Rocky Bleier thought he made peace with what happened in a rice paddy in Vietnam on Aug. 20, 1969.
What the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back didn’t have though was closure until a trip back there last year.
Bleier’s visit to Vietnam — the first time he had been back since being injured in battle — is the subject of ESPN’s “The Return”, which debuts Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. A shorter version began airing Saturday on “SportsCenter” as part of its weekly SC Featured series.
“It was a different catharsis than I anticipated,” Bleier said. “Unlike the average veteran who returned after service and had to repress those feelings, I came back to a high-profile industry and became a story. In some regards it was cathartic (during his playing days) that I had to talk about it.”
Bleier’s story remains one of perseverance. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 16th round in 1968 only to be drafted into the U.S. Army during his rookie season. Three months after being deployed, Bleier was shot through his thigh and suffered a grenade blast where shrapnel severely damaged his right foot and both legs when his “Charlie Company” unit was ambushed during a recovery operation in the Hiep Duc Valley.
Of the 33 soldiers in the infantry unit, 25 were injured and four killed.
Watch “The Return”, which debuts Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN2