On Aug. 3, 1968, U.S. Army infantryman Mark L. Hook was in Vietnam when he wrote a letter to his mother in Hillsboro saying he was looking forward to an upcoming mission to the A Sau Valley. Twenty-five days later, Hook was killed in action in that same valley.
Monday on National Vietnam Veterans Day, Hook, 10 other Highland County men who died a Vietnam, and all those who served during the war were honored during a ceremony held at the Highland County Veterans Memorial in Hillsboro.
“That was 53 years ago. We will never know everything that those Vietnam veterans or all veterans have been through,” Shirley Wilkin said after reading the letter her one year younger brother, Mark Hook, wrote to his mother on that day in 1968. “But we should never forget the sacrifices they have given.”
Wilkin said an older brother, Steve Hook, served with the U.S. Air Force in Alaska during the Vietnam War.
Following is the letter 1967 Hillsboro High School graduate Mark Hook wrote to his mother in 1968:
“I’m with my squad now and we’ve been staying in an old bombed out cement house for a couple days. Either tonight or tomorrow we are planning to go up into the mountains as a blocking force. They say we will be there about 10 days, but who knows. The place where we are going is called the Ashaw Valley.
“The boys who have gone there before tell me there is triple canopy up there. At night it gets very cold. Really, I am looking forward to going up there.
“Last night my team leader, who is an E-5 sergeant, told me about the time he was shot twice in one fight. He’s about 20 years old. He said he was crawling toward a machine gun with bullets throwing dirt all around him, when he felt his leg become very warm. He knew he was hit, so he crawled back to the rear, and the Doc started patching him up.
“The Doc still had his hands on the bandage when the Sarge saw a ‘Gook’ come out of the brush. The ‘Gook’ opened up on him and the Doc with an AK-47 on full automatic (or rock-n-roll) and he shot the Doc in the back and through the heart, and hit the Sarge in the foot.
“He said the Doc fell over on top of him and died. Then one of the Sarge’s friends, who is now my squad leader, picked him up and carried him to a medivac chopper with lead flying all around him. Sarge said he spent two months in a hospital in Japan.
“I also made friends with our medic, who’s name is ‘Hopper.’ Yesterday we were sitting on the back porch of an old house and we talked about some of the animals we had on the farms back home. He showed me the scar from a wound he received when his best friend picked up a bayonet scabbard, which was bobbie trapped with an artillery round. His friend would have lived if he wouldn’t have rolled over on another one.
“Well, I write again soon, and show this letter to Pap.
For many years it was believed that nine Highland County soldiers were killed in Vietnam, but that number was recently increased to 11 to include David Lynn McConnaughey of Hillsboro and James Harold Waulk of Greenfield. The other names on the plaque include: Robert Charles Wing of Greenfield, Charles Robert Lovedahl of Lynchburg, John Raymond Crouse of Hillsboro, Mark Loren Hook of Hillsboro, Carey Francis McAfee of Hillsboro, Neil James Morris of Greenfield, William Ernest Brown of Hillsboro, Ollie James Gross of Hillsboro and Donald Wayne Priest Jr. of Leesburg.
The names are listed on a large wooden plaque made in the shape of Ohio. It was through the work of some local dedicated residents that the two names were recently added to the plaque, and Hillsboro area Vietnam veteran Gerold “Buzzard” Wilkin, who organized Monday’s program, said there has been room left on the plaque if there becomes a need to add more names.
The plaque travels with a book those dedicated local residents put together providing details on each of the Highland County residents that died in Vietnam. The book is going to be displayed at Highland County’s public libraries beginning in Lynchburg, where Wilkin said it will be housed for two to three months before moving on to one of the other four libraries in the county.
Wilkin said if anyone has additional information on the Highland County soldiers that died in Vietnam, it should be taken to the library where the book is residing.
Following are some minor details from the book on each of the Highland County soldiers that died in Vietnam:
Priest — Died May 5, 1969, during an engagement in the vicinity of Thanh Phuoc, likely from small arms fire. He earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Leesburg.
Gross — Died April 23, 1969, when a helicopter he was in struck power lines at the Cu Chi Base. He earned the Air Medal and Good Conduct Medal. He is buried in the New Market Cemetery.
Brown — Died Nov. 15, 1968, from a hostile explosive device in the Dinh Tuong Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in Beavers Cemetery in Highland County.
Morris — Died Oct. 15, 1968, likely from small arms fire in Long An Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in Highlawn Memory Gardens in Fayette County.
Francis —Died Sept. 14, 1968, when an aircraft he was in was hit by rounds in flight in Binh Long Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in the Meadowlawn Memorial Park in Enterprise, Alabama.
Hook — Died Aug. 28, 1968, from friendly fire in Thua Thein Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in the Hillsboro Cemetery.
Crouse — Died May 5, 1968, likely from small arms fire when his convoy was ambushed on a highway eight miles south of Kontum City. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried at the Locust Grove Cemetery.
Lovedahl — Died March 21, 1968, likely from small arms fire in Thua Thein Province. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He is buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington.
Wing — Died Oct. 13, 1967, likely from small arms fire in Binh Duong Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in the Greenfield Cemetery.
McConnaughey — Died March 30, 1966, likely from small arms fire in Pleiku Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in the Lebanon Cemetery.
Waulk — Died Feb. 20, 1970, from multiple fragmentation wounds in Phuoc Long Province. He earned the Purple Heart. He is buried in the Roads Cemetery in Highland County.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.