All this week on ABC 13 News, we'll profile heroes from right here in the Heart of Virginia who have served and sacrificed for us.
Reporter: Mark Kelly l Videographer: Sally Delta Goin
Lynchburg, VA - Rank and file soldiers returning home from Vietnam were advised to keep their war stories to themselves. Perhaps no one listened to that order better than Tim Doering. But Doering couldn't keep his past quiet forever. And when he finally opened up, he was rewarded.
War is a lonely place.
"Along with a bunch of guys I had never seen before," said Tim Doering describing his time serving in Vietnam.
But, Doering says, Vietnam was as lonely as they come.
"There was always a very negative connotation for the fellows that served over there," said Doering.
That shame made coming home as lonely as fighting overseas. A US Navy Veteran, Doering kept secret what happened in Da Nang, Vietnam.
"I heard bang bang...then they fled," said Doering.
Doering saw his Commander, Richard Chavez, caught in the crossfire.
"I figured he needed help," said Doering.
"I took a piece of shrapnel to my leg at the knee...Doering carried me off that field," wrote Chavez in a letter years later detailing the rescue.
Doering saved Chavez's life, got him to medics, but never saw him in Vietnam again.
"That's the last time I ever saw him, until Maryland," said Doering.
And the last time Doering spoke about Chavez, the rescue and the Vietnam War.
"Not speaking about it seemed to be the prudent thing," said Doering.
His war story stayed locked inside him, away from wife Judy for 40 years.
"Was it that you didn't think that you could trust this information with me?" asked Judy.
But 5 years ago, Doering unlocked his war chest of secrets. He spoke about Chavez, about the rescue. And as so often happens when you give an inch, the universe gives you a yard. Soon after opening up about his past, Doering's past bumped into him.
"Being at the same place, at the same time, looking for the identical information 44 years later," said Doering.
At the National Archives in Maryland, 2 veterans brought together and torn apart in combat accidentally found each other 4 decades later.
"When I asked him about what he was after. So he told the story and I finished it for him," said Doering.
Doering and Chavez were in search of the same paperwork. Bill Picking, a friend of Doering's, was there that day and witnessed the reunion.
"The recognition in their eyes when they recognize each other. Here it was 30, 40 years later and they were recognizing each other," said Picking.
"Not that I needed him to say, 'Thank You,' but I needed just the fulfillment, the finish of it," said Doering.
He needed one more talk, one last look at the man he saved. And that saved Tim Doering from the lonely place he'd been since the war.
Commander Chavez passed away last summer from cancer. But his son Michael Chavez wrote Doering: "You made a brave and courageous decision in a terrifying situation that most or many run and hide from."
Tim's wife Judy started a support group for veterans' wives. It's called Wives of Vietnam Veterans. They meet the fourth Thursday of each month at the American Legion on Greenview Drive in Lynchburg. The next meeting is January 27, 2011. If you are interested, contact Judy Doering at (434) 665-4693.
To share your hero's story with us, visit our Heroes from the Heart of Virginia page.