2011 Is the 50th Anniversary of the Start of the Vietnam; Story by Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
QUINCY, IL (03/17/2011)(readMedia)-- There have been many events which defined the United States as a nation. Whether positive or negative, all have shaped America's history. One of those events was the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. In 1961 the first full units were deployed to Vietnam.
Seven years after the start of the war, in 1968, one Illinois Army National Guard unit was activated to help fellow American troops, who were fighting to keep the entire infrastructure of South Vietnam from collapsing. Spc. William Twaddle and Spc. Charles Waters, both retired members of the Illinois National Guard's 126th Supply and Service Company from Quincy, remember the call-up well.
"I was working for the fire department at the time," said Twaddle, a 25-year veteran of the Quincy Fire Department. "They called me up and asked how I'd like an all-expense paid trip to Chicago."
The unit initially deployed 30 men to Chicago on April 6, 1968, for state active duty, to help distribute rations to other Illinois National Guard units working riot control during the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These men were recalled April 11, when the 126th Soldiers discovered through the Chicago Tribune they were headed overseas.
"The Chicago Tribune knew before we did," said Waters, also a Quincy native. "They called us up and asked if we knew we were on the list to go."
On Sept. 19, roughly 129 members of the 126th landed in Chu Lai, Vietnam, where they were assigned to the 23rd Supply and Transportation Battalion, Americal Division. Their first few days in country gave them a taste of things to come. Heavy shelling greeted them on the first night, made even worse by the fact they had not yet been issued weapons to return fire.
Waters was one of the first Soldiers to pull perimeter guard duty during his second night in Chu Lai.
Upon arriving at his post, he said he lost his balance and fell out of the back of the transport truck.
"I remember lying on my face in the rain and mud thinking, 'Well this is it, I'm here,'" said Waters.
The 126th had a multitude of duties, including overseeing the transportation and issuance of the battalion's food, clothing, fuel, equipment and vehicles.
"Anything that had to do with supply and services came through our unit," said Twaddle, a company clerk. "We provided services for over a hundred units. I know we went through several thousand gallons of petroleum a day."
Twaddle did an array of tasks, performing administrative duties, updating personnel records and unit history, dealing with unit retention issues and emergencies, doing correspondence work for the commander and even issuing pay and Vietnamese currency.
"We had so many talented guys over there," said Waters. "It was such a diversified group."
The unit included Soldiers from every walk of life. The 126th's members held many different civilian jobs, including welders, construction workers, landscapers, woodworkers, butchers, law enforcement, truck drivers, architects, engineers and even a barber, who charged 25 cents for a haircut in Chu Lai.
"These were just regular guys doing their specialized jobs every day," said Twaddle.
Waters echoed this sentiment.
"That's why most of us signed up, to do our jobs," he said. "We were very dedicated."
Whether refueling trucks and helicopters, traveling to town each day to pick up and pay the civilians who worked on post, or building their very own USO club for entertainers to perform, both men agreed the 126th stayed busy and positive.
"Morale was always high," said Twaddle. "We were so close as a National Guard unit."
While many things about the military have remained the same throughout the years, some have changed drastically. Communication is one of the more notable aspects, said Twaddle.
"With e-mail and computers, communication is instant," he said. "I called home to (his wife) one time."
Waters said he also called home only once, but tried making tapes to talk with his family at home.
"My family would ask me, 'What is that I hear in the background?'" he said. "I didn't want to tell them it was explosions."
Both men said they wrote hundreds of letters, numbering them to keep some sort of sequence. A delay could cause undo worry to friends and family, they said.
The 126th was deployed to Vietnam for almost a year, and served with great distinction, earning praise and
decorations for their efforts. Three National Guardsmen were awarded the Bronze Star for their heroism in defending supply convoys. On Aug. 16, 1969, when the 126th Soldiers returned, they came home to a hero's welcome in Quincy.
Twaddle admits their homecoming was different than many other Soldiers received.
"When we left, it was only our immediate families," he said. "When we got back, there were four to five thousand people of Quincy waiting to greet us, flags and all."
Mary Twaddle, William's wife, said she remembers the day fondly.
"It was wonderful when he first came home," she said. "It was like a second honeymoon for us. It was just a joyous, happy time."
During a public ceremony at the local park, then Illinois Governor Richard Oglive spoke to the assembled Soldiers, their families, friends, and the people of Quincy. His words summarized the 126th's sacrifices in the service of their country.
"As distinguished as your service has been, it was not unexpected," said Oglive. "For the record your fathers and grandfathers wrote before you has taught us that uncommon valor is indeed a common virtue among the men of the National Guard."
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