They shared the same hole for a year and looked out for each other. Today is their day.
David Kampwerth takes down a photograph he keeps pinned to a bulletin board in his cramped basement study. In the photo, Kampwerth is seen sitting beside two men in their mid-sixties. All three are grinning.
The photograph was taken last summer in Dallas, Georgia. Kampwerth, now 63, went down to Georgia to reconnect with some of the men from his old infantry division: Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th infantry.
“It’s taken years, but now that we’re retired, we’re looking for each other,” he says. “It’s the band of brothers thing. We shared the same hole for a year and kept each other alive.”
The Vietnam War vet began attending military reunions in 2002. His first was held in Reno, Nevada. As evening approached, five men from his squad approached and asked Kampwerth’s wife if she knew that her husband was a hero.
“I never figured myself for a hero,” he says.
Kampwerth pauses and reaches down to pat the head of one of his hunting dogs.
“It’s hard to talk about it,” he says. “We were crying just seeing each other, the bond was as strong as ever. What you don’t remember, they do.”
Kampwerth still lives on the family farm outside of Highland, Illinois where he grew up, one of 16 children. He remembers what it was like in the 1960s as a high school student.
“We felt it was our duty to fight,” he says. “Kennedy and LBJ were talking about stopping the spread of communism. A lot of people didn’t like LBJ, but I did.”
Kampwerth’s father served in World War II in Italy, and his father-in-law fought at the Battle of the Bulge. “Dad didn’t like talking about the war,” he says. “At least not till I came back from Vietnam. Vets can talk to each other because they have that in common.”
Kampwerth graduated from high school in 1965. For the next six months, he worked on the farm and on the assembly line at a local electronics plant. But he and his friends were just biding their time. “We knew if we weren’t going to college we were going to Nam.”
Shortly after his eighteenth birthday, his draft notice arrived in the mail. Kampwerth said goodbye to his mother and father and boarded a Greyhound bus to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. After that, it was off to Ft. Polk for infantry training.
The next stop was Vietnam.
Kampwerth was quickly promoted to squad leader. His company operated mostly in the Iron Triangle, a Viet Cong stronghold known for its hundreds of miles of tunnels just 25 miles from Saigon. His squad mostly “sealed villages” and provided security for convoys rolling north from Saigon.
It was hazardous work. “We’d get shot at once in a while and hit the ground and laugh like hell we were so nervous.”
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