Fifty years ago this month, one of the most brutal and consequential battles of the Vietnam War took place in place to be known as ‘Hamburger Hill.”
A Connecticut veteran commanded a unit, that was one of the first to reach to top of hill during that campaign. News 8 talked to him about his experiences, in today’s edition of ‘Salute to the Troops.’
At the tender age of 20, the U.S. government and fate landed Arthur Wiknik Junior in Vietnam. Like all young men, he knew all too well about the danger.
“We were losing 200 or 300 men a week,” said Wiknik.
Wiknik grew up in Higganum and drafted by the army in 1968. Recognizing his leadership potential, the army put him on the fast-track. He was sent to Vietnam as a squad commander
“This is where we set up before the assault, so we are in terrain like this,” said Wiknik.
His first ever combat experience, leading 15 soldiers, many of them still in their teens.
“The hardest thing was to get the young men under my command to believe that I’m not here to win any medals, I’m not here to win the war, I’m here to survive,” said Wiknik.
The battle was for control of a 3,000 foot high mountain one mile away from the Laotian border.
“Unbelievable heat and humid, you can’t imagine,” said Wiknik.
The U.S. military wanted it, to keep an eye on enemy forces of the people’s army of Vietnam.
“We could hardly see the next section of area, so everybody was clustered together so there was no chance of enemy soldiers sneaking between us,” said Wiknik.
The brutal conflict would become known as the Battle of Hamburger Hill.
“After each bombing we would just make another assault we’d get pushed back, the guys said the enemy is turning us into hamburger, that’s where the name Hamburger Hill came from,” said Wiknik.
During the course of that 10 day battle, 72 American soldiers were killed and 400 others injured.
And, although Wiknik was not officially listed among the causalities his life was threatened by enemy fire.
‘When I reached up, he hit me in the chest with a tracer round, of course I had this ammunition wrapped around me so it didn’t have enough to penetrate into my body, but it started my cloth bandoleer on fire,so if it didn’t get that fire out I would have exploded anyway,” said Wiknik.
The bloody struggle ended with U.S. forces winning control of the hill. But then, days later, the American military abandoned it, sparking controvery with many calling what happened a needless loss of life.
But for soldiers like Arthur, it was a matter of following order.
“In a war of attrition, we’re just there to kill the enemy, we’re not there to secure ground. We were a little upset, but those of us who are still alive just have to carry,” said Wiknik.
Wiknik left the army with a case full of medals for his valor. In the years since, he has written a book about his experiences in Vietnam and even consulted on a movie about the battle of Hamburger Hill.
His days on the battlefield, changing his outlook on life forever.
“We saw life from a different perspective, we experienced things that the average citizen will never experience, never have to experience so we just have more of an appreciation for life in this country and just being an American,” said Wiknik.
And, you can hear more of Arthur’s Vietnam War experiences next Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Cheshire Senior Center. He’s speaking at a monthly ‘Veteran’s Coffee House’ event, sponsored by Assisted Living Services.
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