Frank Vinales joined the Army right after high school at the age of 17 and had to obtain his parents’ permission to do so. He said he wanted to do something to protect our country through war service. After joining, he went to jungle school in Panama, to reconnaissance school and became a machine gun squad leader. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant at the age of 18. He was assigned to Fort Campbell, KY. He trained there for a year, and that’s when they informed him that at this time next year he would be in Vietnam.
“I was pretty gung ho. I knew I wanted to go, but a part of me still had hesitation,” he says. “The camaraderie I experienced with my unit was amazing. I couldn’t believe that other comrades would care so much about me, that they would be willing to give up their life while defending our country.”
He didn’t know at the time how true those words would be. While in Vietnam fighting enemy forces, he saw that his best friend was on point and was cut off. He kept trying to get to him despite the machine-gun fire.
“I was so upset; I thought I had to find a different direction to help him,” Vinales remembers. “So I grabbed an M-72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon (rocket) and fired into the enemy machine-gun bunkers. This gave me the opportunity to crawl out to where he was. He was too big to carry, and his legs were bleeding due to the gunfire. I was shot two times when I was with him, and then he was shot in his back, but he did the most courageous thing. He rolled over on top of me to take the brunt of the fire, and we lost him at that time. After darkness fell, I crawled out from under him and went back to the initial spot I had started from. On the way back I was shot two more times, but I made it back to my camp. From there I was medically evacuated to a MASH unit. I was operated on and was then flown to Japan, where I had my second operation. From there I was sent to a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. I was in the hospital for four months recovering from my wounds.”
Although Vinales was deeply saddened by the loss of his friend, the Army took the time to recognize him for his efforts, presenting him with the Silver Star Medal, the third-highest military decoration for valor awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces. Any uniformed service member may receive the medal, which is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States. He also has earned four Purple Hearts.
“Joining the service is an individual choice,” Vinales points out, adding, “Despite all the injuries, I’m still honored to have joined.”
When asked about being selected to serve as the Vietnam Grand Marshal, Frank Vinales says, “I feel it’s a great honor. It’s my homecoming parade that I’ve been waiting for and I thought I would never get.”
Frank Vinales lives in Chandler, Arizona.
We hope you will join us at the 20th Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2016, to see Celebrity Grand Marshal Pete Hegseth and all eight Veteran Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “Welcome Home Vietnam Heroes.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.
For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.