Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council rededicates 1st Cavalry Division monument

Speakers include woman whose father died in Vietnam, soldier who served in the war

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMay 18, 2014 

As the nation paid tribute to men and women who served their country on Armed Forces Day, the daughter of an Army colonel talked about losing her father in the Vietnam War, and a decorated soldier recalled his days in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Chris Henson, daughter of Col. Jack Long, and retired Capt. Jay C. Copley, the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and member of the 1st Cavalry Division, were among the 125 veterans and supporters gathered Saturday at the Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council on Victory Drive to rededicate a monument.

At age 55, Henson said it was the first time, publicly or privately, that she has talked about her experiences since her father died on Jan. 27, 1968, at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. He was one of 5,444 1st Cavalry Division soldiers killed in action in Vietnam.

Henson said she remembers how her father would end letters written to her mother, Eileen, who was raising five children. "He would always say at the end to 'take good care of my kiddies,'" she said.

Henson said she had just celebrated her ninth birthday when her father died and a fifth-grade classmate kept pestering her about leaving school.

"This girl pestered me nonstop," Henson said. "'Chrissy, why did you leave school yesterday? Why did you leave?' I just fell apart and stayed home a few days."

Much later, Henson said, she went online and typed in her father's 1st Cavalry Division and found the phone number of a soldier who knew her father. "He told me to the detail of what happened to him," she said. "I never heard that."

Henson's mother remarried after meeting an officer who knew her husband and returned from Vietnam in 1969. He is retired Lt. Gen. R.L. "Sam" Wetzel.

The retired three-star general said Henson proudly showed him the trophy she won for having the most stars that year in school.

"Eilene and I were married a year and a half later and off we and Chris and her brothers and sisters went to Washington, Fort Carson, San Antonio, Germany and Belgium, back to Germany, and in 1981 we landed at Fort Benning," said Wetzel, who served as Benning commander.

Henson now has five children, triplets plus two more, with husband Ken Henson, an attorney.

'Think positively'

Copley said there were bad days and good days in Vietnam.

"We were always looking for the (North Vietnamese Army), always humping in the jungles and it was hot," Copley said after his speech to the crowd. "The load you were carrying kept pulling you down. You walked a lot. The helicopter would take you out to the jungle and drop you for seven days and get you out. You didn't have to worry about the medevac. The same birds that took you in are the same birds that took you out."

Copley, who served two tours in Vietnam, was honored in 2011 for his actions during the May 5, 1968, Battle of An Bao in Vietnam. As a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, he was relieving another company when the group came under heavy fire from the enemy in Binh Dinh Province.

The enemy had set up an ambush on the road, but Copley was able to break through, though his group of about 90 U.S. soldiers was outnumbered by a regiment of about 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. He disrupted the attack on the company he was relieving and saved countless soldiers.

Copley said he always kept a positive mindset.

"I fully expected to get back here," he said. "One day I got shot and ended up at Walter Reed. I expected to get back. I always think positively."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Sam Nelson, chairman of the Veterans Council, recognized Home Depot and House of Heroes volunteers for restoring the monument. He hopes to launch a campaign drive to raise money and plant yellow roses near the marker.

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