More than 41 years ago, Scott “Doc” Chobot left to serve in Vietnam. It would be the last time his feet would touch American soil.
Chobot served in the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman Third Class assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. His division was part of the post-Tet Offensive and was involved in intense fighting. Chobot arrived in Danang, Vietnam on Feb. 18, 1969, and in less than seven weeks he was wounded three times.
The third wound was devastating. On April 1, 1969, Chobot was coming to the aid of a marine who had lost a leg, and as his unit expanded the perimeter around the injured soldier, he was hit by the blast from a command-detonated land mine. It sent him flying into the air and blew off both his legs, one above the knee, one below.
As he lay in a coma in a hospital in Vietnam, a medal was pinned to his pillow. His legs were lost to the cause, but he would receive no formal ceremony for his sacrifice and would not receive all the medals due to him.
A ceremony at the Door County Maritime Museum June 18 attempted to make up for that slight, as Chobot, now a resident of Baileys Harbor, was finally presented with eight medals and one ribbon.
The medals include three Vietnam campaign medals, one Combat Action Ribbon, one National Defense medal, two Purple Hearts, and two Bronze Stars, one with a V for valor.
Col John A. Scocos, former Wisconsin Secretary of Veterans Affairs, presented the medals. In his remarks, Scocos recognized Chobot not only for his tremendous sacrifice in Vietnam 41 years ago, but also for his tenacious work on behalf of veterans in the years to follow. For more than 21 years, Chobot has written a veterans affairs column, now published in the Peninsula Pulse.
“[Veterans] have the benefits we have today because Doc and other men like him stood up for veterans rights,” he said. “I am so proud of the things he has done to help our returning veterans.”
Chobot said he came home to “a VA system that was unprepared and completely overwhelmed.”
In the years since, Chobot has fought for better benefits and treatment of veterans. He makes calls, writes letters, and produces a column highlighting the stories and issues faced by veterans.
The audience of friends and family at the ceremony included Chobot’s wife, Phyllis, and an old friend who has helped him move on from that fateful April Fool’s Day.
After losing his legs, Chobot’s journey from hospital to hospital eventually took him to Hines Veterans Hospital, where he met Private Jim Milliken. Milliken was suffering from nearly identical wounds to his legs, and the two struck up a friendship across beds.
Milliken made the trip from South Bend, Ind. to see his friend finally get his due. It was just another chapter in a friendship in which the two men have helped each other deal with their devastating setback.
“It means a lot to be here,” Milliken said. “We were in the same situation and had so much in common. We would encourage and needle each other at the hospital. As I went through something, I could ask him how he dealt with it. Or if I pulled ahead in my recovery, I could reach back and help him.”
Milliken turned to athletics to focus his recovery, competing in the Paralympics on prosthetic legs. Chobot turned to writing and activism. He often works with Scott McFarlane, Door County Veterans Services Officer, who was integral in helping Chobot get his belated recognition. Without his help, Chobot said, “the event would likely not have occurred. To him I am indebted.”
“Working through all the red tape of the bureaucracies involved was far from easy, often frustrating, but finally, finally rewarding,” Chobot said.
Chobot walks haltingly on his prosthetics today, using a cane for balance. Seated on a stool at the podium, he read from prepared remarks at the ceremony. He choked up as he ended by quoting James Cagney’s words from the end of the film Yankee Doodle Dandy.
“My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, and I thank you all for making this day so special for me.”
Forty-one years late, Chobot had finally received the “only real welcome I’ve ever wanted and deserved.”