By Jonathon Austin
Jim Farrell, a field medic during the Vietnam War, held the head of Lt. John Fuqua, an MTSU alum as Fuqua drew his final breath on Jan. 31, 1966. Farrell was the last person to see the young officer alive, and though it was 48 years ago, he can still remember the pain of that day.
“It was pitch dark, he started. “The only thing I could see was helicopter lights, fire from the enemy and flares … He got hit right in the back of his neck. He was still alive when I crawled up to him, and I said, ‘Sir you’re going to be OK.’ He couldn’t say any words, he just kind of mumbled. He tried to say something, but he couldn’t. I put my right arm under his head to try to plug the wound, and he just died.”
That night, both Fuqua and Farrell were positioned just outside the small village of Bong Son in South Vietnam, which was surrounded by huge rice fields littered with craters due to numerous North Vietnamese Army (NVA) mortar attacks.
Today, the village is quite peaceful and mending itself after years of war.
In March Derek Frisby a professor in the Global Studies department led a group of six students to Vietnam to locate the positions where Fuqua and other MTSU students had fallen. In addition the students studied the affect the war continues to have on modern Vietnamese society. Ed “Tex” Stiteler, founder of Vietnam Battlefield Tours, guided the tours. He served in the Marines during the war, and today, he leads tours across the country for veterans to revisit Vietnam. There were three veterans who went with the group of students.
“The war seemed so much closer than ever before,” David Collyer, a student master’s liberal arts student and member of Frisby’s class said. “People we were interacting with likely had parents or family members who suffered first hand during the Vietnam War. The experience really brought forth the human element on both sides of the conflict.”
When the group stepped off the bus in the village of Bong Son, they lingered in the shadow of an old tree that stood in front of a monument dedicated to the communist victory in the area. The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on the students. They were staring at a tall statue dedicated to North Vietnamese soldiers who, in battle, had taken thousands of American lives, including Fuqua.