Local veteran writes book on his return to Vietnam, finishes Iron Man competition

HATTIESBURG, MS. - A local Optometrist who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam war returns back to the battle grounds in Vietnam to race to the finish line.

Dr. John Pendergrass talks with FOX 23 about his upcoming book Racing Back to Vietnam a Journey in War and Peace.

"In the book, Pendergrass recalls the rigors of war in Vietnam and a life that would lead him back again, this time in peace, but burdened with memory and emotion."

Dr. Pendergrass, 72, is the first person over the age of 60 to compete in six Iron Man triathlons on six continents.

“I became a tri-athlete about 10 to 15 years ago, and I got into it when my running got slower and slower and I got into the other disciplines and found out doing the three of them will keep you fit" he says.

During the Vietnam war he was a flight surgeon who served as a Weapons System Officer in an F4 Phantom Fighter. He flew 54 combat missions over South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and even North Vietnam.

He says, “My experience in Vietnam like anybody in war had a certain element of trauma, sadness, death and destruction.”

Dr. Pendergrass returned home in 1972 anxious to put Vietnam behind. Fast forward 45 years later he returns to Vietnam in May of 2016 at the age of 71 to participate in a half Iron Man in the city of DaNang, the same place he was stationed at when he was 26 years old.

“Its almost a full-circle experience you know. I wanted to go back." He adds, "I did not want to go to Vietnam when I went (during the war) you know, it was not something that I looked forward to. This time I was curious and anxious to see how it would be.”

He landed on the very same runway he departed from many years ago, but this time under very different circumstances.

“The triathlon and the night before a combat mission your heart beats fast." He continued,"But it beats fast for different reasons you know."

"It beats fast at a triathlon because you are tired and worn out, it beats fast in war because of the anxiety" Dr. Pendergrass says.

The book chronicles his experience not just in combat, but also his perception after the war. “I was very anxious to see the place. I was very anxious to see how the Vietnamese perceived the war."

"The reality of it is that 75% of the people have really no living memory of the war" he says. Fighting for his country for two years and fighting to get to the finish line in 14 hours are two memories he will always remember.

Dr. Pendergrass says, “It probably is the most meaningful thing personally, I have done in quite some time, it really took me back in time in some place that I have not thought about in a long-long time.”

This is Dr. Pendergrass' second book. He authored Against the Odds in 2013, which recounted the adventures of a man in his sixties competing in six of the world's toughest triathlons across six continents.

Racing Back to Vietnam a Journey in War and Peace will release in all major book stores in the end of September.

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