Update from Rome historian Selena Tilley:
” I am working with a group of Vietnam Veterans from the 101st Airborne Division, who were members of the Airmobile division, 2nd/319 artillery section. They are in Rome this week for a reunion, and we are going to travel down the west side of Broad Street from Sixth Avenue toward Myrtle Hill at 1:50 p.m. (Friday) in the Roman Chariots. Please if you can, come down to Broad Street and help us show these vets, from 12 states, that we support and honor the sacrifices they made. Lets give them a proper homecoming.”
(Hometown’s original post for Aug. 19)
By Natalie Simms
Nearly 50 years ago, a group of men from all over the United States were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War as part of the 101st Airborne Division, including native Roman David Bratcher. As members of the Airmobile division, 2nd/319 artillery section, Bratcher and his comrades formed a bond that has withstood the test of time. And next month, this group of 15 veterans will meet in Rome to reunite and remember their time together.
“I was drafted on August 26, 1969…I remember getting that letter in the mail,” says Bratcher, who in addition to his military service retired from Bekaert after 20 years of service in 2015. “After all the assessments and training, I went to serve 14 months in Vietnam, through April 1, 1971.”
As part of the Airmobile unit, Bratcher and his team were responsible for moving guns on helicopters and setting up fire bases, which were temporary encampments that provide artillery fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of fire support from their own base camps.
The 2nd/319 artillery section were serving at Firebase Ripcord, the last big battle of the Vietnam War. The battle itself lasted some four and half months but the heaviest siege was from July 1-23, 1970, when American troops saw 23 days of continuous gunfire.
“It was a covert operation along the Ho Chi Minh Trail but somehow, they (North Vietnamese) knew we were there. We took continuous gunfire. On July 21, they shot one of our helicopters down and blew up an ammo bunker…I had never seen an explosion like that before. We lost a lot of guys,” says Bratcher.
According to the Ripcord Association, a total of 139 American soldiers were killed in the Battle of Ripcord, 75 of them died between July 1-23. Bratcher earned many accolades for his serve including a Bronze Star for Heroism in ground combat, a Brave Eagle Coin and a Purple Heart after being wounded in the back of his neck. But it’s a time he doesn’t like to talk about much.
“When you go through something like that…it really changes you,” says Bratcher. “I made lifelong friends…we went through things together that other people can’t relate to.”
While many of the soldiers in Bratcher’s unit have stayed in contact over the years, they rarely saw each other until they decided to plan a reunion in Peoria, Ill., in 2016. The group has been meeting in their various hometowns, including West Virginia in 2017 and Knoxville last year. This year, Bratcher and his wife, Sandra, are hosting the reunion in Rome.
About 15 veterans and their spouses will be traveling to Rome Sept. 12-15 from 12 states including Washington, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. They will be staying at a local hotel but the Bratchers have been busy organizing activities and meals for the group. As an added bonus, Bratcher’s 70th birthday is Sept. 12, so they plan a big celebration.
“It will be extra special to have everyone here for David’s 70th birthday,” says Sandra. “We will have cake and a big celebration once everyone gets here.”
In addition, Sandra has been working on something else special for each veteran.
“I wanted to put together a gift bag for each of the guys representing Rome, Ga. My daughter and I have been busy talking to local businesses and getting things donated that are from Rome or manufactured in Rome like Rice Krispie Treats from Kellogg’s and gravy mix from Southeastern Mills,” she says.
“The community has been so generous. We’ve gotten hats from Bekaert, the hospitals have given us items and several other businesses. It will be a great ‘Welcome to Georgia’ bag for each of them.”
The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will be hosting the group for two of their nights here for dinner and entertaining including karaoke.
“We have some outings planned to Berry and Myrtle Hill. Mainly, we will sit around and talk. And we enjoy karaoke…I need to start practicing,” laughs Bratcher.
Next year, a larger reunion is planned in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Firebase Ripcord in Springfield, Mo. Bratcher says he and many of his unit are planning to attend. In the meantime, they are ready for September.
“We all talk loud…I’m just looking forward to seeing everyone again. It’s been a year since we saw each other and who knows who will be around for next year. We’re not the young 19-year-olds anymore,” he says.
For more information about the Battle of Firebase Ripcord, you can check out the Ripcord Association.