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Pylon Ceremony Speech

Speech delivered by Hamburger Hill Chapter President and National Association President Col (Ret) Bob Harkins on May 15, 2024 at Fort Campbell.

Good morning Honored Veterans, Distinguished Guest, friends, family, and all those that are serving our country this day. We are honored to have this formation, in front of us, representing all of the Rakkasan Regiment. We are well aware that the Regiment is deployed in Eastern Europe. Our thoughts and prayers are with them always. I would ask for a round of applause for all of these great soldiers. Thank you very much for all you do.

The proud history of the 187th Regiment is full of honored service and great sacrifice. The Regiment was activated on November 12, 1943. In the 81 years of service the Rakkasan Regiment has had may titles and served in several military organizations. Such titles as Glider Infantry Regiment, Paraglider Infantry Regiment, Airborne Regimental Combat Team, Airborne Infantry Regiment, Airmobile Infantry, and now Air Assault Regiment, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (3rd BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

This week we gather to renew old friendships that encompasses WWII, Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many other deployments of the Rakkasan Tori. Over the years, the 187th Regiment is the only U.S. Army Airborne Regiment that has participated all major conflicts since the inception of airborne warfare. We gather today to salute and pay homage to those that have who have passed and whose names are inscribed on the stone panels at this site. As a side note we had an accident and one of the stone panels fell and broke. A new panel is be chiseled now.

We are honored to have veterans Fred Foresyth and Cherry Phillips with us. Would you join me in a round of applause for all Korean War Veterans.

I joined the 3rd Battalion 187th Airmobile Infantry in late 1968. The Battalion had been in Vietnam a little over one year. During that year the Rakkasans had served in all areas of Vietnam. Places like Phuoc Vinh, Chu Chee and many others hot spots saw the Rakkasans respond to enemy aggression. As was evidenced by the heroic actions of Captain Paul Buca (Delta Company Commander) being awarded the Medal of Honor.

On January 10, 1969. LTC Weldon Honeycutt assumed command of the 3/187th. On that same date I assumed command of Alpha Company and Lee Sanders assumed command of Delta Company. “Black Jack”, as he was known, had served with the Rakkasans in Korea as had the Command Sergeant Major Meachan, and the Alpha Company 1SGT Don Joubert. They were carrying on the traditions of the Rakkasans in a new war zone.

In the months that followed, the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 187th moved to open the path to the A Shau Valley. Why was that important you may ask? During the “Tet 68” the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) had used the A shau Valley as a staging ground for their attacks on the City of Hue and other population areas. This push into the “Valley” led to the Battle of Dong Ngai in April, 1969, and Dong Ap Bia in May, 1969. This week we remember the 55th Anniversary of the Battle for Dong Ap Bia (aka Hamburger Hill). We are

blessed to have veterans of the Vietnam War with us today. Would those that fought in Vietnam please stand and be recognized.

The period between 1972 and 1990, would appear to be a “peaceful time”. But to the Rakkasans it was filled with training events and deployments to all parts of the world. In August 1990, forces from Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Rakkasans we called to a new land, Saudi Arabia. Months of preparation led to the largest Air Assault operation in warfare history. The Rakkasans joined with other 101st Airborne Division soldiers, to envelop the enemy and to seize ground which would cut off the retreating Iraq forces. Today we celebrate the 33rd Anniversary of the Gulf War. I was able to observe the Rakkasans’ preparation and execution of the largest Air Assault from another XVIII Corps unit during this

time. I can attest to the professionalism and competency of the Rakkasans. Would all Gulf War Veterans please stand and be recognized?

The time between 1991 and 2002 would pass swiftly. But the tragic wakeup call delivered to the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001, sent an alarm throughout the U.S. Army. Operation Anaconda in early 2002, would mark the beginning of this nation’s longest conflict. Combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq would see the Rakkasans involved in active combat over most of the next 20 years. These deployments saw many hard battles and bitter conflicts. They did not let valor fail. Would all veterans of Operation Anaconda and the War in Afghanistan and Iraq please stand so we can honor your service?

War is war, Infantry, such as the Rakkasans, implement the last 100 meters of United States foreign policy throughout the world. When called the 187th Regiment has responded with swift powerful actions. While less than one percent of the nation’s population join the U.S. Military the nation is relying on that group to protect our country. With VE, (Victory in Europe) and VJ (Victory in Japan) days were celebrated throughout the country. But things slowly changed. The Korean War veteran returned to a country of silence. These soldiers were expected to just melt away. It was vastly different for the soldier who return from combat overseas in the 60s and 70s. Individual soldiers were blamed for the decisions of our nation’s leadership. Vietnam Veterans were spit on and cursed at and called names like “baby killers”. There were no welcome home parades. No “thanks for your service”. When the Gulf War ended there were celebration parades in New York City and Washington D.C. To welcome the troops home. Today as each deployment returns to there home station, there is a Welcome Home Ceremony. This country is grateful for your service. On behalf of this nation, I say WELCOME HOME and THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE! To all veterans.

That brings me full circle to why we are here this morning. We have placed a wreath to honor our dead war comrades. Each Veteran pauses at the wall and stairs a name inscribed and ask the question, “Why him”, “why not me”? I was right next to him! The 3rd Battalion lost 53 “killed in action” during the Hamburger Hill assaults. On a thousand other hills and river valleys, Rakkasans soldiers give their life, often to save a buddy’s Battle for Dong Ap Bia. That battle got the fame and notoriety. But that battle is just a representation of the fighting spirt of the Rakkasans in all battles small and large in the past, in the present, and in the future. They must never be forgotten. They must live in our memory always.

The reality is that they are gone. We cannot bring them back. However, there are two things we can do in the departed comrade’s name. First look around at today’s formation. The WWII guys are over 90s to plus 100. Korean war veterans are in their 80’s and 90s. Vietnam Veterans are in their 60s and 70s. The Desert Storm soldiers are in their 50. As I mentioned earlier, it has been more than 20 years, since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. That puts many of them in their 40s. Engage with all veterans. Record their stories, and thank them for their service.

Secondly, and perhaps most important is the active-duty soldiers and especially those that have returned from a combat tour. Suicides are costing us too many current and ex-soldiers. Reach out to your friends and fellow soldiers. Active-duty soldier watch out for your buddy. We have to stop this needless loss of life. Be a friend. If you employ workers hire a vet and help his successful transition back to the “World”.

Thank you very much for being here today. Our Rakkasan Reunion is proud to partner with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 101st Airborne Division Association to present a fun filled week for all. Please enjoy the activities and hug a soldier.

Let Valor Not Fail

Airborne and Air Assault

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