Skip to comments.Traces of Vietnam
Posted on 04/09/2002 12:54:37 PM PDT by aomagrat
BISHOPVILLE S.C. For Ronnie Williams, a recent trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., started more than 30 years ago in a rice paddy in South Vietnam.
The long, black V of the monument, packed with the engraved names of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War, sat there like a black monolith of memories.
A retired U.S. Army veteran, Williams, like many area Vietnam vets, had never taken the time to visit the memorial, or taken time to grieve since returning from the southeast Asian jungles.
Williams traveled to Washington with a group of 36 veterans and their families and friends last week as part of an effort to bring the moving wall, a replica of the memorial in Washington, to Lee County for Memorial Day weekend.
Before the group reached The Wall they stopped at the Korean War memorial.
Matt Dillon, now a captain with the Lee County Sheriffs Department, served in Korea as a sniper for a Marine reconnaissance team and later in Vietnam in the Air Force.
The haunting image of a 19-member stainless steel squad located near the memorial freezes a moment in time.
Its pretty spooky because you know each position of each fella there, you know his position, what hes thinking and everything, Dillon said.
The corner of Williams eye kept seeing the long black monument sitting about 300 to 400 yards away.
I kept catching myself looking at it, and I thought, Lets postpone this, he said. I put it off probably as long as I could. I knew at some point I would walk down to see The Wall.
Finally he strode down to The Wall, glancing at the tightly packed names on the black granite panels as he passed.
I had done my homework, I had looked up the name I wanted to do a rubbing of, Williams said. I knew right where I was going. I headed right for Panel 27 east, Line 30.
I thought at first it was real fuzzy, but then I found out it was tears in my eyes, he said. It is emotional. I cried, Im certainly not ashamed of it. I tear up thinking about it.
Williams, who serves as the Bishopville fire chief, pulled out a small, white piece of paper and a yellow pencil and watched as the outline of Clyde Vernon Moore appeared in gray pencil lead.
The 28-year-old first lieutenant from Irwinville, Ga., has rarely been far from Williams mind in the past 35 years. Williams often wonders if Moore could be alive today if he had acted differently.
I didnt want to apologize to Lt. Moore, because I dont think we were wrong, Williams said. I just wanted to let him know I regret that he was killed in that action. I think it could probably have been avoided.
In 1967, Sgt. Williams was a squad leader in a platoon of the Armys 101st Airborne Division. When Moore, a married, eight-year veteran, arrived on July 6, 1967, Williams had already been in Vietnam a month and quickly befriended the well-mannered Georgian with a warm smile.
We got to be close, I say close friends, as close as a lieutenant can get to a squad leader, Williams said.
Their platoon saw a lot of action in the three months the men served together. Williams said they met and talked almost every morning.
On the morning of Sept. 29, they met and made a decision that stays with Williams to this day.
His platoon was on a search and destroy mission in the Quang Tin area, southwest of Da Nang. Their standing orders were to locate the enemy, make contact and engage if possible. If they couldnt engage, they were to call in the artillerys big guns.
Late in the afternoon of Sept. 28, Williams platoon had reached a hill where intelligence reports indicated a strong Viet Cong force.
We called in artillery because it was late in the afternoon, and we couldnt make contact, Williams said. We probably didnt want to make contact because it was a pretty large group.
They watched as a fire base lobbed round after round into the Viet Cong position. Williams said it appeared that one of the shells had made a good hit.
In the morning, Williams met with Moore, the other squad leaders and the platoon leader. They decided to take the platoon to the hill to do a body count and search for any salvageable intelligence information.
We just made a decision, which was probably not the smartest decision we ever made, Williams said. We knew there were enemies; we fired on them the night before. We just walked into an ambush.
As the platoon set out, they encountered a large rice paddy.
Rice is a staple of the Vietnamese diet. Flooded fields, called paddies, dot the landscape there like cotton fields cover Lee County. During the war, they provided excellent cover for the native armies.
We dropped off our gear, posted guards like youre supposed to and set off single file across the rice paddy, Williams said. By the time we got to the middle of it, they closed the back door on us.
For 16 hours, the 101st troopers were pinned down in a blistering fire fight.
Finally, they were able to clear a small landing zone to take out the wounded and the dead, including Williams and Moore.
I knew from the extent of my wounds I knew I wasnt going to be back in that damn jungle, Williams said. I didnt have to face it.
After being treated and transported from Vietnam, Williams didnt have much time for soul searching either.
You see when I got out, things happened so fast you really dont have time for grieving, he said. I guess I was so damn happy to get out of there. I felt bad for Lt. Moore and the men, but I really didnt have time to deal with it.
Williams had been to Washington before, but didnt take time to visit the monument. In a way, going to The Wall to find his friend was like saying goodbye, but its also a reminder of a decision made by a young man.
I question it every day: Would the decision I made been different if I was 27 years old or 37 instead of 20 years old, Williams said. I think its tough when you are 19 years old to be required to make decisions that cost peoples lives. Its something you live with.