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Philadelphia Daily News

"Once A Hero"

by: Larry McMullen

Dave Christian was talking over the speaker phone with a sailor from the Lakehurst Naval Air Station who had lost his leg in an accident and was trying to stay in the Navy.  "I didn't know it was possible to stay in with that kind of disability," I said after Christian hung up.  "Oh, yeah," he said.  "You just have to make a case for it".  You could tell from what was said in the phone conversation that the sailor figured he was talking to the right man to make such a case with politicians and military people who matter.  All Christian asked of the sailor was to be sure he had the necessary paper work completed. "Do everything else right," he said to the sailor, "and it still won't happen for you if you forget something on the administrative end." Christian conducted the business of protecting a serviceman's rights the other day while sitting in the comfortable office of the president of the Affiliated Financial Network in Newtown.  What made it OK was that he's the president.

It might seem like the top of the world for a kid who grew up poor and was a hero in Vietnam, where he was twice given the last rites of the Catholic Church on the battlefield and won so many medals he ran out of room on his chest to wear them.  Please see: MEDALS on the left side of the page where the most important are listed. 

Once he survived a war that still produces casualties long after it ended, but he was always more suited to be an executive of a successful business than a victim. 

The work he does for veterans now is what he figures he still owes. 

Before, he ran veterans' outreach centers in Pennsylvania under the Thornburgh Administration.  He wrote Agent Orange legislation for the state that was signed into law in 1982.  He was Assistant Director of Veterans' Affairs in the Carter Adminstration.  He was fired after the dedication of a plaque to Vietnam War veterans.  He was supposed to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.  The president was then scheduled to speak.  Christian thought it was an opportunity he couldn't afford to waste.  There is a photograph of him standing at the microphone and Carter in the background with his mouth hanging open. 

He looked surprised because Christian wasn't saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The first words out of his mouth were, "Let me tell you about the plight of Vietnam War veterans."  When he was finished with what he had to say, he turned around and shook hands with the president, who said, "Son, you're going somewhere."  He meant out of his administration. 

Other than Jimmy Carter, powerful people answer when Dave Christian calls. 

He earned that kind of respect by what he did when he was a kid in Vietnam. In all, he spent eight months on the front lines.  He would have spent more time on the front lines if he hadn't used up so much time mending in hospitals in Japan.  "I kept getting shot," he said. 

Once he was shot and it almost tore off his right arm.  He took shrapnel in his hand, was stabbed in the arm in hand-to-hand combat and had a light anti-tank weapon explode while he was on the top of it.  His feet were shredded by a claymore mine and he was burned over 40 percent of his body by napalm.  The clothes he wears to work, the suits and dress shirts and ties, cover most of it but after 33 major operations, he still has three square feet of scar tissue on his body and lives with pain. 

If there are any mental scars, he does an even better job of hiding them.  He's one Vietnam veteran who enters battles over veterans' rights wearing only the civilian clothes now.  "When I was a baby, I wore diapers," he said. "When I was a young man, I wore an Army uniform.  I don't wear diapers anymore. And I don't wear camouflage fatigues, either." 

Christian, who is now 39 (at time of this article) has a wife, Peggy, and four children.  He's a family man, but there is still one thing that he could never change about himself.  A few years ago, when he was well into his 30's and long after his battles in Vietnam were over, he was driving behind a car that skidded and flipped over, bursting into flames.  He and other motorists stopped and jumped out. He could hear people yelling to stay back, that the car was going to explode. He was the only one moving forward.  He crawled into the burning car through the sunroof and dragged the people inside, a father and his young son, to safety.  "I heard the warnings to stay back," said Christian, "but I heard the boy crying for help, too."


© 2007-2010 David A. Christian