Logo - Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter

WCN&V con­trib­u­tor Randy Patrick had a long and dis­tin­guished career as a pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ist, includ­ing two stints at the Winchester Sun. Two years ago, when he wrote this sto­ry, he was work­ing for the Kentucky Standard in Bardstown. [Ed.]

Before I came to Bardstown sev­en years ago, I had read about those “gal­lant sol­diers” of the Kentucky National Guard’s Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, or “Charlie Battery.” I knew they were a major rea­son Bardstown had the grave dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing sac­ri­ficed more of its sons to the war in Vietnam than almost any small town in America. Several of those who died were from the same artillery unit based here in Nelson County, uproot­ed and sent to fight 14,000 miles from home.

Of the 117 enlist­ed men in the Guard unit, almost all were from Nelson County.

On June 19, 1969, under the cov­er of dark­ness and tor­ren­tial rain, North Vietnamese sol­diers attacked Charlie Battery’s Fire Base Tomahawk, killing 14 Americans, includ­ing David Collins, Jim Moore, and Ronnie Simpson, all of Nelson County, Ronnie McIlvoy from neigh­bor­ing Washington County, and Luther Chappell from Carrollton. Two oth­er local boys who had been in the unit, both from near­by Mount Washington, Harold Brown and Jim Wray, also died with­in days of the bat­tle on Tomahawk Hill, one short­ly before, the oth­er right after.

When the sur­vivors returned home four months lat­er, they were giv­en a heroes’ wel­come. Since then, their sto­ry has been told in books and news­pa­per and mag­a­zine arti­cles, in movies and on tele­vi­sion.
When I met some of them almost as soon as I arrived that sum­mer of 2012, I found them to be down-to-earth, reg­u­lar guys who had been through hell, fought like hell, and lived to tell about it.

That first week, I met Don Parrish and his wife, Judy, at their book­store, and they con­nect­ed me to Joe and Jenny Buckman, who had an apart­ment for rent in the Historic District. A month lat­er, after a clas­sic car show at Parkway Baptist Church to ben­e­fit Wounded Warriors, I met Kent Bischoff, Jodie Haydon, and Jerry Janes at Pat Settles’ record shop, where they pre­sent­ed vet­er­ans advo­cate Gordon Ewell copies of Jim Wilson’s book about them­selves, “The Sons of Bardstown” and Lt. Gen. Hal Moore’s book, “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” the basis for Mel Gibson’s film in which he played the Bardstown native and hero of Ia Drang.

Last year, I met Tom Raisor and Bischoff for a sto­ry on the sum­mer they went to Vietnam.

This spring, dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny at the Kentucky Capitol to hon­or the men of Charlie Battery, Brig. Gen. Raymond Ice of Bardstown, who wasn’t part of the Guard unit, but was “in coun­try” at the same time, read from a speech by anoth­er gen­er­al who called their artillery unit one of the best and called its men “gal­lant soldiers.”

In October, I was hon­ored to join mem­bers of Charlie Battery and oth­er vet­er­ans on a 50th anniver­sary Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to vis­it the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, take part in a cer­e­mo­ny hon­or­ing the dead with the shrap­nel-rid­dled flag that flew over Fire Base Tomahawk, and wit­ness the chang­ing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

It had been a beau­ti­ful fall week — except that day. Rain poured from a lead­en sky, but one of the men told me it seemed appro­pri­ate for the occasion.

I met oth­er vet­er­ans from the Guard unit that day — “Smiley” Hibbs, Sam Filiatreau, “Bucky” Ice, Don Puckett, Dan Cunningham, and Wayne Collins, to name a few.

At “the Wall,” Collins leaned for­ward in his wheel­chair to place a bou­quet of flow­ers beneath the place where his broth­er David’s name was carved into the hard black gran­ite and then felt it with his hand.
“Both of us didn’t have to go, but we said that if one of us went, the oth­er one was going too, because we didn’t want to be sep­a­rat­ed,” Collins said.

But they were sep­a­rat­ed, for 50 years and counting.

When we returned to Louisville, I expect­ed a crowd at the air­port, but noth­ing like what we encoun­tered. There were hun­dreds, includ­ing fam­i­lies and friends and oth­ers from home, Coast Guard mem­bers in crisp uni­forms, Patriot Guard bik­ers in leather, Scouts, D.A.R. ladies, peo­ple with flags and hand-made signs, cheer­ing and grasp­ing hands. On the way to the National Guard Armory, our bus passed more crowds and passed under a giant U.S. flag sus­pend­ed from two fire truck ladders.

It was all I could do to hold back tears. It was an amaz­ing show of sup­port. And these men deserved it. Every bit of it.

This Veterans Day, I’ll hon­or all vet­er­ans for their ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. But my thoughts will be most­ly with the men of Charlie Battery and their families.

It has been the great­est hon­or of my time in Bardstown to have known sev­er­al of them and to con­sid­er a few friends.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.