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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Vietnam Veteran decorated

By Cpl. Erin McKnight | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | May 03, 2007

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- After sustaining injuries from direct mortar fire to an arm and both of his legs, Sgt. Joseph T. Getherall forced his body to comply with this wish: lead his men through battle in the Vietnam War.

Several hours later, his life faced another direct threat when a grenade was thrown from the hands of the enemy. The squad leader immediately thrust his body forward, covering the grenade. As he moved to throw it back at its originator, the grenade exploded just after leaving his hand, causing further damage to one of his legs.

Due to the difficulty of submitting paperwork during the Vietnam War, combined with the death of senior leadership, the 20-year-old noncommissioned officer received nothing tangible in return for that day's sacrifices ... until now.

Forty years after he narrowly escaped death, Getherall received a Silver Star medal and Purple Heart medal during an awards ceremony April 19 Camp Pendleton for his actions Dec. 22, 1966.

"Let me begin by saying, every man is scared to death in his first battle. If he says he's not, he's a liar," Getherall said. "I can't even begin to tell you how scared I was, but I was responsible for a squad of Marines who depended on my leadership."

After Getherall sustained his first set of injuries, fear was set on the back burner as another emotion overwhelmingly took charge of him.

"The best thing that happened to me was being wounded right from the start of the battle, because it really, really, really, really pissed me off," Getherall said. "I thought, 'Here I am down, and I might have to leave my Marines that I had trained.' This caused me to go on pure adrenaline for the remainder of the battle."

Later in his speech, Getherall abruptly stopped speaking mid-sentence. The audience was silent while he paused to collect himself, blinking back memories of a battle where he said they were probably outnumbered 20 to one.

As he neared the end of his speech, the quiver could again be heard in his voice.

"I'm accepting and will wear this Silver Star on behalf of my squad of Marines," said 60-year-old Getherall. "They were the true heroes that night."

His speech soon ended, allowing the attendees to shower Getherall with a standing ovation. As the applause died down and the crowd took their seats, one man reached in his back pocket, pulling out a tissue so he could wipe his eyes.

Getherall and his Marines with Company M, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, arrived in Vietnam with 2nd Lt. Gary Loveridge as their platoon commander. He sang Getherall's praises while speaking at the ceremony.

He defined selflessness, compassion, integrity, courage and loyalty during his speech, noting that, "Joe Getherall exhibited all these qualities. There's no doubt that [he] is a courageous human and a courageous Marine. He willingly put his life in danger to protect and help his troops."

Another gentleman who was appreciative of Getherall's actions was Col. James B. Seaton III, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. He had the honor of pinning Getherall's awards onto his dark blue blazer.

"Joe, your actions on the battlefield that day are what led folks like me to join the Marine Corps," he expressed. "I am sorry that your Corps was unable to award you the recognition you deserved four decades ago."

However, Getherall was glad he didn't receive the awards 40 years prior. If his injuries had been recognized for what they really were, he would not have met his wife, Chieko. He said his whole life would be different without her, their children and their grandchildren.

As his speech came to a close, Getherall took a moment to acknowledge the men and women of an organization he said is a family, a team and a tradition.

"Here's to our Marine Corps. Here's to all Marines, past, present and future," he said. "Semper Fidelis and Fratres Aeterni, and if you don't know what that means, it's 'Always faithful and brothers forever.'"

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