Fifty years on, a battle in South Vietnam remains unknown

Operation Junction City, South Vietnam 1967.

A hammer struck a golden bell during a recent memorial ceremony as the name of each soldier killed in action at a little-known battle in South Vietnam was called out.

Three former vets, all Minnesotans, were among the 100 people gathered together for the final reunion of veterans who survived one of the nastiest and all but forgotten firefights of the entire war at an abandoned village named Soui Tre.

Two soldiers in his gun section, David Rodgers and Willie Grant, died that day and he can still see their faces, said retired tool-and-die worker, John Barr.

He was operating the artillery guns when approximately 2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese threatened to take control of a landing zone in a clearing in the bamboo jungle near Soui Tre approximately 30 miles northeast of the capital, Saigon.

In the early morning assault, enemy forces pounded the landing zone with 650 rounds of rocket and mortar fire to break the perimeter of the base.

Grenades exploded, guns roared and helicopters crashed prior to a U.S. ground-and-air counterattack which reversed the four-hour battle.  Accounts differ, but the Army tallied about 650 enemies dead. Thirty Americans were killed, and about 200 were wounded.

Chaotic is a poor adjective, said Barr, who to the present day can recall the foul odor of corpses in the days that followed the battle on March 21, 1967.

Barr, attending his first Vietnam veteran’s reunion, turned 70 in April.

All the vets are aging, and it is beneficial to hash over these memories, he said.  It brings up a lot, but he is glad he came.  It is good for the soul.

As with many of the veterans at the reunion, Barr said he hung up his uniform when he returned home in 1968 and said little about his experiences for 40 years.

He never talked to his parents about Vietnam, but one night his brother got him drunk, and it all came pouring out.