VFW Magazine — February 2017
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A Hunt They’ll ‘Never Forget’
Tim Dyhouse

FOUR MEN SEVERELY WOUNDED IN THE VIETNAM WAR RECEIVED AN ALL-EXPENSES PAID TRIP TO HUNT ANTELOPE LAST OCTOBER IN MONTANA. COURTESY OF VFW MAGAZINE AND OUTFITTER RUSS GREENWOOD, THE EXCURSION WAS A SMALL TOKEN OF APPRECIATION FOR WHAT THE VETERANS SACRIFICED FOR THE NATION.

‘WE LOST A LOT OF GUYS THAT DAY’

Lonnie Dittemore, of Richland, Wash., recalls being a bit anxious as a young Marine setting foot in Vietnam in February 1968. He disembarked at DaNang with a close buddy from boot camp, from whom he was soon split up.

“I had no idea what we were in for,” said the 67-year-old. “But as I look back, I know my unit was a very tight group.”

Serving with 2nd Pltn., B Co., 1st Bn., 27th Marine Regt., 1st Marine Div., the former lance corporal says he experienced a rocket attack the first night he was there. It didn’t get any easier.

Operating in Quang Tri province, Dittemore was wounded three times in a five-week period. He says the first time, on April 13, was the “biggest battle” of his time there. While hunkered down in a ditch with his fellow Marines, Dittemore received shrapnel wounds from a grenade shot by an advancing Viet Cong unit.

“I got hit before they overran our position,” he said. “We lost a lot of guys that day. We didn’t know there would be that many [enemy].”

The situation was so bad, Dittemore recalls, that his captain called in naval gunfire on their own position. The captain lost his arm, and two radiomen were killed in the ensuing blasts. A friend of Dittemore’s, Lance Cpl. Terry Fuhrman, was among those killed during the battle.

Not long afterward, on April 24, Dittemore and two other Marines were manning an old schoolhouse they used as an outpost.

“We could see a group of VC coming up the tree line about 250 yards away,” he said. “They must have seen us, too, because they fired rifle grenades at us.”

Dittemore and another Marine in the schoolhouse were wounded. They called for reinforcements, and as soon as those troops arrived the enemy faded away, he says.

A little more than three weeks later on May 17, Dittemore was helping guard a bridge in Quang Tri north of Hue. He and the other Marines were recuperating from a previous firefight and were preparing for a night reconnaissance mission. He remembers seeing a “small red light” off in the distance.

“It looked like the glow of a lit cigarette, but it was a 122mm rocket,” he said. “When it exploded, I thought it had taken my eyes.”

He sustained another shrapnel wound, but his eyes were fine. About an hour later as a medic was cleaning his face, Dittemore says he got some good news.

“They told me that was my third Purple Heart and I was getting out of there,” he said.

After a paperwork mix-up kept him at DaNang for nearly two weeks, he was sent off to Okinawa and eventually back to his family farm in Rushville, Mo., near St. Joseph.

Noting that he didn’t get along with his stepfather, Dittemore tried his hand in the oil
fields of Texas.

“But I couldn’t get my life together, so I joined the Army,” he said.

From 1975-76, Dittemore served with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea at Camp Hovey and Tongdachon. He then served with the 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1977-79.

“I liked it overseas,” he recalls.

After his Army service, a tip from a fellow soldier in Germany led him to the shipyards in Bremerton, Wash. But a few weeks after landing a job there, he was laid off. Dittemore eventually found a career with Energy Northwest in nearby Richland. He worked various jobs there from 1980 until he retired in 2005.

The life member of the VFW Department of Washington got his antelope in Montana with a 225-yard shot. He was so appreciative of the trip that he made a necklace for Russ Greenwood’s wife, Carol, and sent it to her on her birthday.

“She’s a great cook,” Dittemore said. “I really enjoyed them putting up with us. Thank you to the Greenwoods and VFW.”

'THAT'S WHEN I WENT INTO SHOCK'

Phillip “Woody” Woodward of Wabash, Ind., was an 18-year-old Marine private first class when he arrived in Vietnam on Jan. 20, 1966.

“We landed at Chu Lai, but we weren’t there very long,” said Woodward, who served with 3rd Pltn., M Co., 3rd Bn., 1st Marine Regt., 1st Marine Div.

Only 31 days later, on Feb. 23, 1966, Woodward’s unit was enmeshed in Phase II of Operation Double Eagle. He was on Hill 50 east of Quang Ngai City that day and was severely wounded by a “bouncing Betty” booby trap that killed another Marine.

“I was bent over my pack reaching for my entrenching tool when it exploded,” said the VFW life member of Post 286 in Wabash, Ind. “It blew the bottom of my right ear off, and I remember looking at my right hand and seeing my ring finger swinging back and forth on a piece of skin. That’s when I went into shock.”

Woodward says there was some doubt if he would survive the night, but he was airlifted the next morning to the Navy hospital ship USS Repose. He recalls signing medical forms there to allow doctors to remove his right eye. He also lost his right ring finger, had about 150 stitches put in his right knee and suffered bad wounds to his head and right arm.

“They’re still pulling shrapnel out of me 50 years later,” he said.

Woodward also learned while on the Repose that M Co., had 17 men killed in an ambush on March 5, 1966.

He eventually was transferred to Clark Air Base in the Philippines and then to Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois.

“At first, I was really upset that I lost my eye,” he said. “But my wounds seemed superficial compared to a lot of guys there. I remember a triple amputee who would wake us up in the mornings by throwing a football around the ward. His girlfriend came to see him one day and left in tears. So he lost both his legs, an arm and then her.”

Woodward was medically discharged on Oct. 27, 1967, after a 12-month stay at Great Lakes.

“My time in Vietnam made me grow up fast,” the 69-year-old reflected. “No one should have to go through that. I was close to death, but I guess God had plans for me.”

Released into the world, Woodward went to work for his father’s roofing business. That situation—and his free air travel on military planes owing to his 100 percent disability rating — allowed him to travel the world. During the 1970s, he flew to New Zealand, Australia, Japan (“to buy stereo equipment”) and Thailand. He eventually bought a house that he says he’s “been working on ever since.”

Never married with no children, Woodward said the trip to Montana was something he’ll “never forget.” With a 260- yard shot, he brought down an antelope with horns that measured 15¼ inches.

“I really appreciate the generosity of the Greenwoods,” he said. “Russ and his brother, Roger, were great. I really hit it off with the other vets, too. And Carol Greenwood has to be one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. She fed us like kings. I didn’t expect to meet such wonderful people on a hunting trip, so I thank VFW for this wonderful opportunity.”

TWO MEDICS, FOUR TOURNIQUETS

Kenneth Wendel, of St. Marys, Pa., called the trip to Montana “the hunt of a lifetime.” He and his wife, Judith, enjoyed the “unbelievable” treatment they received from their hosts at the Doonan Gulch Outfitters lodge, some 40 miles west of Broadus, Mont.

“Anybody who has the chance to make this trip should do it,” said Wendel, a VFW member of Post 6221 in Emporium, Pa. “I never thought I’d be hunting antelope like that.”

Becoming eligible for the trip, though, almost killed Wendel. As a 20-year-old Army private first class, he arrived in Vietnam on Nov. 10, 1970. Serving with B Co., 3rd Bn., 187th Inf. Regt., 101st Abn. Div., he was based at Camp Evans and Camp Eagle, both near Vietnam’s demilitarized zone. On Jan. 10, 1971, he was severely wounded.

“We were working in the A Shau Valley when we got caught in an ambush and hit with a command-detonated booby trap,” the 66-year-old recalled. “We put out a security cordon and then got hit with a second booby trap.”

The scene went from chaotic to surreal for Wendel. He remembers being blown what seemed like “50 feet in the air and then coming down real soft.” His body shredded with shrapnel, Wendel says he was lucky to be alive.

“Two medics were working on me and had tourniquets on all four of my extremities, which they say is as bad as it gets,” he said. “There was so much fog and flare smoke, the medevac helicopter couldn’t land. I remember being pulled up through the jungle in a rescue basket.”

He woke up three days later at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Phu Bai. His left leg had been amputated below the knee, and he had lost so much muscle tissue in his right leg that it was nearly useless.

“My good leg is the one with the prosthetic,” he says.

After two weeks, Wendel was transferred to Clark Air Base in the Philippines and then to Valley Forge Army Hospital near Philadelphia.

“I knew when I got wounded that I was in bad shape,” he recalls. “I thought I was done, but the doctors and nurses took great care of me.”

Wendel received regular visits from his parents and Judith, whom he met before he was drafted into the Army, while at Valley Forge.

“That helped tremendously,” he said. “Some guys there never had visitors.”

He and Judith were married on May 10, 1972, less than six months after he was medically discharged. They have two daughters, Stacey and Tiffany, and four grandchildren. Their son Kenneth Jr., is deceased.

In Montana, Wendel brought down an antelope buck with 15-inch horns on his first day there. That left time to hunt for fossils and Indian relics on the Greenwoods’ 1,100 acre-property.

“Thank you to VFW and the Greenwoods,” he said. “We appreciate what you’ve done.”

'LIFE IS GOOD'

Robert Crawford, of Loveland, Colo., also got an antelope with 15-inch horns on the first day of hunting. Guided by Russ Greenwood’s twin brother, Roger, who served in Vietnam, Crawford brought down the animal with a 273- yard shot.

“It’s lovely country and the weather was warm,” said the 72-year-old. “It was a good hunt. I want to thank the Greenwoods and the VFW. The food and accommodations were wonderful.”

Crawford’s odyssey to Montana began in March 1966 when he was drafted into the Army. His first tour in Vietnam began in January 1967 with A Troop, 3rd Sqdn., 5th Armored Cav, 9th Inf. Div., at Camp Bearcat northeast of Saigon.

In May 1966, he was transferred to F Co., 2nd Bn., 35th Inf., 4th Inf. Div., for a couple of weeks and then volunteered to join the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) from the 2nd Bde., 4th Inf. Div.

“I thought my chances of survival were better with a LRRP than a straight-leg infantry unit,” he said. “When you have 30-40 guys tromping through the jungle with helicopters flying overhead, the enemy always knows where you are. The stealth of a LRRP offers better protection.”

Crawford, a life member of VFW Post 41 in Loveland, says he tried to convince a friend to join the LRRP, too, but could not. Crawford says after he left the infantry unit his friend was killed on his 22nd birthday, something that still fills him with guilt, he says. In December 1967, Crawford returned to the States.

He deployed to Vietnam again in September 1968 with the same LRRP unit. On Sept. 26, he was in a foxhole near Firebase Duc Lap in the Central Highlands. As he was destroying equipment that a previous U.S. unit had left behind after it had been ambushed at the site, an enemy hand grenade landed near him.

Unable to get out of the foxhole before it exploded, Crawford says he remembers looking down at his mangled right foot pointing back at him and knew that he would probably lose it.

“My first thought was, ‘That’s the end of my Army career,’ ” he said.

Medics cared for him for four or five hours before a medevac helicopter arrived. From there he went to a field hospital where doctors eventually amputated his right leg below the knee. Crawford was then transported to the Army hospital at Camp Zama in Japan. After about a month, he was transferred to Madigan Army Medical Center at Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, Wash., where he was medically discharged in February 1969.

Thereafter, Crawford attended Portland Community College in Oregon and Clark College in Vancouver, Wash. In 1972, he began a long career in human resources with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He worked in Vancouver; Portland; Fargo, N. D.; and Denver, where he retired in December 1999.

He met his wife, Ginny, while working in Fargo and they married in 1988. Their blended family includes six children and nine grandchildren.

“I feel very fortunate to be married to Ginny,” he says. “My philosophy is ‘life is good, every day is good and tomorrow will be better.’ ”
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