Five Decades Later

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In 1967, a young Marine first lieutenant named William Woodier and his First Force Recon Marines began the Fourth of July pinned down under heavy North Vietnamese fire on top of a 452-foot high cliff.

They had been thorns in the side of the Communists for a long time by calling in strikes on Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops using the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the Laotian-Vietnamese border. Earlier that day, approximately 200 Communist troops had overrun a platoon of U.S. Marines a few kilometers away at Fire Base 106. First Lt. Woodier could see the fire base from his position. A few Marines, including Medal of Honor posthumous recipient Pfc. Melvin Newlin, were still holding out in a bunker there.

The rain that night came down at a rate of six inches per hour. “It was like being waterboarded with a helmet on,” said retired Sgt. Harold Wadley, who lives near St. Maries.

Once a Communist unit began chewing up an American unit, said Sgt. Wadley, they never let up. Some of the Vietnamese troops broke off and began to scale the cliff to get to 1st Lt. Woodier’s position. Sgt. Wadley said 1st Lt. Woodier was on the radio all that night requesting help.

1967

First Lt. William Woodier and his First Force Recon Marines overlook the Ho Chi Minh Trail from atop Hill 452 the summer of 1967. St. Maries resident Sgt. Harold Wadley assisted 1st Lt. Woodier during an intense battle in the early hours of July 4, 1967.

Sgt. Wadley’s unit was ordered into the fray to assist 1st Lt. Woodier and the Marines still fighting at Fire Base 106. They crossed the rain-swollen, swift Thubon River full of debris, leeches and pythons, said Sgt. Wadley. One Marine corporal from Brooklyn, deathly afraid of snakes and leeches, had a young python curl up on his back during the river crossing. Lightning struck a case of grenades on top of 1st Lt. Woodier’s hill, blowing three of 1st Lt. Woodier’s men off the cliff.

Notwithstanding all that they faced that night, Sgt. Wadley, 1st Lt. Woodier, and their respective Marine units overcame the elements and the Communists on that Fourth of July.

But in the rush and confusion of combat, the two men never met face-to-face until 47 years later.

Decades in the making

After helping him get through a hellish night in Vietnam 47 years ago, Lt. Col. William “Bill” Woodier showed up at the National Museum of the Marine Corps to finally meet Sgt. Harold Wadley of St. Maries in person. They met at the July 26, 2013 unveiling of a statue honoring Korean War hero Staff Sgt. Reckless, which Sgt. Hadley served with in Korea. Ms. Robin Hutton, whose organization Angels Without Wings led the fundraising effort for the statue, is pictured at right.

They crossed paths on a telephone conversation years ago while working with the U.S. government to find POW/MIA service members. As Sgt. Wadley recalls it, they were talking and he heard the man on the other end of the phone call a rifle a “piece.” That’s something that only Marines did, said Sgt. Wadley. One question led to another until the pair realized who they each were. It brought back a rush of memories, said Sgt. Wadley, “memories that are reduced to teardrops now” because of all the buddies they had lost in combat.

One of Sgt. Wadley’s lost comrades from that night, Sgt. William Stutes, never got to meet his baby daughter Katherine. Years later, Katherine became Sgt. Wadley’s daughter-in-law when she married his son, also a U.S. Marine. The Brooklyn corporal, Jimmy Porter Braswell, also fell in combat in Vietnam. First Lt. Woodier’s Navy corpsman, Hospital Mate 2 Michael Laporte, was caught by a crosswind on a low-elevation jump one night and never found.

This past summer, Sgt. Wadley was the featured speaker at the July 26 unveiling of the bronze statue honoring Staff Sergeant Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va. Staff Sgt. Reckless was a horse that served with U.S. Marines during the Korean War, which Sgt. Wadley had served in 13 years prior to reenlisting as a volunteer for Vietnam. Sgt. Wadley retired later due to severe wounds.

Following the ceremony, a man approached Sgt. Wadley and simply said, “I’m Woodier.” The man is “a Marine’s Marine, all heart and all grit,” said Sgt. Wadley. First Lt. Woodier had gone on to become a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and retired in Virginia. But he patiently waited for several hours so he could finally meet the Marine sergeant who helped him and his Marines get through the Fourth of July 1967 alive. The bond among Marines, formed in the crucible of combat, can’t be explained.

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