It was probably one of the closest encounters to death anyone could ever face, but this man escaped that fate twice.
February 19, 1968, was the day John Colone’s Army Airborn unit near the Ca Ty River in Vietnam was suddenly attacked.
“All hell broke loose,” according to Colone, and he and his men bravely fought for their lives. The ambush left almost one-third of his unit dead and Colone was nearly one of them—he was shot four times and fell to the ground.
“I heard guys say I was dead. ‘Colone is dead! Colone is dead! Leave him alone!'” he told CBS.
Except he wasn’t dead. He was still alive.
Colone was alive but unable to move, when he heard those horrific words. “I was put in a body bag, toe-tagged, and taken to the morgue,” he said.
Luckily for Colone, the morgue attendant he was sent to was a thorough one.
Curtis Washington was an officer at the Battalion Aid Station and was also working at the morgue. He took the initiative to thoroughly check every single body he received, just to make sure he never buried any soldier alive.
When he received Colone’s ‘dead body’ marked DOA (Dead on Arrival), as part of his own protocol, he opened up his body bag and ran a pen along the bottom of the soldier’s foot to test his plantar reflex.
“I would do it twice,” Washington said. “And I did that. And he [groaned]. And I did it again, and he [groaned louder] and I said ‘Wow.’”
That’s when he realized the man in the body bag was still alive.
Colone was basically brought back from the dead that day. He not only survived the ambush but also, what could be considered a much more horrific death—being buried alive.
Eight men in his unit lost their lives that day, and Colone could have been the ninth. That left the veteran with a lot of questions, guilt, and confusion. Although he realizes it’s a blessing, Colone still asks himself, “Why me?”
It’s been more than four decades, but Colone still asks himself that question.
A few years ago he received a bit of solace to that question.
He decided to honor those eight men who fought for their lives in that battle by sending flowers to their graves, at the very graveyard he would have been buried, every Memorial Day.
Eventually he expanded to include every single soldier in his battalion during the Vietnam War—a total of 160 graves and over $8,000 worth of flowers.
Now, he asks others to adopt a veteran’s grave to rightfully honor them on Memorial Day with the hope that eventually every single Vietnam veteran can be remembered on at least “one day a year.”
“I hope I’m around here to witness that maybe that’ll answer that question ‘why?'” he said.