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Long-overdue honors

Posted: April 30, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Bill Reynolds, left, and Stan Cockerell stand in Reynold’s Valencia home. Bill Reynolds, left, and Stan Cockerell stand in Reynold’s Valencia home.
Bill Reynolds, left, and Stan Cockerell stand in Reynold’s Valencia home.

They fought side by side more than four decades ago in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War as friends fell and died around them.

When the battle ended, each soldier of the U.S. Army’s C Company, 4th/47th Battalion, 9th Infantry Division, returned home to America separately, praised by many and disdained by many others.

They started quiet lives, bought suburban homes; each married and had kids they took to baseball games, never knowing that both of them  had settled down in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Until one day in 1986, when their sons competed in a baseball game,  and United States Army Sgt. William “Bill” L. Reynolds, of Valencia, and U.S. Army Specialist Stanley W. Cockerell, of Newhall, met again.

“This guy starts shouting at me, ‘Hey, hey, I know you,’ and that’s when I said, ‘You’re Bill Reynolds’ and that was that,” Cockerell said.

When the two began reminiscing, they realized they nearly purchased homes beside each other without ever knowing they fought for their lives and the lives of others side by side 20 years earlier.

“We purchased home lots in Santa Clarita that were just foundations,” Cockerell said. “But then Bill bought somewhere else.”

Today, the two local Vietnam vets stand shoulder to shoulder again — this time as recipients of the Bronze Star awarded to them for the heroism they displayed 44 years ago.

Bronze Star
Almost half a century later, the pain still lingers, but its sting is lessened today, both men say, by the honor of distinguished recognition.

Reynolds and Cockerell were notified earlier this month by a representative of Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon’s office that they were to receive the Bronze Star.

“Forty-four years ago, we weren’t very welcomed back home,” Cockerell said hesitantly during an interview last week, noting some Americans heaped scorn on veterans returning from Vietnam. “It’s taken quite a while, but I really appreciate this.”

“I wear my Purple Hearts because it reminds me of the guys who didn’t make it, guys killed right next to me,” Reynolds said. “I think about those guys.”

One guy who has never left the hearts and minds of both men was their platoon leader, retired U.S. Army Major Jack R. Benedick.

Benedick, who lost both legs to the war in Vietnam and now suffers from Parkinson’s disease, had recommended both men and others for the Bronze Star in 1967.

It wasn’t until the year 2000, when Reynolds and Benedick found each other on the Internet, that the former platoon leader learned Reynolds and Cockerell never received the medals.

That realization jump-started Benedick to follow up on his 33-year-old recommendation.

Numerous firefights
Both men were recommended for the honor for meritorious service; according to Benedick, Reynolds displayed “exceptional performance with rapid assessment and solutions against determined hostile fighters,” and Cockerell routinely displayed “great effectiveness during numerous firefights and several large battles in the harshest terrain and weather conditions against determined hostile forces.”

But each also was cited for performance at a bloody battle on June 19, 1967, when Huey helicopters and U.S. Navy boats took Reynolds’ unit into the Mekong Delta, where they confronted the Viet Cong in hamlets, rice paddies, swamps and jungles.

“Anybody who was involved in that battle will never, ever forget that day,” Reynolds said.

During the battle, Reynolds aided a mortally wounded medic, fired an M79 grenade launcher until it was disabled by the Viet Cong, helped evacuate wounded soldiers and then joined an assault on the enemy until wounded.

In the same battle, Cockerell excelled as a grenadier, rifleman and point man. He also assisted evacuating wounded soldiers and joined in the assault, the recommendation letter said.

“He consistently performed his combat duties in a resolute manner, Benedick wrote, “even as his 2nd Platoon reduced from its original 35 soldiers down to 13 men.”

When the battle was over, 47 “brave U.S. soldiers had given the ultimate sacrifice with many more wounded,” Benedick wrote.

More than 250 enemy VC fighters were dead on the battlefield.

Both Reynolds and Cockerell are expected to receive their Bronze Star medals in a special service in the Santa Clarita Valley on Memorial Day.


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