American involvement in the Vietnam War began on August 4, 1964 and continued through the cease fire on January 27, 1973, according to the World Almanac. However, some folks believe the war ended with the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. 

More than 8 million Americans served in all capacities in that war according to the almanac. Of those who served, more than 47,000 were killed in battle, nearly 11,000 died of other causes and more than 153,000  were wounded.

In Washington, D.C., the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who lost their lives or remain missing. 

With these numbers in mind, anyone who has ever talked with a Vietnam veteran about that war knows that the story unfolds one person at a time ...

Travel literature describes Quang Ngai as one of six provinces in South Central Vietnam. Located in a coastal area, the terrain is divided into mountains, plains and islands. Visitors are warned about the severe climate. Temperatures range between  50 and 105 degrees. A high average rainfall causes heavy flooding in the rainy season.

In the province is Quang Ngai town. It is built on the banks of the Tra Khuc River, which is said to be one of the most beautiful rivers in South Central Vietnam. Travel literature claims the area has great potential for tourism.

Charles D. Jones, an art professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, has traveled to this area twice. His first trip, in 1965, was as a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. 

Company C — Charlie Company — has been known as “Suicide Charley” since its capture and defense of Guadalcanal in World War II. The Web site of the 1st Battalion 7th Marine regiment contains a quote from William Shakespeare’s “Henry V:” “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.”

Jones second trip to Quang Ngai province took place this spring when he and several of his “brothers” traveled to a remote area in the province where, on March 28, 1966, Operation Indiana began. 

Jones defined the battle as a fast-reaction search and destroy mission that garnered one Medal of Honor, two Navy Crosses, five Silver Star Medals and five Bronze Star Medals for the men of Company C. It also left an official count of 11 men killed in action and 55 wounded.

Jones and his brother Marines returned this spring to the site of Operation Indiana. They needed to make amends with both the living and the dead.


Jones was born in 1942 in Laredo, Texas. His family moved to Huntsville when he was seven. Childhood games played in the woods of Deep East Texas, and the lack of electricity in rural areas at that time, served him well years later when he went to Vietnam.

Jones entered Sam Houston State University in 1959 and graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in art. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps’ officer training program. “There was a whole group of us. We were active in sports, members of ROTC. Our heads were filled with high ideals,” Jones said. “As healthy, young males, we perceived we had an obligation. We were answering President Kennedy’s call to activism.”

In 1964, Jones was promoted to first lieutenant and was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment as a platoon commander — a position he held throughout his tour in Vietnam. Jones described his platoon as “Texas-heavy.” There were men from Ennis, Bay City, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Port Arthur. “Most of the men came from the South. Some were from the industrialized cities of the North. All of us were young and gullible,” he said.

In August 1965, the regiment arrived in Chu Lai, 50 miles south of Da Nang. Jones described Chu Lai as “a spit of sand surrounded by hills and forested terrain, where daily temperatures reached 110 degrees.” It was known that there was a heavy presence of North Vietnamese in the area. They were assassinating anyone in a position of power — school teachers, village leaders.

Jones said throughout the later half of 1965, he and his men did a lot of small unit patrolling, general guerrilla operations. They’d go out when it got dark and not come back until late the next day. “When I was growing up in East Texas, we didn’t have electricity till about 1953 or 1954. And I spent a lot of time playing in the woods. I’d go coon hunting at night, so I was used to maneuvering in the dark through the trees. Me and my men were very successful in Vietnam,” he said.


In January 1966, Life International Magazine carried an article called “The Blunt Reality of War In Vietnam: In go the U.S. Marines, but who is the enemy?” 

Associate editor Michael Mok and photographer Paul Schutzer spent six weeks traveling with Charlie Company, 7th Marine Regiment, and they turned out more than a dozen pages of copy with pictures showing one of the early offensive actions involving the Marines in Vietnam.

Mok’s article covered the regiment’s 1st Battalion going ashore in amphibian tractors, called Amtraks or LVTs, while the 3rd Battalion was being lifted by helicopters to a commanding ridge line a couple of miles inland. Looking through the article, Jones said there was interest in this action because it was the Marines’ first offensive landing since Korea. 

Mok described privates as “fresh-faced,” and gunnery sergeants as “hard-eyed and dirt-mean.” He wrote about land mines, Vietcong sniper power, booby-traps, trip wires and day time temperatures that reached 130 degrees. Mok’s words were strong, but Schutzer’s photographs were stronger. 

One photograph showed a hospital corpsman, who traveled with the Marines, running across a beach with a wounded Vietnamese child in his arms. According to the caption, the corpsman is under heavy Vietcong sniper fire and is looking for a safe place to treat the baby. Jones identified the corpsman as Robert R. Ingram, known as “Doc” to the men of Charlie Company. Ingram was 20 years old when the picture was taken. 

Three months after the photograph appeared in Life International Magazine, Doc was to play an important role in Operation Indiana. His bravery, rewarded with a Medal of Honor 32 years after the fact, indirectly led to Jones’ reunion with his brother Marines and their return trip to Vietnam. 


By February 1966, Jones had been appointed liaison officer to district headquarters at Bihn Son. He represented the Marine Corps and worked directly with the district chief and the chief of police to coordinate South Vietnamese and U.S. military activities. Jones lived in an old French fort with members of the district government and their dependents. He shared their meals and depended on them for support and protection.

“I formed many friendships during the two months I was there. One friend, the younger brother of the police chief, was a fine classical and flamenco guitar player. We swapped tunes during the hot afternoons, and I gave him my guitar when I left,” Jones said. “You know, Bihn Son was completely destroyed. Even the fort was leveled by explosives during the assault in 1968.”

Because of his appointment as liaison officer, Jones was not directly involved in Operation Indiana. Not being with his men that day has left him with a sense of guilt. It may be unwarranted, but it’s guilt just the same, he said.

On the morning of March 28, 1966, it was hot and clear. Jones said he had a chance to visit with his troops before they were picked up and taken to the operation. There was no way to know he would never see some of his men again. Operation Indiana could have headed into history as just another battle in Vietnam. Maybe it would have been picked up by the media as a newsworthy item. Maybe not.

But as fate would have it, almost 30 years after Operation Indiana, the veterans of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment held a reunion. In talking about their shared past, it was learned that Doc Ingram never received recognition for his heroic actions during the battle. All other recommendations — Navy Crosses, Silver Star Medals and Bronze Medals — had been awarded, but the recommendation for Ingram’s Medal of Honor had somehow slipped through the cracks.

When this became known, former Capt. Ben R. Goodwyn and other veterans of Charlie Company began to gather government documents and eyewitness accounts from the men who had survived the battle. 

In that documentation, from Goodwyn’s narrative of the action, it is learned that “ ... the battle, although small by Vietnam standards, was incredibly ferocious and the bloodiest endured by the 1st Battalion in its first year in country ... half of the company was either killed or wounded.

 “... Bullets from the AK-47s filled the air ... clipped leaves filtered through the branches ... so many that it reminded the survivors of autumn.”

Retired Lt. Col. Max J. Hochenauer’s affidavit states, “ ... when the fire fight started ... the noise was deafening. The enemy started firing anti-aircraft guns as anti-personnel weapons. It appeared to be two separate fire power demonstrations being conducted at once and the noise was almost unbearable.

“The mortars and artillery added more noise. When our evacuation helicopters arrived, they drew heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy and tracers filled the sky.”

Throughout the documentation, there are examples of Ingram’s heroism during Operation Indiana. That afternoon, Doc was wounded four times as he crawled from casualty to casualty. The first bullet tore through his hand. The second bullet went through his knee and “slowed him down considerably.” 

At one point he came face to face with a North Vietnamese Army regular, who “leveled his weapon at the “Doc” and pulled the trigger. This bullet entered the right side of his head, just forward of his jaw, under his eye, ripped through his sinuses and exited the other side.” A fourth bullet entered the groin area. According to the documentation, Ingram never stopped administering aid to his Marines until his own vital signs began to drop.

On the evening of March 28, when the large numbers of dead and wounded began arriving at the battalion’s medical center, Ingram was “tagged killed in action and placed in the dead pile” until movement alerted medical personnel that he was still alive.

Jones said he remembers that evening well. From the fort in Binh Son, he watched Med Evac helicopters moving through the night sky and realized something had gone dreadfully wrong.

“I knew there had been a major battle,” he said, "but I didn’t know how bad it had been. I didn’t know how many — or who — had been killed or wounded. When I found out, I kept saying, ‘I should have been there. I should have been there.’ I still have a hard time talking about it.”

According to retired Lt. Col. Hochenauer’s affidavit, after the battle, “recommendations for medals as well as letters of condolence occupied 90 percent” of his time.

Paperwork moved back and forth. Personnel involved in the battle, including Ingram, had been evacuated. Staff had been rotated. The recommendation for Ingram’s Medal of Honor had been lost in the shuffle.

Hochenauer wrote, “I sincerely believe, with no doubt whatsoever, that “Doc” Ingram deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. This is not a group of officers meeting after 30 years and recommending awards for each other. This is a group of outstanding officers attempting to get their corpsman his very just award and I endorse these efforts and “Doc” Ingram 100 percent.”

On July 10, 1998, the Medal of Honor was belatedly bestowed on Robert R. Ingram. Jones and several of his brother Marines gathered in Washington, D.C., for the formal ceremony. Jones said, “I felt tremendous pride not only for Bob Ingram but for all the guys. The medal was a collective recognition. There were a lot of heroes that day.” 

Author Katherine Mansfield once wrote, “As in the physical world, so in the spiritual world, pain does not last forever.” The veterans of Charlie Company had gotten on with their lives but not everything had been resolved. It was at the ceremony in Washington, D.C., when a plan began to form.


The Huntsville Item, dated Wednesday, May 11, 1966, carried an article with the headline, “Lt. Jones Receives Silver Medal for Vietnam Heroism.” The article was carefully clipped from the newspaper and placed in an album by Jones’ mother. “There would be no record of any of this if my mother hadn’t kept track of it. It would all be gone,” he said.

In September 1966, with his tour of duty finished and Vietnam behind him Jones found himself in Southern California discharged from the United States Marines with the rank of captain. “Nothing is as frivolous as Southern California,” he said. “I didn’t want to stay there. I had to move on.”

And move he did. First there was graduate school in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he continued to study art and spend his time painting landscapes. From there he moved to Mexico and lived in a small village west of Mexico City. Then it was on to Europe where he spent a year camping out of the back of a Volkswagen. “It was as if I couldn’t stand to be inside. I had to feel air moving around me,” Jones said.

When he returned to the states, he moved to Massachusetts where he spent his mornings working as a construction inspector and his afternoons making art.

In 1971, Jones decided it was time to settle down. He applied to SFA as an assistant professor and was hired to establish and head a printmaking area for the art department. He has been at the university ever since. This year he was awarded the Distinguished Professor Award by the SFA Alumni Association for outstanding service to the university.

 “The visual arts and guitar playing have given me a way to deal with intense feelings in a socially acceptable way,” he said. “Art helps.”

Jones was not the only one to benefit from his creativity. In 1979 he created a series of drawings that related to Vietnam. At first the pieces were a visual journal and were not meant to be shared. But when more than 40 pieces had accumulated, Jones said he realized the work needed to be seen.

 “Several thousand young American men had gone through experiences in Vietnam that were similar to mine. I was fortunate to be able to translate those experiences into visual art. I decided I was ready to share,” he said.

An exhibition, “The Vietnam Suite,” opened in January 1982 at the Tyler Museum of Art in Texas. By June 1983, a mixed-media presentation of poems, music and video called “Chopper Blues” had been added and the exhibition moved to the Longview Museum and Art Center where it opened simultaneously with Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War.” 

Jones said the Mid-America Arts Alliance added the exhibition to its touring program, and “The Vietnam Suite” traveled to England, Holland and France.  “It was healing. It helped put me in contact with other vets who said it gave them strength. I kept it non-political. I stuck with a fine arts venue. The last place it showed was at the Marine Corps Museum in San Diego,” he said.


Maybe it was a business trip to another state where a buddy from the Marine Corps just happened to live. Or maybe it was time to try and track down an old friend. 

Maybe it was an out-of-the-blue phone call to another Marine on Nov. 10 to touch bases on the anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps. Former 1st Lt., 3rd platoon commander, Jimmie Fulkerson said Marines do that. “We call one another and wish one another happy birthday on that date,” he said.

However it got started, Jones credits Fulkerson with organizing the annual reunions. Since 1995, veterans from Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment have gathered to spend Memorial Day weekend together near Fulkerson’s home in Jonesboro, Ark.

“About a dozen people came to the first reunion,” Fulkerson said. “Even though 30 years had passed, it was like we had only been apart for a day. There was a real opening up. It was an emotional day. These reunions have meant a lot to me.”

Fulkerson, now president of Atlas Asphalt, said he served with Jones for almost three years. He has his own vivid memories of Operation Indiana. He returned from leave around 4 p.m. on March 28, 1966, the day of the battle and was told his company was “on an operation and in heavy contact.”

“Turned out that about 115 men from Charlie Company went up against 300 to 400 men from the North Vietnamese Army, and they needed medical evacuation. I got my gear, got in a Med Evac helicopter and headed out there,” Fulkerson said. “By that time, it was comin’ on dark. The heavy fighting was over.  We loaded men on helicopters. Some were wounded. Some were dead. I never saw any of those men again. And somehow that wasn’t right.”

After Vietnam, everyone wanted to get on with their lives, settle down and raise families. That worked for awhile, Fulkerson said. Time had to pass before he and his brother Marines could even think about getting together for reunion. But after a couple of Memorial Day weekend reunions had been held, and after traveling to Washington, D.C., to be with Doc Ingram when he received his belated Medal of Honor, Fulkerson said he knew it was time to return to Vietnam.


The first trip was planned for March 2000. It was important to be in Vietnam on March 28, the anniversary of the battle. Fulkerson and his brother Marines also thought it was important to find the exact location where Operation Indiana had taken place — a small, remote village about eight miles outside of Quang Ngai.

In 1966, the village had been called Vihn Loc. Comparing maps from then to now shows the names of many villages and towns have changed.

One man who returned to Vietnam in 2000 was Ben Goodwyn, former captain and commanding officer of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment Marines, who now runs Goodwyn Insurance Agency in Red Oak, Texas.

“Part of me wanted to go back to Vietnam and part of me wondered why anyone would want to return to a place that was filled with such dreadful memories,” he said. “When I think about Operation Indiana, I’m amazed any of us got out alive.”

Another man who made the trip back to Vietnam was Doc Ingram, former hospital corpsman, who now is operations manager at Jacksonville Family Practice Associates in Jacksonville, Fla.

“When I first found out about the trip, I kicked the idea around for a while. I thought it might go away. Then I realized I had a desire to go back. I wanted verification, confirmation of my memory. 

 “You know how the mind works. After so many years, you think you may have some of it wrong. You may be making some of it up. Ever since I’d returned to the states, I had concentrated only on the good memories. It was time to deal with all the memories. Good and bad,” Ingram said.

Upon arrival, the veterans of Charlie Company met with the village elders. With the help of interpreters, they explained who they were and why they were there. They asked if it would be all right to walk the grounds where Operation Indiana had taken place. Permission was granted.

“We had liberated that village from the North Vietnamese Army,” Ingram said. “There were people in the village who still remembered.” 

Goodwyn said it took a while to find the battle field. Everything looked different. Everything was vague. And then, one by one, features in the landscape became identifiable: the rice paddy, the ridge line, the slope covered with trees that still carry scars where bullets once tore into their trunks.

“Walking the battlefield was incredibly traumatic — filled with emotion. Seven of my people were killed within 100 feet of me that day,” Goodwyn said. “I think of that battle every day of my life. 

“I’m ambivalent when I think about killing the enemy. I was doing my job. But it’s different when I think about my men ... dealing with my feelings has always been difficult. It’s something I’m working on.”

Fulkerson described walking the battlefield as “an intense, emotional time.” 

"I got to say goodbye, and that’s been very helpful to me. There’s no question. There’s a benefit to going back,” he said.

After touring the battlefield, the veterans met with the villagers again to ask if they could build some kind of a shrine to honor both their brother Marines and the villagers who had been killed during Operation Indiana. Negotiations took place with the village elders, and the offer was accepted. Money was collected on the spot and handed over to the villagers. A shrine would be built to honor the dead.

“Then we asked what we could do to honor the living, and the villagers said they could use a school. So we took up another collection. We’d pay for it, and the villagers would do the work and build it,” Fulkerson said.

Ingram said during that visit to Vietnam he accomplished what he set out to do. He dealt with his memories. But the best part of the trip was being together again with Charlie Company.  

“I’m an introvert by nature. I stand back and watch. I’m not a participant. I’d been a corpsman with other companies, but I felt like I became part of a tight-knit team when I joined Charlie Company. I felt it right away. 

“Serving in Vietnam was the experience of a lifetime. Looking back, I can say the greatest part was that I found my place in the world, my niche in life. The beauty of returning to Vietnam was that the team came back together again,” Ingram said.

Jones did not make that trip back to Vietnam. He had attended the annual Memorial Day Weekend reunions, and he had traveled to Washington, D. C., when Doc Ingram received the Medal of Honor. He said he saw no reason to go back to Vietnam — not when it was something he was trying to forget.

But a second trip to Vietnam was organized for March 2001 — the 35th anniversary of Operation Indiana — and members of Jones’ platoon were planning to return. 

“The men told me they needed me to be there, so I went back. It’s a brotherhood. It’s our history. These men had been with me from 1964 through 1966.” Jones said. “Ultimately I realized I’d never said goodbye. When I left Vietnam, it was like walking out a door and never looking back. Ritual is important. We have funerals for a reason.”

This year, 13 veterans from Company C traveled to Vietnam. Fulkerson’s son, Brian, went along, as did photographer Steve Rockwell who has begun to document these trips. 

Fulkerson said the chief of Quang Ngai Province met with everyone and gave them his thanks. The shrine and school have been built near the battlefield and can be seen through the trees. Twenty-six students attend classes in the little school house, he said.

“This year, when we asked what the villagers needed, they said they’d like windows for the school, a desk for the teacher and maybe a piece of playground equipment for the children. We took up a collection and handed them the money on the spot,” Fulkerson said. 

Goodwyn, who returned this year to Vietnam, said he was pleased to see what the villagers had done with the money. “These people really got the shaft in that war. They just wanted to raise ducks and grow rice and get on with their lives. I guess that’s what happens in every war,” he said.

Ingram, who also returned this year, said he was impressed with the school. It was larger than he thought it would be. The villagers had stuccoed and painted it on the inside and outside, and they had decorated it with words and images. 

“The money we gave them could have easily disappeared. But these are good people, good for their word. They put their hearts into that school and they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished. That building is the future for their children. All parents — everywhere — want their children to have a better life than they’ve had,” he said.

Jones said it was the shrine that made an impact on him. It is decorated with both Vietnamese and American symbols, and it is set on a rectangular slab with a partition that divides it in two. “This gives a structure with two sides coming together, which is a perfect symbol for us all,” Jones said.

At one point during the trip, everyone gathered at the shrine for a ceremony. Incense was burned to honor the Vietnamese who lost their lives during Operation Indiana. A cross was fastened to a tree in honor of the Americans who died that day. 

Jones said he had been asked to read St. Francis of Assisi’s “Prayer for Peace” at the end of the ceremony. He knew it would be difficult, but he was determined to get through it. 

 When the time came, he read: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy ...”

Jones made it through the prayer without faltering. Then he went to visit the battlefield. He wanted to locate the place where the majority of his men had been killed. “Retracing their steps is a way of letting go,” he said.


On the afternoon of March 28, 1966, the following men fought in Operation Indiana and died in the service of our country. The city and state listed is where the person enlisted and not necessarily where he was born or last lived.

  Staff Sgt. John George Bansavage, 32, Amsterdam, N.Y.

  Pfc. Michael Ray Beck,19, Cheyenne, Wyo. 

  Pfc. Edmund Francis Eddy, 22, Hartford, Conn.

  Pfc. Paul Elias Hassey, 22, New Bedford, Mass.  

  Cpl. Richard Lee Otis Mayes, 20, Sidney, Mont.

  Cpl. John Leigh McCarty, 21, Stockton, Calif.

  Pfc. Thomas McEntee, 19, Philadelphia, Pa.

  Sgt. Pedro Padilla, 25, Albuquerque, N.M.

  Pfc. Richard Joseph Preskenis, 22, Hyde Park, Maine.

  Sgt. Colon Ricardo Rodriguez, 35, New York, N.Y.

  Pfc. Leroy Eugene Simons, 21, Springfield, Ohio.


                        Shrine built to honor the U.S. Marines and Vietnamese villagers killed during Operation Indiana.


                          Photos: Courtesy of Charles D. Jones

© Judy Morgan 2018 —