He was part of the 9th Infantry Division, which was reactivated for combat in Vietnam. For two hours, we talked about life in the swamps, the jungles and rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. When he arrived in Vietnam in January of ’67, his platoon had approximately 40 troopers and by September, they were down to 13.
As we sat over coffee, he had my undivided attention. At times his eyes welled up with tears, as did mine. He told me about his comrades, the many who died in combat. He told me about the medic who he covered with his poncho as he lay in his final resting place. He told me about how passionately he prayed to God to keep him alive during his last battle as the sounds of war surrounded him.
It’s amazing when you look back. We were just doing our job. But as the years have rolled on by, you start realizing that what we did was special.
It was April 28, 1966 when Uncle Sam sent him the letter…it was his draft orders. Just three weeks later, a 19-year-old William “Bill” Reynolds, reported for duty.
Fort Riley, Kansas, is where he spent the next half a year training with many of his buddies. “The United States Army needed many young men for the 9th Infantry Division, which was being reactivated for combat in Vietnam.” The unit trained for six months and in January of 1967, they traveled via troop train to Oakland, California, where they boarded a World War II ship, the U.S.S. General John Pope, for a 20-day voyage to South Vietnam.
“Soon after arriving in the combat zone, our unit became part of a newly created fighting force named the Mobile Riverine Force whereby we joined forces with the U.S. Navy,” Bill reminisces. “We lived on barracks ships that traveled up and down the Mekong River and smaller landing craft transported us infantry troopers into the swamps, jungles and rice paddies of the Mekong Delta where our mission was to find Viet Cong communist fighters and eliminate them.”
He continues, “It was hard dealing with seeing my fellow soldiers and friends get up shot and killed. It was really difficult. On June 19, our medic was next to me tending to our wounded. He was hit under the arm and a bullet went right through his chest, penetrating both lungs…I did everything I could to save him.” During the battle 47 brave soldiers were lost, helicopters shot down and many wounded.
Before the battle was over, the troops pulled back to the boats, to assault the other side of the river. Bill was firing his grenade launcher, and as he was reloading, a Viet Cong’s bullet came, and blasted a big hole through the barrel. “Any closer and it would’ve been my head.” As the battle was wearing down, the Viet Cong were still lobbing a few mortars at them and one exploded nearby Bill sending shrapnel everywhere and ripped apart his trigger finger. He figured it was one of the lightest wounds of that terrible day. Med-Evac helicopters transported wounded soldiers to Army hospitals near Saigon and the nurses and doctors streamed out to assist the wounded. When he woke up the next morning in the hospital, bandaged, he recalls, “On my nightstand was my Purple Heart; they were handing them out left and right with no fanfare.”
Just a few weeks later, the troops went through another major loss of lives. “It broke our hearts, they called in a helicopter to pick up our dead…It was all too emotional. These were my friends and they were almost unrecognizable. There was nothing I could do.”
Bill returned to the U.S. in January of 1968 and was discharged in May of 1968, where he continued working for General Motors and then eventually for Lockheed.
For the last 15 years, Bill has been managing a website dedicated to his unit, especially to the fallen soldiers. He and his wife Meg, who have resided in the Santa Clarita Valley for 35 years, have facilitated Charlie Company reunions every other year since 2001.
In September of 2012, military author Dr. Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi published a book “The Boys of ’67 – Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam”. Just a few months later, National Geographic created a two-hour HD Television documentary “Brothers in War”, based on the book, which aired on twice last year.
“I served my country. I was honored to do that. Afterall, we were all just doing what our fathers before us did in WWII”.”
For more information about the 9th Infantry Division, visit www.9thinfantrydivision.com. To view The Boys of ‘67 book trailer visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5El-xFNpfc or Brothers in War trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o19yQFFCY8A&feature=youtu.be .