Leader Blues

Friday, August 21, 2009

TOP STORY >> Battalion marks Vietnam milestone

Leader staff writer

Just a few months after the Tet offensive, young men from across Arkansas flew to Da Nang, a major port in south Vietnam for offloading ammunition.

It was 1968 when the group of 100 soldiers went overseas to support operations there even as President Lyndon Johnson began to push for an end to the war.

Johnson activated Headquarters Company of the National Guard’s 336th Ordnance Batta-lion, Ammo Service, in April that year along with thousands of others across the U.S. Sam High of Lonoke was 24 years old when his unit was called to war.
Sending guardsmen to war was rare then. High had been in the Guard for four years. He’s now a veterans service officer for Lonoke County.

“We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day,” High said about the 336th’s job in Vietnam.

“The unit was in charge of ammunition supply for the northern part of South Vietnam up to the border of North Vietnam. They supported the 101st Air-borne, Americal Division, and 5th Mechanized Division to name a few,” High said.

The soldiers of the 336th were fortunate, unlike the nearly 60,000 of their fellow soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. Soldiers from the 336th all came back alive.

“We all went over together and came back together,” High said.

“ One hundred (from Arkansas) were activated,” he said. “We had all joined the reserve. We went for weekend drills and summer trainings (before deployment),” he said.

Fast-forward 40 years later: on the weekend of Aug. 13-16 at Grand Plaza Hotel in Branson, several of the men came together to mark their safe return home in August 1969.

Many of them included residents of Lonoke County. In addition to High, they are retired colonel and battalion Chaplain George Lassett, retired Warrant Officer John Evatt, Fred Carrigan and Danny Devinney, both of Lonoke as is High, and Buck Buchanan and Arthur Evans of Cabot. “For the last seven years, we’ve met each year,” High said. “This was the third year in Branson.”

Keith Hurst of Little Rock and Gerald Fisher of Vilonia organized the reunion.

“We get together and reminisce,” High said.

They reported to active duty at Finkbeiner Armory in Little Rock in May 1968, moved on to Fort Carson, Colo., in June for special training, and deployed to Da Nang in Sept. 1968.

The 336th received a Meritorious Order of Commendation in 1970. Reserve companies that worked alongside the Arkansas soldiers, attached to them, the 295th, 40th and 571st ordnance companies, also received commendations for their work retrograding unusable ammunition.

“Unlike most Vietnam veterans, this unit came home as a unit and received a nice welcome at the Little Rock airport,” High said. Lt. Gov. Maurice Britt, who grew up in Lonoke and was a Medal of Honor recipient in World War II, was there with the soldiers’ families to welcome them home.