As enemy bullets blanketed the Vietnam rice patty he used as cover, Marine Corps Lt. Bob Doran looked to his point man.
"He was shot," Doran recalled. "Dead."
Explosions ripped the terrain around him and the men he led into combat. Waiting for infantry support, Doran tried to contact friendly forces. But his field phone was missing most of its antenna. "It was shot off," he said, about 40 years after an early baptism of battle.
Doran's situation deteriorated.
"My M-16 (rifle) was jammed. ... I've got eight other kids wondering what is going to happen next," he said. "It was the first two weeks I was there, and I was pinned down in a major firefight. I'm calling in ... calling in ... nothing was happening. ..."
Then, "Thank God," Doran continued, "'Gunny' Rodriguez came up from behind and was able to wipe them out. He saved our lives."
As he recounted his soldier's story recently, birds chirped, flying from one mature tree to another at Doran's lakefront residence in Huntersville. Thousands of soldiers, young and old, can relate to Doran's experience. Anyone who endured combat has a bond, Doran said.
Thankful to survive his tour in Vietnam and respectful for all who serve in the armed services, Doran founded the Huntersville Memorial Day Ceremony nine years ago.
Doran said he has honored a living veteran from all major U.S. engagements during his lifetime: World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the war on terror.
Calling on all local veterans, the officer who holds a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, barked one more order: Stay involved.
"I just wanted to do my part," said Doran, who rose to the rank of captain before leaving the service. "It's important to keep the Memorial Day Ceremony going. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"I would like to get local veterans more involved, and I want as many veterans as I can get."
Planned for May 31 at Birkdale Village in Huntersville, the event will honor Dale Beatty, a former sergeant of the N.C. National Guard who was deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Seriously wounded, Beatty, a native of Statesville, returned to North Carolina and co-founded Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit organization specializing in renovating homes of disabled veterans.
Beatty's story is the spirit Doran wishes to display, combating the commercialism of the holiday.
"You drive down (a street) and see a Memorial Day Sale on refrigerators or cars," Doran said. "That's not what Memorial Day is about. It's about guys who thought they did the right thing, and in most cases, they did."
A rifle platoon commander for much of the first half of his 12-month combat tour (1969-70), Doran led troops on "search and destroy and ambush missions," he said. Doran later joined a combined action unit, aiding in militia training.
One day, somewhere southwest of Da Nang, then-Lt. Doran stood before the coveted big red pouch, recognized by Vietnam veterans as the mail bag.
Names were called and letters collected.
"Lt. Doran ... Lt. Doran ... Lt. Doran ..."
"What is this?" he remembers thinking.
"Lt. Doran ... Lt. Doran ..."
"What is going on?"
"Lt. Doran ... Lt. Doran ... Lt. Doran."
"Eight letters from eight different women," Doran said, standing on his Lake Norman driveway recently.
A friend living in New York City coerced the women to write Doran. All eight letters arrived for the same mail call. One proved special, addressed from a "Red-Hot Mamma of East 84th St."
"Now, you're a Marine sitting out in this lonely place, and you get a letter from 'Red-Hot Mamma'?" Doran recalls. "She wrote me every day. That was my psychology (in the field). It brought me back to Earth."
It also provided him with a future. The Red-Hot Mamma?
"That's my wife, Sona," he said laughing, as he recounted the trip to New York City in search of "The Red-Hot Mamma" immediately after returning to the states. About a year later, they married.
It's now been 39 years. They raised a daughter, Sonig, and Doran's work ethic paved his way for sales success in the New York publishing field.
Now that's a true soldier's story.