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Vietnam soldier saved from the dead honors his fellow veterans

Everyone in John Colone's unit thought he was dead after he was shot four times in 1968 during the Vietnam War
How a tagged and bagged soldier was saved from the dead 03:11

PINCKNEY, Mich. -- There are 58,315 names on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. And this is the story of why there's not one more -- a story about a soldier who came about as close to dying as any man alive.

John Colone's blessing of a nightmare began on Feb. 19, 1968. His Army Airborne platoon was on patrol near the Ca Ty river when he and his men came under intense enemy fire.

John Colone CBS News

"All hell broke loose," John said. He was shot four times.

"I heard guys say I was dead. 'Colone is dead. Colone is dead. Leave him alone,'" he said. "I was put in a body bag, toe-tagged, and taken to the morgue."

The soldiers who photographed the Vietnam War 03:17

"He came in as a DOA," said Lt. Curtis Washington.

He was an officer at the battalion aid station and worked at the morgue. It was a job he took so seriously that just to make sure he never sent a live soldier home in a box, he used to open up each body bag and take a pen to the feet.

He was testing the plantar reflex.

"I would do it twice," Curtis explained. "And I did that. And he [groaned]. And I did it again, and he [groaned louder.]"

And that is how John Colone came back from the dead, which John says is a mixed blessing. Eight soldiers, about a third of his platoon, died that day.

Nearly a third of John Colone's platoon died the day he was shot four times. John Colone

"You still wonder -- why me?" John said. Even today, he keeps asking why he survived.

It is a hopelessly rhetorical question, but as we walked through the cemetery where he would have been buried, John shared what may be part of the reason.

A few years ago, he started sending flowers on Memorial Day to the graves of all the men who died in that battle.

Later, he expanded to everyone who died in his battalion during the whole war -- more than $8,000 worth of flowers for 160 graves.

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And now he's calling on you to join him. To adopt a veteran's grave on Memorial Day, to clean it up and lay some flowers so that eventually, every Vietnam veteran can be rightfully remembered.

"I hope that I'm around here to witness that. Maybe that'll answer that question -- why?"

Certainly something to live for.

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