By Tom Sileo
Contributor, Travis Manion Foundation
Editor, The Unknown Soldiers
As U.S. Marine Capt. Adam Brochetti approached Vietnam’s Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin Mountain) on Feb. 4, 2013, he thought of the ultimate sacrifice his uncle made on Apr. 8, 1972.
“I was feeling nervous…there was a lot of anticipation, ” Adam said. “The image (of the mountain) has been burned into my mind since I was a kid.”
When Capt. Brochetti and fellow passengers finally saw the imposing mountain through the fog of Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Province, where U.S. Army PFC Frank Brochetti and many fellow troops died during the Vietnam War, a hush replaced the vehicle’s previously jovial atmosphere.
“We were in a zone,” Adam said. “The mood and sentiment really switched.”
While looking out the window at the 3,268 foot mountain, Adam, his brother Aaron Brochetti, and their cousins, Nathan Nagy, Bill Hallman, and Air Force 1st Lt. Matt Hallman, all received a jarring reminder of why they’d traveled halfway across the world.
“It was really surreal,” Adam said. “It was like…are we really here right now?”
The trek up the mountain was more difficult than the Marine, who served two combat deployments in Afghanistan, could have possibly imagined.
“It really was a Challenge Grant, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Adam said. “It was really neat to be so physically challenged in that manner and to be able to do it together.”
Thanks to funding from their grandparents and the Travis Manion Foundation, relatives of PFC Frank Brochetti were able to fly to Vietnam and challenge themselves to hike the mountain where he was killed. But after climbing 1,000 feet of steps and realizing no path existed to guide them any further, Adam wondered whether they would accomplish their mission.
“We were cramping from the heat and lack of water,” Adam said. “I started to wonder if we would make it up to the top on time before the sun went down.”
After encountering a group of monks outside a temple and pausing for a much-needed rest, Adam channeled his uncle’s memory to push the group forward, much like he did while leading Marines in Afghanistan.
“Man, the next three and a half to four hours were quite tough,” he admitted. “We definitely underestimated this.”
Through the thick forest, where the group saw a series of caves and even a family of monkeys gathered beneath a banana tree, Adam thought of the eight months his uncle spent in this faraway, mysterious place.
“You could feel a presence,” Adam said. “I felt more connected to him than ever.”
When the sweaty exhausted group finally reached the mountain’s peak, there was another pause, much like the moment they shared inside their vehicle almost five hours earlier.
“It was such an honor to finally be there,” Adam said. “When we were standing (there) looking at their living space, we all had a moment of silence together.”
PFC Frank Brochetti was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for the heroism he displayed during his final battle. More than 40 years after the young soldier’s death, relatives placed the fallen hero’s picture on top of the mountain where he made his last stand.
“It brought us closer together as a family,” Adam said.
Capt. Brochetti, who wrestled with future Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion at the United States Naval Academy, is deeply appreciative to the Travis Manion Foundation for the chance to honor his uncle in Vietnam, which had been a lifelong dream.
“Travis was such an inspirational guy and so passionate in what he believed in,” Adam said. “It’s just so important to keep the memory of the fallen alive.”
Adam hopes his family’s journey will inspire others to find creative, demanding ways to honor the heroes of past and present generations of fallen warriors.
“The Challenge Grant…the concept is so great,” he said. “I can’t imagine how many more stories like this one are out there.”
The next time Capt. Brochetti sees his grandparents, he will give them jars full of earth from the place where their 22-year-old son gave his last full measure of devotion to the country he loved.
“We’re going home for my grandpa’s 90th birthday, and we’ll share the photos,” Adam said. “It will be equally fulfilling for us to share our journey with those who couldn’t make it.”
To learn more about Adam’s Challenge Grant, click on the link below.