At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, lest we forget

A story by Sam Kelley from 1969

Sam Kelley, 1969

My name is Robert “Sam” Kelley, born 1944 in Portland, Maine, a 1963 Cheverus graduate, and I graduated college in 1967. I decided to enlist in the U.S. Army in late 1967 while the war in Vietnam was raging.

I was fortunate that the military sergeant at the Army enlistment station convinced me that, being a college grad, I was eligible to apply to officer candidate school (OCS). I did my 16 weeks of Basic & Advanced Individual Training at Fort Dix in N.J. Then I did 6 months at OCS in Ft. Benning, GA. That was followed with 3 weeks Airborne training at Ft. Benning and about 6 months with the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, NC.

I went to Vietnam in May 1969 and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne as a Platoon Leader. We went on many “search & destroy” missions in the rice paddies south of Saigon. Shortly after I arrived in Nam, the 82nd went home and I was transferred to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade.

In November of 1969, Lt. Little of the “Recon Platoon” was killed by enemy fire. I took over his platoon that generally numbered around 18 -20 guys. We operated in the jungle around Xuan Loc – about 50 miles east of Saigon. Our job as Recon Platoon was to “search & destroy” the enemy. The jungle around that area seemed to be loaded with Vietcong and North Vietnamese enemy soldiers. We would try to find areas where they were, and set up ambushes. It seemed like we had firefights every day.

Dec. 8, 1969 was the worst day of my life. One of the main tenets of being a leader is to “bring your soldiers home safely”. I lost Bill McCarron that day to enemy fire. He was one of my machine-gunners that day, when we ran into an enemy group of around 20 soldiers. A fierce fire-fight took place in the jungle and elephant grass at mid-day. Bill was a 20-year-old from New York. He was personable, popular and a great soldier. He left a fiancée, Sue, behind along with a fine family. Every Dec. 8th since 1970, I have called Bill’s parents or his sister or fiancée, Sue, to let them know Bill will never be forgotten.

That, too often, is one of the horrible facts of War. Millions have died in war but each one of them has a family and friends whose lives had been impacted forever. I know that when I die, one of the first things I hope to see on the other side is Bill McCarron. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, lest we forget”.

Bill McCarron, 1969

Sam Kelley and his platoon with communist flag, 1969

Sam Kelley, 2016