Meteorologist Who Was Awarded Purple Heart Recalls His Vietnam War Experience

John Malan is the meteorologist at the TV stationTMJ4, although he nearly became professional baseball player instead. John explains “I had no college deferment, I thought I was going to be this big shot baseball player. I had letters from the Pittsburgh Pirates, I was an all suburban all-star in Illinois.” He said he was sure he would make the big leagues, so never really thought that he needed college.

Malan cracked an ankle during tryouts and, suddenly, being a professional baseball player was no longer an option. Instead, he received his draft letter and joined the US Army. “I’m the next Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and wound up being the next GI Joe instead.”

Malan drove an armored personnel carrier during the Vietnam War. He served two tours of duty and quickly learned how important brotherhood is. “I don’t care if there are five guys with you and one’s Asian, one’s African-American, one’s Mexican-American, if you don’t have that guy’s back, you die.”

Malan was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries received in a foxhole next to a tank. A sudden explosion showered the area with shrapnel, a chunk of which lodged itself in his knee.

He retired at the rank of Specialist 4th Class and returned home to the scorn of a nation unhappy with the ongoing war. Malan remembers how he was walking through the crowd at the airport while wearing his uniform to shouts of “baby killer” and other abuse. “They thought we were bad people.” he said, “But we were just soldiers doing our job.”

After 9/11, he noticed a shift in people’s attitudes towards soldiers. Most people seem to understand the sacrifices that veterans made. Despite this, he is proud to have served his country, and it is those experiences in the military that made him who he is today. “Following orders, authority, responsibility, respect. It’s the ultimate learning lesson.”


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE