By Patrick Yost
In 1968, the day after he and his wife Denny graduated from the University of Georgia, Doug Ewing walked to the mailbox.
He opened the box and took out a notification from the United States Selective Service.
He was 23-years-old with a newly minted college degree and a newly minted marriage certificate and he had been commanded to serve his country in Vietnam.
And like thousands of men before him, he left family and country, joined the U.S. Navy and found himself on the USS Antelope after training in California and then he served on the USS Bon Homme Richard. The Bon Homme Richard is the same aircraft carrier where, coincidentally, Madisonians Robert Mason and E. Roy Lambert served in a different era.
Ewing had envisioned a life as a teacher, as Denny also had an early childhood education degree, and was looking forward to starting a family. But there was a war on, he says, “and this country needed men.”
“I didn’t mind. I was scared and I was young but my thought then was if I can be over there and know Denny and my family was safe, I was fine.”
He never looked back.
“There is nothing that means more to me than my family. That means keeping them safe, making sure they’re happy and doing what it takes to ensure they live the best life. God intended for me to got to war and for me to make it back home to my family. No matter what your opinion on the war is, if you don’t fight for what you believe in and do what you have to do to make sure your priorities are taken care of, you have failed at the basic duty of life.”
At home, Denny was pregnant and was “praying a lot.”
On Jan. 14, 1970, while Doug was serving in Vietnam, Douglas Raymond “Rusty” Ewing was delivered by Dr. Ken Lewis. For nine months, Denny stayed at home and, with family help, raised their child. She worried, she stressed but, she says, she believed in her husband. She wrote letters and sent pictures of their child.
And every day she reminded Rusty of the father he had not yet met. “I used to show Rusty a picture of his daddy every day.”
The war raged. Doug spent nights on the carrier feeling the concussion and earth shattering explosions from bombs dropped on the mainland. “it opened my eyes to the might of the U.S. Navy,” he says now. “And it made me pray every night for the Marines in the jungle.”
The USS Bon Homme Richard battled North Vietnamese MiGs and was tasked with striking transportation and infrastructure targets.
Doug returned with several epiphanies from the Vietnam experience. “It made me understand the sacrifice it takes in life to have a free country.”
Also, importantly, he says he learned the value of trustworthiness with your fellow man. “You have to protect each other’s backs over there,” he says.
“It’s not a game.”
Far from it. He says to this day some of his most enduring friendships were born out of the shared struggle of service in Vietnam. “You depend on them. They depend on you. The bond was taking care of each other and knowing that you always had their back.”
“We went through hell together.”
Back home Denny was also struggling with absence. While she says she had a great support group with her family, she was missing her husband. When Doug returned she and Rusty travelled to Washington State, nine months after Rusty had been born.
And then, relief. “It was emotional,” she says of the first time Doug was able to see his son. “Let’s put it that way.”
“It was thrilling to be able to have a family again and be together to go on a new adventure.”
The USS Bon Homme Richard was decommissioned in Bremerton, Washington on July 7, 1971. Denny made a long distance phone call to Morgan County Primary School Principal Bill Corry and was hired, she says, over the phone.
Three years after graduation, after an unexpected draft notice, the family was coming home.
For Doug, he says he came home better. “You learn to deal with things,” he says. “When I came out of the Navy I was much more a man than when I came out of college.”