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NDE on the Battlefield: Going Far Beyond John Wayne

Posted on 24 October 2016, 9:53

Sometime during or around April 1969, I was sitting in an open-air theater on the roof of a three- or four-story building occupied by the USO (United Services Organizations) in central Saigon.  Every few minutes, the skies about 20 miles or more away – to the southeast, I think – would light up and we’d hear bombs exploding, as the building we were sitting atop of rattled a little. It was somewhat surreal as the movie we were watching was “The Green Berets,” starring John Wayne. It was about the Vietnam War, the very war that was lighting the skies and shaking our building.  I recall thinking about how strange it was that I was watching a movie about a war that I could see taking place in the distance.  I wondered where reality began and left off. 

As I read If Morning Never Comes: A Soldier’s Near-Death Experience on the Battlefield, recently released by White Crow Books, I wondered if Bill Vandenbush, the author, was seeing and hearing the same thing that I did that very night, because it was during April 1969 that he suffered severe combat wounds and had a near-death experience somewhere south of Saigon, the victim of friendly bombs dropped in the wrong place. Perhaps he had already been air-evacuated to a military hospital in Japan by that time or maybe it was just before his body was torn apart and he had his NDE.  He may have been sloshing his way through some rice paddy on a patrol mission.  My military days were well over by that time and I was in Vietnam in a civilian capacity while visiting some military camps around the country.  The Viet Cong didn’t seem to concern themselves with Americans in civilian clothes and in non-military vehicles with local drivers. 

During his youth, Vandenbush idolized John Wayne, seeing him as the ultimate warrior, even though Wayne never spent a day in the military. “I had grown up in the John Wayne generation, learning about war from the Hollywood perspective where every man was a hero and every soldier was adored by his nation and its people,” he writes.  “I was greatly influenced by John Wayne’s macho image and the respect he commanded.  In the movies, John Wayne was always a hero.”

But after Vandenbush joined the Army in 1968 he began to realize that it was not nearly as glamorous as Hollywood made it out to be.  “The horror, the evil, the violence, the blood, guts, and death of war are so far removed from living and training in the U.S. that it was impossible to fully grasp the significance and long-term effect of that experience without being there,” he continues, adding that it never occurred to him how horrific it would be when he saw his friends die or how traumatic it would be to shoot at a real person.  Nevertheless, there was still a little Boy Scout in him and he expected, at age 18, that it was all part of becoming a man.

Bill having a beer at a Firebase in the mountains west of Quang Ngai

He recalls that on his first patrol his mouth became dry and he began to sweat profusely.  When he couldn’t sweat anymore, it felt like his body was on fire.  “I started to shake and felt like my head was coming apart.  We had only been walking about ten minutes but every step was pure torture ... I was hyperventilating and I had dry heaves; my heart was pounding loudly and I couldn’t control my fear.  I thought I was going to die of fright.  Never in my short life had I felt so much fear.” 

In a matter of time, however, his fear was replaced by a sense of pride, a sense of teamwork, as he worked together with a large group of men in a coordinated effort, utilizing high tech, modern warfare equipment that gave him a feeling of invincibility.
He began to feel just like John Wayne.  It was suddenly life imitating art.

It was while leading a squad on a patrol that things went wrong – that a bomb dropped by an American plane made him a victim of the war. He recalls lying in the dust and dirt of a dry rice paddy, seeing waves of heat rising from the ground, his men safe on the other side of the rice paddy, and the enemy still firing at them.  He took off his helmet and saw his right eye fall into it.  “Once I had accepted death and knew there was nothing I could do to avoid it, all the worry, fear, and pain faded away,” he recalls. “All that was left to do was relax and let it happen.  However, as he curled up on the ground he was “suddenly struck by an incredible feeling of peace and tranquility.”  He felt suspended from time and space, between the here-and-now and the here-ever-after.  He experienced a dark tunnel but felt bathed in a soft light as he continued to glide forward.  As the light washed over him, he felt an incredible sense of calm.  And then he was thrust into a bright white light and he no longer possessed a body.  Everything was beautiful and totally fulfilling.  He felt that he was in a different dimension, one in which he encountered his grandfather, who had died several years earlier. While talking with his grandfather, a “ball of energy” appeared and told him that he must return to his earthly place and fulfill his higher purpose before again coming to the Light.  There’s much more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. 

Vandenbush’s recovery was slow and challenging, and there was much adversity to overcome in continuing on in the earthly life, including two divorces and many job frustrations. His injuries went well beyond his eye, especially affecting his throat and arm. The doctors treating him were not hopeful and even recommended amputation of the arm, but Vandenbush rejected such a procedure.  “The glow from the Light and the guidance from Spirit were so intense and so complete, that I responded to the constant negative prognosis with, ‘They just don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re wrong.  Everything is going to be okay.’”  He writes that the negativity he constantly experienced paled in comparison to the all-encompassing peace and sense of well-being and fulfillment he experienced with the Light.
It was his experience in the Light that kept him going.  I was slowly becoming aware that my wounds were part of my destiny and part of my higher purpose in life,” he muses.  Whenever he encountered hard times, he called upon “Spirit” to get him through them, and he always managed to succeed in overcoming the adversity.

Bill, Shannon, and Luci, at the beach

Vandenbush’s story was originally told in a 2003 book, but he has had another NDE since then, one in which Spirit again communicated with him during the week in which he was in a coma.  He states that this time he went beyond the White Light and was taken on an incredible journey through the universe, observing dimensions and layers that are far more vast than the simple material existence we experience on earth.  Here again, there is much more to his experience than can be covered in this review. 

It is a very inspiring book, especially for the person who doesn’t appreciate adversity and blames all his or her misfortunes on God.  My only concern is that the book begins a bit slowly, the first several chapters covering the 18 years before Vandenbush entered the Army.  It might better have started with his arrival in Vietnam and incorporated bits and pieces of his early childhood here and there as he went on. I mention this only because I tossed it aside after the first two chapters and almost didn’t return to it.  I’m sure glad I did.  It offers so much more than the story of John Wayne might have, although I must confess to never having read John Wayne’s story.

If Morning Never Comes: A Soldier’s Near-Death Experience on the Battlefield by Bill Vandenbush is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  November 7


Deep Thinker,

Thanks for the comment.  I question the 90% in your last paragraph.  I have seen various estimates, more like 40-40-20, the 20% not having an opinion or completely puzzled.  The researchers can make these come out to their own pre-conceived conclusions.  For example: “Do you believe in heaven?”  First, one has to define “heaven.”  I don’t believe in the heaven of orthodox religion, so I wouldn’t know how to answer that.  The same goes for God.  God has to be defined, which they never do. I don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god, so I wouldn’t know how to answer that question.

Out-of-body experiences, independent of near-dear experiences, suggest a mind-body separation and there is strong evidence for that. However, as the great physicist Sir Oliver Lodge said, there is no single phenomenon that stands alone as convincing. It the cumulative evidence that comes from a number of phenomenon—nearly all of which are discussed in other entries at this blog. Please take a look at the blog that goes up within the next day or so about Florence Marryat and tell me if you think she made it all up to sell another book.  I don’t know how else you might explain it.It is clearly the most convenient explanation. 

If you have the necessary peace of mind in knowing that you are marching toward extinction and that life has no meaning, I’m guessing that you are very young or simply not going deep enough.  To each his own.  The very fact that you took time to write the comment suggests that you do have concerns.  If not, why bother with those of us who are being duped by it all?   

Again, thanks for the comment.

Michael Tymn, Sun 6 Nov, 22:20

The troubling aspects of “near death experiences” is the fact that the brain is still viable,“functioning,” matter during a purported near death experience. If the brain were truly dead then obviously there would be no chance of reviving the subject.

A study was performed by neurologists at the University of Michigan in 2014 in which rats were monitored with advanced brain scans.

The rats were chemically induced into cardiac arrest. There were no vital signs and zero brain activity moments after the cardiac arrest. But after five minutes there was a sudden, significant, amount of brain activity reported on the eeg, in the dead rats, that persisted for nearly ten minutes then gradually ceasing all together

The researchers concluded that they believe what was seen in the rat’s brain scans can explain what humans experience soon after clinical death.

It just doesn’t make any sense regarding consciousness being independent from the brain. To me it’s pseudoscientific, wishful thinking.

The general acceptance in over 90% of the scientific and medical community is simply, dead is dead, then that is what shall remain as the truth.

Deep Thinker, Sun 6 Nov, 07:05


Thanks for the comment.  The second NDE is part of the book and is quite interesting and dynamic.

Michael Tymn, Tue 25 Oct, 09:53

Very interesting account, Mr. Tymn, especially when Vandenbush was injured and accepted that death was inevitable. If only all of us could feel that peace when we accept difficult things in life, not just death!

One question, though: Is Vandenbush’s second NDE online, or is it part of “If Morning Never Comes”?

Ian, Tue 25 Oct, 00:42

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“Life After Death – The Communicator” by Paul Beard – If the telephone rings, naturally the caller is expected to identify himself. In post-mortem communication, necessitating something far more complex than a telephone, it is not enough to seek the speakers identity. One needs to estimate also as far as is possible his present status and stature. This involves a number of factors, overlapping and hard to keep separate, each bringing its own kind of difficulty. Four such factors can readily be named. Read here
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