I suppose that each of us in one way or another has a lasting image of one certain significant event in Vietnam. For me it is not the scene of the Dong Ha ammo dump being blown up. It is not the image of the guns firing across the DMZ. It is not the image of the incoming artillery that plagued us from time to time at Dong Ha destroying equipment and killing our men. Instead my lasting image is something much more subtle. It is the image of a plea made to me by a man who served under my command in Vietnam.
Our battalion was under orders to exchange a certain number of men with other artillery battalions in Vietnam. This was called the infusion program. The purpose of the infusion program for the 8th Battalion 4th Artillery was to assure that when the men of the battalion completed their tours of duty, not all of them would leave Vietnam at the same time with a resulting simultaneous loss of all experienced men.
One of the men selected for the infusion program from my battery was Arkie Wright. Arkie was one of the original members of the battalion when it was formed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and came to Vietnam on the Upshur. Arkie was one who was quite instrumental in building our initial quarters when the battalion arrived at Dong Ha.
When Arkie was notified that he was one of the men selected for the infusion program and would be assigned to the 2nd Battalion 94th Artillery, he was shocked that he would be taken from his friends of the 8th/4th and assigned to a battalion of strangers. I know that in Arkie’s mind he felt betrayed. How could someone who had worked so hard and been so loyal be taken from the battalion to be assigned to a group of strangers?
Arkie came to me and asked if there was any way that I could take him off of the infusion list. Actually Arkie was not merely asking – he was pleading and begging. "Captain, I will do anything for you, if you will just keep me." At this point I felt awful, but also felt that I had no real choice. The decision had been made, and Arkie was included in the group of men who were transferred to the 2nd/94th.
It was not long afterward when I learned that Arkie had been killed by incoming at Camp Carroll on February 19, 1968, while assigned to the 2nd/94th Artillery. Arkie Wright was the first combat casualty of the men who first arrived in Vietnam with the 8th Battlion 4th Artillery.
Each Memorial Day, each Veterans’ Day and many times in between I am reminded of Arkie Wright and his pleading with me to remain with the 8th Battalion 4th Artillery. At Reunion 2008 in Washington D.C. when the battalion visited the Wall, I was again reminded of Arkie in a most profound way. The image of Arkie is still there. The image will never go away, and perhaps it should never go away. We should always remember Arkie and our other men who fell in Vietnam.
A. Luis (Rick) Flores, Col (Ret.)