- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

DIETERICH, Ill. (AP) - Donald Dorn left Vietnam to come home in 1969 after two years of service, at only age 21.

But many soldiers in his company didn’t.

In their honor, Dorn has chosen to create a memorial for the 22 young soldiers in his company who were killed in action. It is proudly displayed in the front yard of his Dieterich home.

“I’ll keep it up as long as I can continue to maintain it,” said Dorn. “Our first casualty was Aug. 31, 1968, so I made it my goal to finish this before the anniversary date marking 48 years since.”

Red pavers form the diamond-shaped base of the memorial, symbolizing the company nickname “The Red Devils.” Two-inch PVC pipe outlines the base, along with solar power landscaping lights. One-inch PVC pipe was used to create each cross, marked with the soldier’s name, age, rank and date of death. And four flags - U.S., U.S. Army, POW-MIA and Confederate - are posted around the diamond with 4-inch PVC. Ages of those represented in the memorial range from 19 to 31. They were stationed in Quang Tri City, which is the most northern area of South Vietnam.

With each piece he put together, Dorn relived memories of the war.

“These guys were the true heroes,” Dorn, 69, said. “I live with this every day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”

A member of the “Red Devils,” Dorn was assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry Brigade, 5th Infantry Division, Mechanized.

“We were a battalion that had infantry, armored personnel, tanks and artillery,” he said.

Dorn has memories of many of the soldiers. One fellow soldier was Robert Lhota from Monessen, Pennsylvania.

“While we were in Fort Carson, Colorado, we were training in riot control,” Dorn said. “Later our orders were changed and we were sent to Vietnam.”

Lhota, 25, was in the National Guard and was put into the same company. He didn’t have the training for working in the jungle, Dorn said. He and four other fellow soldiers were killed on Sept. 21, 1968.

Lhota had only been in Vietnam a little over a month.

Another buddy, Francis Charles, 19, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was a private killed the same day.

“His mother wasn’t in good health,” said Dorn. “When we were informed we were going to Vietnam, he told his mother he would be in a safe place, so not to worry her.”

Dorn made four trips to Washington, D.C., to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in search of his Army buddies, but in many cases he only knew nicknames, so it was difficult to find all the names in his company.

A 1966 graduate of Newton High School, Dorn was drafted into the U.S. Army in June 1967 at age 19. He went on to remain in the Army on inactive duty - and was prepared to serve again for the next four years if called, before getting an honorable discharge in 1973.

“I carry shrapnel all throughout my body,” said Dorn. “I have metal fragments from a grenade.”

Dorn was awarded with several medals, including a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, an Army Commendation, South Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, plus several ribbons.

“The Bronze Star was for going beyond the call of duty,” said Dorn. “We were out on a ‘search and destroy’ mission. We had set up a base camp one night and the Viet Cong (North Vietnam soldiers) tried to overrun us. They hit my side of the parameter and took out a machine gun.”

Dorn said there was a new soldier who was an assistant on the machine gun crew who “froze” when his gunner was hit and injured by enemy fire. Dorn calmed the assistant down and took over the injured gunner’s position.

“He was then able to assist me,” said Dorn. “The two assistants started clipping on 100-round belts and I probably shot 3,000 rounds to keep the enemy from overrunning us. My commanding officer put me in for a Bronze Star for this action.”

Dorn said much of his training was about reacting quickly.

“If you took time to think, it might be too late,” he said.

“Most of the time we were looking for caches of bunkers where there were ammunition and soldiers,” said Dorn. “Many times they would live underground. Once we uncovered a facility that housed 3,000 soldiers.”

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Source: https://bit.ly/2fYGSDX

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Information from: Effingham Daily News, https://www.effinghamdailynews.com


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