Barry Fiske honored as Seneca County Veteran of the Year
By Sheri Trusty
TIFFIN – On Sept. 7, 1969, Barry Fiske was sleeping against the roots of a 40-foot-tall bamboo tree in the Vietnam jungle. His officer and radioman were also fast asleep, their worn bodies leaning heavily into the trunk of the tree. The Vietnam War was raging across the country, but the men found a few moments of rest within the chaos.
Then, in a moment, lightning struck the tree, instantly killing Fiske’s fellow servicemen and leaving him deeply wounded, yet still alive.
“I was sleeping on the edge, up against the roots. There was this terrible thunderstorm and lightning,” Fiske said. “One thing I say is, it was like an old-fashioned lightbulb.”
His muscles contracted, leaving him unable to move or speak, and he was, for a time, presumed dead.
“I opened my eyes, and somebody was calling me. My muscles were all tied up, and I couldn’t talk,” he said.
When he was discovered alive, he was carried to safety.
“When they picked me up, I was like a bowling ball, all twisted up,” Fiske said. “It took 30 or 40 minutes before I could stand on my own and another one or two hours before I could talk.”
A medevac chopper arrived to transport him out of the jungle for medical care, but he wouldn’t go. Honor and bravery overtook his suffering, and he refused to leave his men.
“I was the next in command, and I felt a responsibility,” Fiske said. “No one else had the experience to find out where we were or where we were going.”
Fiske, physically broken and comprised, continued to lead his men in the jungle for two days until his entire unit could pull out together. Once he was safe under medical care, medics discovered that both of his ear drums had been blown out.
“It was quite an experience, and I still find it lucky I’m here,” he said. “Over the years in the military, so many things happened to me that, to this day, I wonder, ‘Was it just luck?’”
Fiske, a Tiffin native and 1967 Tiffin Columbian graduate, served in the United States Marine Corps from April, 1968 to Oct., 1969. He served in multiple combat missions with Company E, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division, during the Vietnam War. It is estimated that he served in three combat missions per month for 13 months.
In honor of his bravery and service, Fiske was recognized as the 2023 Seneca County Veteran of the Year during a Nov. 9 dinner and ceremony hosted by the Seneca County Veterans Service Commission at the Amvets in Tiffin. Seneca County Commissioners Tony Paradiso and Tyler Shuff were grateful to attend the event that gave public recognition to a deserving local hero.
“It was truly an honor to be present and able to attend the Veteran of the Year ceremony,” Shuff said. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Barry Fiske for his service to our country and to all of our veterans who have laid their lives on the line for liberty and the freedoms we as Americans have in this country.”