After a year and a half humping up and down the 101st Area of Operations west of Hue and Camp Evans, and being wounded twice, Gary Radford returned to his home town of Pittsburgh, PA in the summer of 1970. Not too long after coming home he and his future wife, Patti decided to get married. (Gary swears that she was attracted to his Corvette more than him and maybe that’s why it has stayed in the family with them.) Today they are still together having raised two sons (Brian and Gary). Gary continues today working as a truck driver with an interest in motorcycles. He and Patti continue to assist the Ripcord Association in getting out the quarterly newsletter.
Gary, like many others grew up and graduated from high school expecting to serve in the armed forces by either volunteering or waiting to get drafted. In the Radford household this was the expected. What was not expected was the early death of Gary’s father. As a result his older brother was considered sole support of the family and the younger worked on a newspaper so Gary joined up in hopes of keeping the draft away from his younger brother. As those of us who have had dealings with the government bureaucracy, Gary’s plan did not work. After he joined both of his brothers were later drafted and all three served during some of the same time.
The first stop for Gary was to the Reception Center at Fort Jackson followed by Basis Training at Fort Gordon and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort McClellon. From there he received orders for NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) School at Fort Benning even though he had not volunteered for it. By the time his orders were straightened out he had finished half of the training and decided to complete it. Not wanting to end up pushing AIT troops at some base or working a range, he volunteered for Ranger and Airborne Schools. During this period he was promoted to E-6 (Staff Sergeant) and shipped out for Vietnam in January 1969.
Following in country training he was assigned to Delta Company, 2/506 of the 101st Airborne Division with whom he served until leaving in July 1970.
Being with the 101st in 1969 he was present for “Hamburger Hill”. Fortunately, Delta was not involved in the assault on Dong Ap Bai and merely observed the action from afar. After the NVA had been forced off the hill, Delta Company continued to work the area near the Ashau Valley. Gary received his first wound in June 1969, as well as a Silver Star. While recovering the First Sergeant arranged for him to spend his recuperation time at Camp Holloway where one of his brothers was stationed. Gary felt this was one of the best times he had while in Vietnam.
As time went by the heavy rucksack and climbing in the rugged hill near the Ashau Valley took it’s toll on Radford resulting in a hernia. He was sent to the hospital to have the rupture repaired in October 1969 but by March 1970 it had torn open once more causing Gary to miss the opening of Ripcord. He returned to the field in late April / early May when he rejoined Delta once more.
As May melted into the heat of June and then the humidity of July, the war activities of the NVA in the Ripcord area heated up as well. By early July Delta Company and a re-constructed Charlie Company found themselves involved in an assault on Hill 1000 that had been started by a recon unit directed from the air by Col. Lucas, the battalion commander. Two of Radford’s men, Charles E. Beal and Lewis Howard Jr. were killed as the unit attempted to take the hill. Efforts that day and the next to retrieve their bodies were fruitless. In the process Radford was again wounded and shipped back to the hospital for repair. He got back to his unit in time for the memorial service after the evacuation of Ripcord and then shortly left Vietnam and the Army.
For many of us once we left Vietnam we considered that part of our life to be over even if we still think about it most, if not all of the time. For Gary Radford there was guilt in his mind for not being able to retrieve his buddies bodies from the hill. After 26 years he was able to get permission to lead an MIA Team onto Hill 1000 in hopes of finding some remains of his fallen comrades. As the team and Gary moved into the area, now heavily over grown with jungle vegetation, they found and old 105 mm round, the rusted remains of an M-60, a GI helmet and a size 10 jungle boot, the size worn by one of the missing. But no remains of their bodies. As the MIA team worked and searched, Gary dug a hole and buried two copper MIA bracelets he had worn for years in memory of his two men. He and the team members offered prayers to the two men who lost their lives fighting for their friends and country. He will never forget those two men.