Central Texas Heroes: John Metcalf

WACO, Texas (KWTX) Raising ten children in Greeneville, Tennessee, John Metcalf's father had high expectations for discipline and achievement..

Veteran John Metcalf

"We have a PhD and four bachelor's degrees, a sister who finished business school, so he got what he wanted," Metcalf told us.

So it's no surprise Metcalf was comfortable in a strict military environment, and for him there was no choice but the Marines.

He enlisted in 1964, underwent advanced infantry training, and got to work.

"I got transferred to NATO headquarters. There we were security, plus we did honor ceremonies for various NATO dignitaries," he said.

By this time he had a wife and daughter.

But he had to leave his family and head to Vietnam in 1967.

He was sent to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, a formidable force.

"They were known as Walking Death, because they dished out a lot of death to the enemy," he said.

But as battles raged the tide turned.

Metcalf said, "by the time I got there or just before, they were known as the Walking Dead, because the fortunes of war had kind of turned against us, at least a third of our outfit was killed, a third was wounded."

Metcalf was a squad leader in charge of 13 men as part of a special landing force.

"We would go on long range patrols, search and destroy, and if an American outfit looked like they were going to get overrun, they would 'heli-lift' us in between them," he told us, "they would put us in between so that would give our troops time to boogie or regroup while we were doing the fighting."

He and his squad also had to keep watch for potential ambushes.

And one night, he says bad decisions led to many deaths, almost his.

He was working with a group of six men when there should have been 14, all up 48 hours straight, when he spotted the Viet Cong approaching camp.

But he says even after he contacted his commander, forces were never sent out to handle the threat.

"There was a large group so he said, ok, keep watch and let me know. So I called back around 3:00 a.m. and he told me in no uncertain terms to shut up, he needed some sleep," he said, "along about, say 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, the VC slammed into my company, but no one was prepared because he didn't tell anybody."

Metcalf was told 50 men lost their lives that day.

But he didn't see it for himself because his own devastating injury awaited him.

After the attack the VC started to retreat.

"We started following them," Metcalf said, "we were just going to find them and make contact and radio in their position so everyone else could come."

But as he and his men followed the soldiers as they left he was attacked himself.

"In comes a grenade, landed two feet from me, then comes a second hand grenade, and it's about 3 feet, so I absorbed two hand grenades," he said, "my entire left side from the bottom of my foot to the upper part of my back, I was hit about 45 times."

Metcalf said, "I tried to walk and I realized my feet weren't working."

Metcalf drug himself to cover under the brush.

"I either passed out or went into shock, because all I could remember, they say your life flashes before you. It did, and I'm thinking about my wife, daughter, parents brothers and sisters," he said.

And then, someone found him.

"I hear noise, and I thought well, I guess it's over dude, because you can't find your weapon, and there's people coming after you," he told us.

In our next report, we'll explain what happened, and how he ended up here today.