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Longest Vietnam battle retold through eyes of local author

By Staff | Jan 27, 2016

By BARB BARRETT/The Luminary Ken Miller from Muncy and John Snyder from Hughesville, both Vietnam veterans ponder over a topographical map of Vietnam as author and writer, Chris Brady (standing) looks over them while discussing the battles of Ripcord and Hamburger Hill at the Muncy Public Library on January 21.

MUNCY – It was the worst of wars. As a young boy, Chris Brady couldn’t begin to imagine what really happened behind the scenes of military combat during the Vietnam War. As Chris was growing up, his father, Bruce Brady retold some of the scars he experienced while stationed at Ripcord in live combat to his son who was born in June 1971, almost a year after the longest battle took place. It took Bruce awhile to recover from his injuries. “He was shot and wounded in a mortar attack,” said Chris who related that most of the soldiers came back suffering not only from injuries, but having to deal with post traumatic stress disorder.

Chris Brady was inspired to write a book “Remembering Firebase Ripcord” after he learned that most of the reporting that took place during the war was scant, not cohesive, and only given through the eyes of Walter Cronkite at the time stationed in Saigon, not the canopied mountainous regions of the thick jungle-like territory on a hilltop west of the A Shau Valley in northern South Vietnam where the bloody battles really took place. “It was a media blackout,” he said.

Brady interviewed more than 200 survivors from Ripcord over the years, and spoke of his findings at a book signing last Thursday evening at the Muncy Public Library.

He was pleased to welcome two other local Vietnam survivors who came and also related some of their experiences. Ken Miller from Muncy explained that much of the reporting was indeed inaccurate. “The central islands and the villages had most of the casualties,” he said. Miller served on the 3rd brigade aircraft division on Ripcord. “The enemy had all the guns. As a battalion, we had very little defense against them. Units were so obstinate for not vacating this property. We were outnumbered,” Miller further explained. “But higher-up would not recognize it.”

Brady added that the Vietnamese did not want to give up, and the war wasn’t going as well as we had hoped. Ripcord went on for almost five months, from March 12 through July 23, 1970. All four units fought the battle. Miller replied, “They didn’t know who to believe. I thought it was impossible to win.”

PHOTO PROVIDED This military helicopter aircraft known as a "huey" served during the Vietnam war. It was part of the largest army air mobile extraction in history. Over 7,000 hueys flew over the area and only half of them came back.

Brady’s book talks about the manpower, the heroes and all the waste. Miller who attends Ripcord reunions with other veteran survivors said that the sad stories they hear “always touch us all.”

Another local veteran who attended the book signing, John Snyder from Hughesville, said that Brady’s book is very descriptive of the battles of the time. Snyder served on Hamburger Hill, another “emblematic” battle fought during the Vietnam war, and probably the most reported on, even though this wasn’t as long as Ripcord.

Strong alliances were made among the soldiers. In his book Brady tells a story about a Pittsburgh sergeant who lost a close friend from Alabama to a grenade during a battle in July. His missing friend haunted him for years, and so he returned to Ripcord years later to the scene after writing a letter to his Congressman for permission. He rented a Russian chopper and flew in from the north. He found his missing friend’s machine gun and boot jacket but no remains. Meanwhile, the sergeant had kept his friend’s bracelet the entire time, and now these things are placed in a museum.

“It will never be a closed chapter in the book,” Brady added. “This battle will always have a lasting impact.”

Brady remains in touch with many of the survivors and has joined the Ripcord Association that was started in the 80’s for families and veterans of the Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord, 101st Airborne Division of Vietnam. A website was added in 2000 and there are now over 800 members who meet annually in Springfield, MI.

John Snyder, a 1965 graduate of Hughesville High School who fought at Hamburger Hill in 1969, said it was a big worn out battle. “We were fighting a war of attrition. Their philosophy was to never quit. Not all was told to the public.” His wife, Linda said that John has been interviewed for several books and they both attend the Association’s reunions.

Miller, a retired teacher from Muncy High School who has lived here in Muncy for the past 27 years, added that he was proud when he got home and couldn’t understand what was being protested.

“Apparently these ten years of history, was not a popular topic.” he added. “It was an honorable thing.”

Brady has captured much in his book and pretty much followed the battle of Ripcord from his meetings with survivors and officers, the tragedy and mutual suffering of it all. And yet, a lot of the infrastructure that is now there in Vietnam such as roads and modern buildings is a result of the American people.

Brady lives in Delaware Township and he will be giving another presentation on his book about Firebase Ripcord at the James V. Brown Library on Monday, Feb. 8th from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

An editor with the Milton Standard, he has also written a 52 part series on area Vietnam War veterans.