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Friendship stronger than bullets and bombs: the message of Cpl Roger Briskin

BriskinMedalThe Purple Heart medal awarded posthumously to Corporal Roger Briskin is on display in the core exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. Briskin died as a member of the 3rd Marine Division on March 31, 1967 in Quảng Nam Province, Republic of Vietnam. He was leading his squad on an operation near Da Nang when the patrol came under fire from Viet Cong forces. When another Marine was wounded, Briskin rushed to his aid. While bringing his comrade to safety, a bullet hit him in the head. He died instantly at age 19.

The young man from Radnor, Pennsylvania had joined the Marines after graduating from Lower Merion High School and spent a year serving in Santo Domingo before going to Vietnam. The collection of materials in the Briskin Collection at NMAJMH shows his dedication to being a combat Marine and his deep concern for his fellow man. There’s a USMC Individual Combat Notebook and several weapons manuals filled with handwritten notes. His training records testify to his hard work learning his job as a machine gunner. American and Vietnamese Medals and ribbons show us he did that job.

BriskinportraitIt’s his letters home that testify to his concern for humanity and thoughtfulness about war and his role in it:

A small position, but put us all together and we’re going to play quite a significant role in bringing this world to a place of peace; knowing this I don’t mind the war so much, although I don’t really like being shot at… the real victory will lie within the relationship of the people of Vietnam with our people… our greatest means of winning the war although it is a hard program to carry out. Love is stronger than hate, friendship and fellowship stronger than bullets and bombs.

His heartbreaking final letter home to his family shows Briskin’s devotion to his Judaism and Jewish comradery:

I had been asking my chaplain to make arrangements to get me to Da Nang for at least one Jewish service before Passover… I ended up hitchhiking—don’t try to imagine how hairy that was. Anyhow I arrived in Da Nang in about two hours and started looking for the Jewish chaplain’s office. All of the soldiers in Da Nang were staring at me and I figured out why immediately. Everyone on the base was walking around in clean uniforms… and here I am—filthy utilities, torn up boots, helmet in one hand, rifle in the other, cartridge belt hanging loosely, tanned, filthy. Everyone stared at me as if I had just been raised from the dead.

Everyone was very helpful… It took me no time to find where I was going…. The next day after a real night’s sleep, I hitchhiked back to my position… I had 2 new sets of utilities, 4 prs. of socks, a new pair of boots, and a bottle of Martell VSP Cognac—a present from one of the Jews I met… P.S. Dad—I’m not stationed on a post—I’m occupying a foxhole. I’m psyching myself up for a tennis match when I get home.

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