By Sabrina Bates
U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Gleason native Tommy Hopper can remember a part of his life spent sleeping on the ground when he lived in the jungles of Vietnam. At the young age of 18, that 13-month deployment was a way of life for him and his comrades in the 311 fighting in the Vietnam War.
“We had one set of clothes and no showers. That was just how we lived then and you just got to a point where didn’t care about the conditions,” Hopper shared.
Hopper was part of a combat force, also known as a “grunt,” in the foreign land. He enlisted in the Marine Corps while still in school. Upon graduation, he spent 90 days in training and arrived in the jungles shortly before Christmas.
“At 18, I’ve seen a lot of action. All of us did. We were very young,” Hopper said. Shortly after, Hopper was wounded, the first time. He explained if a service man was wounded, they would not return stateside, but they would be taken out of the combat zone.
He recalled spending nights in a hotel on a “soft, plushy bed” during his rest and recovery.
Hopper went back to the jungle after his recovery. He said he didn’t want to leave the country and leave all of his comrades after he healed from his wounds.
Hopper was a part of the Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
It was the second wound during the Battle of Khe Sanh that landed him in a Huey helicopter. During that battle, his regiment charged Hill 689. As a result, they lost five of their brothers and 20 were wounded.
Hopper was struck in the face by a bullet that broke his jaw. He said he had a Naval doctor who worked on him.
The remainder of his 13-month deployment was spent as a security guard in Guam. Hopper said he lost touch with his fellow Marines he served alongside in Vietnam after his second injury.
He received two Purple Hearts during his service. Upon coming back to the States, Hopper married his high school sweetheart, Brenda Henderson, who had waited for him to come home from the war in 1969.
He left the Marine Corps in 1971, carrying with him the memories of his time spent in the jungles of Vietnam.
The couple has two children and several grandchildren they spend time with. To listen to Hopper recall his time in service during the Vietnam War, one might be surprised about his openness to talk about such a trauma-filled experience.
“I believe we (veterans) should talk about it. I think it’s good to talk to people who will listen; better than bottling it up,” Hopper said. When asked to serve as grand marshal of this year’s Veterans Day Parade Saturday, Hopper said he was hesitant as he doesn’t like to be in the spotlight.
“They did ask me to do this, so I’m going to,” he said. Hopper added he wants to help others. “If I can help just one person, then I feel like I’ve done a good thing,” he added.