Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Larry Ware of Killeen was recently recognized by a local business for his service to his country during the Vietnam War.
Like many veterans, he doesn’t talk much about his personal experiences in combat. However, he has somehow managed to maintain a wicked sense of humor, and uses that to bring his many anecdotes to life.
Ware first joined the Army in 1960, and was honorably discharged three years later. He re-enlisted in 1965, and remained in the military until retiring in 1983. During this time, Ware served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a combat engineer.
During his first tour from 1966 to 1967, he served in Bong Son, part of the South Central Coast region in the Binh Dinh Province.
He worked as a roller and grader operator, building Landing Zone English, also known as English Airfield, for the 1st Cavalry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade, as well as other artillery and infantry units.
The Battle of Bong Son occurred at and around this base from Jan. 28 to Feb. 12, 1966, and was the second major battle for the 1st Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War. The airfield was in official operation from 1966 to 1971.
Ware’s second tour was from 1969 to 1970 in Da Lat, the capital of Lam Dong Province in southern Vietnam’s central highlands. Da Lat is known for its involvement in the Tet Offensive, which occurred from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, 1968. He and his men built and restored roadways between Da Lat and the towns and cities southward.
It was here, during his second tour, that Ware said he experienced his biggest regret, the loss of one of his soldiers. To this day, he said he feels that loss keenly. Ware discovered later the soldier had grown up in a Tennessee town only 30 miles from where he himself had, and then, to make the loss more acute, he also discovered the soldier was related to his (then) wife, albeit distantly.
This would be the only one of his men he would lose during his three tours of duty.
There was, however, one near miss.
Ware’s final tour in Vietnam took place from 1970 to 1971, between Vinh Long Province and the city of Can Tho, both a part of southern Vietnam’s Meking Delta. He and his men worked on a barge on the Meking River, driving piles into the riverbed to build bridge abutments.
Suddenly, he said, one man fell overboard. The man “kept bobbing up and down,” and Ware said it took him a moment to realize the man couldn’t swim, so he jumped into river and fished the man out.
He said it never occurred to him before to ask any of his soldiers if they could swim, he had just assumed they all could. But “sure enough, at least four hands went up in the air,” he said after he finally asked.
When asked what solution he had for this problem, he replied, “Well, I wasn’t going to lose another guy, so I gave them all swim classes every day at low tide.”
Ware recently moved back to Killeen after spending many years in his Tennessee home. He said he loves the way Texas really seems to appreciate veterans, as evidenced by the state’s license plate policy.
“I didn’t have to pay for nothing extra; they just up and gave me my license plate with my Bronze Star,” he said.
He openly shows his love for being a veteran, too, with his car’s plate and multitude of veteran stickers, as well as his ever-present hat, with its multitude of Vietnam veteran patches.
According to statistics from Veterans Affairs, about 541,000 Vietnam-era veterans live in the Lone Star State, representing more than a third of the 1.5 million veterans who call Texas home.
Close to 50,000 veterans live in Bell County alone, and another 12,000 live in Coryell County. While the VA couldn’t confirm exactly how many of those are Vietnam veterans, the number is believed to be between 10,000 and 20,000.