(Editor’s note: The following was submitted in remembrance of Veterans Day by Harold Hill Jr., commander, American Legion Post 81 of Pleasantville, and member of VFW Post 6594, Vietnam Veterans of America, DAV of Northfield. Hill, an Army veteran, was a sergeant with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 and saw combat during the TET Offensive military campaign. Portions have been edited.)
Christmas had come and my tour was coming to an end, meaning I was down to the final three months in Vietnam. It was nearing the time of Tet, which is the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year. We had been moving consistently about Long Binh, Saigon, Binh Hoa and various villages. It was hard to keep track where we were.
I consistently stayed aware of our movement by watching the terrain and different formations of the rice paddies. One night, the sky in one area lit up with all sorts of firepower, lighting the sky for miles away from where we last stopped. We marched on through night and came to a village outside of Long Binh where the Viet Cong had dug and built a fortress that tunneled under a graveyard. The fire fight was constant with bullets and rocket mortar flying all around. The magnitude of the engagement was intense.
I was helping to get more ammunition from a helicopter on the ground when I looked in the sky and spotted a lone helicopter way above the fighting area. A plume started to grow off the horizon. An ammo dump had blown up. It looked just like the atom bomb visions reported by the news media over the years. The waves and ripples of its impact started to roll across the sky. You could see them rolling toward the helicopter and all I could do was pray that they not be caught in the turbulence. I went back to my duty of applying suppressive fire.
When the plume had ceased, I looked all around and did not see any signs of a helicopter crash or explosion. I hoped they made it safely through the turbulence.
Over 40 years later, while at an American Legion meeting at Post 81 in Pleasantville, one of our members, James “Sonny” Habron, brought in some combat photographs from Vietnam. I stopped to look at the photos and there it was, the exact picture of the explosion and ammo dump blowing up.
I told him I was so glad to see that the helicopter crew made it out. I told him that while he was flying above, I was on the ground in the firefight below and had prayed that they made it safety through.
It’s a small world after all.