Phil Frigm: A Marine’s path

Phil Frigm figured he’d be a Marine for life. An ambush in Vietnam 50 years ago changed his course, but the spirit of a Marine lives on inside of him today.

Presented by: SpiriTrust Lutheran
Written by: Anthony Machcinski
Phil Frigm (Photo by Caleb Robertson for Our York Media)

On May 27, 1968, Phil Frigm’s life changed forever during a body recovery mission in Vietnam.  

He can still see the ambush play out in his mind. A machine gunner and radioman fell in the initial contact. An enemy bullet struck and killed his friend next. Phil jumped on the radioman and started dressing his leg when an AK-47 bullet tore through his own arm, shattering two bones just below the elbow. 

Phil doesn’t remember the pain – only the shock. 

“I got hit in the leg, too,” Phil says, “but my arm was just a mess.” 

He’d spend the next few months in hospitals. Doctors considered amputation. While he got to keep his arm, he lost the only future he ever imagined for himself.  

*** 

Military service runs in Phil’s family. His father and six uncles were Navy men; his half-brother served in the Corps.  

“I just knew I wanted to be a Marine,” Phil says. “I came from a family of six children, and it was very obvious I wasn’t going to college.”

When you spend half a year of your life sleeping in the mud with a group of guys ... you realize the brotherhood that makes you the man that you are.

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Phil Frigm

After graduating from Northeastern High School in 1965, Phil enlisted in the Marines.  

He figured he’d be in uniform for life. A couple of years later, he found himself on a plane to Vietnam.  

*** 

Today, Phil’s fingers on his left arm hook under and cannot open. Because the bones in his arm fused during the healing process, he can’t roll his wrist.  

After the war, the Springettsbury Township man went into building design – working as a designer for 17 years, then as a specifications writer for 26 years – all with several York County engineering firms before retiring six years ago. 

Even with the injury, Phil wouldn’t trade in his military experience, and he finds ways to still be involved with veterans. He’s the Commandant for the First Capitol Detachment of the Marine Corps League and attends reunions every two years with the Marines he served with in Vietnam.  

“When you spend half a year of your life sleeping in the mud with a group of guys, or sitting under a poncho during a night ambush, you realize the brotherhood that makes you the man that you are,” Phil says. “The three and a half years I was in the Corps made me more of the man that I am today.” 

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