(KLTV) - George Putnam joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 and still in high school, but he says in the jungles of Vietnam, he grew up fast.
Putnam says it changed his life.
"I grew up in government housing projects, and they're kind of hard to live in," Putnam recalls.
As a teenager in a gang-ruled environment, Putnam knew he was headed in the wrong direction.
"I finally came to the conclusion that if I kept on, that I'd probably be in the pen before I was 20 years old," said Putnam.
So even before he finished high school, Putnam joined the Marines, a group he'd always admired. Within a year, he was sent into battle in Vietnam, and as he puts it, 'grew up fast.'
"I had been trained for war but I had no concept of what actually happens in war."
He was soon to find out.
"Where reality really strikes is that first time," he said. "All the stuff happens at one time: men blown up, shots fired, and then you look around and one of your buddies on each side of you is no longer there."
In June of 1967, Putnam was wounded for the first time.
"We was kind of pinned down, and all of a sudden, there was a big boom, and I felt numb on one side, and I looked down and I was bleeding."
After hospitalization, Putnam was sent back into battle. In August, he was wounded again, even more seriously, and sent home. It was back in the states that Putnam was wounded in a way that has never healed.
"When you get somewhere and they call you baby killer, they spit on you, yeah it hurts. But it's like everything else in life, you just got to live with it," he said.
Something else Putnam has lived with since the war, are flashbacks and nightmares.
"And they're still vivid. It's just like they were yesterday," Putnam said.
In spite of the physical and emotional pain he's suffered, George Putnam describes the time he spent in the Marine Corps as one of the greatest things he's ever done.
"When you stand up, it makes America even stronger, and I'm proud of that."