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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Veteran Larry Presnell sits for a photograph at his home on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Rossville, Ga.

For Larry Presnell, his Marine Corps career was determined by his fashion sense.

Sure, Presnell was drafted into the Army as the war in Vietnam escalated. But a day before he was required to report for duty from his Whitwell, Tennessee, home, the 18-year-old Presnell joined the Marines and was on his way to Parris Island.

"They had better-looking uniforms," Presnell said.

His memories of his 13-month tour in Vietnam are as vivid as the photographs of his company mates on the wall and his Purple Heart hanging in a shadow box.

"Everything," Presnell said of what he remembers most. "Those kind of things never leave you."

He shook his head at attempts to forget the horrors of war.

"The VA wants you to talk over and over about it, and how's that going to make you forget anything?" he said last month from his current home in Rossville, Georgia.

Some of the most memorable things, according to Presnell, may surprise most people.

"The worst part of it was the boredom," he said. "Yeah, we saw some action, and you'd get scared at times, but when all you do is sit there and you know all the jokes everyone knows, the boredom was terrible.

"That, and the food."

BIO

Name: Larry Presnell

Age: 70

Branch of military: U.S. Marine Corps

Years of service: 1968-1970

(Read about other local veterans in our "21-Veteran Salute" series here)

The packaged meals left a lasting impression on Presnell — "I still don't like lima beans," he admitted — that afforded him an appreciation for good food throughout the rest of his life.

It's not the only daily reminder of his time half a world away fighting a controversial war.

His childhood in Marion County helped him survive and thrive during his service. He received multiple in-battle promotions, he said, and spent a lot of his nights hunting for lost Marines in the bush.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Veteran Larry Presnell speaks with the Times Free Press at his home on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020 in Rossville, Ga.

"Surviving boot camp was tough," he said, "but I had an advantage over a lot of people over there because I grew up on Whitwell Mountain squirrel hunting.

"To me it was an adventure in a lot of ways."

An adventure that has left lifetime scars — visible and invisible — on his personality, his palate and his person.

The fragments in his face and neck are still there, a hindrance to his right eye and a forever reminder of his time in the war.

He tells the story of the grenade blowing up next to him like it happened last July. He was the main protector of a machine gun nest during a firefight. He saw the explosive and told everyone to get down and take cover.

Everyone did, except for Presnell.

"Brave," he said, repeating the key word of a question, "I don't know about brave.

"I think I got that [Purple Heart] mostly for being stupid and not getting down."

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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