FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 21, 2018) -- Lawton resident Druie King was temporarily missing in action during a tour in Vietnam.

King, a lifelong resident of Comanche County, was drafted by the Army in 1970, and went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He attended infantry advanced individual training at Fort Ord, Calif.

In early 1971, he was shipped to Vietnam, where he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry, the Geronimo Battalion.

King said that's one of the only times he every smiled while in Vietnam.

"Being from Southwest Oklahoma, I knew the legend and mystique that surrounded Geronimo," he said. "I was proud to be assigned to the 1st of the 501st."

Before he could do anything with the unit, however, he was sent to scout/sniper school where he learned from legendary Marine Corps sniper, Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock.

King participated in numerous battles, walking point (first in the line) after the original point man stepped on a land mine.

"We started right off the bat," he remembered. "We move north into the Quang Tri province. We were so close to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), we could see the North Vietnamese flag on the other side."

The Soldiers were assigned to Fire Base Bastogne, between Hue and the A Shau Valley.

"We just went and went and went," King said. "We had a lot of patrols where guys got shot and wounded. It was horrible."

On one mission, the then-Specialist 4 was standing on the skid of a helicopter as it landed. The helicopter sat down on a land mine. The explosion threw King back into the passenger compartment of the UH-1 Huey, injured several others, and damaged the helicopter, nearly rolling it over. The Huey pilot reacted quickly, lifted off, and made it back to the firebase.

"The blast blew the skid off the bird, which threw me into the cargo area of the Huey. When we landed, they got the severely injured off first. I had time to notice my boots were blown off and I had some small shrapnel wounds. Nothing too serious," King said.

Being that far forward, supplies were thin. His replacement boots given to him by a supply Soldier came off the body of a dead Soldier he knew.

MIA for a bit
With his added skill identifiers as scout/sniper, King was often called on for special two-person team missions. One of those found King left behind in the jungle with no friendlies anywhere around.

"I was sent in to see if could locate a downed [AH-1] Cobra and its crew," he quietly related. "I found it. It was just a burned hulk and a tail boom. I made it to the exfiltration point and the helicopter never showed up. So, I was left in the jungle and decided to just drive on. I was a scout. It took me all day to get back and I was very careful to announce I was an American when I got within sight of the firebase."

That time alone, walking through the Vietnamese jungle, listening for a telltale twig snap, sneeze, cough, or the smell of a Vietnamese cigarette or the clink of metal on metal, is one of the most intense times of his life, King said.

The 501st made a name for itself in World War II and is immortalized in "The Band of Brothers." Its time in Vietnam is also chronicled in, movies like "Hamburger Hill."

King said he's absolutely not a hero. He went there, did the job he was told to do, came home to a not-so-nice reception in California and got out of the Army as soon as he could. He said he turned down a five-figure bonus offered to him attend Officer Candidate School.

He worked at Fort Sill for a long time and has had numerous surgeries he attributes to the Huey incident and Agent Orange.

"Twenty-three surgeries for various reasons. I have no cartilage in the middle of my nose and I don't have a septum because I breathed in that crap, he said.

"I like the fact that we bring remains of those left behind home," King said. "I lost a lot of friends over there in those jungles."

POW/MIA Day is remembered Sept. 21 each year at most military installations.

Records show the U.S. has said there were about 2,500 American prisoners of war or missing in action. Roughly 1,200 Americans are listed as killed in action but no body was ever recovered.

According to the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, there are still 1,597 missing military and civilian personnel from the Vietnam War.