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Willmar man awarded Silver Star

Ron Mackedanz was formally presented with the Silver Star during the Veteran’s Day display at the War Memorial Auditorium in Willmar on Nov. 12. Mackedanz said receiving this award is quite an honor. There will also be a formal presentation in Fort Riley, Kansas sometime this winter. Three of Mackedanz’ comrades from Vietnam are also receiving the Silver Star on that same day. Two others are receiving the bronze star or the V for Valor star. “The day that this is all from, we were in a huge firefight with the North Vietnamese. About 30 guys were wounded. Fortunately we didn’t have anyone killed in our company but we did have a couple killed in Alto Company, which was our sister company that was with us that day.” Mackedanz said although he’s receiving this award, there are probably another 100 fellows that should also be receiving some type of recognition for what they did that day. “It’s really amazing when you think about what some of my buddies did that day, what we all did.” He remembers it like it was yesterday. It was August 12, 1969. The North Viet Cong (NVC) were making a push toward a town called An Loc which is about 60 miles north of Saigon. “My unit had been sent up there to be a blocking force to keep them from reaching An Loc. The information we had was the NVC wanted to take the capitol and at that time call a cease fire and they would have a chip in the bargaining at the Paris peace talks. Our unit was sent up to deter that.” About 2 a.m. that morning, Mackedanz said they were told to saddle up and get ready to move out. Mackedanz said they were a mechanized infantry unit, so saddle up means they mounted their armed personal carriers and staged to head out to where they were going. “Intelligence was that the NVC 272nd Regiment was located not too far west of An Loc. We moved through a rubber plantation expecting to make contact with them and we eventually did.”  He said they were set up pretty much in an ambush position and when their lead tracks from Alto Company hit that, they lost two tracks right away, two armed personnel carriers. One of the drivers was killed. “The rest of us all moved on up one line and made an assault on that ambush site. We had over 200 men with us and we figured the NVC had 500 to 600 so it was a huge dug in force we were up against.” Mackedanz was driving the E Command track for the company commander of Charlie Company. “We closed to within about 20 yards. I had an RPG 9 Rocket Propelled Grenade go right over my head. If I would have reached up my hand it would have hit my hand. The next one I never saw, it hit the engine compartment of my armed personnel carrier and at that point we were not going anywhere, the engine’s blowed up so you basically stood and fought from there.” Mackedanz said he was more or less pinned down in the driver’s hatch, he couldn’t really do much other than fight from there. The engine room door blew out and hit him in the right shoulder. “I immediately grabbed my M79 grenade launcher and started firing rounds at the NVA. They were dug in no more than 30 to 50 yards in front of us.” Mackedanz said one NVA soldier jumped out of his bunker and was running away, but Mackedanz put a grenade round right in his back pocket. “Shortly after that I decided I needed to get out of track and I bailed out of it and went to the back of the track.” The only way out was up through the top of the driver’s hatch. “It was only days later, after thinking about the reality of the situation, that I realized how fortunate I was to have gotten out of there alive.” Mackedanz headed for cover behind the track and found Al Kalchek, his fifty gunner, and Al Herrera, the first sergeant, who were both wounded. “We were trying to figure out what we were going to do now that we were basically pinned down.” About that time another round came in and those two got hit a second time. “I may have been hit at that time but I was oblivious to that.” Mackedanz helped bandage one of the guys. Herrera had been hit underneath his armpit and his right arm and was bleeding profusely. “He shoved his thumb up into his armpit and held it tight so he could cut off the bleeding to his arm. Finally a medic got to us at which point I decided I was no longer needed there so I decided to get up on the 50 caliber of our track because we had no one up there at that point. I got up there and started firing.” He said the barrel was burned. He saw the tracer rounds going out in six foot circles so he was not able to put effective fire down where it was needed. “As I was loading up a second box of ammo into the gun, the North Vietnamese fired another RPG at me and it hit in the tree above me and shrapnel splattered my hand, neck, shoulder and back and of course I was out of the fight from there on.” He got out of the track, the medic bandaged him up as good as he could, four of them grabbed a stretcher, threw the one wounded guy on the stretcher and headed down the hill to get to a track where they could medevac the wounded out. “I had a big guy from Georgia beside me and as we were running down the hill I had my only good hand on the stretcher and Mel beside me and the two guys in front and as we’re running down the hill all of a sudden Mel drops. He was hit through the side and it came out by his naval. He got back up right away, ripped his shirt off and yells obscenities up the hill and we grabbed the stretcher and took off again.” This guy is also receiving the Silver Star, Mackedanz said. They finally made it to the track, and about six wounded guys were loaded up. Mackedanz was apprehensive about getting on the track because he figured the Viet Cong had them surrounded and they would be killed. “Finally our first Sgt. ordered me on the track so I got on and I don’t remember a whole lot from there on out but we got to the helicopters and they medevac’d us out. I was told by my 1st Sgt. That when we got to the helicopters and they got everybody loaded up, he was getting very faint from loss of blood and McEldrod, who had been shot through the stomach, reached over and set him in the chopper. Valor is not uncommon in combat.” Mackedanz went on talking about the war and how because they were in a rubber plantation, they were unable to get artillery or air support. “There was a policy in Vietnam that we couldn’t get artillery air support in the rubber plantations because the rubber trees belonged to the French. It seemed to me the rubber tree was worth more than my life was worth.” He said their company commander and their battalion commander were not able to get any air support or artillery in there the entire day. Normally that firefight would have lasted about an hour with air support and artillery, he said, but because they weren’t able to get air support they were in a firefight most of the day. Mackedanz said after 42 years, none of them expected to see anything for what they did and that’s okay. “We weren’t over there for recognition.” Mackedanz said the main reason it took 42 years is because their 1st Sgt., who would normally handle a lot of that sort of thing, putting in for commissions for people that day, had been medevac’d to Japan so he was gone out of the situation totally. “He was probably a little bit more concerned about if he was going to live or die rather than who would get what medals.” “The Silver Star is the highest for valor the Army can sign off on. “It’s quite an honor to receive this and I’m very humbled by it. It’s just a real honor.” Mackedanz said there’s probably 100 some other fellows that were out there with him that day that probably should be receiving some recognition for what they did as well. Mackedanz said he has no desire to ever go back to Vietnam but if he did he would have the picture he has of a little girl in his pocket, a little girl he helped put to sleep when she was wouldn’t go to sleep for her grandmother, and he would be wanting to get to that village to see if he could find that girl. “Today she’d be about 44 years old. And if I could find her, that would be a real treasure.” Mackedanz was drafted in May of 1968, went to basic training in Fort Campbell, Kentucky for two months, had advanced infantry training for two months, was home on leave for a month and by mid-October of 1968 was in Vietnam. “I was only in service five months before I was sent to Vietnam. We were thrown right out to the combat unit and on January 8, 1969 we were in a small base camp just outside the village when we got hit by a large Platoon size force of Viet Cong. A good friend of mine was killed, I got wounded in the back of the leg and we were medevac’d out together.” He decided he was going to find his friend’s father to let him know his son wasn’t alone when he died. “It took me 34 years but I finally managed to find his dad. My wife and I went down to see his dad, brother and sister just east of St. Louis, Missouri and that was totally awesome.” To have a chance to meet the family was great, he said, and it meant so much to his friend’s dad because in all those years no one had ever contacted him. Mackedanz also has two purple hearts. His first one came from when he was wounded Jan. 8, and the second one when he was wounded Aug. 6. “No matter how many times you’re wounded in a firefight, you might be wounded three or four times, you get one Purple Heart.” He has also received the Army Commendation which is a medal saying you did a good job. “It’s an ‘atta boy medal’ in my book. One of the things that probably means the most to me is the combat infantryman’s badge. This badge is only given to an infantryman.” You have to serve in combat and the badge is a ribbon with a blue backing and a rifle on it. “That’s probably one of the most meaningful things to me. And of course now with the Silver Star, that’s up there at the top.” After Vietnam, Mackedanz decided to take advantage of the GI bill and go to school. He held several different jobs, and then in 1989 went to work on the Burlington Northern Railroad as a switchman-brakeman. In 1993 he received his engineer’s certification and from then on ran trains through central Minnesota. He left his job with the railroad in May of 2003 due to problems related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mackedanz and his wife, Janet, have three daughters, and five grandchildren. He said he’s met many of the old Bandidos and attended reunions for the BRO (Big Red One) each of the last four years. “I strongly encourage each of you to get together with some of your old friends from Vietnam. We ain’t getting any younger.”

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