By Megan Locke, Fort Campbell CourierMay 20, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (May 13, 2011) - Iron Rakkasans - both young and old - gathered May 13 to remember the Battle of Hill 937, better known as Hamburger Hill.
The 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Soldiers fought valiantly at Vietnam's Dong Ap Bia mountain in May 1969. A part of Operation Apache Snow, these Soldiers battled tough terrain to overcome the North Vietnamese forces' stronghold at the hill. The Rakkasans went on to eliminate more than 500 enemy troops and seize stores of weaponry.
In the process, 39 Soldiers from the 187th Inf. Reg. lost their lives and 290 were wounded. In addition, the other 3rd Brigade battalions participating sustained 31 losses and 82 injuries.
In honor of the fallen, Rakkasan Soldiers of today and yesterday gathered to place a memorial wreath at the 187th Inf. Reg. pylon across from the Don F. Pratt Museum, Friday, as part of a two-day long reunion.
"There's no more fitting place to have a ceremony at Fort Campbell than the pylons," said Lt. Col. David Fivecoat, 3rd Battalion, 187th Inf. Reg., 3rd Brigade Combat Team current commander. "These hallowed stones and granite walls bear the names of the Rakkasans who answered the nation's call in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the defense of our freedom and our way of life."
Dozens of veterans on the ground at Dong Ap Bia mountain returned to Fort Campbell for the 42nd anniversary of the engagement. For their actions in the multi-day battle, the unit received a Presidential Unit Citation among other honors. It is for their service and continued support that Fivecoat recognized the men.
"I stand before you now, surrounded by such a great group of veterans, Rakkasans and leaders, I can't help but feel that I am in a company of heroes today," he said.
Bob Harkins, president of the Hamburger Hill Association, said this recognition is much different than when he and his fellow Vietnam vets returned home from the conflict. After Hill 937 was taken by U.S. forces, "the hill ceased to have any military significance," Harkins explained. While some went on to say the fight was a "waste of time," Harkins praises veterans for a job well done.
"Like today's military, we did not make the decision, or choose the fight, or choose the time to engage in combat," he said. "Many Vietnam vets were drafted into the Army ... We were a lot like these Soldiers in front of us today, proud Americans that wanted to do our part to make the world safer.
"Well brothers, we did what we were asked, we did it very well," Harkins continued. "And nobody can ever take that away from you."
In addition to the memorial ceremony, Soldiers and veterans spent two days participating in several activities, including a memorial run, a tour of the Sabalauski Air Assault School, and viewings of the movie based on the battle, 1987s "Hamburger Hill."
Reunions, such as this one, help these men regain friendships and open up about what happened in distant jungles decades ago.
"We kind of were involved in this operation and then went on to other things, and everybody kind of left and went on their lives," Harkins said. "It's the time for everybody to kind of come back together again."
It took nearly four decades for retired Col. Harkins, who served 27 years and now lives in Austin, Texas, to find Lee Sanders, Delta Company's commander during the battle at Dong Ap Bia.
"I punched him in the arm on the morning of the 18th as we went up the hill," Harkins said. "I said 'I'll see you on top of the hill.' I never saw him for 39 years."
The time together not only bonded and reconnected Vietnam-era battle buddies, but gave younger Soldiers a new perspective on today's fight. The 3rd Battalion, 187th Inf. Reg. Soldiers recently returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
"The battlefields, enemy and weaponry may have changed, but our fight remains the same - to ensure freedom at home, as well as promoting freedom around the globe," Fivecoat said.