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Action of Kentucky units in 138th Field Artillery to be remembered at Vietnam Veterans Day event on March 29

The action of Bardstown and other Kentucky National Guard members at Firebase Tomahawk in Vietnam 50 years ago will be a highlight of the Vietnam Veterans Day/Vietnam Commemoration event at the State Capitol on March 29.

After Gov. Matt Bevin delivers the keynote address, BG Thomas R. Ice, who served with the Second Battalion, 138th Field Artillery in Vietnam, will address the importance of the deployment of the 138th Field Artillery to Vietnam. There will also be artifacts from the unit on display.

According to Kentucky National Guard history:

On April 19, 1968, the 2d Battalion, 138th Field Artillery with units in Louisville, Bardstown, Elizabethtown and Carrollton, Kentucky were ordered to active duty by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Among 24,500 men ordered to active duty in 88 units across the United States were 570 Kentucky Guardsmen and 750 Kentucky Air Guardsmen.

The Kentucky men showed much spirit. This was indicated by their disregard for a Department of Defense policy, which disallowed two brothers serving together in a combat zone. The 2d Battalion had numerous pairs of brothers serving in combat, as well as many who had brothers serving with the U.S. Regulars in South Vietnam. Such concern truly brought out the embedded motto of Kentuckians, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

The evening of June 19, 1969, was a quiet one for Charlie Battery on Tomahawk Hill. There had been few attacks by the enemy in the previous days and fire missions were at a minimum. It was pouring rain. South Vietnamese rainstorms are much different from those in the States. It comes down with such force that one would think a dam had broken. The rain numbs all hearing senses and limits visibility to one foot. The infiltrators are pleased with such climate as it allows them movement, which normally would be checked. Many of the off-duty men of Charlie were watching a James Bond movie or thinking about their loved ones back in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, approximately 150 NVA sappers were amassing outside the perimeter of the compound. Twenty-two infantrymen from the 101st Airborne Division were manning the perimeter. At approximately 1:45 a.m. about 75 of the sappers, with satchel charges strapped to their bodies and carrying RPG’s, shoulder-firing rocket launchers, proceeded to snake through the barbed concertina wire barricade. Supported by a mortar unit the NVA sappers completely overran the defending infantry, killing and wounding most of them.

A Bardstown man shouted the first alarm and the destruction was on. The sappers … threw satchel charges into the bunkers, killing and wounding many. The wounded as well as the unharmed fought back with every ounce of life to drive the NVA from the firebase. At the same time, other units of the Kentucky Guard at other firebases were shelled by the NVA so that they could provide little or no fire for Charlie Battery.

The sappers delivered approximately 150 satchel charges and RPG’s. After destroying an ammunition storage area, three howitzers, nine bunkers, the mess hall, dining tent, maintenance building, four ammunition carriers, three 2 1/2-ton trucks, two 3/4-ton trucks, and three jeeps, the sappers were forced to retreat. Cobra gunships zeroed in on the NVA position and forced the surviving NVA sappers to run for their lives.

The enemy felled nine Kentucky Guardsmen, but he lost 23 on the battlefield.
Senior Commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, said the 2nd Battalion 138th Field Artillery, was “one of the best trained, and absolutely the best maintained battalion-sized unit in Vietnam.”

The Capitol Rotunda ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. EDT on March 29, Vietnam Veterans Day. It will feature the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Traveling Wall and music from the 202nd Military Band.

From Governor’s Office

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