Kentucky remembers Vietnam casualties

By John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard

Military funeral conducted for Spc. 4th Class Ronald E. Simpson from Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Brigade, at Bardstown High School July 4, 1969 in Bardstown, Ky. Simpson and 10 other Soldiers assigned to the 2/138th were killed at Firebase Tomahawk, June 19. (Photo courtesy of The Kentucky Standard)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky National Guard’s Memorial Day program is scheduled for Monday, May 27, beginning at 2 p. m., at the Kentucky National Guard Memorial in Frankfort, Kentucky.  The Kentucky National Guard’s Vietnam War casualties will be highlighted along with the adding of three names to the memorial; Capt. Samuel Edward Gipe, of Daviess County; Pvt. Ross L. McCord, of Christian County; and Horseshoer Eddie Stafford, of Calloway County.

Kentucky’s 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, while serving on Federal Active Duty in Southeast Asia, had been in South Vietnam for eight months. In the early morning hours of June 19, 1969, elements of the battalion were attacked by units of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).  Especially hard hit was the battalion’s Charlie Battery, from Bardstown, stationed on Fire Support Base Tomahawk, located in Thua Thien Province.  The names of five members of the battery who made the ultimate sacrifice that day appear on the Kentucky National Guard Memorial, along with three others of the battalion who were killed during the battalion’s year-long deployment.

Kentucky National Guard casualties at Firebase Tomahawk, June 19, 1969:

First Sgt. Luther Malcolm Chappel – Carroll County. [initially served with A Battery, 2/138th]

Spc. Fourth Class David Burr Collins – Nelson County.

Spc. Fourth Class Joseph Ronald McIlvoy – Washington County.

Sgt. James Thomas Moore – Nelson County.  [Died of Wounds, June 24, 1969]

Spc. Fourth Class Ronald Earl “Ronnie” Simpson – Nelson County.

Sadly, these were not the only Kentucky casualties sustained by the battalion during their tour of duty in South Vietnam. 

Staff Sgt. Harold Milton Brown – Bullitt County.  Initially served with C Battery, 2/138th.  Killed in action June 11, 1969, while assigned to Battery C, 1/82nd Field Artillery.

Sgt. Bertram Anthony “Sonny” Carr – Jefferson County.  Initially serving with Service Battery, 2/138th.  Killed in action June 1, 1969, while serving with B Battery, 2/138th Field Artillery Battalion.

Sgt. James Allen Wray – Nelson County.  Initially served with C Battery, 2/138th. Died of wounds suffered July 2, 1969, while assigned to B Battery, 1/40th Field Artillery, 108th Artillery Group.

Click here to read biographies of our fallen.

Six Regular Army Soldiers also perished serving alongside our Kentucky Guardsmen at Firebase Tomahawk.  They had been infused/assigned to the batteries in the battalion. Their names do not appear on the Kentucky National Guard Memorial. However, their service and sacrifice, deserves our deep respect and solemn remembrance as they also made the ultimate sacrifice shoulder to shoulder with our own.

The following Regular Army Soldiers were members of Charlie Battery, and were killed in action at Firebase Tomahawk, June 19, 1969:

Spc. Fourth Class Troy F. Bethea.  Born: June 21, 1948, Seattle, Washington. Infused/Assigned: April 10, 1969, from C Battery, 2/94th Field Artillery Battalion.  Buried: Fort Lawton Cemetery, Seattle, Washington.    

Spc. Fourth Class William Joseph “Billy” Kuhns.  Born: September 8, 1943, Springfield, Missouri.  Infused/Assigned: date and unit unknown.  Buried: Smart Cemetery, Clever, Missouri.

Sgt. Harold R. Christensen, II.  Born: October 9, 1948, West Covina, California. Infused/Assigned: May 16, 1969.  Buried: Oakdale Memorial Park, Glendora, California. 

Sgt. Larry W. Kinder.  Born: February 7, 1944, Istachatta, Florida.  Died of wounds June 23, 1969.  Infused/Assigned: date and unit unknown.   Buried: Peach Creek, West Virginia. 

Additionally, the following Regular Army Soldiers were killed in action while serving in the battalion:

Pfc. Billy Wayne Campbell, killed in action while serving with B Battery, 2/138th on June 1, 1969.  Born: March 16, 1948, Columbia, South Carolina.  Assigned to B Battery, April 7, 1969, from Hqs, USARV Transfer Depot.  Buried: Monte Vista Memorial Park, Johnson City, Tennessee. 

Capt. Lyle John Thompson, killed in a helicopter crash, while serving as commander of C Battery, 2/138th March 6, 1969, becoming 2/138th Field Artillery Battalion’s first casualty of the Vietnam War.  Born: January 10, 1941, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Assigned to C Battery, December 4, 1968.  Buried: New Carlisle Cemetery, New Carlisle, Indiana. 

On Memorial Day 2019, a special remembrance ceremony will be held at the Kentucky National Guard Memorial commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the battalion’s service in Vietnam.

The 2/138th units in Louisville, Bardstown, Elizabethtown and Carrollton were ordered to active duty and completed accelerated training at Fort Hood, Texas.  Advanced elements of the battalion departed Fort Hood, Texas Oct. 11, 1968.  The final elements of the organization arrived in Vietnam two weeks later.  At 2 p. m., Nov. 13, 1968, Brig. Gen. Allan G. Pixton, XXIV Corps Artillery Commander, pulled the lanyard on Number 3 piece, A Battery, and fired the first 2/138th Field Artillery round into the mountain range south of Phu Bai, Vietnam.  During their tour of duty in Vietnam, the battalion had a primary mission of reinforcing the fires of the 101st Airborne Air Mobile (AM) Division Artillery and frequently supported the 1st Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Division as well as regional and local militia.  During the period, 2/138th fired approximately 150,000 rounds.

Senior Commander in Vietnam, Gen. Creighton Abrams, said the 2nd Battalion 138th Field Artillery, was “one of the best trained, and absolutely the best maintained battalion-sized unit in Vietnam.”

October 10, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the battalion’s release from active duty service and return home from the Vietnam War.

 

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