Twice-wounded veteran says he’s been lucky

MARIETTA – Not many people who take a bullet consider themselves lucky, but Devola resident Eugene Strahler does.

Not once, but twice, the Army sergeant came under attack while serving as a forward observer in Vietnam, once taking a bullet in the arm from an enemy no more than 10 feet away and once being pelted with shrapnel when an ammunition dump was hit by a Vietnamese rocket.

But Strahler, who earned two Purple Hearts from the two incidents, downplays his role in both.

“They were minor,” said Strahler of his injuries. “I was a lot luckier than a lot of the guys.”

Strahler had just completed a certificate course at a business school in Columbus when he was drafted in March 1967.

“I was in the process of enlisting anyway,” he said.

As a forward observer for the 25th Infantry Division with the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment, it was Strahler’s job to direct artillery fire.

“If we were being shot at from that corner, I would give them a grid and I’d call back and tell them where to fire,” he said.

It was while sweeping the road for explosive devices on Jan. 19, 1968 that Strahler was first shot.

“We swept that road every day. We got into a routine we shouldn’t have and that’s why we got caught,” he recalled.

Strahler had just unloaded his magazine round and was loading another when Viet Cong soldiers opened fire. A bullet struck Strahler in the left arm just above the wrist and the vibrations from a rocket-propelled grenade perforated both of his ear drums.

He was one of six men injured in the attack. Two others died.

Strahler did not have much time to recover. On Feb. 2, just two weeks later, a rocket hit the ammunition dump at Strahler’s base camp at Cu Chi, Vietnam. Strahler sustained minor bodily injuries from the exploding shrapnel and earned a second Purple Heart.

It was after the ammo dump explosion that Strahler encountered a fellow Mid-Ohio Valley resident for the first and only time in Vietnam.

“When the ammo dump exploded, they took us down to stay with the Wolfhounds,” he recalled.

Those not a part of the well-known infantry regiment were fed C rations and Strahler was in line to do the same when he heard someone calling his nickname, Spud.

“That was my nickname back home because I had worked on a potato farm,” he said.

Though Strahler can not remember the man, who he only saw for a brief time, he remembers that the local invited him into the Wolfhounds’ mess hall where he ate like a king.

“I had mashed potatoes and ham and all sorts of good stuff while everyone was having sea rations,” he smiled.

Strahler has stayed in touch with some of his fellow Vietnam veterans over the years, first attending reunions and currently keeping up with them on social media.

He has also stayed incredibly active in veterans’ organizations.

Strahler serves on the honor guard for military funerals and is a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5108. He also serves as the adjutant and finance officer for the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a chapter which he helped found nearly 20 years ago at the request of a representative from the state organization.

Strahler has also served on the Washington County Veterans Service Commission for 20 years. In that role, Strahler has done a lot to help the veterans of Washington County, said Veterans Service Commission president Jim Fernihough.

“That Purple Heart Memorial down by The Armory, he was instrumental in getting that made and getting it moved to where it is now,” said Fernihough, himself a Navy veteran who served during the Korean War.

The monument is a tribute to area Purple Heart recipients and bears the names of local U.S. soldiers who were injured during battle.

Besides being a good support for area veterans, Strahler is also a good friend, said Fernihough.

“I’ll say this about Eugene. If I ever needed anybody to cover by back, he would be the one I’d choose. You can bet the farm on him,” he said.