Vietnam vet remembers brotherhood of Navy men
AUSTINTOWN — Sitting on the right side of the plane looking out the window, Stuart Novotny got an up-close view of the Aurora Borealis as he headed to Tokyo.
It was 1967, and Novotny was 20 years old, making his way to Da Nang, Vietnam, to take part in the Vietnam War.
“It just amazed me. It was a bright light. I watched it as long as I could,” Novotny said.
Graduating from South High School in 1965, Novotny was 20 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, noting he received a draft notice.
Wanting to serve his country, Novotny intended on joining the Marines but when he arrived at the recruiting office, only the Navy recruiter was there.
He thought the Navy “wouldn’t be that bad. I’ll be on a ship,” Novotny said.
Novotny ended up as a corpsman with the First Battalion First Marines with the Alpha company in the second platoon for 13 months.
He administered first aid immediately to wounded men, working to stop bleeding and doing “what I had to do keep them alive,” he explained.
During his tour, Novotny was injured, taking a bullet in his left arm.
He was the second one of the company to be hit. In all, eight men were killed and 28 wounded out of 152.
It was a bullet from an AK-47 Russian-made automatic rifle that he was shot with, and he still carries it around in his pocket to this day.
Caught in a fire fight that lasted for four hours, Novotny said his company walked the same patrol that U.S. Marines did a month prior to being ambushed.
They were headed north toward the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, which divides the Vietnam Peninsula.
“We walked into it” surrounded, Novotny said, recalling that the enemy had markers set in trees.
Phantom jets from “our side” were dropping napalm and 500-pound bombs, Novotny said. “They were flying so low I could see their faces.”
Finally making it out four hours later, Novotny said the relief would be short-lived.
The driver of an evacuation vehicle taking the wounded back to safety told them they had to get through their own mine field first.
That’s when Novotny said he prayed, and in return, “my prayers were answered” as the group made it back safely to Con Thien to be transferred to safety. It was during that experience that Novotny said he learned that when stressful times present themselves, one must continue.
“You got to forget about that and keep going,” he said.
As he has kept that frame of mind through the years since Vietnam, Novotny participated in a book.
Author Kenneth Jordan wrote “Alpha 1/1 Vietnam,” a narrative where he interviewed veterans about what they saw and experienced in different battles.
After being discharged three months shy of four years’ enlistment, Novotny worked at Kroger where he worked as a meat cutter for 10 years, followed by a 30-year career on the line at General Motors in Lordstown, retiring in 2006.
Marrying his wife Donna in April of 1968, the couple first lived in Boardman before settling in Austintown.
The couple has four children: Stuart Jr., Susan, Sharon and Sheryl; and seven grandchildren.
Novotny said there was a sense of brotherhood, of camaraderie, that was established while fighting alongside fellow corpsmen and soldiers.
“We were young,” he said, adding that those fighting were able to work for four hours, then rest for four.
When it came down to race and color, “everyone was tight,” he said.
“Halfway around the world, you are one unit. You fight to protect each other.”
SERVICE BRANCH : U.S. Navy
MILITARY HONORS: Purple Heart; Good Conduct Medal; National Service Defense medal; Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Stars; Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon; Combat Action Ribbon; Vietnam Campaign member medal; Republic of Vietnam meritorious unit citation; ribbon of Vietnam
OCCUPATION: General Motors
FAMILY: Wife Donna; four children, Stuart Jr., Susan, Sharon and Sheryl; and seven grandchildren