Brothers in arms: Three Purple Hearts note one family’s service and sacrifice
SIOUX CITY -- One hundred years ago today, World War I ended as Allied leaders signed an armistice with the Germans, bringing to a close a four-year conflict (for the U.S.) at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Sadly, it wouldn’t be the “War to End All Wars,” a fact whose evidence can be found in scars brothers James “Jim” and Marvin “Doug” Diamond bear. Both men, natives of Anthon, Iowa, earned Purple Hearts during service in Vietnam.
They followed family history in doing so. Their father, Frank “Bud” Diamond, who died a decade ago, was injured in World War II, not long after landing at Normandy, France, just three days past D-Day. Diamond earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star. He came home to Anthon, and rarely spoke about his experience until much later in life.
These Diamonds say they’ll observe this Veterans Day quietly, paying respects to dozens of U.S. flags waving decorating their communities of Hinton and Sioux City. Doug said he’ll dine at Golden Corral, one of the many restaurants that roll out the red carpet for veterans on this day.
Otherwise, the Diamonds will thank their fellow soldiers, sailors and Marines for their service and sacrifice, and, in ways thought and not always spoken, pay homage to one another for answering our country’s call.
Jim Diamond, who turned 72 this week, arrived in Vietnam 50 years ago this month. He was wounded Feb. 18, 1969, a day that, for him, lives in infamy.
“We were in the Mekong Delta, it was very wet,” said Diamond, a retired member of the Sioux City Fire Department. “On Feb. 18, we sent out a recon platoon who spotted the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese insurgents) and we got out there fast on cattle trucks. I was a new squad leader and had gone through training to call in air strikes. This was an area where two rivers meet and our squad was to root out the enemy.”
As Jim Diamond waded through the water, he spotted a pair of hand grenades heading his way. Both would detonate while airborne, not more than 10 yards away.
“We rushed back, basically running for our lives as firing began,” he said. “We could see the muzzle flashes and we fired back.”
A soldier next to Diamond noticed blood covering his right arm. Feeling around and getting a quick look from others, it was determined he’d taken shrapnel to his neck (where some remains today), shoulder and right knee, one of four soldiers hit in the attack.
A helicopter was called in to evacuate those injured. Diamond was treated in Saigon.
“I was then sent to a hospital at Okinawa and spent three and a half months there,” he said. “I had just been promoted to Sgt. E-5 and I ended up serving as a guard for a lieutenant who came to the hospital and handled payroll for guys who were injured.”
The 1964 Anthon-Oto High School graduate met his younger brother, Doug Diamond, in May 1969 at Okinawa. Doug, a 1967 graduate of Anthon-Oto, surprised his parents, Bud and Wilma Diamond, when he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps in the middle of 1968.
“I knew it was a matter of time before I got drafted,” said Doug.
After boot camp and advanced infantry training at Camp Pendleton in California, Doug Diamond was set to ship out with his unit. However, officials left him behind as he had a brother already serving a tour of duty in Vietnam at the time.
“I stayed behind for a couple of weeks and then told them, ‘I want to go,’” Doug said. “They told me they’d try to get Jim back home.”
Doug Diamond landed at Okinawa, a staging area for the war effort, and was shocked to see his brother, Jim, enter his barracks. Doug laughed and shook his head, “I had no idea he’d been hurt!”
Doug soon headed into the mountains, not far from the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone, and would encounter Viet Cong guerillas often. There were major skirmishes with soldiers of the North Vietnamese army.
“I was a rifleman and our objective was to seek and destroy,” he remembered. “We’d hump to a different mountain and never stay more than two nights in one place as the enemy would zero in on us.”
Doug Diamond paused to recount the events of one fight in which he and another soldier carried the body of a fallen soldier in a poncho. They had to take cover multiple times while carrying the young man. “He died as we carried him,” he said, his voice growing soft, nearly inaudible.
“Another guy I knew got hit and died later because the bullet ricocheted and went up into his body, causing internal damage,” he said. “All that happened in my first two weeks in Vietnam.”
Doug Diamond was hurt in a fight during his 10th or 11th month in Vietnam. He was part of a patrol on a place called Liberty Bridge on Feb. 12, 1970, when his group of five suffered loss when one of the soldiers stepped on a landmine as they were carrying a soldier to a helicopter.
“I had taken off my flak jacket and so did another soldier so we could make a makeshift gurney for this soldier who was hurt,” Diamond remembered. “We began toward the chopper and the next think I remember was that I was laying on my back.”
The force of the blast caused the CH-46 helicopter to crash. Two of the five men on the ground were killed; another man lost a leg and an arm. Diamond, who believes he was thrown nearly 50 feet, suffered shrapnel wounds in his neck, left arm, left side and right knee. He still has a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead and right knee.
Diamond lost consciousness for a time and suffered damage to both eardrums in the concussion of the blast. He underwent surgeries in Da Nang and was presented the Purple Heart he’d earned, now the third in the family to do so.
He would eventually be sent to Guam and then Japan before traveling back to the U.S. for recuperation at Bethesda, Maryland. He stayed in the military until 1977, serving with the Armed Forces Police, a Postmaster, a rifleman and a recruiter.
“I came back home and helped Jim, who had a side business laying carpet,” Doug said.
While Jim served a lengthy career with the Sioux City Fire Department, Doug became an auto mechanic and auto parts store manager who moonlighted with police units in Anthon and nearby Smithland, Iowa. He’s now 69 and talks with pride of how he and three brothers (Jerry served in the Army, Duane in the Air Force) followed in their father’s footsteps.
The military tradition didn’t stop with their generation, either. As Doug and Jim examine a photo of their father, Doug detailed the work his son, Owen, did in Iraq not long ago.
“Owen’s name comes from my father’s middle name,” said Doug. “It’s Jim’s middle name, too.”