Created on Monday, 01 April 2013 Written by REUBEN MEES
Local veteran honored for his trials in Vietnam
A strong will, a little luck, some good friends and a cheap Vietnamese lighter are the things that helped Bill Arnold return from Vietnam in one piece, although he did sustain three serious injuries in the process.
ABOVE: Vietnam veteran Bill Arnold, center, shakes hands with American Legion Harold Kerr Post Commander David Wagner after receiving a flag as Mr.Arnold’s wife Vickie looks on during Saturday’s recognition ceremony. BELOW: Mr. Arnold, right, poses for a photo with his war buddies, Jim “Doc” McCloughan of South Haven, Mich., left, and
Mr. Arnold, who fought for the country overseas from Nov. 13, 1968, through May 20, 1969, was Logan County’s Vietnam veteran to be honored on the first commemoration of the conflict during a Saturday afternoon ceremony.
“I’m actually speechless,” Mr. Arnold said after receiving a U.S. flag from American Legion Harold Kerr Post 173 Commander David Wagner. “It is a great honor.”
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He was joined at the event and the reception that followed at the Legion by numerous members of his family and two special friends.
Jim “Doc” McCloughan of South Haven, Mich., and “Big” Mike Snyder of Philadelphia served alongside the local veteran during his time overseas. The trio were members of 2nd Platoon, C.Co., 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Brigade of the 23rd (Americal) Division.
“It’s just a great feeling to have all my family here and to think about all the people and the Legion that put all the work into this,” Mr. Arnold said. “And to have all my buddies here with me ... all the respect I’m receiving, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
But one of Mr. Arnold’s closest war buddies, Bruce Guex, was not as fortunate as the local honoree, and Mr. McCloughan put the fallen soldier’s memory to words in a song titled Fallen Not Forgotten.
After being drafted into service in mid-1968, Mr. Arnold left for Vietnam and within weeks was in the heat of combat.
He sustained his first injury — shrapnel that damaged his jugular vein — when a booby trap exploded while the company was on patrol. He was taken to Japan to heal and a month later returned to the battlefield.
Then on March 9, 1969, the company’s lieutenant led a charge down a hill near the village of Tien Phuoc and Spc. Arnold was operating the radio. Under heavy fire and separated from the lieutenant, the specialist called in artillery support. As shells bombarded the battlefield, Spc. Arnold went to help the lieutenant, but found him dead.
While making his own escape, he was struck by a bullet, but a lucky lighter saved his leg or possibly his life.
“They were shooting at us so bad, I couldn’t think of anything to do but call in artillery,” Mr. Arnold said. “I went back to get the lieutenant — I thought he might be dead, but I couldn’t leave him there if he wasn’t. When I got there he had died. I couldn’t carry his body with all the bullets flying, so I ran and I was shot in the leg.
“It was burning and I thought, ‘God, I lost my leg’ but when I reached down to feel it there was no blood. I couldn’t understand why it was burning so much, but I had this old Vietnamese lighter in my pocket. The bullet hit it and the fluid was running down my leg. It saved me from losing my leg.”
Without the benefit of forward observers to gather intelligence for what their company commander called a “flawed mission,” the 90 members of C Company were under orders to hold the hill until relieved against a force of some 1,900 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Only 32 members of C Company survived the battle, Mr. McCloughan noted.
It was that act of valor in returning to get the lieutenant that later earned Spc. Arnold a Bronze Star Medal with V for Valor.
He looked death in the face again on May 13 as the helicopter he was riding in went down, killing 12 of his fellow soldiers. Mr. McCloughan served as a medic and was instrumental in getting a helicopter to evacuate Spc. 4 Arnold after he was injured.
Mr. Arnold was flown out at that point and returned to the United States to fulfill the remainder of his two-year commitment.
“I’m just glad to be here today with everyone,” Mr. Arnold said, reflecting on his service. “That was the whole key ... survival ... and back your buddy.”
CLICK HERE to watch Jim "Doc" McCloughan talk and sing at the event.
We “cannot get any tighter than blood,” he said of his comrades.
He was later awarded with an additional Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for his combat trials.
T.J. Hubbard, assistant general manager, contributed to the story.