Honoring & Remembering: Sergeant E5 Leo F. Powell

Leo F. Powell

Sergeant E5 Leo F. Powell was born Sept. 22, 1949 in Vermillion, to Lorraine and Frank Powell Jr.

"When I was 18 I enlisted in the Army under the buddy system with Mike Taggart, a lifelong friend.  It was obvious to us we were going to be drafted so at least by enlisting and adding a year more to our service time we could at least pick a vocation.  We dodged the draft by enlisting.

On Feb. 14, 1968 I had my physical, was inducted into the Army and flew by commercial air to Fort Lewis, WA for basic training.  Ten weeks later I was in Fort Ord, CA learning how to climb poles.  After swearing I would never climb another pole,  I went back to Vermillion to get ready to spend 18 months in Germany as a radio repairman.

By the time I was 19 and knew more than anyone in the world, I volunteered to go to Vietnam for 14 months.  Mike left Germany and was two months behind me.  I arrived at Cameron Bay in July of 1969.  I was sent to LZ Baldy, American Division, 3rd of the 82nd Artillery attached to the 196 Infantry.  I was promoted to sergeant shortly after that.  About the same time I turned 20 and was making life-and-death decisions, we were totally overrun by the Viet Cong in the middle of a dark night on Baldy.

The fight had died down by daylight and today I have no memory of how many of each side had died or were wounded.  I barely remember picking up bodies because the Marines had moved into the area late in the afternoon before we won.  I was on the east side of the Forward Fire Direction Center that night with three other people that I don't remember protecting the FDC.  A satchel charge had been thrown on the west side of the FDC but everyone was okay because the weak spot, the door, was on the east side.  The four of us were awarded the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.

I spent my 14 months delivering resupply by helicopter to forward firing batteries and ground troops of 196th.  We flew into some exciting places that did make me realize I didn't know as much as I thought I did when I was in Germany.  I also spent four months with a group of six other people flying support to LZ Maryann.  We were a long way beyond where nowhere was.  One of our helicopters was shot down with 26 infantrymen (grunts) on board.  Everyone died on that flight.  In 1971 LZ Maryann was overrun, destroyed and never rebuilt.

I came home Sept. 17, 1970 just five days before I turned 21.  In a university town it was best at that time not to mention you just came back from combat in Vietnam.  The ADA to this day still says Vietnam veterans can't be discriminated against.  Does anyone today know why?  I have the greatest respect for all veterans.  World War I and II deserve a great deal of respect. The grunts and the helicopter pilots are undoubtedly the reason I was able to come home to Vermillion and start climbing poles for a living."

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