The year 2019 represents a special year for most of us. In 1969, we were engaged in major operations to open and clear the Ashau Valley in Vietnam. This year we celebrated these events in two different parts of the world.
To start, we had the week at Ft. Campbell /Clarksville All told we have 243 attendees. We were also blessed with a contribution of 250 cases of Rakkasan Beer. This was a special red ale produced by Endeavor Brewing in Columbus Ohio There were 100 cases at the hotel and the Battalion, with 50 cases at the Bruce Center for the dinner.
The Reunion officially kicked off Tuesday May 14, 2019, with a group of 60+ heading to the Grand Ole Opry - a great time was had by all! Wednesday was range firing and the lady’s lunch.
The active soldiers completed a 31.87 ultra marathon as part of their Warrior Challenge (3.187 Mile Swim, Climb 3,187 steps at Tennessee Titans Stadium in Nashville, and the 31.87 marathon).
Most of the Vets walked the last mile of the road march with the troops. Back in the Battalion area there was a festive atmosphere with roasted pig, hamburgers, hotdogs with all the trimmings and Rakkasan Beer. The 101st Rock Band, and two bands from Nashville played into the evening.
We unveiled the Dan Nance painting (Dong Ap Bia “Let Valor Not Fail”) and presented the framed, original painting to the Battalion. Many Hill Vets lined up for hours and signed more than 100 copies of the print. We still have some available on our website but a direct link will take you to the store by clicking here: Dong Ap Bia
The highlight of the evening was the opening of a "recreation" room in Battalion Headquarters known as Blackjacks. It was dedicated to all of the Rakkasans who fought at Hamburger Hill. All in all, it was a fantastic start to the Reunion.
Thursday started off with 20 Vets playing golf and the remainder of the attendees began the day with a briefing from Dr. Erik Villard, the U.S. Army’s Viet Nam expert. Dr. Villard discussed how the NVA fought us. That was followed with the Oliver North’s War Stories on the “Hill”. After the battle discussions we headed to Hanger 3 for a beautiful “Welcome Home” ceremony.
LTG (Ret) Wiercinski gave a wonderful talk about the all vets and especially the Vietnam vets. This was followed by our soldier reception and silent auction. More than 200 soldiers attended the reception and the fun went long into the night.
Friday was the Pylon Ceremony and wreath laying, lunch was in the “Mess Hall” and ended with 575 attendees at the Memorial Dinner at the Bruce Convention Center in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The speeches and presentations were wonderful but the Grog Ceremony was the best! A concoction of liquors from all the lands in which the Regiment has fought was combined and used to toast the many things we are grateful for.
I'd like to include a special thanks to Mike and Traci Smith - they made it happen as always. Mike is so valuable to the organization. Special thanks also goes to the Snyders, Helms’, Duane Kinkead, Tom Martin, Rachael Vance, Frank Peterson, Jim Sullivan, Beau Brumfield, the VanderLuitgarens, Erik Lind and so many others for the hard work they put in. A simple thank you is never going to be enough.
On Saturday most headed home but a group of 34 prepared of the second week and the trip to Vietnam. On Sunday, 12 “Hill Vets” departed for Vietnam The group included: James Baylor, Dan Bresnahan, Glen Carl, John Dewyse and his son Bryan, James Green, Myself and wife Sue, John Lemmel and his son John, Bruce Pochart and his son Thomas, Mike Smith, Paul Stempin, Walt Tangel and his son Andrew, Chuck VanderLuitgaren and his daughter Jamie Raymond. There was a group of 11 active Duty soldiers including the current commander, LTC Bowling, the XO Major Pixler, S-3 Major Spaulding, S-1 CPT Wright, S-4 CPT Hawks, The Curator of the 101st Museum and Division Historian, 3 others (Scooter Doss, Tim Wallace, and Beau Brumfield).
We flew on May 19, 2019, from Nashville, to Minneapolis, on to Seoul, then to DaNang Vietnam, arriving at 2130 Monday evening (May 20, 2019). Tuesday, May 21, 2019, was spent sightseeing and traveling to Hue. It was 2300 by the time we cleared customs and arrived at the hotel. My first impression of Vietnam was being surprised by the amount of street lighting and the brightness of the city. I was also impressed by the cleanliness of the streets. I have to note the number of motor scooters- millions of them everywhere. Quite a change from 50 years ago. I, like most of you, was never in DaNang or Hue. The hotel in DaNang was spectacular! Tuesday was spent sightseeing and traveling to Hue. We went over the Hai Van Pass. Lunch was spent in a little fishing village and we eventually arrived back at the Hotel in Hue about 1430.
At 1530 we met with the Vietnam Officials and 2 actual participants in the Battle for Dong Ap Bia. We exchange pleasantries and gifts. The Battle participants indicted that we fought the 9th and 3rd Regiments of the 324 Division, NVA not the 29th Regiment, as we had in our Intel. Trying to sort that detail out now!! Dinner in the city of Hue.
Early on the 22nd we boarded 3 vans for the 2+ hour trip out to the A Shau Valley to begin our trek up the hill. As we crossed the valley and took a small road, we stopped at a little museum commemorating the battle for Dong Ap Bia. Many pictures some actual battle scenes and others from the Hamburger Hill movie. There was one picture of a female NVA/VC with a French Submachine Gun. She was there and we chatted through an interpreter. As we began our assent up the hill she walked with me for a while.
The trail up the slope was located on the east side of Dong Ap Bia so we did not approach the summit form the side we fought up in ‘69. The trail itself was about 6ft wide and there were 6 sets of steps for the climb. The heat, humidity, mud and bugs however, were the same. The trail we went up was on a steep ridge and the vegetation was very thick like old times. After a 1.5+ hour walk members of our group ascended the top of hill 900, not 937. The Vietnamese have built a memorial and, in a plaque, told of their victory. For all Vets it was an opportunity to find peace and solitude.
As we neared the top, an impressive moment was when the group of 6 Active Duty solders carried Chuck and ensured that he made it to the top. With all Hill Vets at the memorial, almost on que, it started to pour on us. For those that remember the rain on 18 May 1969, it was comparable in volume of water and intensity. A loud flash of lightning and a large clap of Thunder had Vets jumping for cover like in days long since passed. Several in the group made the trek to the top of hill 937. They found a sign noting 937 Dong Ap Bia and the barren earth of the last days of our “Battle” had been replaced with tall elephant grass.
After the rain we headed back down the same trail we had climbed. The rain and mud made walking very hard and slippery. We arrived at our vehicles and headed to a local village for a late lunch then back to Hue. It was a rewarding trip and the climb was worth it for all. For many it was closure!
On the 23rd the group conducted sightseeing trips in Hue. Hue is a beautiful city with lots to see. That evening we had a dinner with the Vietnam officials that we met on Tuesday. Fantastic meal. Friday was shopping until we departed Hue at 1600 for DaNang and our 30+ hour trip home.
It was an amazing and memorable time. Many thanks to LTC Bowling, CPT Hawks and CPT Wright for all they did to pull this together this fabulous trip. Cpt Wright will be posting pictures of the adventure. Bob Alpha 6 Gerald Robert Harkins Col (Ret) USA President, 187th Regiment Association and President, Weldon F. Honeycutt/ Hamburger Hill Chapter 187th Regiment Association