In recent years, we started showing the pictures. They were of a teenaged major league baseball prospect-turned soldier. John Malan was a fresh-faced, handsome kid. He let us have the pictures reluctantly. He has never been one to brag about his service. Still, he’d be justified in doing so.
John Malan did two tours in Vietnam. The first, after he was drafted, was served in artillery. He was a gunner on a tank. Wounded in battle, he was awarded the Purple Heart. That would have been enough for most of us. John Malan, however, volunteered for a second tour of duty. He could have finished out his Army service at a desk. Instead, he agreed to fly in Huey helicopters, once again manning a machine gun.
It is both John’s commitment to service and his humility that resonates with his fellow Vietnam veterans. On a recent Friday morning, we sat down with a group of Vietnam veterans at Solly’s Grille on N. Port Washington Road. Their praise for their fellow veteran was effusive.
“John has magnificently taken care of his fellow veterans, “said Glenn Fieber, the owner of Solly’s who was himself drafted into the Army in 1968. “He’s done an enormous amount of good.”
Though John was quiet about his service for years, as he’s gotten older, he’s been willing to talk about Vietnam. More importantly, he’s made taking care of his fellow veterans a priority. That usually entails calling attention to their ongoing service projects in the community. It is a task John embraces with cheerful vigor.
“Everybody in this room here belongs to one, two or three different veteran groups,” said Navy veteran Chris White. “They spend an awful lot of their own time, helping one another and John Malan gives us more exposure!”
The fact that John has been so humble in talking about his exploits in Vietnam is something that resonates with his fellow veterans.
“We didn’t know he was a veteran for many, many, many years,” said Bob Pfeifer a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who loves to poke fun at his buddies who served in other branches. “And, he did two tours. He’s a pretty, I don’t know if I can say this, he’s a pretty bad-ass little guy. Door gunner on a tanker? Absolutely!”
Over a Friday morning breakfast of eggs and butter burgers, it became clear that John’s fellow veterans view him not only as a comrade in arms but also as a brother.