Hickam saw major combat in Vietnam, including Dak To, Mang Yang Pass
Note: This article appeared in the Nov. 18 edition of the “Redstone Rocket.” This article was written by “Redstone Rocket” Editor Skip Vaughn and reprinted by permission. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HUNTSVILLE – Huntsville resident Homer Hickam joined the U.S. Army in January 1966 with a college option program that promised enrollment in Officer Candidate School.
A native of Coolwood, West Virgina, Hickam graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University or Virginia Tech. Per his agreement, Hickam completed Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., followed by 23 weeks of Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“That was an interesting time,” Hickam said. “I got through it. Finally got my butter bar.”
The Ordnance officer spent 10 months at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, before volunteering for Vietnam in 1967.
“I just thought I needed that experience. I felt like I wanted this, so they assigned me to go,” he said.
Hickam, then a 24-year-old First Lieutenant, served in Vietnam for one year with C Company, 704th Maintenance Battalion, 2nd Brigade. He was assigned to 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, known as the Blackhawks.
During a year in the field, Hickam saw much combat. When he arrived, the bloody Battle of Dak To was underway.
“It was just awful. Helicopters going in and out with wounded soldiers,” Hickam said. “When you start seeing all these bodies stretched out with these camos over them, it’s profoundly affecting.”
“I mean it’s terrifying. You quickly recognize this is a real mess. The whop, whop, whop of the helicopters overhead,” he said. “Vietnam was like you’re either bored stiff or you’re about to die. It was one or the other.”
The 2/1 Cavalry, Blackhawks asked Hickam’s captain if he could be assigned to fire base to lead their mechanics. Hickam joined the Blackhawks, who were guarding the Mang Yang Pass when a major battle with the Viet Cong led to the Tet Offensive on Jan. 31, 1968.
Hickam became acting commander of C Company at Ban Me Thout, near the Cambodian border. In October 1968, Hickam called for air support against enemy insurgents with Cobra helicopters in a rocket barrage that “was an amazing fireworks display.”
Hickam received the Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal for his Vietnam service.
“Vietnam was a learning experience,” Hickam said, “on how people react under extreme pressure. I actually learned how good people can be under that kind of pressure. Men … never broke. I learned a renewed pride in America.”
Hickam left the Army as a Captain in 1970.
Hickam’s bestselling memoir, “Rocket Boys,” related his childhood in a small coal-mining community with fellow amateur rocketeers. This book launched the 1999 movie “October Sky.”
Hickam, 77, retired as a NASA engineer and lives in southeast Huntsville with wife Linda Terry Hickam.
“I would hope the American people would show gratitude to the men and women who served over there,” Hickam said. “In many cases, they gave their lives. People went because they thought it was the right thing to do. Honor the men and women willing to do that so many were not willing to.”
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