Vietnam Veterans commemorate the fallen comrades of FSB Illingworth

By Tatiana ScharsteinApril 11, 2024

Commander greet veteran
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. Victor H. Scharstein, and Capt. Mason Kasunic greet retired Staff Sgt. John Naylon at Constitution Park, Fort Sill, April 1, 2024. The 428th Field Artillery brigade command team assisted with a memorial ceremony for the Battle of Illingworth. (Photo Credit: Bryan Araujo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Vietnam Veterans Visit
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Retired Capt. John Ahearn and retired Staff Sgt. John Naylon, Vietnam Veterans, visit Constitution Park, Fort Sill April 1, 2024. (Photo Credit: Bryan Araujo) VIEW ORIGINAL
Wreaths commemorate Battle of Illingworth
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Patriotic wreaths, laid by Vietnam Veterans, are dedicated to the FSB Illingworth at Constitution Park on Fort Sill April 1, 2024 (Photo Credit: Bryan Araujo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort Sill, Oklahoma (April 9, 2024) - April 1st was a day when the veterans and survivors of the battle of Fire Support Base Illingworth remembered their fallen comrades who died 54 years ago in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Every year, many Vietnam veterans come to Fort Sill and gather at Constitution Park, near the monument dedicated to the Soldiers who were killed in that battle. They come to honor the memory of their brothers who fought and died during repeated assaults by North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong units that shelled the FSB Illingworth that day in 1970.

This year, only two survivors, Retired Capt. John Ahearn and retired Staff Sgt. John Naylon could attend this ceremony. Both Ahearn and Naylon reside in San Antonio.

"Each year we try to gather here to remember our fallen brothers, but each year is getting less and less of us," Ahearn said.” Next year, in 2025, hopefully, we will have more people because it will be a big anniversary of 55 years.”

Four veterans who lived in San Antonio for seven years met once a month at a restaurant somewhere in Texas to share stories, remember their comrades, and have lunch.

According to Neylon, it is important for Vietnam veterans to remember those who were there during those dark hours that morning. During the ceremony, Ahearn expressed his appreciation and gratitude.

"I express special thanks to those twenty-five Soldiers who gave their lives during this battle," he said with tears in his eyes. "Because of their bravery and their success, I wouldn't be here, and my family wouldn't exist. They gave me 54 years of prosperous life."

The battle occurred on FSB Illingworth, five miles from the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh province, Vietnam. Illingworth established in early March 1970 and named for Cpl. John James Illingworth of A Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, who was killed March 14, 1970, near Tay Ninh City.

The base was made up of elements from several units, including B Battery, 1st Battalion, 77th Field Artillery; A Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery; A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery; B Battery, 5th Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery; and Companies C and E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. The Artillery units are either current or former Fort Sill units.

At 2:18 am on April 1, the NVA launched the first of 300 mortars, rockets, and recoilless rifle rounds that would strike the base for 20 minutes.

"I directed over 1,000 rounds of artillery fire plus several air strikes and dozens of gunships," recalled Ahearn, who was the artillery liaison officer of the 1st Battalion, 77th FA, and the fire coordinator for the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cav at that time.

The battle was over by 5 am., less than three hours later. Twenty-five Soldiers were killed in action, including ten from field artillery units. Another 54 Soldiers were wounded.

Two Soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and one Soldier, Sgt. Peter C. Lemon was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The 428th Field Artillery brigade command team assisted in the memorial ceremony and raised the flag. Capt. Mason Kasunic led the ceremony, gave a speech, raised the flag that was shipped by Mr. Random Richard, a Vietnam veteran, and saluted fallen Soldiers of the Battle of Firebase Illingworth.

After the ceremony, Col. Victor Scharstein, commander, 428th FA Brigade, took the veterans to Snow Hall for a tour. It was the first time the veterans had been in the building in a quarter century.