Dillehay takes all the men from his unit with him to reunions

OKEECHOBEE — Originally from Indianapolis, Ind., Bill Dillehay was drafted in January of 1967 and was sent to basic at Fort Campbell, Ky., but it was so full that they only spent two days there before they were sent Fort Bragg, N.C. It was funny, he said, because people that were in his unit, B92, were all from Illinois and Indiana, and when it started snowing one morning at Fort Bragg, The drill sergeants said, “Oh, we aren’t going out today! It’s snowing! Well, we all laughed, because we thought that was funny. “It wasn’t that cold,” he said. “It was very nice weather.” They didn’t train for a couple days because of little snow flurries.

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Bill Dillehay graduated from basic training in 1967.

When they graduated from basic training, the drill sergeant asked if anyone wanted to go airborne, and he wanted to jump out of airplanes in the worst way, so he stepped forward, and then they said, “OK, now you can step back. There is no airborne in Vietnam, and that’s where you guys are going.” After basic, he was sent to “Tiger land” in Fort Polk, La. He had jungle training there. That was his AIT (advanced individual training). After a short leave, he was sent to Oakland, Calif., where all the men were put in warehouses, he said. “The bunks were three or four high, row after row after row.” They were there for about a week, and if they donated a pint of blood, they were given a pass that night. He did it two days in a row and tried to do it the third day, but that day, the nurse caught him. She said, “You were here yesterday.” He said, “Yeah and the day before.” She wouldn’t let him give blood again, but she pretended he did, and he got his third pass. “It was really upsetting to me, because the hippies were in there selling their blood for money,” he said.

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Pfc. William Dillehay, hospitalized in Zama, Japan, after wounds received in South Vietnam is visited by New York Mets Baseball player Jim Fugazzi in November of 1967.

He and his friends were hoping they would be going to Vietnam by boat because if you did, your time started when you got on the boat, he said, and they said it was almost 20 days going over. But no, they took them by bus to Travis Air Force Base. They put all their things on a big 707 airplane, and they took off down the runway only to come to a stop at the end. The pilot said, “I don’t know what you guys have in those duffel bags, but we are going to have to try this again.” That time, they got off the ground, and when they stopped in Hawaii to fill up the tanks, they also changed one of the engines, but they did not let the men off the plane. He figured they were afraid they wouldn’t come back if they let them off.

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William Dillehay, again crosses paths with Jim Fugazzi while televising a Toronto Baseball game for ESPN. Mr. Fugazzi is remembered as saying that it scared the hell out of him seeing him in the hospital like that with his legs all torn up. Mr. Fugazzi was just a few years older than the young men he was there to boost the morale of. “Without a deferment from the draft, it could have been me laying there in that bed, never to have been able to play baseball again,” he said.

When it came time to land in Vietnam, the Continental Airlines pilot told them he was going to be coming in pretty steep and fast and when he landed, they would be bringing guys in the back as they were unloading from the front. He said, “It was a pleasure being with you, but I want you off this airplane so I can get out of here.” One of the guys coming on board the plane handed Mr. Dillehay a cross on a shoestring and said, “Here, keep this with you. I got my foot screwed up, and I’m going home.” Mr. Dillehay thanked him, and wore it the whole time he was there.

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Bill Dillehay with radio equipment, is atop the M113A tracks that were used to transport the soldiers.

The next day he got his orders to go to the 25th Infantry Division Cu Chi — reason for assignment — losing organization. That meant, they were losing more men than they were getting, he explained, and he was going as a replacement. He and another guy went to Cu Chi where they had hooches with wooden floors and screened sides, but they only saw that hooch about two days a month if they were lucky, he said.

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Veteran William Dillehay was recently honored to be able to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldiers, accompanied by his Vietnam commander, now a retired four-star General, William Hartzog, fellow soldiers Leroy (Sandy) Loudis, and George Compton. Mr. Dillehay attributes the general, Mr. Loudis and Mr. Compton with helping him in his journey to help other veterans.

The unit he was assigned to was mechanized. They were supposed to have 24 men in a platoon, but they were lucky to have 10 or 12, he said. To move one of the vehicles he was in, an M113, they needed at least two people, and they preferred three.

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Veteran Dillehay dearly loves spending time with the children at Veteran Appreciation day at Freedom Ranch, held every May. Mr. Dillehay says it is the responsibility of each of us to help the younger generations appreciate and understand the freedoms of our wonderful country given to them by the sacrifices of all veterans and soldiers serving.

Every day, if they weren’t on an operation, their company would go out. They only had about 90 men instead of the 200 a company normally would have, he said. They would set up a perimeter, kind of like circling the wagons. They would put barbed wire around it and they would sit there. During the day time, they might hitch a ride on a couple of Hueys and go do an ambush somewhere, especially in the rainy season because the tracks didn’t do well in the rain.

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The soon-to-be-completed National Museum of the United States Army will be opening in June of 2020 in Alexandria, Virginia, just 20 minutes from Washington, D.C., Mr. Dillehay encourages everyone to plan a visit to this wonderful historical venture.

At one point, he volunteered to be a tunnel rat. He did it three times, but he got the crap scared out of him, he said and decided that was it. He did find a little brass bell and a couple pictures down there, but has no idea where they are now.

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Veteran Dillehay reminds everyone that December brings Wreaths Across America, an opportunity for everyone to remember our military, past and present. It is a time for us to teach our children of the privileges we all enjoy, bought with the sacrifices of our military. It is a time we can remember the service members who are no longer with us. “Please help us place a wreath on every military grave in Okeechobee County,” he said. The truck in this picture is used to transport the wreaths and belongs to Mr. Dillehay.

Every night they sent out a night ambush patrol. They would go outside “The Wire” the safety perimeter, and they would find a coordinate on the map. They would name these coordinates things like cream pitcher or telephone, and then they could say they were so many clicks from telephone or from cream pitcher and they knew what that meant, but the enemy did not. They would set up and put out Claymore mines and then try to stay awake all night. If Charlie came by and they thought it was OK, they would spring an ambush on them, he said, but most nights, no one came.

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Once a soldier, always a soldier is a famous saying, and Mr. Dillehay completely agrees.

After their radio operator rotated out, he decided he would like to have that job, and he got it. That meant he no longer had to do the late night ambush patrols. They were on a day patrol on the Michelin Rubber Plantation. They were spraying Agent Orange all over the place back then, he said. Engineers were taking Rome Plows and going through the jungle plowing everything up and then burning it. They would uproot trees with a giant chain and then the plows would come in and move them out of the way. They were uncovering tunnels, and while this was going on, they were taking fire from snipers and sometimes falling into tunnels. Mr. Dillehay and his platoon were there for security as they cleared these plantations. At one point, one of the men, Eddie, was shot and was trapped in a tunnel. Another friend, Sandy went in to try to get him out but was unsuccessful, and the tunnel caved in. They finally did get him out with dozers.

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So precious to Veteran Dillehay, is the beloved flag hoisted to the top of his 40’ flagpole that sits in the middle of his pasture.

On July 7, 1967, their commanding officer had to go back to headquarters in Cu Chi and left a lieutenant, not theirs, in charge. He was supposed to walk the perimeter and make sure everything was secure, but he must not have because late in the night, while Mr. Dillehay and four other men were out on patrol, the other side of their perimeter was over run. They heard radio chatter and ran back to help, but their men did not know it was them and began shooting at them until they were able to let them know who they were. That night, their company lost seven men.

Probably 90% of the guys in his company have Purple Hearts, he said, and some have more than one. On Oct. 15, the lieutenant wanted to get off the tracks, and he said, “Let’s walk flank.” So, they got out and walked flank. The radio operator has to be one step behind so he can hand the radio over if he needs it. A trip wire was in their path, but the lieutenant and Mr. Dillehay stepped over it without even realizing it was there. Unfortunately, the guy behind him tripped the wire, and it blew Mr. Dillehay’s legs up pretty good, he said. He tried to call for a medevac, but there was nothing left of his radio. It saved his life, because some of the stuff went through the radio before getting to him. Both his legs were broken and his knee was shot off, he said, but he got up and ran. “I guess it was just adrenalin.” They put him on a helicopter, but a mortar went off and wounded him and the pilot. It blinded the pilot, but he got his sight back in a few days.

They took him to the hospital in Cu Chi, and at first, he felt no pain and refused morphine, but when the pain hit, it was really bad, he said. Later, he was transferred to Zama, Japan. After he was released from the hospital, he was reassigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis because his father had a massive heart attack, and he needed to be closer to home. When it was time for him to get out, he decided he would stay in if he could be a drill sergeant but he found out he would have to sign a waiver because he would be 50% to 60% disabled, and he said no. He was active duty for two years.

When he came home, he couldn’t get his job back so he ended up driving a dump truck for a while, and then went to work for Sunoco Oil Company hauling gas and oil in big tanker trucks. In 1979, he went to work for ESPN as a senior remote engineer.

The soon-to-be-completed National Museum of the United States Army will be opening in June of 2020 in Alexandria, Virginia, just 20 minutes from Washington, D.C. Mr. Dillehay encourages everyone to plan a visit to this wonderful historical venture. “The Army has never had a museum of its own,” said Mr. Dillehay, “but now it does. It will open in June of 2020 and is called The Museum of the United States Army.” The Dillehays went to Washington recently for a reunion because Mr. Dillehay’s company commander, General William Hartzog, was instrumental in raising the money for the museum. While they were there, they were able to go on a tour of the museum. It is not completed yet, but it was a wonderful experience. There is a tank from The Battle of the Bulge in there. There will be one of every type of helicopter ever flown by the Army inside. They will hang from the ceiling. There is a memorial garden for the medal of honor recipients, and there is a place where you can type in a name and get pictures like Audie Murphy and the things he did. It has a discovery area and a playground for children. “It’s just amazing,” he said. “There is so much I can’t begin to tell you about it all.” The museum is in Alexandria, Va., just 20 minutes from Washington, D.C.

Part of Mr. Dillehay’s healing process has been to complete a scrap book containing the names and service information of all the men from his unit from 1966-1970. He brings it with him to every reunion. This way the men, in some small way, are a part of the reunion too. He went to Washington D.C. and rubbed every name from the wall and put them in the book so they can go to the reunions too, he said.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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