Heavy Losses to Bardstown-based National Guard
Unit Mourned as Bodies Come Home for Final Rest
This Community's heavy hearts have become heavier.
The Kentucky Standard newspaper July 3, 1969, front page
Five activated Kentucky Army National Guardsmen of Bardstown-based Company C, 2nd Howitzer Battalion, 138th Artillery, were killed in an enemy attack on Fire Base Tomahawk in Vietnam June 19. The bodies of three were returned to Bardstown early this week and lie in their flag draped caskets awaiting last rites.
Army officers from Fort Knox notified local families June 25 that the two first reported missing had been killed in action and that another, seriously injured, had died of burns in a hospital in Japan.
Word of others hospitalized for injuries received in the attack has trickled in. Sgt. James T. Moore, 25, Bardstown, died June 24 of burns which covered 90 percent of his body. He hustled the last of his men out of a burning self-propelled, 105-mm howitzer, then got out too late himself.
Spec. 4 Ronald E. Simpson, 22, Bardstown, first reported missing after the June 19 attack, was killed in action, as was Spec. 4 Joseph R. McIlvoy, 23, of Willisburg.
The bodies of Moore, Simpson and Spec. 4 David Burr Collins, 24, whose death was announced four days after the attack, are at the Bardstown funeral home.
First Sergeant Of Company Lost
Company C's first sergeant, Luther Malcolm Chappel, of Bedford, Ky., was also among the five who lost their lives. He went to Vietnam as a member of Battery A, based at Carrollton, which also was part of the Federal call-up of National Guardsmen in May, 1968, and had been transferred to Company C. He replaced Sgt. Pat Simpson, of Bardstown, who completed his enlistment and came home several months ago.
Harned, Janes Brought To Knox
SFC William Kenneth (Buck) Harned and Spec. 4 Jerry T. Janes are among the group of seriously wounded who have been returned to the States. Both were brought to Fort Knox. Janes has recovered sufficiently to leave the hospital and now is on a 15-day leave at home. Harned is under treatment at a Fort Knox hospital.
Sgt. Harned's wife, the former Pat Riggs, a registered nurse at the local hospital, learned in a telephone conversation with him Sunday night that he has severe burns on his right leg, burns on his left leg, face and stomach, wounds in the right leg and left hand, and punctured ear drums. He phoned her from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, as he was enroute from a hospital in Japan to Fort Knox. Five other injured were coming with him to Fort Knox, he said.
Spec. 4 Janes, Bardstown, and Sgt. Harned arrived at Ft. Knox together. Janes' family had been notified last week of his injuries, but Mrs. Harned says she never received any official word from the Army about her husband. When he phoned her, he thought she had been notified. She first learned about her husband from Janes' father, after he'd had a call from Jerry.
Another Bardstown guardsman injured is Spec. 4 Ronnie E. Hibbs, 25, son of Earl Hibbs, High Grove. His wife, the former Libby Rouse, who is with her parents at Solitude, learned of his wounds in a letter dated June 23, saying he is 40 miles from Tokyo, at Keshne, Japan, in the 106th General Hospital.
At 1 a.m. Monday, the wife, father and uncle, A. V. Hibbs, Bardstown, talked to Ronnie in the Japan hospital. The time was 12 noon there. Hibbs told his family he was in Battery C's 105 Howitzer when the attack started. When their guns were knocked out, they fled to their bunkers, he said. In the run, he was burned, his clothes and hair on fire.
Guardsman Bobby Stumph threw a blanket over him and saved his life, he said. He expects to be hospitalized 30 to 45 days. Hibbs had asked Spec. 4 Janes to phone his uncle, A. V. Hibbs, when he got back to Fort Knox.
"The overseas operators were wonderful" in getting the call through to Spec. 4 Hibbs in Japan, commented A. V. Hibbs.
Harned, son of Austin Harned, Boston, was employed at Skaggs Electric before being called up. Janes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Janes, was employed at Beam Distillery.
Harned's enlistment was completed before the unit left Bardstown in the callup last May, and he volunteered to go with the National Guard into service.
One of the injured has written home that 11 men of Battery C were hospitalized alongside Sgt. Moore, said his mother.
First Sgt. Chappel didn't have to go to Vietnam. His enlistment in the Guard was completed last August, but he re-enlisted and went with his unit. "Because he was one of them, he thought he was obligated to be serving his country," said his wife, tearfully, recalling the painful decision he had to make. He was drafted in 1956, and served two years on active duty in peacetime. This time he felt he should go, "that he was no better than anyone else," Mrs. Chappel said.
Company Lost Its Commander
Battery C also lost its company commander, Captain Lyle J. Thompson, a few months ago. He was in a helicopter on an observation flight of bunkers Battery C. was shooting at. The haze was so dense that the helicopter either hit a mountain or was shot down, said one of the Bardstown men who returned home in recent months when enlistment was completed. Since the helicopter was burned to a crisp, the real facts of Captain Thompson's death were never determined. Captain Thompson had succeeded Captain Tom McClure, of Bardstown, who was the commanding officer of Battery C when the unit left Bardstown. He was transferred to the headquarters battalion some time ago.
The first fatality of local men in the Bardstown-based Company C, 138th Artillery, was S Sgt. Harold M. Brown, Mt. Washington. He was killed June 11 in a mortar attack south of Chu Lai. His funeral was held June 26 at King's Baptist Church near Mr. Washington.
Spec. 4 Simpson's wife, the former Deanna Durbin, gave birth to a 6-lb. daughter, Cheryl Lynn, on Sunday, June 29, at Flaget Memorial Hospital, ten days after the death of the baby's father. The couple was married April 26, 1968.
One of a family of seven children, Ronnie Simpson was graduated in 1966 from Bardstown High School, where he participated in track and won several awards for football. Among them was his selection to the Courier-Journal All-State Class A second team. He was employed at Salt River Rural Electric Cooperative when he was activated on May 16, 1968, with the National Guard unit.
Made Church Deacon June 22
The Bardstown First Christian Church, where he was a lifelong member, honored him on June 22 by elevating him from junior deacon to deacon, when word had not been received of his death. A charter member of the Order of Demolay, Simpson was a member of Duvall Lodge of Masons. He is survived by his wife and infant daughter; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Marchel Simpson, Bardstown; three brothers, Robert Lee and Kenneth Russell Simpson, Bardstown, and Marchel Irvin Simpson, Jr., Phoenix, Arizona; three sisters, Shirley Jean, Connie Margaret and Peggy Elaine Simpson, all at home; his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. George Dennis, Bloomfield.
His body arrived Monday, accompanied home by Sgt. James R. Timony, and will be moved to the foyer of Bardstown High School for the memorial services Friday morning, July 4, at 9 a.m. Interment with Masonic and full military rites will follow in the Bardstown Cemetery. A memorial service was held for him the past Sunday at the local Christian Church.
Staff Sgt. Moore, a 1961 graduate of St. Joseph Prep School, owned and operated a garage on Chaplin Road in Bloomfield before the National Guard call-up. Their fourth wedding anniversary was June 26.
He is survived by his wife, the former Patsy Shaw; two daughters, Sheila Renee, 3 1/2, and Carla Michele, 2; one brother, Joseph Moore, and two sisters, Mrs. Leo Mayer and Mrs. Joseph Nally, Cox's Creek; his grandmother, Mrs. Millard Reid, Bardstown.
Raisor Accompanies Moore's Body
Sp. 5 Charles Thomas Raisor, who was wounded, but not seriously in the June 19 attack, accompanied Sgt. Moore's body home. It arrived Tuesday morning. Funeral services will be held Thursday, July 3, at 9 a.m. at St. Joseph Church with burial following in St. Joseph Cemetery. The rosary was recited Wednesday evening at 7:30 at the funeral home.
When Jim's mother spoke of her son's helping the others escape, she remarked, "He was always like that, Always looking out for others and not himself." He had said many times he wanted to make a career of it, said his mother. "He didn't like the idea of having to go over there, but he made the best of it."
Jim had planned to go into the trucking business with his brother when he got back. His 21-year-old wife and two children have been living with his parents on Sunset Drive since he left.
Cousin Accompanies Collins Body
Accompanied by his cousin, Teddy Collins, who was in Vietnam but with another unit, Spec. 4 David Burr Collins' body arrived home Monday. Teddy had been scheduled for R-and-R leave July 12-18 and now will have a 15-day leave with his wife, Sherry; and his family. Collins Funeral At Cox's Creek Funeral services for Spec. 4 David Collins, 24, will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 3, at the Cox's Creek Baptist Church, where he was a member. Interment will follow in St. Joseph Cemetery.
The family has asked that expressions of sympathy take the form of memorial gifts to Collins' two-months-old son, David Todd Collins, whom he had never seen.
He is survived by his wife, the former Patsy Dickerson, whom he married May 3, 1968, and infant son, who are living with her mother, Mrs. Charles L. Dickerson, near Bardstown; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leon Collins, Plum Run Road; grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Collins and Mr. and Mrs. George Gordon, all of Bardstown; two brothers, Sgt. Wayne Coleman Collins, 26, who is hospitalized in Vietnam with injuries sustained in the June 19 attack, but not considered serious, and Danny Collins, 14, at home.
David was a graduate of Bloomfield High School and employed as a diesel mechanic at Grigsby Sales and Service here. His training was at the Diesel School, Nashville, Tennessee.
He was highly skilled.
A graduate of Willisburg High school, Spec. 4 McIlvoy was employed at General Electric Appliance Park. He was married in March, 1968, to Mary Elaine Carney, of Willisburg. Besides his wife, he leaves his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. McIlvoy, Willisburg; one sister, Mrs. Nancy Perkins, Lexington, and one brother, Tommy McIlvoy, 17, at home.
He and Spec. 4 Ronnie Simpson were the best of friends, said McIlvoy's aunt, Mrs. C. R. Ratliff, Bardstown.
"We're not grieved merely for ourselves," said his dad, "We're just grieved for all of them." "We sure lost a fine bunch of boys. I was real close to them." said Joseph Kenny Ice, who completed his enlistment and returned to his home on the Bellwood road here a few weeks ago.
"I was the platoon sergeant, and some of these who lost their lives were in my platoon."
Collins, Dickersons Both Hit Twice
Both the Collins and the Dickerson families have been hit heavy blows. The Collins lost one son and have another wounded. David's young widow's brother, Charlie Dickerson, has a permanent injury to his voice from a wound in the throat sustained last fall in Vietnam. He has a paralyzed nerve in his throat which will make his returning to teaching difficult. Presently, he continues in the service at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Bardstown Guardsmen, Billy Snellen and Joe Hall, are completing their enlistment and returning
Home this week.
Stewart McClaskey, Boston, who was home on a 30-day leave due to illness of his father,
Booker McClaskey, returned Sunday to Vietnam. He left Bardstown with the National Guard.
Rites Held at Cox’s Creek For Sp. 4 David Collins
The Kentucky Standard, 10 July 1969, p. 14.
Funeral services for Spec. 4 David Burr Collins, 24, were held Thursday morning, July 3, at 11 o’clock at the Cox’s Creek Baptist Church, with the pastor, the Rev, Walter E. Bryant, a former pastor, and the Reverend Linus Giesler, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Bardstown.
Interment with full military honors followed in St. Joseph Cemetery.
Pallbearers were Gene Brothers, Kenny Ice, Glenn Brown, Tommy Brewer, Gary L. Thomas and Bobby Lynn Collins.
Survivors include his wife, the former Patsy Dickerson and two-months-old son, David Todd Collins, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leon Collins, Plum Run Road, his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Collins and Mr. and Mrs. George Gordon, all of Bardstown; two brothers, Sgt. Wayne Coleman Collins, 26, who is hospitalized in Vietnam with injuries sustained in the June 19 attack, and Danny Collins, 14, at home.
40 Years Ago: Bardstown National Guard unit attacked in Vietnam
By Stephanie Hornback June 19, 2009 The Kentucky Standard newspaper
The community, significantly smaller 40 years ago, was already reeling from the unexpected call-up of the local National Guard unit. The Kentucky Standard reported April 18, 1968, shortly after the activation that only 12 of the 117 enlisted men in the unit were from outside Nelson County. The result was that nearly everyone here knew someone who was in Vietnam. When word came that the unit had come under heavy fire on Fire Support Base Tomahawk, locals feared the worst.
Even before the attack, the soldiers were apprehensive about being on FSB Tomahawk. They were sent there to support the 101st Airborne.
“(Tomahawk) had probably the worst reputation of any fire base I had ever heard of in South Vietnam,” said Don Parrish, Bardstown, who was deployed with the unit. The base, a low hill among higher hills, was “virtually indefensible,” Parrish said. Soldiers had been killed there in freak accidents, such as a bunker sliding down the hill during a rainstorm. It was almost as if the hill was jinxed, Parrish said.
“No one was happy to be there, but we did what we were told,” he said.
One night during a heavy rain — heavy enough to drown out outside noise — a battalion of Vietnamese soldiers took off all their clothes so they could crawl through the 4 feet of razor wire surrounding FSB Tomahawk without getting snagged. It was about 1:45 a.m. and the American soldiers were preparing for a shift change. Guardsman Tommy Raisor was waking up Parrish to take over when the first enemy round hit.
“I felt his hand on my shoulder and heard that round at the same time, and I thought, ‘Oh hell,’” Parrish said.
Chaos ensued, Ronnie Hibbs, High Grove, said.
“Everything was kind of blowing up and on fire, and nobody really knew what was going on for a while,” he said.
The Americans didn't realize at first the Viet Cong had infiltrated the perimeter. Then they started to see figures darting around in the dark. The battle raged on until 5:30 a.m., and the fighting was constant during those 3 1/2 hours, Parrish said.
“It seemed like a month,” he said.
There was so much going on that the soldiers didn't have time to get scared, Hibbs said.
During the heat of the battle, Hibbs was running from a gun to take cover in a bunker when he was injured.
“They threw one of those satchel charges underneath me and it caught my shirt on fire,” he said.
A satchel charge was a small bag of dynamite about 2 inches by 3 1/2 inches weighing a half-pound with five-second timers, according to “Sons of Bardstown,” a book by the late Jim Wilson about the local Charlie Battery’s call-up, battle and aftermath. The one that got Hibbs landed him in a burn unit in Japan for two months, after which he returned home.
The fighting ended the morning of June 19, 1969, perhaps because “Puff the Magic Dragon,” a World War II plane with four mini-guns that could fire thousands of rounds per minute, showed up and peppered the Viet Cong with bullets until they retreated, Parrish said. Or the end might have been the result of a mistake on the part of the Viet Cong, he said. A Vietnamese prisoner the battery captured said his battalion fired a red flare, which meant retreat. They should have fired a green flare to call in backup, the prisoner said. If more Viet Cong had arrived, no Americans on Tomahawk would have survived, Parrish said.
As it was, 44 Americans were wounded and 14 were killed. Parrish isn’t sure how many Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the battle, but he estimates about 100. During the entire war, 3-5 million Vietnamese were killed and close to 60,000 Americans.
Five soldiers from the local National Guard unit died from injuries they received that day. Three of them — David Collins, Jim Moore and Ronnie Simpson — were from Nelson County.
Simpson’s daughter, Cheryl Lyvers, Bardstown, was born 10 days after her father was killed on FSB Tomahawk. Lyvers said she used to be bitter about never meeting her dad, but she realized harboring such feelings does no good.
“It is what it is. It happened. There’s nothing you can do about it,” she said.
“Do I wish he was here? Absolutely. We’ve missed out on a lifetime of memories.”
Lyvers said her teenage children help keep their grandfather’s memory alive by discussing their family’s experience when the Vietnam War is taught in schools.
Parrish doesn’t think the war is emphasized nearly enough in history classes. That bothers him. He was also upset when he tried to get The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to come to Bardstown to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the attack on FSB Tomahawk. He canceled it because he couldn't get enough public support to fund the $6,000 display.
“I’m disappointed that the community would begin to lose interest like this,” he said. “But at the same time, here comes more generations, and I guess the average person living in Bardstown wasn't here when all this took place, so it’s explainable.”
Those who experienced it firsthand, either in combat or by wondering if their loved ones were OK, will never forget. Though many declined to be interviewed for this article, they didn't cite lack of interest as the reason. For some, the pain is still too fresh. Others feel guilty for not speaking out against a war that no one can quite explain.
The Vietnam War began when the United States intervened in a conflict between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Parrish and Hibbs struggle with understanding why the United States got involved. Parrish at first thought it was to stop the spread of communism, but now he thinks that reasoning was based on lies. He thinks American industry benefited from the war by manufacturing military equipment. He also thinks some military commanders put their desire for legacy ahead of the well-being of American troops.
Although he is bitter about the lies, he holds no ill will toward the people of Vietnam. Parrish, Hibbs and five other Charlie Battery veterans, all but one of whom were on Tomahawk when it was attacked, returned to Vietnam in 1995. A crew from WHAS accompanied them and won an Emmy for the resulting documentary.
“It was probably the friendliest place I’ve been in my life,” Parrish said.
The visitors were able to experience more of the Vietnamese culture than when they were serving in the military. They also visited the site of FSB Tomahawk and another fire support base where they were stationed. It was emotional, but a good visit, Parrish said.
Hibbs said he perceived no bitterness toward Americans during the trip, and he extends the same courtesy to the Vietnamese.
“They were just doing what they were told to do about like we were doing what we were told to do,” he said. “I don’t know who was right in the whole deal. We were there because we had to go.”
Hibbs and Parrish agree that being deployed with people they had known since childhood made serving in Vietnam easier. There were seven sets of brothers, uncles, cousins, friends and so on, Parrish said. It made a big difference in morale, as did the generally comfortable conditions the battery had in Vietnam, Hibbs and Parrish said. Compared to infantrymen, who often had to fight in the jungle in the rain, the 138th Field Artillery, who rarely saw the targets at which they shot, had it good, they said.
No public observance of the 40th anniversary of the Tomahawk attack is planned, Parrish said, because few attended the 35th anniversary ceremony. But the soldiers of Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery who served in Vietnam will get together for a reunion this fall.
Parrish said the men’s efforts were recognized in Vietnam. The 101st Airborne always requested the Bardstown unit, he said.
“We were there for a very short time and our battery was determined to be the best firing battery in all of Southeast Asia,” he said. Because they all knew each other, they supported each other in their efforts to improve, Parrish said.
He considers their experience a pivotal piece of Bardstown history.
“I’m very proud of our whole battalion and how we performed there,” he said.
Extract from The Kentucky National Guard in Vietnam: The Story of Bardstown's Battery C at War by Anthony A McIntire published in the Register of The Kentucky Historical Society Spring 1992 Vol. 90, No. 2 Pages 140 – 164.
Unknown to the men, specially trained soldiers from the Seventy-second Sapper Company, Fourth North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment, wearing only underwear, guns, ammunition, and explosives, used the cover of the heavy rain to slip through the base perimeter and hide. As the 101st Divisional Command put it, "Enemy elements - as was indicated in later prisoner of war interrogation and captured documents - had made a thorough reconnaissance of the fire base for several days to detect weak spots in the perimeter's defenses." None of the men has any doubt about why: Battery C had caused a lot of trouble for the Vietcong and NVA, and they simply decided to take the unit out of action. "This was probably the unit that was doing the most damage to them ... I know of one twenty-four hour period on Hill 88 they fired a thousand rounds; that's a hell of a lot of ammunition," Bischoff points out. And, of course, the layout and location of Tomahawk, bordered as it was by high ground, no doubt provided further incentive to strike.
The sappers waited until the early-morning hours. Tommy Raisor, on duty in Fire Direction Control (FDC), had gone about his normal routine. Just after 1:30 A.M., he got up and turned off the generator that had been recharging the radio batteries; when he did so, several lights in the compound went out. The NVA knew the base routine, and as he went back into the sleeping bunker adjoining FDC to wake up the next shift, outside a red flare shot up into the night sky. Meanwhile, David Collins had gone to the mess area for coffee that the cooks left out at night. He may well have been the first to realize that something was amiss, that there were people nearby him who were not Americans. Just before the red flare went up to signal the attack, he apparently tried to sound the alarm. The NVA shot him down. The attack began, at 1:45 A.M. …
Within moments, sappers used a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) to blow up the 101st infantry position on the western end of the perimeter. The RPGs resembled bazookas and could even penetrate armor plate, meaning that they could knock out the howitzers. But over in Number 1 Gun, Janes assumed that they were taking mortar fire, we took three rounds in the side of this gun … one of which was an RPG round. We took two at the bottom of the track, and I thought, 'God, these mortars are close." When he reached out to close the turret hatches and button up the gun, he saw the attackers. "I pulled the hatch on and told the guys, 'Gooks in the perimeter, get your rifles!" At that point, Number 1 Gun had three explosive rounds and two illumination rounds, so they quickly fired both of the illumination rounds - straight up. As he recalls, "we were punching rounds in that tube as the breech was slamming on it and the tube going up. With some light overhead, Janes peered out of the hatch: "There were gooks, gooks were all over the place."
The Number 1 crew had to evacuate their gun. They had run out of ammunition and had no viable targets. Even worse, they were taking direct RPG rounds. If one of them penetrated and detonated a remaining powder charge, the men would be incinerated in a flash. As Janes recalls, two of the men did not want to leave and would not open the rear door. He said. "We've got to get out of this gun, got to get out!' Because there were powder charges in it and we didn't have any rounds, we couldn't fire it. If we [had] stayed in there and ... taken the right hit, wouldn't any of us [have] got out of there." They escaped, and the other men made it to a nearby bunker, but a satchel charge thrown by one of the NVA soldiers exploded close enough to leave Janes himself dazed. He somehow wandered into a pile of barbed wire near the bunker. With only a .45 caliber pistol, he looked up and saw three NVA on the other side of the wire. Fire from Ronald E. Simpson of Number 3 Gun saved his life.
Meanwhile, when the firing started, Section Chief Jim Moore woke up instantly and ran for his gun, Number 3. Then the crew buttoned up the gun and started firing, again assuming that the explosions were mortar rounds. But after only a few rounds, Moore realized that this was no mortar attack. Like Janes, he knew then that he would have to evacuate the gun. Yet, even as he pushed his men out the door, the NVA got a good hit with an RPG. It barely penetrated the armor, but the hot metal touched off one of the powder charges stored inside. The resulting flash explosion blew up the gun and burned virtually all of Moore's body. Somehow he lived through it, and one of his men led him to Fire Direction Control. … And he said to me, "Donald, I’m burnt up."
The firing lasted until morning, although the NVA no doubt pulled out some time before light. Both Parrish and Janes recall a captured NVA lieutenant who said that they originally planned to use three hundred men. …In actuality, they attacked with an estimated 150 men and did much damage. The lieutenant also reported that the NVA commander had fired a green flare, signaling retreat, even while the sappers were still wreaking havoc.
The NVA sappers killed David Collins. Jim Moore, burned severely, died three days later on a hospital ship off the coast near DaNang. Ronnie McIlvoy was blown up by a satchel charge.
Ronald E. Simpson, after having saved Jerry Janes with his cover fire, was himself killed. Luther Chapel, in from Battery A, also died from gunfire. (Jim [W]ray had been killed with another unit prior to Tomahawk.) Overall, five Guardsmen and four other army men died that night; nineteen Guardsmen and twenty other army men were wounded.