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'Tough to close the book': John Astle, former Senator, Vietnam War hero, subject of novel based on war experience

Astle, 'Jungle Combat' author to hold book signing Tuesday
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Posted at 10:12 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 23:28:48-04

BALTIMORE — John Astle was a combat pilot, flew the helicopter for the President and is a former Maryland Senator.

As a State Senator, John Astle got the governor to sign off on making March 29, ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day – his greatest mission.

“I learned to make decisions and not look back.

Astle is teaching us to look back at what this war was like for the 13 months in Vietnam.

He is the subject of a novel, written by friend Gemma Jablonski, called "Jungle Combat."

“Sometime as hard as you try, it’s tough to close the book,” Astle said.

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Astle has enough experience and history to write a book.

And he did, sort of.

His words were taken off a cassette recorder he used to send messages back home to his mother.

Astle, who went by the nickname “Ace,” has tales of war.

“My nicknamed was Ace,” Astle told WMAR-2. “Today, there are guys that don’t know I have a first name.”

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Astle worked under the dome for almost 40 years while serving in Vietnam.

"When i went, I hated to write. I loved to talk,” Astle said.

Astle took a tape recorder, and once filled, he'd send it back to his mom where they stacked up in her closet for 40 years..

“I have I have not listened to them,” Astle said.

Astle donated the tape to the Marine Corps Historical Branch which transcribed his words and gave them back.

Astle then handed it back over to his friend, Gemma Jablonski, who said, ‘Ace we have a story.’ The book written about Astle is called "Jungle Combat."

It is an eye-opening, gut wrenching look at what happened in Vietnam and how Astle was treated when he returned.

“It is a story of a young officer that went to Vietnam with grandeur and the glories of war, and before it was over, I came home a cynical, twice wounded combat veteran,” Astle said.

Astle lost friends in combat, like Bing Emerson.

“I had breakfast in the morning and bringing his body back to the morgue in the afternoon,” Astle said. "It breaks your heart because you are going out to where theses gusy are and they needed us to get them out."

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He lost a friend over difference in politics.

“My best friend in life was anti-war,” Astle said. “He and I have not seen each other since.”

Astle received medals and saved boys who came back to America, yet he still didn’t get the respect he felt he deserved.

"I got spit on in the Los Angeles airport," Astle said. "I was in the airport thinking I had done something pretty special."

Astle was the helicopter pilot for President Nixon. He worked for the City Police and then was talked into running for political office.

For more than 35 years he served in Annapolis.

One of his proudest moments was getting Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign "Welcome Back Vietnam Veterans Day" every March 29.

John Astle and Gemma Jablonski will host a book signing event at Harry Browne's Restaurant on Tuesday, March 29 at 4:30 p.m.