Everyone who puts on the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States and takes the oath to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and serves honorably, sacrifices for his or her country should be honored appropriately.
On this Memorial Day, I remember three young military officers who served honorably in Vietnam and paid a price for their service.
An Army Quartermaster Corps Captain who was the S-4 Logistics officer on the staff of the Long Binh Post Commander became close friends with members of my staff. He had a wife and two small children and was on orders to return home the following week. We had a farewell cookout for him on Saturday night. On Sunday night he was killed when a regular Communist unit penetrated our defense perimeter and raised havoc in and around the headquarters of US Army Vietnam. I never met his family, but on Memorial Day I wonder how his wife and children dealt with the loss as they prepared for his welcome home and I remember the sacrifice of not only service members but of their families also.
Major Hugh Hodges was serving his second tour in Vietnam. He had been an advisor to the Vietnamese Army during his first tour. Hugh was a Southern Country boy and loyal to a fault. He would even apologize when he carried out my orders to “never hide bad news from the boss.” He knew his way around the country, was comfortable talking to natives, allies and American soldiers.
On one Occasion, Hugh returned from a routine trip up country. “I hate to drop this on you, but you say ‘don’t hide bad news’ and I don’t want to hold on to this one,” Hugh said with his typical grin. He had discovered that one of our Allies was stealing shiploads of brass from the United States Army. I was obligated to pass the report on to the next level. I ended up in General Abrams’s office and the Ally was ordered to turn a ship around and bring the brass back to Vietnam.
I returned from Vietnam and was assigned as commander of a 1050 man battalion at Ft. Hood, Texas. Soon after my arrival, my Executive Officer, Major Dutch Voll, received orders for Vietnam. His wife had recently been diagnosed with a severe form of MS. Dutch and Judy had two young daughters. Before the Army, they had been professional ballroom dance instructors. MS brought an end to that. As his commander, I offered to initiate paperwork for a hardship waiver of his orders in view of Judy’s condition. The next day, Dutch declined my offer. He and Judy had decided that he should do his duty and serve a combat tour in Vietnam like others. Judy would return to the West Coast and live near relatives.
I was transferred from Ft. Hood to the Pentagon. The Congress had decided to abandon Vietnam by withdrawing funds. The Army was being arbitrarily drawn down. We were losing many good people. Both Hodges and Voll were Reserve Officers not quite able to retire and were caught in the reduction in force.
Hodges was first to call. “Hey Boss, I just got back from my third tour in Vietnam. I had Mary Lou buy a house in Atlanta near my work. I thought this would be my final tour before retirement. Guess what? I got a letter this week telling me I would be discharged at the end of this month. Can you do anything to help me? I have a wife and two kids and no job.”
The answer was, “no, however stay in touch and if I can ever help; I’ll call you.”
A call came from Dutch Voll. He was supply officer for the Army Hospital in Denver when he got the letter saying his services were no longer needed. “At the end of the month I will have no job and I can’t buy insurance for Judy. Can you help?”
My boss told me about a program most people had never heard of. I sent forms to Dutch and upon approval Judy became a “ward of the Secretary of the Army” with free medical care for life. I could not help with a job.
My next assignment was to take charge of 135 Army Commissary stores and build an organization from scratch to centrally manage them. More than 10,000 civilians were already in the stores. I was able to hand pick my staff and the heads of 5 field offices.
I began looking for people of proven quality. I knew a lot of good people and some not so good. Voll and Hodges once again became members of my staff. They and others served with distinction. Hodges retired from civil service as a GS-15 and Voll as a GS-14.