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Shot twice ... then book

Celebrating survival and inspiring others

Author and veteran Lon Cole reminisces over his life and death experiences throughout his life in his latest book, Celebrate Survival. Photo courtesy Lon Cole

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At just 19 years old, Lon Cole found himself lying on the ground in Vietnam. He had been shot twice while trying to rescue a fellow Marine. His brothers-in-arms were able to retrieve the other wounded marine but due to heavy gunfire, they just could not reach Cole. It was the longest day of Cole's life, bleeding, drifting in and out of consciousness, and waiting for what he could only assume was the end. Out of the chaos of war, a South Vietnamese soldier suddenly appeared, came to Cole's aid, slung him over his tiny shoulders, and carried Cole to the Marine base. Cole did not know the name of the Vietnamese soldier and he never saw him again before he was airlifted to Japan to receive medical treatment. At the ripe age of 19, it was not the first time Cole would defy the odds and cheat death, and it would not be his last. His life story is the inspiration behind his latest book, Celebrate Survival.

Born in California in 1948, Cole was the eldest of six children. His father was in the Navy and had served in World War II and the Korean War. It was his father's military service that inspired him to also serve. Cole eventually joined the Navy as a corpsman and completed his training in San Diego. For a brief time, Cole helped combat a serious drug abuse issue within the hospital that he worked by going undercover. In a turn of events, he was found out and his life was threatened. Cole then volunteered to serve in Vietnam in an effort to save his life.

By 1968, Cole was serving in Vietnam with the Marine Corp Combat Unit as a corpsman. Shortly after arriving, Cole suffered a concussion from an explosion that went off nearby while trying to tend to wounded Marines. After returning to combat, their unit was ambushed and Cole was shot in the chest. Cole was not aware of having been shot and went out into enemy fire to retrieve other Marines who had been shot. Cole was shot for a second time in the shoulder with the impact of the hit throwing him up into the air. Fellow Marines came out to retrieve all of their wounded but under heavy enemy fire, they just could not reach Cole. "I thought, ‘I'm finished,'" said Cole. "I am behind enemy lines; I didn't think I had a chance of being rescued." If it weren't for the South Vietnamese soldier, Cole would not be here today.

Upon returning to the United States, Cole's wounds became severely infected. On top of that, he was suffering from skin lesions commonly referred to as jungle rot as well as malaria. Miraculously, Cole made a full recovery and in the summer of 1969, he was discharged from the Navy. He was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts for his heroic actions. However, Cole just could not leave the military world behind. In 1970, he enlisted in the Army with the Special Forces. By then, he was dating a young woman named Chris. When she realized that Cole wanted to volunteer to deploy back to Vietnam, she gave him an ultimatum. "She said if I went back, she would not marry me," said Cole. Cole chose love and remained stateside as a surgical tech. He and Chris have been married for 46 years; have two children and nine grandchildren.

Cole's near-death experiences have impacted him so greatly, that he openly admits he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He struggles even today with the haunting images of those he could not save. In 2010, Cole was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and just last year, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Regardless of his health, he finds writing, particularly poetry, to be soothing. His latest book, Celebrate Survival, discusses his several near-death experiences. "Survival is a blessing," said Cole. "It is something to be celebrated." Cole has the utmost respect for all military members and they love him back. Cole gushes over the warm reception his book has had among servicemembers. "I love to help people," said Cole. "As a surgical tech, I can only help so many people at a time, but a book can spread and help so many more." The positive feedback from his work is what continues to motivate him. For Cole, it's important for him to let people know that life is a gift. "As long as we are alive, we have something to be thankful for," said Cole. "Find your happiness."

Celebrate Survival has been published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises and is available through bookstore's websites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

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