US ARMY, VIETNAM, 1965-66
Military service is a legacy in Alden “Al” Hatch’s life. His father was a Lt. Colonel in Patton’s 3rd Army and would eventually be assigned to post -war Japan in 1949, bringing his family with him. One brother, Edward, achieved the rank of Colonel while another, Wayne, was a Major in JAG.
Alden was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1935, the oldest of four children. A “military brat” he would move many times during his school years. His first two years of high school would be completed in Tokyo. He would graduate from a high school located on the campus of Eastern Kentucky State in 1954. Al enrolled in college at EKU, joined the ROTC program, and enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard, all at the young age of 17.
During his four years of college he would earn a degree in Social Sciences and achieve the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Guard. He would be honored as a distinguished military graduate from ROTC and in 1958 was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army.
From here on Al’s military career would take him across the country and around the world. He would attend officer training and numerous schools including artillery anti-aircraft-missile defense at well-known bases such as Fort’s Bliss, Sill and Carson. He would complete both Airborne and Ranger schools. In 1959 he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and transferred to Germany, assigned to the Corporal (Nuclear Ballistic) Missile Battery Defense. This was during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall would be erected while the Hatch’s were stationed in Germany. Al would be trained at the Special Weapons school learning to program nuclear warheads. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1962.
(While at EKU, Al, a top swimmer and track athlete, was asked to coach the women’s swimming team. It was here he met Jill, (a Findlay native), his future wife. They would marry in 1958. While Al was in various military schools, she would stay at EKU, graduating in 1960, with a double major. Her journey as a military wife was just beginning.)
After Germany, Captain Hatch was sent to Ft Benning, Georgia, assigned to the 2nd Infantry’s brand-new Air Assault Division which was incorporating Huey and Chinook helicopters to rapidly transport troops and equipment to battle sites. This would eventually be named the 101st Airborne, 1st Cavalry Air Assault Division. Rumors were that this division was being trained for deployment to Vietnam.
In 1965 the entire division was sent by ship to Vietnam, landing at Qui Nhon. They moved quickly to An Khe, in the central highlands of Vietnam, and set up a perimeter. Al was the Field Artillery Liaison Officer. He was over the forward observers who would venture out first, identify targets, and order artillery support. This was a front-line assignment for officers and enlisted alike, often deep in the jungle.
On November 14th, 1965, the Army’s 2/5th, 7th Cav Air division (200 men) would be hit by a three regiments of NVA (1600 men), just after landing in the La Drang Valley at “LZ Xray.” (This was the first major battle between the US Army and the NVA.)
This would result is terrible losses for the Army. The 2nd platoon, consisting of 27 men, became separated from the main group and surrounded by the enemy. The following day Capt. Hatch and some of his men were dispatched to find this “lost patrol”. It would take 17 hours of intense fighting to go the two hundred yards to them. There were only seven survivors. Hatch was responsible for finding those killed and wounded and bring them back to the LZ. He has never forgotten this day.
In another battle on November 17th, at LZ Albany, the enemy launched a vicious ambush. The various US platoons were so widely dispersed, artillery was not able to be used to clear out the enemy in order to avoid “friendly fire” casualties. As a result of this 16 hour battle, the US battalion suffered 155 killed or missing and 124 wounded. It was only because of intense air support by B-52’s, A-1 Sky Raiders and eventually artillery fire were any US soldiers able to survive.
(Hatch contributes part of the problem was training at that time was still focused on European tactics and they were not prepared for the jungle warfare scenario. After these early losses, the Army made many crucial changes in how to search out and engage the elusive enemy.)
As the Air Cav troops were among the very first troops in Vietnam, they did not have boots or clothing designed for wet jungle and monsoon conditions. Very quickly, their uniforms and boots rotted away. After going through two pairs of army boots in a short period of time, Al had Jill send him a pair of sturdy boots. It was five months before the updated jungle fatigues and more durable boots arrived.
The troops in his division were often deployed and spent most of their nights sleeping on ponchos and liners in foxholes. The harassing mortar and small arms fire from small enemy units was a constant nightly occurrence.
Captain Hatch was assigned to be the Assistant Fire Director for the entire battalion. They used outdated French surveys, topographical maps, airborne scout Huey’s and trigonometry to provide accurate support fire to troops in the field. He would finish his 13-month tour in 1966, returning to Ft. Sill to become an instructor of tactics for troops being trained for Vietnam.
(During these first few years, Jill would give birth to a little boy, Alden Dennision. He would pass away nine days later. She would, in 1963, give birth to twins, Kathryn Jo and Michael. The family was able to be with Al in Germany and would return to stay with Jill’s parents in Kentucky during his time in Vietnam.)
Promoted to Major in 1967, Hatch was slated to return to Vietnam. Orders unexpectedly were changed, and he was sent instead to South Korea, again without Jill and family, as the 8th Army, G-5, Plans and Operation officer. Many of his fellow officers and enlisted friends had to return to Vietnam and did not make it back home. He has always felt some guilt that he was not with them.
His military career would take him to the University of Georgia to oversee the ROTC program. While it was still early in the anti-war movement against Vietnam involvement there were two Molotov cocktails thrown into the ROTC building while he was there. Fortunately, they did not break and burned out. While here Hatch earned a master’s degree in public administration.
Promoted to Lt. Colonel, Al was sent back to Germany with the 5th Corps Headquarters. He was the Nuclear Surety officer, in charge of inspecting nuclear missiles, storage and personnel from 1974-76. He still cannot reveal his exact duties or locations because they are still classified.
When asked to pick his next (and final) duty assignment, Al asked to be assigned in Ohio. (Jill’s mother had returned here to Findlay and they wanted to be close to family.) Lt. Colonel Hatch would finish his military career as senior advisor to the 2nd CYOPS group, overseeing sites in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He would retire in 1979 at the age of 55.
Not content to sit at home, Al would serve as the business manager for Findlay City Schools, City administrator for the communities of Norwood, and then Carey over the next 15 years. His “last” career would be working for Pinkerton Security to oversee the facility security of Cooper Tire. “I started to slow down when I hit 80!”
Al and Jill have been married for 61 years this coming December. They spend their time traveling, spending time with their children and grandchildren, and sharing their home with their American cocker spaniels.
(Final note: Al does suffer from effects of Agent Orange which have brought on diabetes and neuropathy.)