said.
One of Faley’s favorite tales from the war revolves around his tail. He was a 25-year-old lieutenant when his unit came under heavy fire from the front.
“And all of the sudden, I felt a whack in my tail,” Faley remembered. “It was like a light soccer kick.”
It might remind you of a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” when the titular character was shot in the rear and shouted, “Something bit me!”
“He said it bit him; mine kicked me,” Faley laughed.
But when a fellow soldier checked Faley, he saw no blood. So Faley put it, well, behind him.
Several days later, he was drying out his fatigues and noticed a hole in his pants. And when he took out his wallet, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Neatly embedded in it was a .30-caliber bullet,” Faley said, showing off the wallet.
Faley literally took one in the money.
“It would have taken a piece of my tail, a fleshy part,” he said. “It would have been an embarrassing purple heart.”
Faley sent the wallet home to his wife Sue without an explanation.
“It wasn’t in him, it was in the wallet, so I felt pretty good that he was alright,” Sue Faley said.
Word of Faley’s luck made it all the way to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. He decided to preserve the wallet with the bullet still intact and he declined when Ripley’s museum in South Carolina asked to display it.
You see, while Faley was physically fine after the wallet incident, he admits it emotionally changed him. His luck, he said, made him stronger in his faith.
“He intended to send a message to me, perhaps, that ‘Hey, I’m taking care of you’,” Faley said.
It’s a message that was tested several more times. A few weeks after the wallet incident, a fellow soldier accidentally shot a grenade into Faley’s bedroll, which he was wearing at the time. Amazingly, it never exploded. Years after that, an enemy grenade landed in a rice paddy next to him and it also never went off.
The incidents gave him a sense of purpose to carry on the legacy of those who weren’t so lucky.
“Combat did something,” Faley said. “Combat bonded us in a manner you never find in peacetime.”
Faley speaks of his comrades often. As a retired colonel, he’s given more than 20 Veterans Day and Memorial Day addresses. Each one honored a different wartime friend.
“You can see how close we were,” Faley said while going through old photographs. “I was just never able to recreate that type of relationship.”
When you ask Tom Faley about his time in Vietnam, you’ll undoubtedly learn about an amazing man who is still on a mission.
“It’s a time of my life that I’ll never forget,” he said.
“Veterans Voices: Honoring those who Served” airs Friday, November 9 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC27.