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July 15, 2009

Remembering the Sacrifice of Vietnam

Kevin E. Dayhoff

On Saturday, at 1 P.M., members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Air Cavalry Troop – the Black Horse Regiment, from all over the country – will pause to remember the fallen from the Vietnam War at the Carroll County Vietnam Memorial Park at Willis and Court Streets in Westminster. The public is invited.


The memorial service in Westminster coincides historically with the 50th anniversary of two of the first combat deaths in Vietnam. A memorial service was held to commemorate their sacrifice on July 8, at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington.


A recent segment on National Public Radio reported that it was on July 8, 1959, that U.S. Army Maj. Dale Buis and Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand were killed in their “residential compound in the town of Bien Hoa.”


They were killed by six North Vietnamese who sprayed machine gun fire into the mess hall where they had taken a break with six of the other eight members of their unit. They were watching “The Tattered Dress,” starring Jeanne Crain, on a home movie projector.


At the time, Stanley Karnow, according to NPR, was “Time magazine's chief correspondent in Asia, was on his first trip to Saigon when he heard about an attack at an Army base about 20 miles north of the city… Karnow wrote three paragraphs about it for Time.”


The NPR segment said that Mr. Karnow, who reported from Southeast Asia from 1959 into the early 1970s, recalled: “It was a minor incident in a faraway place… Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that these two guys would be the first in a memorial to 50,000-some others.”


According to an October 20, 2007, article in The News Tribune in Tacoma, WA, it was on Oct. 21, 1957, that America recorded its first combat death in Vietnam.


The newspaper noted: “U.S. Army Capt. Harry G. Cramer, who, depending how you look at it, can be seen as the first U.S. combat death of the war in Vietnam. Cramer was leading a team of advisers from the 1st Special Forces Group – the Green Berets…,” in Nha Trang.


In 1957, the presence of Special Forces in Vietnam was a secret and when the Vietnam Memorial Wall was dedicated on November 11, 1982, Cramer’s name was not on the wall. However, his name was added a year later.


Of the 19 names on the cold black monument at the Carroll County Vietnam memorial, two of those named served in the Black Horse Regiment.


The famed unit of the U. S. Army traces its beginnings back to Mach 11, 1901, and has seen combat in Philippine-American War, World War II, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War and are currently now proudly serving in Iraq.


One of the organizers of the memorial service this Saturday, Lt. Bill Blickenstaff, a National Guard Protective Service Division Training Supervisor, reports that the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Air Cavalry Troop (ACR) consisted of Long Range Reconnaissance Platoon (LRRP), Scouts and Aero Rifle Platoon (ARP).


The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment first arrived in South Vietnam at Vung Tau on September 7, 1966. It was engaged in heavy combat and took heavy casualties throughout the balance of the war.


The mission of the ACR, according to Lieutenant Blickenstaff, “consisted of intelligence gathering…” and “what they called ‘Search and Destroy’…”


“The LRRPs were assigned a whole myriad of tasks, which included locating enemy reserves, combat patrols, conducting ambushes; bomb damage assessments; the locating enemy command posts and other key facilities; locating targets for air/artillery/ground attack; prisoner snatches, and the placing of sensors along known enemy infiltration routes…”


The “scouts” flew at tree-top level and lower to draw fire from (the enemy); and then they “would pull out and the Cobra (helicopter gunships) would roll in with its fierce ‘Fire Power’… According to the statistics, (the scouts) had a life span of 17 seconds after contact with the enemy and 2 months overall.”


Seven hundred thirty members of the ACR were lost in Vietnam.


Joseph Anthony Oreto was one of the 730. He was from Westminster. He gave his life for our country in Tay Ninh Province on April 13, 1969. He died of multiple fragmentation wounds and is remembered on national Vietnam Memorial Wall on panel 27W – row 076.


Specialist 5 Joseph William Blickenstaff, Jr., is the other member of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Air Cavalry Troop whose face is etched upon the granite memorial in Westminster. He was the older brother of two of my classmates from the Westminster High School class of 1971, Fred and Bernie.


In the fall of 1970, at the age of 21, Specialist Blickenstaff volunteered to extend his tour for another six months as an aerial reconnaissance “scout” with the 11th Air Cavalry Troop.


On a combat mission on December 19, 1970, Joe’s helicopter was hit by enemy ground fire. He died on his father’s birthday north of Phù Lôi, Binh Duong Province, just above the Mekong Delta and about 50 miles from Saigon.


Our country remembers Joe Blickenstaff, Jr., on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington on Panel 6W, Row 131.


According to a recent newsletter of the Black Horse Association: “Of the 2,709,918 Americans who served in Vietnam, less than 850,000 are estimated to be alive today, with the youngest American Veteran‘s age approximated to be 54 years old.”


It was President John F. Kennedy who once said “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”


Of the men and women who gave their lives in Vietnam, some we knew. Some we didn’t. But they were all someone’s son, or father, or brother, or uncle – or a cherished childhood friend. Their faces have been silent for many years, but they all have a story to tell.


And we remember them.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at


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