SIOUX CITY | Ambushed.
Fifth month. Eighteenth day. Nine killed. Fifty-three wounded.
It’s the bloodiest memory for John Mansfield, 68, of Sioux City, who later learned May 1968 was the most violent month during the Vietnam War.
“We ended up with 20-some wounded that day,” Mansfield, a retired Army colonel, said. "We had to fight an all-day battle and withdraw later that evening. It seemed like a horrendous month to me.”
When he was an Army first lieutenant, Mansfield said it was his job to ensure the safety of his fellow troops, who were in constant contact with the enemy from May 1 to May 18.
“Our job was to take care of our men and bring as many of them home as possible,” Mansfield said. “I worked with a ... bunch of great men that were soldiers.”
Mansfield, a Sioux City native, graduated from Bishop Heelan High School in 1965. He attended Iowa State University for a year but left because he decided college wasn’t for him.
“Some people are ready to go to college at 18. Some people are not,” he said. “I joined the Army to study Russian, and then I was going to go to Germany.”
But those plans fell through after someone recommended he apply for Officer Candidate School. He was accepted and became a successful military officer.
Mansfield arrived in Vietnam in September 1967 and started serving as a mortar platoon leader on a peninsula near the South China Sea near Chu Lai, a seaport city in the South Central Coast region.
In November 1967, Mansfield and his troops moved to the Hiep Duc Valley. His new task was to look for snipers and other potential threats to his company.
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“That was totally different,” he said.
In January 1968, his company fought a weeklong battle in the valley against enemy troops.
“Our battalion only had 400 people in the unit on the ground, so they brought in four to five more companies,” he said. “A few days later, two companies made an assault across the river. They suffered pretty bad casualties and had about 10 guys captured.”
Mansfield made it home in October 1968. He was awarded a Silver Star and has received other military decorations.
But memories of the violent struggles he witnessed stuck in Mansfield's mind for many years, eventually making their way into a book he had published in 2009 -- "Twenty Days in May, Vietnam 1968."
He went on to be an instructor at Fort Benning in Georgia. He also served as commander of the U.S. Army National Guard in Sioux City for six years in the 1980s. He retired from the military in 1996.
Mansfield worked as a manager for the Internal Revenue Service in Sioux City for 42 years, retiring in 2013. He currently serves on Sioux City's volunteer committee for NAIA basketball and volleyball.
In October, Mansfield flew to Daytona Beach, Florida, and drove to Orlando where he met two of his fellow troops -- one from Colorado and another from New York.
“I saw them two years ago,” Mansfield said. “We have a reunion every other year.”