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STORIES OF THREE YODERS WHO DIED IN SERVICE
DURING THE WAR IN VIETNAM.

 

The following overviews have been written by Bruce Swander, of Annapolis, MD, USMC/66-70. Mr. Swander is a "Vietnam Researcher" who has been documenting the events surrounding the men who died during the war. Bruce writes " I found this mini-project somewhat unique - in that you had one Marine, one Army, and one Navy....all killed from hostile fire, and all three in the same year within months of each other."

BRUCE A YODER

The tale of the death of this first Yoder is one that movies and books are made of - it was one of the most devastating incidents for the Marine Corps during the entire war.

In 1967, the USMC primarily controlled the 3 large Provinces of South Vietnam just below the demilitarized zone dividing the two countries. When Pfc Bruce Yoder arrived, he was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Regiment, 9th Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division - located at the village of Con Thien in Quang Tri Province. This command post had been setup only months before and was strategically located only a couple of miles from the DMZ boundary.

On 02 July, 1/9 Marines initiated "Operation Buffalo" - a effort to sweep through the northern area, find and destroy known enemy troops that were infiltrating from the north. These were no ordinary enemy soldiers, but highly-trained, experienced, North Vietnam regulars that had fought the Marines in the past. This was their backyard and they had honed their tactics well. The operation concept was for Alpha Company to head to the NW of Con Thien, Bravo Co to sweep NE along Route 561, Delta and the Hdqr Companies to stay in Con Thien, and Charlie Co to be slightly south at Dong Ha. (A 'Company' normally consisted of about 160-180 Marines in this timeframe).

It didn't take long to find the NVA troops. At 9:15AM, both Companies called in almost simultaneously. Alpha had tripped a landmine booby-trap that resulted in 3 Marines killed, 6 wounded. Bravo was receiving automatic weapons fire with multiple casualties - estimated at about 150 enemy. Digging in, Bravo started to fight, and it soon became evident that they had encountered almost two full Battalions of the NVA - close to 1600 fully-equipped enemy. Overwhelmed, Alpha Company tried to link up with them - but the NVA had already identified the two US elements and positioned themselves in-between to cut off any support. Bravo fought hard and valorous - with face-face contact, preventing any artillery/mortar support as they were too close together.

By 10AM, Bravo Co called in that their Company Commander, 2 Platoon Leaders, their Artillery Foward Observer, and Radio Operator had been killed - and after digging in, were being barraged by a rain of mortars. Plans were quickly implemented to helo-lift C Co into the fracas, while D Co stayed at Con Thien to maintain a security at the command post.

During the afternoon, Charlie Co was inserted as reinforcements - and the NVA then turned their attention to the Command Post with another barrage of mortars and artillery rounds. Word went out that all of 1/9 was under siege, with the situation getting critical. Another Marine Unit - 3/9 - was infused into the battle just after 8PM....pushing the enemy back into the jungles as darkness fell. The initial results were devastating.....51 Marines killed, 166 wounded, 34 still missing, and 8 Navy Corpsmen killed while attending to the Marine casualties. It would take days later to locate all of the remains and remove them - 91 Marines and Corpsman had died this single engagement.

Throughout the rest of the war, the Marines of 1/9 were nicknamed "The Walking Dead" - an ironic tribute to their courage and valor.

Pfc Bruce Yoder, Kokomo, IN, has his name honorably inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 22E, Line 119.




JAMES S. YODER

James Yoder, Knoxville, TN, joined the Army at the fashionable age of 18. In July 1967, he would land foot on the foreign soil to be part of the overall effort to rid the country of the communist forces. A soldiers soldier, he would rise to the rank of Specialist 4 rapidly - a rarity amongst the infantry soldiers of the time. He was infused into the 4th Infantry Division, with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Regiment - aptly nicknamed the Golden Dragons, a Unit that had already proven to be one of the Divisions golden boys.

The Regiment operated out of Quang Ngai Province - the southern part of the upper Provinces of the country, an area of thick triple-canopy jungles that hugged the South China Sea coastline. Search and Destroy missions were the norm - intelligence had shown that the 2nd NVA Division had moved into the area, but elusive to find. Unbeknownst to the US military at the time, the North Vietnamese was stealthily infusing large numbers of men, equipment, and ammunition into the area for a major offensive in January 1968 - one that would be later known as the TET Offensive.

By November 1967, 1/14 started to have more and more contact. The unit was running both day and night ambushes - with the hope/intent of locating the enemy headquarters in the area. Delta Company would take the lead in these searches, taking the bulk of the US casualties due to hostile-fire and heat exhaustion alike. On 18 November, Alpha and Delta Companies moved to Landing Zone (LZ) Tempest - a firebase command post that provided them with the much-needed artillery and air support as the trudged through the jungle.

For three days, contact with the enemy was fleeting - only a few scattered incidents occurred, but clues found that they were getting close. On 22 November, 1/14 started their search early, anxious to find anything that would lead them to a direct conflict. The 1st Platoon of Delta Company was the first to make contact - they had stumbled onto a complex of hooches housing enemy communications equipment...... but protected by a well-concealed series of dug-in machine guns. At 10:50AM, as they approached, the "point" men of the Platoon - SP4 James Yoder and Pfc Donald Hollenbach (Levittown, NY) would take the first fatal rounds from the gun. The complex would be subsequently taken by the rest of the platoon and destroyed - but at the cost of war to two fine soldiers.

The Army logs for the day are somewhat sketchy, but I have contacted guys from his Unit to see if they might have some old pictures of James from over there.
James S Yoder's name is inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 30E, Line 68.


LARRY YODER

When Larry Yoder (Latrobe, PA) joined the Navy, he probably believed that he could support the US war efforts in a somewhat safe enviroment on a ship....but fate has a fickle finger at times. Trained as a medical Corpsman, he would be thrust into the heat of battle with the US Marines - a position that was revered by anyone that served with him. He would be attached to the Headquarters Company of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division - then allocated out to the various rifle Companies as needed. While technically a sailor, Larry would trudge through the jungles and rice paddies with his fellow comrades - and learned the lessons of advanced infantry training on the job.

In late April 1967, the Marines launched Operation Union in Quang Ngai Province. Based out of the port city of Chu Lai in the northern sector of the country, this was a veritable hotbed of enemy activity amassing to cut off US supplies and support along the main highway that ran from the north to the south. Close to 3,000 Marines were tasked to sweep over the area, search and destroy the enemy - one of hundreds of similar Operations initiated that usually resulted in poor results. While the Marines wanted direct contact, the North Vietnamese had learned to fight through darkness and guise - a tactic that would take the lives of thousands of America's best during the war.

On 02 May 1967, Corpsman Larry Yoder would be out with Kilo Company 3/5. His platoon was taking the lead, heading out to an area to locate an enemy encampment identified from a prisoner taken the day before. Initial resistance was minor - by noon they had only located (and killed) four enemy soldiers. Crossing a river, they started to carefully make their way into the triple-canopy jungle - and at 1:30PM sighted 20 Vietcong in full uniform and heavily armed. Firing at and pursuing them, they were ambushed from three sides by a much bigger force - a strategy that the 'dumb' enemy had honed to perfection to fight the feared Marines.

Pfc Willie Moses (Los Angeles, CA) was one of the first Marines to take the initial brunt of the attack - and as Larry rushed to his side to provide aid and comfort, the enemy unleashed another barrage that fell both of them. Air and artillery support was called in over the next two hours - three more Marines would be seriously wounded - and the Marines of Kilo Company would continue their search for the elusive enemy until darkness with no success.

HM3 Larry Yoder's name is inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 19E, Line 20....4 lines below the Marine he had tried to save.

(Bruce writes further "I'd be interested in knowing if you have any further details on this particular man. I'm working with another researcher detailing the deaths of Army Medics and Navy Corpsman - and what struck me on this Yoder was that he was somewhat older than the norm (he had just turned 23)......and wondering if he was a college graduate. I'm also wondering - based on his hometown and your surname ties to the Mennonites if he might have had a belief with regards to a conscientious objector - a theme often found with these Corpsmen."-Bruce Swander.)

 


Yoder Newsletter - © Christopher K. Yoder, 1992, 1994