Born on January 21st, 1949, Elwood “Woody” Stone joined his family living in McGuffy, Ohio. He was the ninth of twelve children born to Mason and Edna Stone. Though they were never rich the family lacked for little. Mason was a welding instructor at Rockwell, while Edna kept the brood well and fed, by managing a large garden, canning vegetables, and raising numerous chickens, ducks, turkeys, two pigs and a Jersey milk cow. All the children were expected to pitch in from a very young age to help out.
US Army, Vietnam 1969-70
Mark Dysinger, a 69-year-old native Findlayite, welcomed me into his warm, inviting, meticulous home today. He is a quiet-spoken, articulate man, with a warming smile. There was no indication of the memories he held inside until we discussed briefly a story of a Vietnam veteran that was recently posted. When I mentioned how that soldier had finally healed from the anger and hatred to the North Vietnamese people, Mark began to cry, just for a moment. A brief crack in his friendly demeanor.
Mark was born into the family of Scott and Margaret Dysinger, where he was eventually surrounded by five sisters and three brothers. He was the third oldest. Scott was a third-generation meat packer supporting his family until he passed away from cancer in 1971. Margaret was proud to be a stay at home mom until her husband died. She would become skilled in real estate and being a legal secretary.
Mark had an uneventful childhood. He would graduate at the age of seventeen from the new Findlay High school in 1966 with unremarkable grades and an unclear future. He had a gift that would carry him for the next few years. From the ninth grade on he had been intrigued with the game of pool. Learning from the other pros he quickly gained a name for himself, traveling the region competing on a master’s level. This was his life, traveling and playing pool, until at the age of 20, the draft caught up with him.
He was sworn in and inducted into the Army in Columbus in February of 1969. His journey took him first to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, for eight weeks of basic training and then on to Ft. McClellan, Alabama, for another eight weeks of Advanced Infantry Training. Upon completion Mark was granted a thirty-day leave. The day he returned to base he was on a plane to Saigon, landing in August of 1969. He was assigned to the 25th Infantry located south of Saigon, on the Delta, at the Cu Chi base camp. He arrived right in the middle of the Tet Offensive, but avoided combat as things were too hectic for him to be assigned to a unit.
The common assignment for individual platoons was to hike out two to three clicks, set up an ambush and try to make contact with the Viet Cong. On his very first patrol, weighted down with the ammo belts for the platoons M-60 machine gun, while walking through a flooded rice paddy, Mark stepped into a hidden well and started to sink quickly from the weight. Only his hand was above water when a member of his platoon grabbed his hand pulling him to safety.
One perk the men enjoyed was the company of the young “Coke” boys who followed the soldiers with bags of ice and cold Coke which they sold for fifty cents. These boys also served a much bigger purpose as they were often aware of booby traps and other dangers set up by the VC.
After being a rifleman for a bit, he was selected to be an RTO, (a radio-telephone operator), trained for a week, and then was constantly at the front of the platoon, shadowing the platoon leader. It wasn’t long before his feet and lower legs were infected with jungle rot. His case was so bad he was hospitalized with a blood infection for thirty days.
After his recovery Mark was reassigned to the E company and trained to be a radar operator at remote compounds manned by a few Americans and twenty or so member of ARVN, the army of South Vietnam. They would remain on site for thirty days, working nights, operating a device, that using head phones could pick up the slightest sounds of movement, talking etc., of the enemy. He was also using a starlight scope that could pick out human silhouettes in the jungle darkness. One night he spotted six individuals approaching the compound. Within seconds they opened fire on his location. A firefight ensued that was “give and take” for a couple of hours. A stray bullet knocked out the radio. When headquarters in Cu Chi could not make contact, they assumed the compound was being overran and sent the cavalry. Mark smiles as he remembers the Cobra attack helicopters that came swooping in blazing away. “It was awesome!” The attack was quickly over.
“I came to really like the villagers, at least the children and women. Only the women worked the rice paddies. The young men had all been taken to fight for the Viet Cong. All that was left was old men and young children. I made good friends, but they were left behind, and I have no idea what happened to them.”
With two weeks to go before he rotated out to the states he was, with a group of soldiers, sent to the Cambodia/Laos border, a very dangerous place to be with such a short time left in country.
I asked Mark what affected him the most during his tour. His response, “The fog of war, “friendly fire.” It was a too common situation that two platoons out on patrol would inadvertently cross paths. Under the tense, always unknown situations in the dense jungle, often younger, less seasoned troops, with trigger fingers, were too quick to fire. Within seconds, cross fire between platoons often killed or wounded friendly American troops.
Mark states, “It is the most horrible feeling in the world when you realize what has happened.”
Mark is not unique, in that as the plane took off for home, he began leaving all the memories behind in Vietnam. “I always had a thick skin and didn’t let the situations stick with me. I saw men go crazy, unable to cope with horrors of war. I honestly also took advantage of the availability of marijuana, readily available in Vietnam, to take the stress down and insulate myself. I was always alert during my on-duty hours, but we often passed time in the bunkers off duty smoking.”
One of his last memories was when they were relaxing at the camp. A friend of his, Salvador, was sitting on top of the bunker. A sniper’s bullet hit him, and he was dead before he hit the ground. “Nowhere was truly safe.”
He arrived back in the states in August of 1970. Just weeks before, the world had been stunned by the news of the massacre at My Lai. “I entered the San Francisco airport, quickly being spit on, screamed at, called baby killer and more by the anti-war protesters.”
“I was assigned to Ft Leonard wood, spending my last active days there. Even the officers were not friendly to returning vets assigning them to demeaning, menial tasks.”
Returning home, Mark arrived shortly before his father passed away, Christmas Day, 1970. Mark left all thoughts and memories of Vietnam behind him, speaking to no one about the war or his experiences. He told no one he was a Vietnam vet, even on job applications. He married in 1971, a union that would last 18 years and produce two sons, one stillborn, and Luke who is 45 years old.
Mark served his community as firefighter/pumper operator with the Findlay Fire Department from 1974 to 1995. He, like many firefighters, worked second jobs to make ends meet. For a bit, he laid carpet before he teamed up on a project, that had major military and scientific applications, with fellow fire fighter, Captain Ron Kirk. They had secured a quarter of a billion-dollar contract with NASA and the US Air Force when in the late 1980’s, Glasnost occurred, the Berlin Wall fell, and the contracts became obsolete and were cancelled.
The closest Mark came to dying did not occur in Vietnam. In 2001, the car he was in was involved in a car accident. The second car was upside down, in the middle of the road and the teenage girl driver was hanging trapped upside down in her seatbelt. Mark crawled into the car to release the belt. He was on his stomach halfway in the window when the car was struck by a large van at a high rate of speed.
“I woke up three days later in the ICU, having been Life-flighted from the scene to St. Vincent’s hospital.”
His right arm was almost severed. Five ribs were broken and had punctured the lung causing it to collapse. He had numerous internal injuries and his right leg had numerous compound fractures. After 21 days in ICU, he was moved to another ward for another two weeks. The next four and a half months were spent with a sister in Arizona as he rehabbed with the VA hospital there.
In retirement Mark still is a wizard at pool, enjoys golf but is limited in his activity with heart and lungs issues directly related to “Agent Orange” defoliant sprayed over much of Vietnam. He loves spending time with his son, two granddaughters and friends. He is escaping shortly to Phoenix where he will be a “snowbird” for several months.
As we parted I shook the hand of this wonderful man. His eyes again filled with tears and his last words to me were, “Thank you, Bless you for listening.”
Thank you, Mark,!