Bud Kennedy

Vietnam War veterans of ‘Charlie Company’ remember Fort Worth’s love

Members of Charlie Company, 173rd, present City Councilmen Jungus Jordan and Dennis Shingleton a signed flag the group flew in the Vietnam War. The presentation was made during the Daughters of the American Revolution Flag Day Celebration at the Charlie Company Vietnam Memorial at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Members of Charlie Company, 173rd, present City Councilmen Jungus Jordan and Dennis Shingleton a signed flag the group flew in the Vietnam War. The presentation was made during the Daughters of the American Revolution Flag Day Celebration at the Charlie Company Vietnam Memorial at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in Fort Worth, Texas on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

A half-century after Vietnam, the fighting men of “Charlie Company” still remember Fort Worth’s letters, and cookies, and love.

The young soldiers adopted by Fort Worth residents in 1967 as honorary citizens are in their 60s now, and some returned Saturday for Flag Day weekend with a surprise gift: a very special flag.

A city flag sent in 1968 as a gift for the combat unit’s Vietnam Central Highlands headquarters came home, along with seven Purple Heart veterans of “Charlie Company”: Company C, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne.

“We’ve had this keepsake at every reunion to remember the people of Fort Worth,” said John Rolfe, of Comfort in the Hill Country, showing the veterans’ autographs covering the faded but intact flag.

“We decided it should stay forever in Fort Worth.”

The emblem is the city’s 1968 blue-and-green streamlined longhorn, replaced in 1997 briefly by a star and then by the current longhorn.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a former mayor, and council members Jungus Jordan and Dennis Shingleton were stunned when the guests unfurled the flag during the Daughters of the American Revolution Fort Worth Chapter’s annual Flag Day observance, held this year at the Charlie Company memorial near the Fort Worth Japanese Garden.

In 1967 and 1968, Granger was teaching at Richland High School in North Richland Hills and worrying about her brother-in-law, Nat O’Day, a helicopter pilot.

Fort Worth’s overwhelming support — residents sent the 200 soldiers entire cargo loads of Christmas fruitcakes, dozens of Blue Bonnet Bakery cookies and fistfuls of love letters — is “a reminder of the importance of supporting the men and women who selflessly defend America,” Granger said.

For the veterans’ return, Blue Bonnet donated 200 chocolate chip and almond crunch cookies exactly like those sent to Vietnam.

Charlie Company’s story was one of bravery and tragedy. Three months after Fort Worth “adopted” the company, 20 were killed and 154 injured in a jungle ambush near Dak To.

Fort Worth’s letters and cookies became the survivors’ lifeline to home.

“The main thing I remember — is all those cookies,” Rolfe said.

Mary Yamagata of the DAR had the idea to give the veterans one more box of cookies.

She said when she bit into one, “it made me very emotional, thinking how much these cookies meant, how the gifts and letters from Fort Worth were all they had to cling to.”

Several of the guests remembered letters from Fort Worth, many lost in Vietnam.

Chuck Clutter, 68, of Hamilton is a retired AT&T manager. He remembered one letter from a young woman hospitalized after a car accident.

“She was so busted up she couldn’t even write,” he said, “but she got the nurse to write out a letter.

“That’s when we knew it really meant something to Fort Worth. But we don’t have all the names, or a way to thank people.”

I think we’re still the ones who owe them thanks.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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