FT. CAMPBELL, KY- It was known as one of the most brutal battles in the Vietnam War: The fight for Hamburger Hill. It was led by the 187th infantry, 3rd brigade out of Ft. Campbell, also known as the Iron Rakassans.
Forty three years after that battle, the survivors gathered on Ft. Campbell Post for a special memorial and recognition they've been waiting decades to receive.
"Few American infantry battalions have ever given as much as the group we are honoring today," said a speaker at the ceremony.
Hamburger Hill was a ten day battle from May 10th through the 20th in 1969. It was so brutal, it left memories with many of these Ft. Campbell soldiers. Memories they say they would rather forget.
"A lot of dead soldiers on both sides, they were our enemy but they were human beings and they were slaughtered too. Just like everybody else in the battle," said Charles Vander Luitgaren, a Hamburger Hill veteran.
Seventy-two Rakassans died in ten days and 320 were injured. But the Vietnamese took an even harder hit in those ten days when nearly 900 enemy troops were killed in action. The Rakassans did finally conquer Hamburger Hill on May 21st, only to abandon it two weeks later. This combined with the large death toll outraged an already war weary American public in the spring of 1969.
"Most of these guys didn't want to be there any more than I did , but fate put you there so you do the job," recalled former Battalion Leader, Clement Honeycutt.
Their return to America soil was less than friendly or patriotic. But Wednesday, these troops were formally recognized for their valor on Hamburger Hill. The attending survivors were pinned and presented with a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism.
"After all these years to be official it feels good, it really does," said Gregory Bucknor.
They accepted their certificate, much like they accepted their fate in 1969 and these Rakassans have never looked back since.
"My name is Thomas P. Martin. I don't apologize for anything I did in Vietnam, I don't' apologize for anything my men did in Vietnam. We did nothing we are ashamed of," Martin said as he spoke at the ceremony.
Historically, the battle of Hamburger Hill is significant to the Vietnam War. The backlash from the public led to Nixon's first troop withdrawal from Vietnam. And its place in history was cemented with a portrayal in the 1987 film titled Hamburger Hill, and even recently it was mentioned in some of rapper Eminem's lyrics.
Wednesday, May 22 2013 12:04 AM EDT2013-05-22 04:04:23 GMT
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