CBN.com “I was scared to death. I was literally scared to death thinking I’m going to die.”
The war in Vietnam robbed tens of thousands of Americans of their innocence and youth.
“While my friends were all going to college and getting married, I’m over there in a foxhole,” says Paul Tribus. “It was like the second or third day I was there when I saw the first casualty, when I saw the first man get killed… You never forget that.”
When he landed in the war torn jungles of Vietnam in 1968, Paul Tribus was only 18 years old. Trained as a machine gunner, he remembers his first day in ‘Nam like it was yesterday.
“My very first night in country we got hit, and I didn’t think I was going to live to see a second day,” he says. “My first 90 days in the country were probably the most intense of my life. I was probably in over about 100 fire fights.”
The Vietnam War was a war of confusion. Near the northern border, everyone wore uniforms. You could tell who was your enemy.
However, down south in the smaller villages, your enemy could be the man that gave you a haircut that morning or the child you gave a candy bar to the day before.
“We’ve had several times where little kids would come into our area and be used as human booby traps -- as human ammunition. They didn’t know,” says Paul. “The Vietcong could take that kid and say, ‘You go into this camp of Marines. I want you to take this grenade or we’re going to kill your momma or kill your sister.’ So they would – so we didn’t know.”
The Vietnam War was also a war of personal isolation for many of the soldiers.
“After I was there maybe about six months, I didn’t want to be very friendly towards anybody,” says Paul. “The problem was you got so close and then they would get killed or be severely wounded and sent home.”
But in the midst of all the chaos and tragedy, something happened to Paul. It all started with a small booklet named “Holy Joe.”
“I remember sitting by some sandbags waiting for a truck to pick me up. I looked down and this Holy Joe tract was there. I picked it up and read it. It was this testimony about salvation. I never heard that before.”
Days later, in the heat of battle, Paul Tribus prayed.
“I found myself at the bottom of a foxhole. We were getting overrun by a bunch of Vietcong. They were coming up the hill, and we were getting shot. I cried out to God, ‘I am not ready to die. Whatever that tract says, whatever Holy Joe had, I need. I need to make a commitment.’
“I felt something happen to me there. I’m not saying that I had this great flash of light or anything. But I felt something happen that changed my whole life.”
Paul served his country well. He risked his life to save fellow soldiers who were wounded. Later, he was awarded not one but two purple hearts.
But serving in Vietnam took a heavy toll on Paul’s emotions. Like so many soldiers, Paul suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Seemingly insignificant images and sounds can put soldiers right back in the midst of the war’s intensity.
“Your human body has what they call the adrenal glands. In the case of emergency they rise, and you’re able to do superhuman things. They’re only made to kick in once a month or once every couple months. Could you imagine it happening 10 times a day? That’s what Vietnam was like.”
Twenty years after the war, Paul attended a CBN Vietnam Vets conference. It was a turning point for Paul’s recovery. Through times of prayer and group seminars, the scars of war began to heal.
“They dug up some things,” Paul recalls. “They had some guys come in, and it wasn’t just preaching to the choir. They touched some things in my life that I did not realize that God was bringing up and dealing with. What a healing time.”
Paul now pastors at Rock Church in Newport News, Virginia. Even though there are still times when the horrors of Vietnam haunt his memory, he feels God is continually healing his emotional scars.
He thanks God daily for his loving wife and family.
“I think our Christian walk has got to be daily,” says Paul. “I did a little word study one time on victory. That word victory comes from two words. It comes from victim and story. So once I was a victim. I still am a victim, but I’ve got a story to tell. My story is, I won a victory. Christ wins. I could be an overcomer through Christ."
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