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Vietnam veterans reunite for show

Posted: February 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Local Vietnam veterans gather during a reunion in Valencia this month. The 14 members of Charlie Company talked to National Geographic producers for a new TV show.(Bill Reynolds/Courtesy photo)

 

Those who showed up recently for a reunion of Vietnam veterans at the Valencia home of Bill Reynolds brought with them a storehouse of compelling stories — of sacrifice, dedication and loss.

Some hobbled to the doorstep. One old soldier arrived in a wheelchair. Most were now bald or gray.

There to listen to their stories were documentary filmmakers awaiting a chance to chronicle for the camera one of the most controversial wars in American history.

“We’re so excited about this,” said retired United States Army Sgt. William “Bill” L. Reynolds, who opened the front door to his brothers in arms.

“It gives me goose bumps,” he said, anticipating the stories culled from the reunion and resurrected through filmmaking.

National Geographic is producing a documentary about the Vietnam War and joined the local veterans inside the Reynolds home to speak with them about their experience in the 9th Infantry Division’s Charlie Company.

Producers with Lou Reda Productions have been interviewing Charlie Company veterans in groups of two and three for the past couple of months. They jumped at the chance to share in the military unit’s Valencia reunion.

Unique company

The documentary, with the working title “The Boys of ’67,” is expected to be completed by September by the same producers who put together the Emmy Award-winning series “Vietnam In HD.”

Scott Reda, who heads Lou Reda Productions, told The Signal he was inspired to do the documentary after reading the book “The Boys of ‘67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam” by Andrew Weist.

“The story of Charlie Company is unique,” he said.

“Typically, guys who were drafted or enlisted came from all over the place,” Reda said. “What makes the 9th unique is that these guys all stayed together.”

“They were at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas together. They trained together, assigned to San Francisco together and put on a ship to Vietnam (together),” he said.

“And, of course, they fought together.”

The dust cover for Weist’s book reads: “When the 160 men of Charlie Company (4th Battalion/47th Infantry/9th ID) were drafted by the U.S. Army in May 1966, they were part of the wave of conscription that would swell the American military to 80,000 combat troops in theater by the height of the war in 1968.”

Several local veterans were part of that experience.

“This story is compelling,” Reda said.

“We’re cutting it like ‘Band of Brothers’ — about 14 guys in it together,” he said.

The two-hour documentary is expected to run in early 2014 on the National Geographic Channel.

Stories shared

Weist alerted Reynolds about the plan to turn their wartime ordeal into a documentary.

“When he called me up a couple of months ago, I was so charged about this,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds had returned to Vietnam in June 2007 — and to the scene of battle that changed his life forever.

He shared his experience with other Vietnam veterans through his blog, prompting a flood of responses from other old soldiers intrigued about the healing aspects of Reynolds’ story of his return to the battlefield.

His journey and his story sparked renewed discussion about Vietnam and brought veterans together online, he said.

Reynolds became a touchstone of sorts for Charlie Company veterans sharing their stories, lives and issues online.

Now, the brothers in arms will share their stories with America.

“This is really a story about all of us,” Reynolds said. “And that’s the most awesome thing about it.”

Producers are expected to use personal photographs and letters kept by the Vietnam veterans all these years.

“There’s even some actual (8 millimeter) film footage shot by our guys that will be used,” Reynolds said.

Each veteran interviewed is a unique character sharply defined by the experiences that shaped him.

The characters

There’s Lt. Jack Benedick, who lost both legs in combat and who secretly worked on submitting the names of his 12 surviving comrades to receive Bronze Star Medals.

There’s Jace Johnston, who — on his own and without direction — had beautiful plaques made for his fellow Charlie Company soldiers.

There’s Bob French, scheduled to receive the Bronze Star for his grueling combat service in the Mekong Delta.

French, Lt. Benedick’s radio operator, was seriously wounded when a large, heavily fortified Viet Cong unit unleashed a barrage of heavy automatic weapons and rockets on Charlie Company on June 19, 1967.

In his personal story for National Geographic, Reynolds said he tells of the time several Huey helicopters were shot down, preventing evacuation of numerous wounded soldiers.

Reynolds told his story to The Signal in 2008 shortly after he returned from a visit to Vietnam.

Warzone

It was June 19, 1967, a steamy, sweltering hot day in the Mekong Delta, when Reynolds and the others in Charlie Company 4th of the 47th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, received orders to search and destroy enemy posts located up the Mekong River from Ap Bac, in what was then South Vietnam.

When the first shots were fired, Reynolds and the others in Charlie Company were completely exposed. The Viet Cong, hidden in bunkers, waited for the Americans to walk toward them across a rice paddy, he said.

Then the Viet Cong started shooting at them. They ran to a small raised berm a little bigger than a speed bump in an otherwise flat rice field. They jumped behind it and hid as bullets struck the berm and passed over their heads.

Eleven guys never made it to the berm.

Farther up the river, at about the same time, members of Alpha Company found themselves in a similar rice field — only they had no berm to run to. Twenty-seven American soldiers were killed in that confrontation. In all, 48 Americans died that day.

For Reynolds, the encounter was life-changing.

“We were in the middle of a rice paddy,” he said. “I scrambled to this berm and then everybody was scrambling to this berm. It was so noisy. It was hair-raising.

“So there we were pinned down behind this berm. ‘A Company,’ about 800 meters to the north, were caught in a similar situation. They lost almost 30 guys. They had nowhere to hide.”

The soldiers were pinned down for more than six hours as the Viet Cong hid in bunkers just 30 feet away.

“We had artillery coming in, jets coming in, helicopters coming in, firing rockets on the other side. For us 20-something guys, to see this stuff coming in was amazing.”

Reynolds returned to the United States with a Purple Heart medal and a mission: Never to lose focus of what mattered that day — the men who served and died.

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

On Twitter

@jamesarthurholt

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