West Linn vet shares lessons from Vietnam
It would have been more than understandable if Lon Getlin feared entering the Vietnam War in 1968. The war had already claimed the life of his older brother and wounded his younger brother.
But Getlin didn’t see it that way. Having gone to military school from eighth grade through high school, he had always planned to join the Marines. The fact that his brother loved the Marines only strengthened his desire to join.
“He was an idol to me,” Getlin said of his older brother, Mike. “Everything I did up until I was 22, and he was killed at 27, was to make him proud of me.”
Getlin was more concerned for his parents, who had already lost one son in a hunting accident at age 13, and Mike in the war. Getlin wasn’t sure what would happen to his parents if they lost a third son.
Despite this, Getlin entered Vietnam in 1968, spending most of his time as a platoon commander around the demilitarized zone and the outskirts of Da Nang.
“When I entered Vietnam, I believed in what we were doing there. How could I not because Mike had been killed there, and our family had a lot vested there,” Getlin said. “By the time I left Vietnam, I was bitter and angry and heartbroken because I saw the futility of what we were doing. I realized what an incredible waste it was of men and resources.”
Getlin recalled his company commander giving his platoon three tanks as a turning point for his outlook on the war.
“They just ran around for three or four days. They didn’t fire a single shot. They just ran around in these behemoth tanks plowing through rice paddies, destroying property,” Getlin said.
Getlin felt this demonstrated the futility and pointless destruction of the war.
Though he came back from Vietnam with animosity toward America’s involvement, Getlin also harbored some resentment for the people of Vietnam.
“When I left Vietnam, I wasn’t only bitter about the United States getting involved, I did not like the Vietnamese people at all — any of them,” he said.
It wasn’t until he worked for six months at a refugee camp at Camp Pendleton that his perspective truly changed — an experience he described as extraordinary.
Getlin said he now has great admiration for the Vietnamese refugees who left their homes behind to come here to make a better life for themselves. In fact, he is still in touch with a Vietnamese girl he met at the camp in 1975. The girl, who was about 18 then, came to him for help after her gold taels were stolen.
Getlin took the girl under his wing, got her a safety deposit box to keep her belongings safe, and always kept an eye out for her. When that woman got married decades later, Getlin attended her wedding and gave her the American flag that had flown over their refugee camp.
After the war, Getlin also entered flight school and became a fighter pilot until leaving the Marines in 1977.
Today, Getlin hopes to keep the memory of important Vietnam battles alive in America. But he’s not focused on his own stories from the war.
Getlin’s Corner Foundation, the scholarship fund Getlin founded, honors his brother Mike and the other Marines who lost their lives in what became known as the Battle of Getlin’s Corner.
Getlin called the battle a testament to bravery, brotherhood, sacrifice and leadership.
Since its establishment in 2020, the foundation has funded scholarships for 26 children of enlisted Marines and Navy Corpsmen who served with Marine companies.
While he hopes Americans continue to honor the men and women who serve in the military, Getlin also hopes the country’s leaders heed the lessons from Vietnam and subsequent wars and consider the human cost of launching into new conflicts.