Vietnam veteran earns Bronze Star Medal

Feb. 4—Today's veteran: Lester G. Davies, 80

Born Hartford, Conn.

Residence: St. Simons Island

Service: Army, 3 years and 3 months.

Duties: Company clerk

Rank: Staff sergeant

Recognitions: Bronze Star Medal; Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Presidential Unit Citation

Duty stations: Vietnam, Fort Dix, N.J.; Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, N.C.

His story: Lester Davies only experienced combat one time during his year in Vietnam, but it was memorable enough that he recently published a book, "23Feb69."

He was assigned to Long Binh Post, a base of nearly 50,000 troops, where he worked as an enlisted records clerk.

The duty was relatively safe, considering he was serving in a war zone. He said the big concerns were the occasional mortar attack and snipers.

"They were close enough to remind you where you were," he said. "I never felt an immediate threat from snipers, but you spent less time exposed."

About a month after he arrived, Davies was assigned to a reaction force that was the first line of defense if the base perimeter was attacked. The group of mostly clerical staff only trained once, and Davies said he only knew two people in his group.

On Feb. 22, 1969, Davies said base personnel were told there was a battalion of enemy troops near the base and to be ready if they were attacked.

Davies said he and his fellow soldiers slept in full battle gear, ready to react.

"Around 2 a.m., around 75 to 80 rockets rained down," he said. "It was so chaotic. We were in bunkers with guys we didn't know."

Luckily, air support arrived quickly, but the attack was nerve-wracking because Davies and his fellow troops were pinned down in bunkers with enemy troops on both sides.

About two hours into the attack, troops were told to conserve their ammunition while the battle still raged.

A short time later, more ammunition arrived. By the time the sun rose around 5 a.m. the attack ended and the enemy troops retreated to the jungle.

"It was just that one night all hell broke loose," he said. I never faced another ground assault."

Davies enlisted in the Army at the age of 25. He had a wife and two daughters and college deferments, which protected him from being drafted. Once he finished school, Davies said he knew it was a matter of time before he got his draft notice, so he chose to enlist to control his destiny.

He chose the Army because he could enlist for three years and choose his job.

"I really felt like the Army was where it was at," he said.

When his tour of duty ended in Vietnam, he was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was part of a command management inspection team. He was offered a $6,000 bonus to reenlist, but he chose to return to civilian life after discussing the offer with his wife.

"I took a lot of lessons from being in the Army," he said. "Do the right thing and don't expect anything from it, but you might be surprised."