After flunking out of Northern Michigan University in his sophomore year in 1968 Don Rudness of North Port, Fla. was classified 1-A by the draft board and sent to Vietnam by his friends and neighbors.
“I arrived in South Vietnam right after Mother’s Day 1969. I was given an M-16 rifle and all my gear and assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment, 4th Infantry Division,” he recalled almost 45 years later.
“That first night in country I was put on perimeter guard in a foxhole atop a high hill with my weapon. If we heard anything, we were told not to fire our weapons because we would give our positions away,” Rudness said. “We were told to throw a fragmentation grenade. That first night I probably threw three or four frags. Every time I heard a rustle I chucked a grenade.”
The 4th Infantry Division was located in the jungle of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. He said it reminded him of the Smokey Mountains in the United States.
“Our mission was to go out in the jungle and search and destroy the enemy. We operated in an area that was inhabited by two North Vietnamese divisions. They had uniforms, pith helmets and AK-47 assault rifles. Their mission was to kill as many Americans as possible.
“When I first got there we went on patrol. We were on ‘Jood Hill.’ We were only there a short time when they transferred us to another LZ (Landing Zone),” he said. “Our mission there was to pull security for a battery of 155 millimeter self-propelled Howitzers. We always left at least one unit with the big guns to protect them,” the former Spec-4 said.
“It was from there I went on my first ‘Green Eye Patrol.’ We sent out three-man patrols whose purpose it was to spy on the enemy. We’d go out about a mile or so past our base camp and set up along a known trail used by the NVA (North Vietnamese Army). If we saw any enemy activity we were to report it, but we did not try and make contact with the NVA.
“On my very first patrol I was sent down to a nearby stream, about 150-yards away, to fill all the canteens. I had just gotten the canteens filled when I heard this noise. I turned around and here were six NVA regulars right near me. I hunkered down in the bushes out of sight. They walked right by me. I didn’t move until they had disappeared and were long gone.
“On my first parameter sweep I earned my Combat Infantryman’s Badge because we made contact with a fairly large NVA element. We ended up pulling back and calling in an air strike,” Rudness said. “I had my first encounter with what napalm and high explosives can do. It isn’t pretty.
“The day I got wounded, July 17, 1969, we had evidence of a lot enemy activity in the area. We had ‘gooks’ in the wire. A red shell cluster went off and then all hell broke loose,” he said. “I ran from the ‘hooch’ were I slept to our .50 caliber machine-gun bunker. Our new platoon lieutenant, who was in the bunker, said we had too many there so he sent several of us down to the next bunker.
“By this time enemy mortars, as well as our own mortars, were coming into the the .50 caliber bunker. It took a direct hit that killed killed two of our guys and wounded three or four more.
“I was probably 30 or 40 meters away from the .50-caliber bunker when I was hit by shrapnel to the side of my chest. The guy in the bunker with me put plastic over the hole in my chest,” Rudness said. “I was Medi-vacced out of the L.Z. to a MASH-type hospital 10 minutes away. An Army medic worked on me in the helicopter.
“From there I was flown to the 71st Evacuation Hospital near Pleiku where I spent the next three weeks. I was then evacuated to a hospital in Japan and spent another six weeks recovering. After that it was home to the States.
The last seven months of his two-year tour in the service he worked as a clerk typist in a basic training outfit in Fort Knox, Ky. Rudness got out of the Army in Oct. 1969.
He immediately re-enrolled at Northern Michigan University in Marquette and graduated four years later with good grades and a degree in social work. For the next 31 years he worked for the Michigan Department of Human Services.
Rudness and his wife, Roberta, retired to North Port in 2012. They have two grown daughters: Andrea and Rebecca.
Name: Don Rudness
D.O.B: 23 Feb. 1948
Hometown: Marquette, Mich.
Currently: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: June 1968
Discharged: October 1969
Rank: Specialist 4th Class
Unit: Brovo Company, 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment, 4th Infantry Division
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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