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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tribute to Captain James Eddie Reed, Veterans' Day 2010

Captain James Eddie Reed, January 1968
Captain James Eddie Reed
Company A, 3/39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division
Tribute to Captain James Eddie Reed, 1942-1968, an American Hero, who gave his life in the service of his country. 

Recipient of the Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars with V Device, the Army Commendation Medal with V Device, 2 Purple Hearts, Air Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger Tab, Airborne Ribbon, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, and various Vietnam Service medals and ribbons. 

Eddie was born to Kenneth and Minnie Kern Reed of Kingsport, Tennessee on December 4th 1942.  He had three brothers:  Dwight who died as an infant, Charles Benny Reed, and Earl Lee Reed.  He married Brenda Keck from his hometown and had a son, James Eddie Reed Jr., and daughter, Jamie Elizabeth Reed.  

Eddie attended Bell Ridge Elementary School and graduated from Lynn View High School and East Tennessee University where he received a commission as an officer in the United States Army.  Eddie had excelled at track and field events, loved running and pole vaulting.

In January 1965 Eddie began his active duty military service at Fort Benning, Home of the Infantry.  He graduated from Infantry Officer’s Basic School, Ranger School,, and Airborne School.  In July 1965 he was assigned as a platoon leader at Fort Ord in the Advanced Infantry Training Unit and later was promoted to First Lieutenant and served as company commander of D-1-2.   In June 1967 Eddie received his orders to Vietnam just days after being promoted to Captain.February 1, 1968, the life of Captain James Eddie Reed prematurely ended in an instant of violence during at an enemy artillery attack during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. He was twenty-five years old. He had not yet begun to fulfill his dreams. 

Just after being promoted to Captain, Eddie left for Vietnam in July 1967 at the age of twenty-four.  His heart was filled with love and his eyes with laughter. He looked forward to the challenges that lay ahead, but even before he left we were already missing him and he us. By November 1967 the light had somewhat faded in his twinkling blue eyes and a look of sadness shrouded his angular face. His once proud shoulders were stooped from the burdens of the combat zone. The change was profound and disturbing to me.

July 1965 - July 1967 Eddie served in an AIT company at Fort Ord, California, first as platoon leader and then as company commander.  Most of the trainees received orders for service in Vietnam.  Recognizing his commitment to his men and his country, when his military obligation was nearly completed, Eddie extended his service in the military.  Just before we left Fort Ord (he for Vietnam and me for our hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee with our young son), Eddie was called upon to serve as the Escort Officer for one of his fallen friends and colleagues with whom he had served in D-1-2 at Fort Ord. The experience weighed on him heavily in his last days at home before he deployed from Travis Air Force Base.

Upon arriving in Vietnam mid-July 1967 Eddie was assigned as company commander of a counterinsurgency infantry company in the Mekong Delta.  He was responsible for the 120 or more Americans who served alongside him in Company A, 3rd/39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division.  He went to Vietnam determined to keep the men under his command safe and alive. That dream, too, was dashed as young soldiers were killed and maimed in ambushes as they marched through the black muck of the open rice paddies of the Mekong Delta. The responsibilities of leadership weighed heavily upon him. His superiors asked the impossible of Eddie and his men, who were mostly mere boys away from their homes in small towns across America for the first time. At home there was little support for the war. And even less for the brave soldiers serving in Vietnam. 

Eddie worried about his men’s fungus covered feet and whether or not they received mail from home or had good food to eat. He walked the lines at night and talked one on one with his men, getting to know them and their loves and worries.  When they fell in battle, Eddie consolingly wrote letters to the families they left behind. A piece of Eddie Reed went to the grave with each of those young soldiers. First Sargent Hershel Johnson and his men dubbed him“the best company commander in Vietnam.”
Eddie & Brenda Reed 1967
I met Eddie when he was only nineteen – a handsome track star, a ROTC cadet, a farm boy. I pulled him from the swimming pool the last day of summer in 1962 when he belly flopped from the diving board at the hometown swimming pool in east Tennessee – just to get my attention. I still remember the mischievous way he laughed when he wrenched from my grasp at the side of the pool. That hot afternoon he won my heart forever. We eloped eighteen months later.

In August 1964 at East Tennessee State University Eddie was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. I proudly pinned his gold bars on the collar of  his khaki uniform. He gave me a prize winning smile and laughed, “It’s a lifetime commitment, honey.”

When our son, James, was born two months later, Eddie  changed his diapers and gladly gave him his bottle in the middle of the night. He adored his boy and he his father.

A few months later we settled into life at Fort Benning. Eddie breezed through IOBC, Ranger and Airborne schools while at age eighteen I struggled to be the perfect “Army Officer’s Wife” just as Nancy Shea had described in her book, The Army Wife.

Every day that we were together Eddie made me laugh. He  gave your all to our family. We struggled on his second lieutenant’s salary but always managed to have fun. I can still hear him drawling out “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as you showered in the morning. Oh, how I loved him and he loved me!

Eddie's parents, Minnie & Kenneth Reed
Eddie watched as the young men in D – 1 – 2, at Fort Ord were sent off to Vietnam immediately after finishing their advanced infantry training. They were green and Eddie feared for their lives. His commanders took note of his interest in even the clumsiest grunt. Eddie knew the lives of each man depended on what he and his colleagues taught him.

Eddie grappled with the deaths of his friends who preceded him into combat and when his day came to go in July 1967, he declared, “I have to do this. Somebody has to look after those boys.” I asked, “But who is going to look after you?” He just laughed and pointed to the sky.

Four weeks in country I wrote you a letter telling Eddie that he was going to be a proud papa for the second time. He immediately celebrated and passed out cigars to the men in A Company of the 3rd/39th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division.  Sadly he was buried just six days before his beautiful baby girl was born.

Eddie empathized with the poor farmers in the rice paddies and the villagers of Rach Kien. He hated the war, but he loved his men and they loved him. Every day was a challenge.

The day the Company A relocated to the French Fort at Don Rach Cat, Eddie wrote that at last his  men had a secure, dry home when they were not on the battlefield. They nicknamed the concrete bastion Fort Courage and adopted a pig as Company A’s mascot. Eddie  wrote that Vietnam was a beautiful country. He described the sunsets from the top of the fort as romantic. He wished I could see them but more than that he wanted to be home. He marked the days off the calendar in Vietnam. I did the same at home.

Eddie’s Mom and Dad missed his help on the farm. Our son at three was too young to put up hay and milk cows, but he had Eddie’s sparkle, mischievous nature, and good looks. When we looked at his blonde hair and blue eyes, we saw Eddie.

In November 1967 Eddie took a bullet in the leg and declared that it was nothing. The Army gave him a Bronze Star with V device for his  heroism and a Purple Heart. The only thing that he really cared about was getting his men “out of that hell hole alive.” 

A few days later we met in Hawaii for R & R. Eddie  reeked of war and your skin was saturated with dirt. He scrubbed for hours to wash off the stench of Vietnam. For seven days we laughed and cried and loved one another. His eyes filled with desperation and he asked me to make so many promises. I was scared. I tried hard not to be.

On the morning of December 4th 1967, Eddie’s  twenty-fifth birthday, he once more donned his combat gear and boarded the plane back to the war zone. His last words to me were, “Promise me you won’t ever let my children forget me.” When he turned to wave goodbye, I knew it would be the last time that I would ever see him alive.  Eddie  headed back to the war zone. I returned to Tennessee to face the bleak winter that lay ahead.

On February 1, 1968, the commanders of Eddie’s battalion summoned him to the 3rd/39th battalion headquarters to give him an intelligence report, stating that Company A on its island fortress was in danger of being overrun by fifteen hundred newly supply NVA troops fresh off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Eddie returned to his company of about one hundred and twenty men and prepared for the attack as best they couldcould. At sunset Company A came under heavy mortar and artillery fire from across the river full of sampans. As darkness descended Eddie and several men went to the top of the fort to survey the situation. Eddie determined the coordinates to return fire on the NVA’s heavy artillery and mortars from across the river. He radioed battalion headquarters and your own men simultaneously, giving orders and requesting assistance. As he spoke on the radios issuing orders for counterfire, an NVA artillery round landed on the concrete gun turret at his feet. The spray instantly killed our beloved Eddie Reed. The records show that your final orders saved all of the men in Company A except for three brave men who died with him. Days later a mass grave of NVA soldiers along with damaged weaponry was found across the river. Company A had been successful in their efforts to disable an NVA regiment.

On  February 7, 1968, two Army officers notified me that Eddie was Missing in Action. Within a few days his letters stopped coming, and mine to him were returned unopened and unread.

Two weeks later the officers returned to our home. The major held a yellow telegram and nervously read, “We regret to inform you that your husband, Captain James Eddie Reed, was killed in action.” 

On March 1, 1968, we buried Eddie  in Oak Hill Cemetery in our hometown. When the bugler played “Taps” and the honor guard fired the volley of shots, I felt each bullet rip through my heart. The Army didn’t tell me much. Mostly I was left to wonder, as I did for years to come.  

Six days after we buried you, our daughter Jamie, a beautiful little blue-eyed blond, was born. She has Eddie’s warm smile and strength of character – his funny feet. Like her dad  she is a fighter and natural leader. She missed Eddie at the father-daughter nights at school. Eddie missed her first smile, her first words, her first day at school, her first date, her senior prom, her college graduations, her weddings, and the birth of her three children. The truth is that Jamie would have loved to have danced with her dad.

In June 1991 the United States Army posthumously awarded Captain James Eddie Reed the Silver Star and Air Medal at our nation's Capital Building.

In the many years since you left us, we have never forgotten Eddie Reed. He  gave each of us who knew you a gift of love and spirit. He made us laugh. In the end we cried.

My dear Eddie Reed was a natural leader – a lover of people – a bright spot in the universe. The world is a better place for having had him. I was blessed to be his wife and the mother of your children.

This Veterans’ Day we were remember you and thank you for your contributions to our lives and to this world. Eddie Reed was  but one of many who has given his life for his country. We love and honor each and every one of you. We thank you for your service.

In Remembrance.
Captain James Eddie Reed, Vietnam 1967

Jamie Elizabeth Reed, Brenda Reed, James Eddie Reed, Jr. with Captain Reed's Silver Star, June 1991
I was blessed to have been his wife for far too short a time, and I continue to be blessed as the mother of his two children, and grandmother to our four beautiful grandchildren -- RJ, Savannah, Acacia, and Ashton.


Anonymous said...

Sincere condolences. Your husband seemed to be a nice guy.

SP4 Gordon Clapp said...

I was only under Captain Reeds command for a little over a month but I do remember that he was well respected among his men.