Marine Staff Sergeant John Mullan: Looking Forward

At eighty-two years old, Staff Sergeant John Mullan lives each day with a very special motto: “Remember the past, live the present, look forward to the future.”

John was only ten years old when he decided that he’d one day serve our nation. He joined the Civil Air Patrol and won a flight scholarship but soon received difficult news: he didn’t qualify for combat flying because of his eyesight. Determined to be a part of something bigger than himself, he enlisted in the Marines at seventeen years old, alongside 17 of his high school friends, and served in the active reserve from 1957-1962 and active duty from 1962-1969. He deployed four times and was critically wounded while serving in Vietnam by a rocket-propelled grenade.

“It clipped the back of my helmet and blew me out in the street. Then I got hit on the head and the back of my flak jacket by an AK-47 when I was laying in the street (after the RPG blast) … They didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said.

John was medevaced to a hospital ship, where doctors performed brain surgery, and he was in a coma for 10 days which promoted further healing. He spent the next 13 months undergoing seven major surgeries at Philadelphia Naval Hospital and subsequently medically retired due to the severity of his injuries, which included a traumatic brain injury, blindness in his left eye, complete hearing loss in his left ear, and shrapnel wounds on his face and neck. For his courageous actions on the battlefield and to honor his sacrifice, John was awarded three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star with Combat V.

But John, ever hopeful and determined, continued a life of service to others with a strong dedication to helping those around him.

“I was told I was too disabled to work in some jobs after Vietnam,” said John “When they told me I couldn’t do something, I just looked at them and laughed.”

After his retirement, he went back to school, earning degrees in both business and education, and became a teacher. He then worked at the post office for 20 years as a mail handler and training supervisor before returning to teaching. John served as the president of his children’s school board, a boy scout troop leader, a past officer and current member of the 1st Marine Division Association, and a member of the Marine Corps League and Disabled American Veterans. Impressively, he also authored a book that details his experience in Vietnam titled Loner: A Memoir of a Veteran.

John met his Semper Fi & America’s Fund case manager at the 1st Marine Division Association Reunion in 2019. She shared about The Fund’s LCpl Parsons Welcome Home Fund for Vietnam Veterans, which assists veterans from every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces who have sustained critical injuries or illnesses from Vietnam combat operations.

Once John heard about this program, he and his wonderful wife, Catherine, joined The Fund family.

“The Fund helped my wife and I repaint the outside of our home because it was peeling and cracking from the sun and heat in Arizona. They helped get a recliner/lift chair for me to sit in and to make it easier for me to get in and out of. The chair really helps my back and legs. They helped us with repairs to our sprinkler/irrigation, drywall, water damaged baseboards and flooring (inside the house) caused from a fall that I had near our front window that flooded the home. They also sent us some food & gas cards,” said John. “Semper Fi & America’s Fund cares for us Vietnam vets. I also saw how The Fund has helped our son-in-law who is a post 9/11 USMC veteran who lost most use of his hands from an IED blast in Iraq. Our youngest son is also a USMC veteran who served in Somalia. Our oldest son is a Navy veteran (submarines). Thinking of a retired Marine shows they care.”

The Marine Corps League detachment that John is a member of serves others by sending out care packages to deployed troops, and John continues to encourage those around him with the courage of his past, the helping heart of his present, and his bright hope for the future.

Learn more about assistance for veterans like John Mullan.

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