NEW RUSSIA — Not only did Harry Denton receive two Purple Hearts, but one was bestowed on him by the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland.
Like many young men in the mid 1960s, Denton was drafted into the Army. He received his basic and advanced basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and then spent a short time in California before being shipped to Vietnam.
“I qualified for machine gunning. We didn’t sit around in the States long before we went to ‘Nam,” Denton said.
He became part of the 1st Air Cavalry stationed at An Khe in the rugged Central Highlands.
“When we got there, I just wanted to survive and think positive,” he said. “We were there to help the people (Vietnamese).
“In the beginning, I flew in choppers. I spent lots of hours in choppers.”
Denton obtained the rank of Specialist 4th Class.
“The first time, I was just grazed by a bullet when I was on patrol,” he described the injuries he suffered as he fulfilled his military obligation. “They pretty much just patched me up, and after a being in the hospital for about a week, they said I could go right back.”
The second time he was wounded was much more serious. In September 1966, Denton was on the third day of a jungle search-and -destroy mission with his company, comprised of approximately 125 soldiers. After spotting several fleeing enemy soldiers, they were given orders to spread out in hopes of encountering what they believed were a few others.
However, Denton’s Charlie Company soon found itself face-to-face — and outnumbered three to one — by an entrenched North Vietnamese brigade.
“We got caught in an ambush,” he said. “They (the Vietcong) were hidden in the trees. We couldn’t see them, but knew where the firing was coming from. There was fighting all around us. I just wanted to survive.”
Denton was gunner in a three-man machine gun crew. In the melee, the assistant gunner was shot in the leg, and shortly after that, a bullet pierced Denton’s right shoulder and sent him sprawling to the earth. However, his machine-gun crew continued to function.
“There was quite a bit of pain when I was shot in the shoulder, but the medics gave me morphine,” he said. “There was so much firing, so we had to wait to be evacuated. There was sniper fire and mortar rounds everywhere. After about an hour and a half they were able to get the choppers in. It was just like (the TV series) “MASH”; the same thing.”
Initially, Denton was taken to a field hospital.
“When General Westmoreland came to visit us and give us the Purple Hearts, it made me feel good and showed that he had a lot of respect for the men,” he said.
25 AERIAL MISSIONS
Denton was also awarded the Air Medal for “participating in sustained aerial flight in support of combat ground forces during the period November 1965 to July 1966,” the citation says. “During this time he actively participated in twenty-five aerial missions over hostile territory in support of counterinsurgency operations…”
Denton spent a month at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and then was transferred to Japan before being sent stateside to finish his convalescence. After a month and a half back in his beloved Adirondacks, he reported to Fort Benning, Ga., to finish his remaining six months of duty.
‘WAR WORTH IT’
Unlike the respect shown for today’s returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan, times were different during the Vietnam era.
“When I got back, people didn’t want anything to do with us because we went to Vietnam. It wasn’t our fault about the war and being sent there,” expounded Denton.
“I think the war was worth it,” he added. “We didn’t turn and run to Canada (like some draftees).
“That bothered me. There were medics that were against war, but we had respect for them because they served our country.”
Email Alvin Reiner at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most area events were held on Sunday, but a few are scheduled for today's holiday. Here's a look:
▶ Veterans Day ceremony. Noon, near the flagpole at the south entrance of the Moore Academic Building, Clinton Community College, Plattsburgh. Sponsored by CCC Veterans Club, faculty, staff and local veterans. Welcome from student speaker and veteran Jimmy Duvall. Keynote speaker: Thomas Middleton, Iraq War veteran and CCC alumnus. Ceremonial folding of the flag by the Plattsburgh State ROTC Honor Guard, 21-gun salute, playing of "Taps" by Clinton professor Jim Bougill, moment of silence for the three New York National Guard soldiers killed in Afghanistan, including former CCC student Dain Venne of Port Henry. Short reception to follow in the Stafford atrium. The club will also be hosting a bake sale, raffle, sale of wristbands and distribution of poppies in the lobby of the Moore Building before the event. All of the proceeds will go to the CCC Veterans Assistance Fund.
▶ CVPH veterans tribute: At 11 a.m., weather permitting, on the front lawn at the Circle of Healing and Hope at CVPH Medical Center, Plattsburgh. To honor employees who served in the military.