By Megan Locke Simpson, Courier staffMay 16, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson occupied the Oval Office, and The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" topped the U.S. charts.
It was also a year of change that ushered in heavy U.S. involvement in Vietnam, with the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. With this in mind, 50 years later, the 101st Airborne Division is focusing the upcoming Week of the Eagles festivities around the theme "Remembering the 101st in Vietnam -- Building on the Legacy of Courage and Strength."
Major Gen. James C. McConville, 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell commander, emphasized the importance of Vietnam Veterans and their accomplishments in a recent message welcoming guests to post for WoE, which begins with the Division Run Friday.
"It was through the valorous actions of disciplined, well-trained and physically fit Screaming Eagles, who sacrificed everything for freedom, for peace and for each other, that we have earned a legacy of which we can all be justifiably proud," he said. "From the hedgerows of Normandy to the rugged Alps at Berchtesgaden; from the jungles of South Vietnam and the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq to the jagged mountain ranges of Afghanistan; the Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division have with uncommon valor accomplished all the missions at hand … We stand today upon the legacy you created."
The special recognition for Vietnam Veterans coincides with National Vietnam Commemoration, which acknowledges the 50th anniversary of the war.
The Fort Campbell area remains home to many Vietnam Veterans eager to write their own legacy and who regularly support present-day 101st Soldiers.
Retired 1st Sgt. AJ Murdock, who served with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam, proudly acknowledges his service. Murdock and the other "No Slack" Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 327th Inf. Regt., left the Vietnam jungles in April 1972. His command sergeant major ensured that Murdock had the honor of stepping on the plane last after sending him to retrieve a "missing" item from the hangar.
"I came back and said, 'Sergeant Major, I looked all over everywhere. I can't find it,'" he recalled. "And he goes, 'You know, I feel like a complete idiot Sgt. Murdock. I had it around my waist.' So anyway, he ducked in the aircraft. I went right behind him, and they closed the door. When I got in the aircraft, he poked me in the chest and said, 'You're the last Eagle out.'" While Murdock and his fellow service members did not come home to the ticker tape parades common for Soldiers in World War II or today's modern welcome home ceremonies, Fort Campbell officials are now making sure the sacrifices of these Vietnam Vets do not go unrecognized.
"… When we came back, we had apples, oranges, radio batteries thrown at us," Murdock said.
In 2009, the installation hosted a welcome home ceremony for Vietnam Veterans from all branches. Fort Campbell also hosted the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, which is a smaller replication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Murdock attended the Vietnam Veteran welcome home ceremony, and said "if you didn't shed a tear there, then you couldn't have been human." He said the support was second to none and events, such the upcoming Week of the Eagles, show how public perception has changed significantly during the past 50 years.
"We just had a blast," he said. "The welcome home was the epitome of what I've seen for Vietnam Veterans."
Murdock went on to serve for 24 years, with a brief break in service. Also a Gulf War Vet, he joined the Army in 1967. With the 2-327th Inf. Regt. in Vietnam, he served as the Hawk Recon platoon sergeant.
"We worked a lot of missions in the Rocket Belt, all the way around Cam Rahn Bay until it was our time," he said. "… I'm not a hero. I was a Soldier that did my job. [We] lost a lot of good guys."
Stereotypes and misperceptions are still common when referencing Vietnam Veterans. However, 101st Airborne Division Association President Jim Keeton said these attitudes are changing, with Vietnam Veterans increasingly more open, especially when it comes to their fellow service members.
"One of the most important things of all is that, because the way the Vietnam Veterans were treated … I think the Nation learned a lot from that," he said. "We were treated so badly that, you don't even want to go back there to think about it. But this is the reason that we really try to take care of our guys today."
After serving as a clinical specialist with the 1st Battalion, 321st Artillery, in Vietnam, Keeton returned home to become an entrepreneur.
"I ran the battalion aid station, myself and one doctor … I was on Firebase Bastogne and the different firebases. We treated the 501st, 502nd, the Currahees -- kind of everyone came through the aid station," he recalled.
Vietnam Veterans are being offered a special place of honor during the Week of the Eagles Division Review, May 22 at 10 a.m. These Veterans are invited walk along the 101st Airborne Division Parade Field during the ceremony.
For more information or to RSVP, call the Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office at (270) 798-3025.
Murdock still lives in the Clarksville area. A 101st Airborne Division Association member for 41 years, he now helps with the Boys State program at Fort Campbell High School and serves within the American Legion, among other activities.
He also treasures his status as a role model for other service members, who often stop and ask about his experiences. He finds staying active is the best way to stay young and resilient.
"It's just great because you see these guys out there, Vietnam Veterans that are still giving," said Murdock, who turns 65 on Sunday. "Now how much longer we're all going to be alive or how much longer we're going to be able to do it physically is one thing. But as long as I've got a breath in my lungs, I'm going to be doing something with the 101st."