Harry Ewald of Venice, Fla. was a 12-Bravo in Vietnam, a grunt with a shovel, a member of the 19th Combat Engineer Battalion. He got there in November 1967.
“We took a C-141 transport plane from Fort Lewis, Wash. to Cam Ranh Bay,” he said recently about his flight more than half a century ago. “We supported the 1st Cavalry Division when we first arrived in the Central Highlands. Our time was spent working in an area from Qui Nhon to Chou Lai. Our engineer battalion worked on anything and everything from building roads and bridges to airstrips for the 1st Cav.
“When I got to base I was coddled by the sergeants in charge. He didn’t put me out front right away. However, several weeks later our battalion and the 1st Cavalry were attacked by the 22nd North Vietnamese Army unit known as the ‘3rd Yellow Star NVA Division.'”
It was the start of the Battle of Tam Quan that began on Dec. 6, 1967 and continued for three weeks. The 1st Cavalry destroyed two battalions of the 22nd NVA Division. When the firefight was over 650 of the enemy lay dead, 58 U.S. soldiers were killed.
“Just before the battle started we moved into the area to fix a Bailey bridge the VC (Vietcong guerrillas) tried to burn down. The bridge had wooden tread and we had to replace all of them,” he said.
While working on the bridge his unit was attacked by the NVA. That was the high water mark of his fighting in Vietnam.
“After that battle I wasn’t as gung-ho as I had been.”
The closest members of his outfit came to getting killed was on July 22, 1968. “We lost 13 men in a fight with the NVA.”
Most of the time, during his his year in Vietnam, they were harassed by VC. They weren’t nearly as good in a fight as the NVA.
“We dealt with a lot of Vietcong ambushes and they weren’t very smart. They would blow up a Claymore mine in our face and run. Other times they would bury a live round that would blow up when someone stepped on the detonator.”
Much of Ewald’s time was spent as a member of a mine clearing unit. The enemy buried mines in the road and he was one of the soldiers that had to find them and detonate them. It was tedious, dangerous work when the NVA or VC were shooting at them while they tried to find buried land minds in a road. Other members of their outfit provided fire support and protection for them.
“The 1st Cavalry left us about the time of the Tet Offensive in Jan 1968. We were retrained as an infantry unit by the 174th Airborne Battalion. After that we could go out on patrols and push the enemy back with an ambush.”
When Ewald’s year of service was up in Vietnam, he got a big surprise on his trip home. He flew back to Fort Lewis, Wash. the same place he left from, no problem. From there he took another airline to New York City.
“It was there I ran into problems. I was to catch a bus home to upstate New York. By then I had changed my khaki uniform to civvies,” he said. “I missed the last bus home to Stoney Point and had to sleep on a bench in the bus station.
“As we boarded the bus a big crowd of Vietnam War protestors were waiting for us. They spit on us, called us names and everything.”
“By the time I got home and was out of the war I had a bad attitude about Vietnam that continued.” Ewald said. He broke up with Rosemarie, his girlfriend, in 1971.
Things started to improve for him when he went back to school and graduated with degree in electrical engineering. After receiving his degree he began a successful 38 year career in diagnostic medical equipment. He worked for G.E., Siemens, and Johnson & Johnson.
At 60 Ewald retired and moved to Florida’s west coast. By then he had gone through
his first divorce. The only thing he had to show for it was a “beautiful daughter named Tara.” He lived in a posh condo in Bonita Springs.
Rosemarie, his old girlfriend and her husband lived a short distance away. In 1992 he was killed in a car accident.
As luck would have it, Harry and Rosemarie found each almost 50 years later living 70 miles away from each other. Rosemarie said she looked him up, but was afraid to call him. Harry said he was the one who found Rosemarie. Whatever the case, the two of them were married in 2018.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, and is republished with permission.
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