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Commentary: Commemoration of Vietnam War offers broader scope for appreciation of vets


By Norman E. Arflack
Special to KyForward

The 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War offers a broader scope for appreciating the service and sacrifice of all Kentuckians who served.

It’s a persistent myth that National Guard members never served on foreign soil in support of their active duty counterparts. In fact, there have been multiple Kentucky National Guard units that served not only honorably, but heroically in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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 who were ordered to active duty in 88 units across the United States, 570 were Kentucky Guardsmen and 750 Kentucky Air Guardsmen.

The spirit of the Kentucky men showed in their disregard for a Department of Defense policy, which disallowed two brothers serving together in a combat zone. The 2nd 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.

The 2nd Battalion’s responsibility was to provide fire support for the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division, whose home is Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

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, and many of the off-duty men of Charlie were watching a James Bond movie or thinking about their loved ones back home.

At approximately 0145 NVA sappers attacked. They completely overran the defending infantry, killing and wounding most of them. A Bardstown man shouted the first alarm and the destruction was on. The enemy sappers threw satchel charges into the bunkers, killing and wounding many.

The enemy felled nine Kentucky Guardsmen, but lost 23 on the battlefield. The Kentuckians took one prisoner, from which they learned much so that no such attack would occur again.

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 units in Vietnam.”

Approximately 125,000 Kentuckians served in the Vietnam War, of which 1,105 gave the ultimate sacrifice.

More recently, following the attacks of 9/11 Kentucky National Guard members have deployed approximately 18,000 times in defense of this great nation. Tragically, 15 Kentuckians have lost their lives in support of these missions. The Guard’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as three members of the 617th MP Company were decorated for their actions that saved countless lives at Salman Pac south of Baghdad.

SSG Timothy Nein received the Distinguished Service Cross while Lea Ann Hester and Jason Mike were awarded the Silver Star.
Kentucky National Guard members are ordinary citizens who perform in an extra ordinary manner in defense of their country.

They stand ready, not only to perform their assigned state missions but, to deploy as necessary to support their active duty counterparts.

Read more in the official history of the Kentucky National Guard.

Norman E. Arflack

Norman E. Arflack is commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs


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