Long Journey Home: J. Blake Wade (1943—)
Larger-than-life Lawton native J. Blake Wade led the struggling Oklahoma Historical Society to prominence in the 1990s. He led the historic Oklahoma Centennial Commission through most of the 2000s. Since 2011 he has led the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. Before all that, he had a 20-year career in the U.S. Army.
Wade won two Bronze Stars in Vietnam. One came on the hallowed field of Khe Sanh. There, in 1968, unfolded 76 straight days of legendary head-to-head combat between the North Vietnamese and the Communist world, and the United States military. At this important U.S. firebase bounding the demilitarized zone, the Reds attempted to prove their superiority over the best units America could put on the field.
In a memorable 2014 interview with John Erling, Wade spoke repeatedly of how, as a company commander at Khe Sanh, often referred to as “The American Alamo in Vietnam,” “I lost some men.”
“My company was to take a certain area in that battle,” he recalled. They succeeded, bloodily, “but actually, I did lose some people. By the grace of God, I made it through. I lost some men during that time that kind of haunted me for a long time in my life. But I tried to make amends by going to see their families in small little towns in Texas and Missouri.”
Wade and his fellow soldiers, airmen, and U.S. Marines famously held out and broke the Communist siege, killing thousands of enemy troops as they did so.
The Oklahoman came to believe that:
“At twenty-two, twenty-three years of age, I was just too young to be a company commander in a war zone. I did not fully have all the combat experience that I needed to have during that time. I did the best I could but I still lost some men. I was so upset about my military (experiences)—you know, they call it PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) now, but you talk about worrying at night, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything. So alcohol was my savior.”