Monday, May 29, 2017

Remembering Our Honored Soldiers

This Memorial Day I  pay tribute not only to our fallen soldiers but to those in the armed forces who suffered the loss of comrades while serving to protect the rights and freedoms we cherish.  I have overwhelming respect and admiration for those who stand strong in our armed forces, those willing to defend the defenseless.  

My grandfather, my father, and my husband served in the army at different times, under different circumstances.  Included here are pictures of their days in service.

Not too long ago, my father gave us the gift of his memories regarding the war in Vietnam in which he fought.  He wrote out the experience in a book and then handed out copies to family members.  Below is the preface to his story, which I think is quite fitting for this holiday:  

I begin this history of my Vietnam experiences by stating a fact.  One that all readers should be made aware of and keep in mind throughout this reading. That fact is no one who has ever been in actual combat can make a non-combatant understand what war is like; neither mentally, spiritually, or physically. You must be a participant to understand what war does to both body and soul. Those who’ve been there understand. Those who haven’t should be thankful and appreciate the sacrifices of those who did participate on their behalf. I hope all will understand that this writing is an effort to tell my own story. My goal is to bring all non- combatants closer to an understanding of what war does to the combat soldier.   I do “not” want to infer to the reader that I’m against war. War is “Hell” and should always be a last resort, but to resist war to the point that it jeopardizes freedom is cowardly and not what the creator of man intended. May God bless all those who have been willing to fight for the freedom of others. 

My father wrote about his first real combat experience, including how frightful it was.  I am sharing his words in hopes that it will cause all who read it to stop and ponder the thousands in our armed forces who have shared similar experiences.   Fallen soldiers and survivors alike deserve our best thoughts and highest regard.  

To insure our security we were sending out platoon size patrols to check out the area around us to insure the enemy was not infiltrating to a position of advantage around the LZ. We were careful to not establish any pattern to our patrols to hopefully make sure we wouldn’t walk into an ambush. Several patrols had been hit by sniper fire and had found evidence of movement in the area. We were told the purpose of our relocation to this fishhook area was based on the reported existence of a large NVA (North Vietnamese Army) battalion in the area. 

It was nearing twilight and the third platoon from our company was out on patrol. They were hit by an ambush taking two KIAs and two wounded. They were pinned down about 300 yards from our perimeter. We got orders to saddle up and move out to assist them and bring them back in. We moved out carefully in a column of threes. My squad was on point walking in the center. We moved to the right flank of the third platoon and set up to provide cover fire across their front in a “V” type arrangement. We opened up with everything we had and third platoon withdrew behind us taking their dead and wounded with them. 

The plan was for us to move across their front and withdraw with covering artillery fire. The NVA are the hard-core regular army of North Vietnam. They opened fire on us and had us in crossfire, staying in close to prevent us from calling in the artillery fire to cover us during our withdrawal. We crawled into a nearby bomb crater for cover. Miraculously none of us had been hit. We returned fire and called in artillery, using the crater for cover. It was now dark, too dark to safely try a withdrawal. We resolved ourselves to spend the night and wait for daylight to initiate a withdrawal. Our FO (Forward Observer) set up pre-planned artillery positions to cover our front in case the NVA got brave and decided to overrun our position. 

This was the first major combat I had been involved with and I was scared to death. You don’t get scared while the gunfire is going on. You don’t have time to think. You just react with your adrenaline flowing at a high rate. It’s after the firefight is over and you start to think about what happened that the fear sets in. As I lay there in the dark thinking about what had happened I started to shake all over. I crawled over to talk to the men in my squad. They were all huddled against the sides of the bomb crater just looking out into the dark. 

The lieutenant crawled over to me and told me what sector he wanted my squad to defend. We agreed we would keep three men in each squad on guard though the night and no one was to fire unless he was sure of a target. We did not want to give away our exact position prematurely and provide the enemy with an easy target. I was not very happy with our position, with about 30 of us crammed together in this bomb crater. It was too easy for the enemy to toss a grenade and get us all. The area was however heavily wooded with trees and bushes, which made throwing a grenade a risk for both them and us.  

I told my men to dig in as best they could and to be prepared by daylight to move out on command. The crater was 65 feet in diameter. I guessed it had been a 1000-pound bomb. The bottom of the crater was white gooey clay, which stuck to everything. I slowly dug me a stand-up foxhole up to my neck using my helmet. I don’t think any of us slept that night. It was the first time in my tour when I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I’m not ashamed to say I did a lot of thinking about home, and a lot of praying to the man upstairs. 

Later that night the lieutenant crawled over and told me the plan for our withdrawal in the morning. The squad to the right of us (first squad) would move out while we covered their front then my squad (2nd squad) and the third squad would withdraw covering the rear. We would all move upon command from the lieutenant. Artillery would lay down some cover fire before we moved out. Two other platoons were going to be in position to give us cover fire on our way in so it was important we stayed tight and retreated directly toward the LZ. 

It was a long night and every little noise sounded like the enemy was crawling in on us. Everyone kept their cool and kept quiet. As soon as it was light the artillery cover fire started up and we all ducked our heads. They were laying them in pretty close and you could feel the ground shake around us. They lifted the artillery fire and the command to move out was given by hand signal. The point man and the back up man made it out of the crater when shots rang out and the point man fell. 

We all opened up with cover fire and the back up man pulled the wounded point man back into the crater. The medic worked on him furiously to stop the bleeding. The lieutenant told us to limit our field of fire to the front because the two backup platoons were moving in to cover for us. I thought a sniper from the trees had wounded the point man as I had only heard two shots. Two cobra gun ships were brought in to provide cover fire for us. Our job now was to get the wounded on a chopper and off to medical care. 

It was only seconds later when a medivac chopper appeared over the crater. I was to the front as the chopper approached so I lay on my back and guided him in. It was like flying down a chimney. I can still see the pilot holding that stick and looking down at me as I would motion him to maneuver right, left, front, or rear to avoid hitting the trees. I remember asking God not to let the enemy shoot the chopper because we would all have been killed. 

About a half dozen of the men lifted the wounded point man up to the chopper and I waved the pilot to pull it up. As soon as he cleared the trees they were gone and we prepared to withdraw back to the perimeter. We didn’t receive any fire during the withdrawal. This further convinced me the enemy had left behind a sniper and had withdrawn their main force during the night. 

This incident gave me the ultimate respect for the medivac pilots. I witnessed many other brave acts by these pilots to pick up our wounded in the field. They are true heroes in my book. We later learned the point man had died on the way to medical treatment from massive blood loss. It was my first time to witness a KIA.

This Memorial Day, take time to remember the great heroes who have fallen as well as those heroes who suffered and survived.

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