For Self and Country

For the Wounded in Vietnam the Journey Home Took More Courage Than Going into Battle
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Published:May 15, 2010
By Rick Eilert (Author), James Webb (Author)

Just a few months after enlisting in the Marine Corps and being sent to Vietnam, nineteen-year-old Rick Eilert was seriously injured in combat and transferred to Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois for a long and painful recovery. Eilert tells not only his own story but the stories of the men around him whose friendship, humor, and courage sustained him. Eilert describes the hospital as a place of emotional and physical rehabilitation and pays tribute to those who cared for them. Vietnam was often called a “teenager’s war.” The average age was 19.2, so in the main, the War was fought by 17, 18, 19 and 20 year olds barely out of high school and often without the income, intelligence, inclination, or focus to attend college. For everyone, the draft loomed large in our futures, so you could choose your branch of service or let the draft decide for you. This was the 60’s. Fresh from sock hops and college freshman mixers, young men found themselves in a fight for their lives, from the Delta to the DMZ, on animal trails, numbered hills and in remote jungle outposts. Teenagers witnessed the unspeakable carnage of war while trying to understand the collision of emotions and insult to the senses that is combat. Thousands died there and many thousands more were wounded and maimed. So the hell of combat was replaced by the painful recovery in a military hospital. For me and thousands of others it was Great Lakes Naval Hospital at Great Lakes, Illinois.

For Self and Country follows my many months of recovery along with the stories of the brave young men who surrounded me and sustained me with friendship, uncommon humor, and courage. This is a story of family, young love, and the magnificent care administered by the Navy doctors, nurses and revered Corpsmen. Great Lakes was a place of great pain but also recovery, not just from the physical damage we sustained but also the unseen emotional injuries everyone endured but rarely talked about. We helped each other in our recovery by talking to each other about our wartime experiences and how we would need to cope outside the insulated and protected hospital. Most of us had no expectation of surviving Vietnam; now that we had we were unsure what place we would have in civilian life.

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Product Details
  • Subject: Vietnam War
  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (May 15, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 1591142334
  • ISBN-13: 9781591142331
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 0 lb

Rick Eilert, born on 4 June 1947, enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1967. In November 1967, Eilert sustained serious injuries and was transported to Great Lakes Naval Hospital for treatment and rehabilitation. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Eilert married his wife, Cheryl, and went to work for Union Oil Company. He left Union Oil in 1981 to join the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, President Reagan’s bipartisan initiative to improve the lives of Vietnam Veterans.

In 1995, after years of surgeries due to the wounds Eilert sustained in combat, he retired, but still spends time advocating for veterans.

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James Webb, a 1968 U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served as Secretary of the Navy from 1987 to 1988, is one of the most highly decorated Marines of the Vietnam era. He is the author of the bestsellers Fields of Fire and Sense of Honor, among other books.

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