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Vietnam War veteran Vince Ordua poses for a photo during the Memorial Day Parade in Omaha on May 28, 2021.


VINCE ORDUA


On this Veterans Day, there’s a good chance you’ll find Vince Ordua puttering in the backyard of his modest Plattsmouth home.

If he doesn’t chop up a piece of wood or sprinkle some food for the chickens, hell will probably be chilling out in a lounge chair next to a bubbling koi pond that he has on his own- even built, inside a screened patio, where her seven cats roam free.

He calls it his garden of serenity. He loves the life he and his wife Marcella have built here.

Sometimes tears roll down my cheeks, said Ordua, 71. Gratitude is an attitude.

His gratitude and inner peace are hard earned, after fighting in Vietnam as an army helicopter pilot, fighting against racism during a long career in the army, law enforcement and VA, and combats with post-traumatic stress disorder and agent-related cancer. Orange.






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Photo of Vince Orduas from Omaha Central High School.


Orduas’ struggles have at times led to conflict with his high performing family in North Omaha and through four marriages which produced six children.

And that culminated in a touching honor flight in 2017 in Washington, DC, along with over 650 other Vietnam veterans.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he confronted the memories of soldiers he knew who died in action in Southeast Asia, and forgave himself for surviving when they did not.

The memory still moves her to tears.

It broke me when I remembered what I tried to forget, he wrote in a thank you note to Bill and Evonne Williams, the Omaha couple who organized the robbery. honor. My new brothers came to get me. I knew it takes a real man to shed tears for fallen comrades.

This new-found serenity is not something you would have expected from Vince Ordua, if you had known him back then.

Not in the late 1960s, when he played in football and track at Omaha Central dancing in the footsteps of his older brother, Joe Ordua, a Nebraska Cornhuskers star.






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Vince Ordua is shown in August 1968.


Certainly not when he was roaming the treetops of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in 1970-71, flying an Army OH-6A Cayuse helicopter. He was shot four times and survived.

Back then, if someone made a racist remark or treated them unfairly, Ordua would straighten them out.

Like in the days of Army flight school, when he smashed a stack of wooden shelves with his fist in response to too many racial punches from a white southern roommate.

I grew up fighting, says Ordua. But there comes a time in every man’s life when you have to say, enough is enough.

Ordua was the third of six children of Reverend John Ordua and his wife, Doris, leaders of the Friends of Christ Evangelical Church in North Omaha.






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Vince Ordua competes for Central High in a track and field competition in 1967.


Vince said teachers compared him to his older brother, John Jr., in academia, and second oldest, Joe, in track and field. Two younger sisters, Carmen and Juanita, followed, then the younger brother, Paul.

He broke records in the hurdles and played backwards in the Centrals football team, graduating in 1968. His exploits prompted coach Bob Devaney to offer him a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, a team at the forefront of greatness, with Joe Ordua in his attacking backfield. Joe led the team in the race in his first year of the national championship, 1970, and played several years in the NFL.

Could Vince Ordua have achieved this kind of success? Hell never knows; he chooses another path, following another family tradition.

Vinces’ Mexican grandfather fought alongside the revolutionary Pancho Villa at the turn of the 20th century. His father and uncles had fought in World War II. An uncle, Ralph Ordua, had flown with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a pioneering squadron of black fighter pilots.

Vince had been disheartened by the anti-war protests rocking college campuses and thrilled by the army helicopters he had seen on the evening news. Plus, he was newly married to his high school girlfriend, Johnice, and was going to have a baby soon. He joined in the spring of 1969.

In the early 1970s, he was in Vietnam, piloting an OH-6 reconnaissance helicopter in the 1st Air Cavalry Division as part of a hunter-killer team, paired with a Cobra monster gunship helicopter. Its fast little Loach, lighter than a VW Beetle, flew low over the jungle to attract enemy fire.

Yes, it was dangerous work. Life expectancy was only 45 days short on average, Ordua said. He flew for 120 days and was shot down four times.






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Vincent Ordua, Vietnam War Army veteran from Plattsmouth, with his younger brother Paul.


PAUL ORDUA


He can tell you what it’s like to kill someone. But Ordua prefers to tell a story of saving lives.

Like the time he returned from a mission with unused ammo. So he flew to a designed free firing zone, with the order to empty his weapons.

Usually he was just shooting. But this time he saw movement on the ground.

A voice inside me said, Don’t shoot. Ordua said.

They turned out to be kids, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. How many times have I listened to the voice on the other end of the radio and opened fire?

Another time, he spent his 10-day rest hours searching for the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed into a river, leaving three crew members missing. The army had given up.

Ordua found the wreckage, saving three families from hellish limbo from vanishing in action.

His own family in Omaha were upset while he was in Vietnam.

I was physically ill the entire time he was away, said Juanita, his younger sister, who was 13 when he left.

Carmen, a year younger than Vince, had been so close to him that people regarded them as twins. She had covered him when he fled with Johnice, then joined the army.

But she, too, feared for her safety, and with good reason.






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Vincent Ordua, Vietnam War Army veteran from Plattsmouth, with his brother Paul and father John.


PAUL ORDUA


It was hard to imagine that my brother was in a war where people were blowing themselves up, shooting themselves, catching diseases and (being) killed, she said in an email. I was afraid he wouldn’t come back.

He returned to Nebraska in 1971, to await his next posting.

He also had a decision to make: Devaney and his then offensive coordinator Tom Osborne had said they would keep his scholarship for two years. The team was coming out of its very first national championship. They seemed like a good bet to win another behind quarterback Jerry Tagge, who had been Vinces’ freshman teammate.






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PAUL ORDUA Vincent Ordua, Vietnam War Army veteran from Plattsmouth, shown in his Texas State Patrol uniform.


PAUL ORDUA


But Ordua let go of the golden ring.

Vietnam had been hell, but it still loved to fly. He had a wife and two dependent children. He also had the chance to tour Germany, which excited Johnice.

Ordua therefore remained in the military, for what he said was two pleasant years in Europe, plus one in Texas. Then he got out and took a job as a Texas state soldier.

But Vietnam stayed with him. It tormented his sleep, made him nervous and angry. At least once he tried to kill himself. He ended up in a VA psychiatric ward.

Johnice, he said, stayed with him for 15 years before going their separate ways.

Vietnam has changed me so much, he says. She couldn’t take it.

He left the Texas State Patrol after 10 years, going through jobs in a trucking company, as a Sheriff’s Assistant in Washington State, as a garbage collector in Seattle. And he went through two more marriages.

After the second broke up in the late 1990s, Ordua returned to Nebraska and his family.

I needed a change of scenery, he said.

Juanita said Vince has changed in a way that can’t necessarily be expressed in words. He seemed to have built a protective envelope around him.

Healing could finally begin.

He got a job at the Omaha VA hospital, with the hospital police, and later he worked in the archives department. He also received therapy for his PTSD.

One night on security, Ordua escorted a nurse to her car. Her name was Marcella, and he ventured that her husband was a lucky man.

She said she was not married. This led to one date and then another. Now they have been together for over 20 years. They lived on the quiet street of Plattsmouth for 11 years.

In 2017, his younger brother, Paul, who became a naval officer and later a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, enrolled him in the Vietnam Veterans Honor Flight.






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Vince Ordua, a Vietnam War Army veteran from Plattsmouth, is greeted by his family after returning from a Vietnam Veterans Honor Flight in 2017. Pictured, left to right, his stepson, Isaac; brothers, Paul and John Jr .; sister-in-law, Sharon; Vincent; mother, Doris; sister, Juanita; and his wife Marcella.


PAUL ORDUA


Ordua said he had long resisted a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which was opened in 1982. He had a frightening fear of seeing his name on it and then disappearing.

This is not what happened, of course. But he saw a lot of names he knew.

They all represent someone’s son, someone’s brother, he said. Now they’re just a name set in stone.

Ordua reflected on the unanswered question asked by so many ex-fighters at the Wall: why did I come home and they didn’t?

It made me say, as long as I’m breathing, I want to be the best version of who I am for those who can’t be that person, Ordua said.

They flocked again when the three planes loaded with veterans arrived home at Lincoln Airport and were greeted by jubilant crowds shouting, Welcome home, Vietnam Veterans! We love you, and the United States!

The Vinces family was there too, jumping up and down and waving a flag. Doris, who is now 95, and John Jr. and Paul and Juanita.

This homecoming was for her too, wrote Ordua later. Her mission to save me is over, and a new one, to love me and have fun spending the rest of our lives together, has begun.

Her heart is still light.

Life is precious, he says. If you’ve ever taken a life, you know it.

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