CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - When veteran Reuben Flax walks the length of the Vietnam Wall, he knows he's one of the lucky ones.
“I spent my 19th birthday in the hospital with an AK-47 round in my arm. [I‘m] thankful that my name is not on this wall,” Flax said.
As a teen, Flax was in a gang and knew he was going nowhere, so he signed up to be a Marine and shipped out to Vietnam. Within a year, he earned three purple hearts.
“I got shot twice at 18, once at 19. Came back to United States, uh, reported to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina, and made sergeant at 19 years old.”
Flax served right around the war ramped up. Death was a constant fear, but when flax was shot, his thoughts were not of death.
“My family. Would I ever see them again? My other Marines. Did I dare leave them behind. I couldn't die and leave them behind. They were my brothers. They still are. Always.”
There was no race in foxholes, he tells me, only brotherhood.
“When you in combat, it doesn't make any difference if the man beside you is black, white, Hispanic or what. You better have his back and you better have his back. And that's all there is to it.”
But it was a different story once back on American soil, so flax rarely spoke about his service.
“We were spit on, we had eggs thrown at us. We were called murderers, baby killers, and people throwing the racial card, playing the racial card. I was called an Uncle Tom, you know for going to fight the white man's war.”
But the Honor Flight changed that, starting with their arrival in D.C. They walked off the plane to the sounds of a marching band, cheers and the words he didn't hear 50 years ago: ‘thank you.’
“Oh yes yes, yes definitely oh it was just exhilarating. It just made me feel, made me feel vindicated for the welcome I received in 1968. Made it all worth it,” said Flax.
And as we landed back home in Charlotte to the sounds of bagpipes and cheers, Flax walked proud.
“Being here with my brothers and sisters is an honor. Being here to pay respects to these names on the wall is an honor. Being here to inspire younger people to follow in our footsteps and stand up and defend this country is an honor, if need be, that's an honor.”