78 confirmed kills: A Veterans Day story

By Brian Soergel | Nov 16, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel John Shelton, at the Veterans Day Ceremony in Edmonds, was a Marine during the Vietnam War.

Sometimes, amid the red, white and blue celebration of soldiers on Veterans Day, we can forget what many of these grizzled old men – some silent in wheelchairs in their spotless uniforms, gazing around with a look of earned determinance – actually did.

They killed.

PTSD is certainly well-documented among the men and women who have served in America’s wars across the decades, in locations distant and foreign.

But we can overlook – on purpose or not – that many soldiers inflicted their own brand of PTSD on the enemy, or made sure PTSD would never even be a thing for the other side.

One of those soldiers sat in the front row of a Veterans Day ceremony under drizzly skies Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Edmonds Veterans Plaza. It was the first such ceremony at the plaza, which opened on Memorial Day this year.

John Shelton is a member of the Edmonds VFW Post 8870, which sponsored the ceremony. After the politicians spoke – Mayor Dave Earling and state Rep. Strom Peterson – I wanted to hear what Shelton had to say. Many vets are used to the first questions lobbed their way – How many people did you kill in the war? Some don’t want to talk about that.

Then there’s Shelton, a Marine sent to Vietnam in 1959 before, he said, “they even knew there was a war.”

Shelton was a sniper. He was 19.

When it was all over, Shelton said he had 78 confirmed kills in the Vietnam War.

How do you count those?

“My spotter,” Shelton said. “He kept records, and I’m just hoping he doesn’t get shot. Because if he does, my record goes in the dump.”

Shelton is 76 now. Life is good.

“It’s a great time in your life,” he said, a quick smile there and then gone. “The good old 70s. You achieve an attitude. Screw you, I’ve done that, and I don’t care what you’ve got to say.”

Thank you for your service.

 

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