1st Platoon – Alpha Company, 4th/47th Battalion, 2nd Brigade
Dave Nelson’s letter to Bill Reynolds
May 16, 2012
I am Dave Nelson, born and raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is in the central west part of our State. I graduated from high school in 1961 and soon after I married my high school sweetheart � we lived in the country as average Americans.
Uncle Sam called in the autumn of 1966 and I ended up in Basic Training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then on to “Tiger Land”, Fort Polk, Louisiana for Advanced Infantry Training. Afterwards, I had a two week leave of absence and then I went to California for a wonderful flight to sunny South East Asia.
I was assigned as a rifleman to Alpha Company, 4th/47th on June 20, 1967. One day after Alpha was severely mauled by the Viet Cong near Ap Bac Village in the Mekong Delta. We replacements were not sent to the field as we were ordered to clean field gear from the bloody battle of the previous day. Of 122 soldiers of Alpha Company only 12 returned unscathed and they were exhausted, dirty and a scared bunch.
After a large infusion of soldiers from other units, Alpha Company was soon back on it’s feet and I became an assistance M-60 machine gunner to Tony Spradling from Tennessee. Tony was a wonderful person and a fearless fighter; he took me under his wing showing me the ropes. To this day, even after four decades, Tony Spradling remains my greatest hero!
The areas we patrolled were usually riddled with booby traps and we constantly worried about setting them off. My first real taste of battle came on July 11, 1967, when a large Viet Cong force hit us while we patrolled across open rice paddies. A claymore mine explosion started the fight immediately followed by heavy automatic weapon fire. Naturally we instantly hit the ground and began returning fire though we were pinned down; then the VC started dropping mortars around us. Seemingly, it took hours, but more likely a just a short time before our artillery and air strikes started pounding those enemy positions. I have vivid memories of my surprise, confusion, fear, and anger that day, and also my relief when things finally quieted down.
It was on January 25, 1968 when my luck finally ran out when I was severely wounded with shrapnel to my head and legs. After eight months in the hospital in Colorado, I was medically discharged from Uncle Sam’s Army. After returning home, my high school sweetheart and wife divorced me � that was in the spring of 1967. I turned to alcohol to mask my pains of war and life in general. I met a woman named Val in the summer of 1969 and she apparently thought I was worth saving; without her I seriously doubt that I would be alive today. Val convinced me that I was not a victim, but rather a survivor and we have been happily together ever since.
I remain honored that I was chosen to serve in the U.S. Army and I am proud to have been an infantryman who served with so many great men. I have tried to stay in contact throughout the years and I feel that my fellow comrades in arms are all heroes! I treasure my memories of them and I will never forget my pals who gave the ultimate sacrifice fighting for freedom.
Hey Bill, thank you for posting Dave’s letter! Dave is one of a kind. He was and has remained a great friend to all of us from Alpha. I remember getting back to the pontoons at our barracks ship, and those guys cleaning the gear and looking at us, like what the hell are we in for. When Dave got hit, as TET ’68 first started, he was wounded so badly that we all thought he was gone. But he fooled us all, and had the fight in him to live. He called me one day from Tony Spradling’s house, and I darn near fell over when he told me he was Dave Nelson.
One just never knows what comes next�
Thanks, Jim Henke