BLANCHARD, La. -- Dropping out of school in the eighth grade in Alabama, Paul Savage Sr. later found himself working in a coffee shop. One of his customers laid down a dare that would change his life.
A Marine recruiter who liked to come to that coffee shop made a bet with Paul.
"He made me a bet for a six-pack of Coke that I couldn't go through Marine boot camp and make. That I wasn't man enough to do it," Paul recalled.
That was all he needed to hear. He took the challenge, and made it into the Marines. Even though, he says, “I didn't know anything about the military at all."
He would soon find out with his first tour in the Vietnam War in 1965, right as the war broke out.
"Pressure on you ever minute of the day and night. During the day we were in firefights. At night you never knew when the RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) you would hear -- where they were landing until they would land. You could hear an RPG whistling as it came in. You just hoped it wasn't close enough to you," Paul said.
After experiencing the brutality of war, Paul's brother-in-law made an offer to him back in the civilian world. He'd set Paul up with his own shoe store.
"I didn't want to smell people's feet the rest of my life. So I thought fighting a war would be better," Paul explained.
So he re-enlisted and headed back for a second tour of duty.
“I was trained to do that. And I knew what I was doing," Paul says.
He had made sergeant. And this time he was in charge of a small specialized unit.
"We lived in the village. We ate with the people. We slept with the people. We set up ambushes at night. And sometimes we'd run patrol during the day," he says of that second deployment.
Paul was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal with Combat, after he and his team rounded up a group of North Vietnamese soldiers.
“We had found out later that they were the point group for about 1,500 NVA. And we took them all out and they weren't able to get the work back to the main group, which more than likely saved lives and itself,” Paul says.
Paul wound up staying in the Marines for 20 years. But today, more than 50 years after the last tour of combat, Paul suffers from a list of ailments from exposure to Agent Orange, as well as nightmare flashbacks and PTSD.
But still, he says, "I would go back and do it again."
For one thing, he has a list of brothers in arms on his phone – friends for life.
"The family. The brotherhood. You always got somebody by your side or covering your back. It's just a wonderful feeling," Paul says.
After the Marines, Paul served for ten years as a sheriffs deputy back in Alabama. He now lives in Blanchard. He wound up there with his wife of almost 30 years, who was a military nurse, when she was transferred to Barksdale Air Force Base.