Vietnam Veterans Deployed to Iraq

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Another generation from `Charlie Battery” going to war
by Dylan Lovan

BARDSTOWN, Ky. – Friends and relatives said their goodbyes Thursday to members of an Iraq-bound Kentucky National Guard artillery unit that hasn’t been deployed overseas since the Vietnam War, when it suffered devastating casualties.

The unit, made up largely of soldiers from Bardstown, lost five men during a surprise attack in June of 1969 when their camp was ambushed by North Vietnamese.

About two dozen veterans who lived through the ambush in South Vietnam that day came to a small gymnasium Thursday afternoon to commemorate the Guardsmen’s departure to another unpopular war.

“I hate to see them go,” said Ronnie Hibbs, 63, a former member of Battery C of the 138th Field Artillery, known in the military as “Charlie Battery.”

Hibbs drew a distinction between the Vietnam War he fought in and the war the 161 members of the National Guard battery are headed for…

     

In Vietnam, “it was like it is here during the day – at night was the only time we had to worry,” Hibbs said. “Now they worry all day from what I can tell.”

The company, which specializes in artillery, will depart Friday for Fort Dix in New Jersey for six to eight weeks of training on force protection, its central task in Iraq.

“I guess my worry is that these (soldiers) will be in a lot greater danger,” said Don Parrish, another Vietnam vet who served in Charlie Battery.

Parrish, 64, who lives in Bardstown, said he was reluctant to talk about his own memories of Vietnam and the friends he lost.

“I want these soldiers out here to be the focus today,” he said. Guardsmen during the ceremony, and Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher also thanked them.

“Charlie Battery has a long history,” Fletcher said. And the battery, “still maintains that reputation.”

Many of the Guardsmen departing on Thursday said they had mixed emotions about the deployment.

Staff Sgt. Charles Hatfield, 49, said he served in the first Gulf War but said the war in Iraq is “a lot different this time.”

“You watch TV every day, and you know it’s different,” said Hatfield, who lives in Irvington, Ky.

Adrian Wallace was clutching his 1-year-daughter, Mia, and said leaving his family would be difficult.

“That’s the only hard part about it, leaving them behind,” said Wallace, who at 21 has been in the National Guard for 1 1/2 years.

Hundreds of friends and family attended the ceremony at the local high school just as hundreds did in 1969, when the town held a memorial service for the members of Charlie Battery killed in action.

The battery, which included about 100 members from Bardstown, was attacked on June 19, 1969, at a firing position known as Tomahawk Hill. After about two hours of fighting, the North Vietnamese retreated, though nine members of the battery, including five from Bardstown, were killed, according to the National Guard. Another 37 in the unit were wounded.

Many of the members of the Bardstown-based battery had grown up together and knew each other well, Hibbs said. He said one member of Charlie Battery who was killed was his cousin.

“It was a close-knit group,” he said.


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