Seeing the image of a village in Vietnam on Google Earth brought up memories that retired Col. Raul Villaronga, of Killeen, hadn’t spoken of for years after two tours of duty in the country.
The first tour was in 1966 with the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, which at the time was airborne.
Three months into the deployment, the then-captain was thrown into the role of company commander, a position he filled for the remaining nine months of that first year in Vietnam.
“I spent 26 years in the Army, and the most fun time was as a company commander because of the relationship that you have with the people in your command,” he said. “I knew every soldier. I could see a soldier, and I knew his name.”
The welcomed responsibility of leading more than 200 soldiers also came with loss.
Difficult memories of a battle at Gia Duc hold a particular weight for Villaronga.
He and other veterans of the battle recently recalled the events, which was what finally made Villaronga talk about Vietnam after so many years.
“We met a much stronger force than what we had expected,” he said. “I lost two platoon leaders and one platoon sergeant, a total of 10 people. That had a tremendous impact on me, and I think a tremendous impact on the rest of the people in the company.”
“I hate that I lost them, but I think they took a good bite out of the enemy when they did that,” Villaronga added.
In the early 1970s, he returned for another yearlong tour in Vietnam, this time as part of the 223rd Supply and Service Battalion, though he said he remembers far less from that deployment.
His time in Vietnam earned Villaronga a Silver Star. Following his retirement from the Army, he began a career in politics, which included three consecutive terms as mayor of Killeen from 1992 to 1998.