Unsung Heroes

July 31, 2014 at 3:01 PM

Throughout military history, there are those men and women, who, but to a few, go unrecognized as the heroes they are. Who are the unsung heroes of the D-Day drops, Market-Garden or Bastogne?

The time is May of 1969. Operation Apache Snow is in full swing. Its objective? To clear out the North Vietnamese Army from the Ashau Valley. The key terrain of the feature was a hill, soon to be called Hamburger Hill.

SGT Roger W. Pedue was a farm boy from La Porte, Indiana. All his life, he wanted to be a soldier, to make the military a career. He returned to Vietnam for a second tour, this time with Bravo Company, 1-506th Infanty, 101st. At 26, he was the ‘old man’ of the Platoon, hearing no end of ribbing from his men for being old and a lifer. But his men respected him. Though they knew very little about him personally, they did know that he would never ask them to do what he himself wouldn’t. If he was tasked with manning the Listening Post, few would volunteer to go with him since he had a habit of going out further than many thought he should. If he heard anything, he’d rise up and fire at whatever was in front of him. He showed no fear, at least to his men. In many ways, he was image of the professional NCO. But he didn’t always follow the book.

As Operation Apache Snow was getting ready to begin, the men were issued ammo and C-rations. There were so many C-rations to be drawn, the men complained about the weight and space taken up for them. SGT Pedue planned an operation of his own to alleviate the situation. LERP rations were just coming into the system, but rare enough as to be tightly controlled, so SGT Pedue led a raiding party to Battalion Supply to ‘liberate’ a case of LERP’s for his men. A guard spotted them and reported it. The next day, SGT Pedue calmly and straightfaced, claimed innocence of he and his men.

On May 13th, Alpha and Bravo Companies were performing a search and destroy mission around the base of Hamburger Hill. The 3-187th had been engaged on Hamburger Hill for at least three days. The sounds of gunfire, artillery and air support were to be heard all around the area. Everyone knew that something big going on. Hoping to draw off NVA fighting the 187th, Bravo Company was ordered to set up blocking positions to the west of Hamburger Hill. While there, they found communications wire an inch thick running into the hill. The men knew the NVA were well dug in and fortified, and had no intention of going anywhere. Soon, they too received orders to move up the hill and join in the assault.

On the 14th of May, they began their ascent up Hamburger Hill. Within a few hours, they began receiving enemy fire. The further up they went, the more intense the enemy fire. The NVA seemed to be everywhere and nowhere. Fire came from NVA bunkers, spider holes, and even trees. Casualties rose sharply, and it was almost impossible to get the Medivacs in to retrieve the wounded. Resupply was accomplished by the Huey’s flying over head and kicking the ammo out of the doors to the ground below. On the evening of the 15th, the Platoon set up night defensive positions. The Platoon radio/telegraph operator (RTO) had been killed, and the Platoon's only other ‘veteran’ had been assigned to replace him.

Throughout the night they could hear the NVA moving in the night. They were preparing something. SGT Pedue must have been thinking about what might happen. An attack? No, not at night against prepared positions. Their casualties would be high and the chances of success where slim at best. What then if not an attack? It’s now when SGT Pedue seemed to understand what the movement meant.

On the morning of the 16th, SGT Pedue went over to talk with the soldier he assigned to replace the RTO. Coming up to him, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered him one.

“Mike, we’re getting ready to move. The LT wants your PRC 25 on. We’re the lead platoon and my squad is the lead squad. You know what this means?”

Mike knew. He’d been in country long enough to realize what was about to happen.

“Ya know Mike, there’s this girl back home that I really love. She’s been married before and has two kids. But I love them, and they like me. If I get out of this, I’m going to marry her.”

This was not the SGT Pedue that Mike and everyone else knew.

“They’re out there waiting for us, an ambush. I figure they’ll hit us just as we move out, so I’m taking the point.”

Mike tried to persuade him not to. It wasn’t the job of the squad leader to be the point man; he had to control and direct the squad.

“No Mike, there’re too many cherries in the squad. The only two people who can do it are you and me. And you’re the LT’s RTO, so it’s me. Even if you weren’t the RTO, it would be me. You’ll have to look after the men from here on out.”

He was saying goodbye and nothing more was, or could, be said.

As the Platoon moved out, SGT Pedue took point. After only about 100 meters, Pedue opened up. No one could see anything, but the AK’s returning fire spoke volumes. Pedue had found them. Almost immediately, he was hit. Going down, he rolled to the side of the trail. Instead of staying down and waiting for help, Pedue pulled the pins on a few frag grenades and threw them toward the enemy positions. This got the entire NVA position to open up on SGT Pedue who was hit several more times, killing him.

The Platoon took many more casualties taking those NVA positions, but SGT Pedue’s actions saved many more. What SGT Pedue tripped was a U shaped ambush. Had the Platoon walked into it, it likely would have been wiped out. Instead, they were able to regroup and defend themselves.

Bravo Company sustained nearly 80% casualties in the battle for Hamburger Hill, as did the rest of the 101st. The commander of the 187th later accused Bravo 1-506 of not doing enough to support him, of being negligent. Such is the way of things. When something isn’t an overwhelming success, someone has to be accused of failing.

No one could doubt the bravery of Bravo Company, or that of SGT Pedue. No one could ever doubt the bravery of the 101st on Hamburger Hill.

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