By Greg Phillips, D Co, 1st BN, 506th, 1970
On Saturday May 5th, 2007, I journeyed to Fairfield, Illinois for the dedication of a monument to honor the late Kenneth Kays, a holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions almost 37 years before in action at FSB Maureen, an abandoned fire support base in the Northern part of South Vietnam on May 7, 1970. Along with me were several other members of D/1-506th Infantry plus representatives from the 506th Infantry Association. Colonel Tom Vail, Commander 506th Regimental Combat Team, and CSM Mark Atchley were also in attendance.
Fairfield Fire Chief Mike Pottorff coordinated and directed the event and those assisting him did a remarkable job of organizing the celebration. Although many Fairfield residents didn't recognize Kays' sacrifice during his lifetime, they and former Vietnam-era soldiers dedicated a black granite monument in his memory. It is located in a place of honor on the front lawn of the Hannah House Museum just south of Fairfield's downtown district. The main program began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. This was followed by the Presentation of the Colors by local members of the VFW as well as a color guard from the 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division from nearby Fort Campbell. Three members of the 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, who served with Medal of Honor recipient Kenny Kays during the Vietnam War, unveiled the memorial in his honor at the conclusion of the ceremoney. Following lunch, the members of the 506th Infantry Association concluded their day with a visit to the grave of Kenneth Kays.
My memories went back to that day in 1970. We (Company D/1-506) were opposed by a Sapper Battalion (North Vietnamese Army Special Forces) consisting of approximately 320 men and a North Vietnamese Army Brigade (Regular Army) consisting of approximately 1200 men. We arrived on May 5th and hit one of the hottest landing zones ever--with enemy emplacements surrounding the base. Upon arrival, we were greeted by .51-caliber machine guns, mortars, gas and small arms fire from the North, West and South. During this landing, my Platoon lost our medic to a chest wound. As I recall, D Company had no casualties. The entire Company spent the first night atop Maureen and we never realized what was in store for us over the next two days.
On the morning of May 6th, just before my Platoon did a recon off of Maureen to the South, a new Medic joined our platoon. His name was Kenneth Kays. When we reached the base of the mountain that Maureen was sitting atop, we found ourselves in an enemy bunker complex and receiving hostile fire at close range. The N.V.A. fired on four of us who were on line going into the complex. Fortunately, only one of our guys was wounded (gunshot wounds to the forearm and upper hip.) The Company ran into hard resistance and it was decided that D Company would withdraw back to the sides and top of Maureen to be re-supplied the following day. My Platoon got orders to go back to the top of the Mountain for the evening of May 6th. We set up as best we could and prepared for the night to come.
During the early morning hours of May 7th, the enemy hit our Platoon from the Northwest and West. There were numerous casualties. We lost seven soldiers and three men lost limbs, including Kenny Kays.
Afterwards, Kenneth Kays was awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor. PFC Kenneth David, the platoon leader's RTO received the Distinguished Service Cross, Platoon Sergeant Stephen Avgerinos the Bronze Star with "V" Device and I, then Sp4 Greg Phillips the Silver Star.
In later years we learned that Kenny had a rough adjustment to life after Viet Nam and in some ways withdrew into himself. Kenny died November 29, 1991 and is buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Fairfield. His military issue tombstone reads "Kenneth M. Kays: Medal of Honor: PFC US Army - Vietnam; Purple Heart. He was awarded the Medal by President Richard M. Nixon.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor to
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Pfc. (then Pvt) Kays distinguished himself while serving as a medical aidman with Company D, 1st Battalion, 101st Airborne Division near Fire Support Base Maureen. A heavily armed force of enemy sappers and infantrymen assaulted Company D's night defensive position, wounding and killing a number of its members. Disregarding the intense enemy fire and ground assault, Pfc. Kays began moving toward the perimeter to assist his fallen comrades. In doing so he became the target of concentrated enemy fire and explosive charges, 1 of which severed the lower portion of his left leg. After applying a tourniquet to his leg, Pfc. Kays moved to the fire swept perimeter, administered medical aid to 1 of the wounded, and helped move him to an area of relative safety. Despite his severe wound and excruciating pain, Pfc. Kays returned to the perimeter in search of other wounded men. He treated another wounded comrade, and, using his own body as a shield against enemy bullets and fragments, moved him to safety. Although weakened from a great loss of blood, Pfc. Kays resumed his heroic lifesaving efforts by moving beyond the company's perimeter into enemy held territory to treat a wounded American lying there. Only after his fellow wounded soldiers had been treated and evacuated did Pfc. Kays allow his own wounds to be treated. These courageous acts by Pfc. Kays resulted in the saving of numerous lives and inspired others in his company to repel the enemy. Pfc. Kays' heroism at the risk of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. place and date: Thua Thien province, Republic of Vietnam, 7 May 1970. Entered service at: Fairfield, Ill. Born: 22 September 1949, Mount Vernon, Ill.
Editors Note: Primary source material was provided and written by Greg Phillips and supplemented by newspaper articles and other information available to the public.
photo by Krystal Phillips and Steve Avgerinos (D Co, 1st BN, 1969-1970)
D/1-506th 1970 Currahee Veterans at Kenny Kays grave at Maple Hill Cemetery
(Standing L-R): Roger Crabb, Hoyt Bruce Moore III (A Co, 1st BN, 1970-1971), Kenny David, Tony Cox, Greg Phillips, Don Shaughnessy, SFC(R) Merle Delagrange, Steve "Greek" Avgerinos, John "Ernie" Banks
(Kneeling): Randy Mills, author of Troubled Hero: A Medal of Honor, Vietnam, and the War at Home