East Texas Veteran Gets A Symbol Of His Service Back - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/16/03 - Longview

East Texas Veteran Gets A Symbol Of His Service Back

It's been thirty five years since Denzil Messman of Jefferson fought in the Vietnam war. His experiences there have haunted him ever since. But years later a trip to Vietnam by a woman he had never met is now helping him to finally put it all behind him. Tuesday Messman got back a little piece of his past.

"You live one minute at a time,one day at a time. There's no race, no color," these are the memories of a Vietnam veteran.

Denzil Messman spent just 7 months at war as a radio operator. But 35 years later the moment he lost his dog tags is still vivid in his mind. "They put me in the helicopter with the radio. We go out and we were right in the middle of a fire fight the helicopter can't get in it so all I can do is repel down the rope. So I got about half way down and my helmet got shot off my head so I let go of the rope and fell about 15 -20 feet the rest of the way. Hit the ground rolling," says Messman.

The dog tags were lost in the jungle. Friendly fire sent him home just months later injured. He felt abandoned by the country he fought to defend. "My welcome committee wasn't a parade or congratulations. There was a protest going on. My welcoming was getting hit by a beer bottle."

Then just a few months ago he received a letter from a woman he had never met telling of her own trip to Vietnam. Martha Roskam stumbled upon a street vendor selling dog tags belonging to American military. "The woman knew that I was interested so we bargained. I finally got her down to $20," recalls Martha.

There were 37 tags. A private detective helped find each owner. Today, among friends, Denzil got a symbol of his courage back. "We didn't know if we were right or if we were wrong. But we did what we was asked with no questions asked," says Messman.

To Denzil these pieces of metal tell the story of where he's been and what he sacrificed. "Then this is putting the final chapter in a lot of things."

The presentation was held at LeTourneau university because Martha Raskom's husband is a former trustee of the school. Messman says he's glad it took 35 years to get his dog tags back. He said just a few years ago he still wouldn't have been ready to face those memories.

Amy Tatum reporting.

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