Arkie Wright was the first member of 8th/4th Artillery to die from hostile action in Vietnam. More importantly, however, Arkie was a uniquely colorful individual who personified the "can do" spirit of the American fighting man. Decent and hard working, Arkie was "the salt of the earth." He described himself as an Arkansas hillbilly, and possessed an open, trusting nature that was uncommon to guys like me raised in the cynical suburbs. His enthusiasm, energy and hard work earned him the admiration of the men of 8th/4th. You could tell that from childhood he was trained to do a man's work. Short in stature and resembling a collegiate wrestler, Arkie was strong and agile. And he was funny! Many times he had us in stitches, but he'd always be laughing the hardest.
You knew that Arkie was one guy you could always count on. If you asked him for a favor he'd say "Sure, you bet!" and was always willing to go out of his way, regardless of the inconvenience to him. His personnel file listed his full name as "Arkie Jr. Wright." I thought it was a typo until Arkie told me "Jr." was his middle name.
Arkie got my early attention because of a large misshapen lump in one cheek, discolored, stained teeth and frequent spitting out of vile-looking fluids. I felt sympathy for his affliction until the day I realized the lump had changed sides to the other cheek. He'd been chewing tobacco all along!
I learned a lesson in character one night during a drenching rain at Fort Sill. We'd been assigned to guard duty, patrolling the 8th/4th grounds including the motor pool where the 175mm self-propelled guns and battalion vehicles were parked. During the nighttime downpour other fellows pulling guard sheltered under the eves of the motor pool, keeping an eye peeled for the Sergeant of the Guard. Undaunted, Arkie continued his rounds, never complaining or thinking of quitting. Though sorely tempted, I finished my rain-soaked rounds that night thanks to Arkie's example.
When the battalion arrived in Da Nang in August of 1967, we proceeded north by trucks in a massive convoy moving up Highway One to Dong Ha. We were assigned to a permanent base in an area on the eastern side of the Dong Ha base, extending its eastern boundary by several hundred yards. Arkie was known to be skillful with tools and soon became one of the camp's team of carpenters working tirelessly to construct permanent facilities. He pounded countless nails into the corrugate metal roofing heated hot as a griddle by the sun. Meanwhile our 175mm guns were firing missions in support the I Corps Marines. One night, several weeks after arriving, we experienced our first rocket attack, but enjoyed fools' luck in that none of the rockets landed close by.
In November of 1967 Arkie and I were transferred with a group out of 8th/4th and into the the other 175mm gun batallion in I Corps, 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery at Camp J.J. Carroll. Though I didn't see as much of Arkie, he went on to make many new friends there.
On the morning of February 19, 1968, heavy incoming rocket fire was received at Camp Carroll. Everyone ran for the nearest bunkers. A rotten unlucky shot a rocket impacted next to the entrance of a bunker Arkie had taken shelter in, shooting shrapnel into the opening, instantly killing Arkie and another man and collapsing the bunker. Minutes later I saw the collapsed bunker and realized anyone inside would be buried under tons of sand bags. A rescue crew sprang into action pulling away the sandbags, but it was too late. Afterwards I heard that Lt. Colonel Barnes and Major Kindt were both deeply saddened by the news of Arkie's death. It's amazing how many people remember Arkie and have personal stories to share about him. He was a wonderful guy, and is fondly remembered by all who knew him.