A Remembrance: October 17, 1967 Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
About a month ago, wandering through the internet, I came across a story of a young Second Lieutenant named Harold Bascom Durham Jr. I wanted to read his story, because he was a 2LT about the same time I was. And besides, he had an impressive name. Sounded every inch a soldier. And he was - for the short time he was able to serve. As I started to read his story I got a chuckle because you see, 2LT Harold Bascom Durham Jr. of the impressive sounding name was better known by those who served with him as "Pinky".
Pinky. Heh ... what a name for a warrior, eh? He never got to go by Harold or Harry. From the very day he was born it was Pinky. Seems the small hospital in Rocky Mount NC where he was born ran out of blue blankets when he showed up and they put a pink on one him. And Harold Bascom Durham Jr. would forever be ... Pinky.
Unfortunately, the story ended up not being an amusing story by any stretch. But it is an amazing and inspiring story nonetheless.
And October 17th? Unfortunately October 17th, 1967 was the day 2LT Harold "Pinky" Durham was killed in action in the Republic of Vietnam.
If ever you wanted an unpopular war, Pinky Durham had found it. But he was a southern boy, the military was almost a cultural obligation back then. His dad was a WWII Marine and his brother was already in the Army. So in 1964 he followed his brother and father's example, enlisted in the Army and served a tour in Vietnam as helicopter mechanic.
Time served in hell, yes? Thank you very much, go home and enjoy the rest of your life.
But that was not to be. The Army saw potential in Pinky and Pinky liked the Army so when offered an opportunity to go to the Field Artillery Officer's Candidate Course at Ft. Sill, he jumped at it. He knew what FA 2LTs did at that time. They were forward observers with line infantry units. Perhaps the only 2LT which may have had a shorter life expectancy than those of the FA were the Infantry 2LTs. But it wasn't by much.
Durham understood and accepted that challenge. And, as expected he again found himself in the Republic of Vietnam on that fateful day in October of 1967 where he served as a forward observer with Company D, 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry during a reconnaissance-in-force mission against the Viet Cong (later known as the the Battle of Ông Thanh).
The rest, as they say, is history and Pinky Durham lost his life. But on that day he also displayed such bravery and valor that he was awarded the Medal of Honor. So in his honor, and on this special day, I humbly present his story:
An operation that started on Oct. 16, 1967, carried their unit into a stronghold of the Viet Cong, the Communist guerrillas in South Vietnam. The company withdrew, but was ordered to follow another company back into the area the next day. The battalion staff was moving with Welch's unit. The battle quickly turned against the Americans, who were badly outnumbered, according to accounts by Welch and Shelton. The leading company was destroyed as a unit, and many of its officers, sergeants and soldiers were killed. That left Welch and Durham to take charge of the fight.
"When Company A (the lead company) was destroyed, Pinky and I crawled and ran up to where it had been, but there was nothing left of the unit, one of Welch's e-mails says. Pinky remained forward and started calling the fires that we had been planning. I ran back (and) brought my company up one platoon at a time. . . . Deadly enemy fire was coming in on us from three sides when I got back up to Pinky. He was badly hurt by then, but calmly calling in the artillery fire that kept the enemy from moving in and killing all of us.
Welch's e-mails and the citation that accompanied Durham's Medal of Honor paint a picture of a man determined to fight for his life and those of the men around him. Both Durham and Welch were hit repeatedly and all 125 soldiers in Welch's company were either wounded or killed in the battle. At times, Durham had to shoot his own rifle to help drive back Viet Cong soldiers who were pressing the attack. At another time, he helped treat wounded soldiers.
Though wounded himself, Durham put himself in exposed positions so he could better call in artillery fire. Before he passed out from blood loss, Welch heard Durham calling in more artillery rounds, erecting a barrier of explosions and shrapnel around the company.
"Later, when I regained consciousness, the artillery was coming just as (Durham) had planned", Welch's e-mail says. "My surviving men were surrounded by the enemy, but fighting back and trying to protect the wounded from both Company A and D and the battalion command group, but my (forward observer) was dead."
Lieutenant Pinky Durham was still holding the radio handset.
It was a war, long ago and now mostly forgotten. But the same sort of soldier from the same sort of country we have today fought the same sort of fight then that we're fighting now. Pinky Durham was one of those guys who, even in the darkness that was Vietnam, shined like a beacon. He fought for his unit and his comrades. He did what he had to do to ensure they survived. Still holding the handset with which he'd called in the devastating fire, even to the point of bringing it in on his own position, Pinky Durham gave his life to save those with which he served.
If you've ever wondered what it takes to earn a Medal of Honor, read his citation, and then understand that it doesn't portray one ten-thousandth of what Pinky Durham did or endured on this day in October of 1967.
HAROLD BASCOM DURHAM, JR.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Battery C, 6th Battalion, 15th Artillery, 1st Infantry Division.
Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 17 October 1967.
Entered service at: Atlanta, Ga.
Born: 12 October 1942, Rocky Mount, N.C.
Citation: 2d Lt. Durham, Artillery, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the cost of his life above and beyond the call of duty while assigned to Battery C. 2d Lt. Durham was serving as a forward observer with Company D, 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry during a battalion reconnaissance-in-force mission. At approximately 1015 hours contact was made with an enemy force concealed in well-camouflaged positions and fortified bunkers. 2d Lt. Durham immediately moved into an exposed position to adjust the supporting artillery fire onto the insurgents. During a brief lull in the battle he administered emergency first aid to the wounded in spite of heavy enemy sniper fire directed toward him. Moments later, as enemy units assaulted friendly positions, he learned that Company A, bearing the brunt of the attack, had lost its forward observer. While he was moving to replace the wounded observer, the enemy detonated a Claymore mine, severely wounding him in the head and impairing his vision. In spite of the intense pain, he continued to direct the supporting artillery fire and to employ his individual weapon in support of the hard pressed infantrymen. As the enemy pressed their attack, 2d Lt. Durham called for supporting fire to be placed almost directly on his position. Twice the insurgents were driven back, leaving many dead and wounded behind. 2d Lt. Durham was then taken to a secondary defensive position. Even in his extremely weakened condition, he continued to call artillery fire onto the enemy. He refused to seek cover and instead positioned himself in a small clearing which offered a better vantage point from which to adjust the fire. Suddenly, he was severely wounded a second time by enemy machine gun fire. As he lay on the ground near death, he saw two Viet Cong approaching, shooting the defenseless wounded men. With his last effort, 2d Lt. Durham shouted a warning to a nearby soldier who immediately killed the insurgents. 2d Lt. Durham died moments later, still grasping the radio handset. 2d Lt. Durham's gallant actions in close combat with an enemy force are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
To Pinky Durham's memory I say " Allons!". You did the redlegs proud and I wanted to take the opportunity to remember you on this day.
And just so you know, in your memory, outside of the Headquarters Building of 2nd Bn, 15th Field Artillery Regiment (named "Durham Hall" in your honor) at Ft Drum, NY sits one sweet little M102, 105mm Howitzer ... named "Pinky".
As an infantry lieutenant rifle platoon leader in the mountains west of DaNang, I, too, owe a debt of gratitude to the FO’s who served so capably in calling in arty and in keeping us in touch w/the 105s we had for fire support. Thanks to all the redlegs who supported us grunts. Shot, over.
Thanks for the post. I was incountry in 3 Corps (near Tay Ninh) as a LT 1542 on September 17,1967. Infantrymen everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to all FOs, both LTs and SGTs. God bless you, everyone. Shot, out.