Denis: A True American Hero

Hi to All the Ships at Sea,

I would like to tell you a story of a young man who was born with a beautiful smile on his face. He was extremely happy, light hearted, and funny. I guess you might even call him the class clown. I don’t think he had a bad bone in his body. One day, he went to Whitehall Street and because of a comment from a wise guy that was sitting very close to him, he wound up being inducted into the armed services. With his non-violent persona he was able to become a medic. He was put into a position where he would save lives and not take them. Denis wound up in a place called Khe Sanh.

The siege at Khe Sanh turned out to be probably the worst battle of that infamous Vietnam War. To this day no one knows what happened, how it happened, or when it happened. What I do know is that my cousin Denis Dermody was awarded the Silver Star. I know they don’t give out Silver Stars to just anybody. If you ever want to know something about a real hero, you can be assured the way to tell that they are real heroes is that they never speak about it and Denis never did. I heard through other people that he saved many lives but had to do certain things he didn’t want to do to save those lives. Like many of our brave, courageous men and women who came back from war, especially that war, they were not welcomed with open arms as heroes. As you know, my expertise is about photography and filmmaking. I will regress for one moment. Three years ago, Denis confided in me that he spent a week in a fox hole with Photographer David Douglas Duncan, who is one of my all time heroes. I have all of his books. The photo you are about to see was taken by David Douglas Duncan. It is double truck spread in his book A War Without Heroes. The day after I spoke with my cousin Denis, I called David, who is living in the South of France and we spoke for about 40 minutes. He recalled many of the things that happened in Khe Sanh. I am pretty sure the abbreviation PTSD did not exist when Denis came back from Vietnam. Like many other brothers and sisters he suffered more when he came back to the United States then he did there. That’s my perception but not fact. Dennis fought through the bullets, the barbed wire, the Napalm, Agent Orange, and God knows what else. He was and is still loved by thousands of people that he’s helped over the years.

In the final analysis he fought the good fight, never lost and just moved on to a different dimension. I genuinely hope and pray that he is looking down with that big smile on his face. I will also remind you, Denis, that you’re half Italian and half Irish and there were only two people in the world who ever called me Joseph – my mother and you cousin Denis.

Rest In Peace I Will Always Love You

It’s amazing how much you can miss and it can be staring you right in the face. Photographers are not supposed to do that. Denis’s action just happened to be on March 17th. I wonder if he, at the time, or if anybody else realized that it was on St. Patrick’s Day?

You can now follow me on Twitter @dimaggio_photo
Visual Impressions with Joe DiMaggio, Sponsored by Adorama
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