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Vietnam vets receive valor awards more than 30 years after the deeds

By Burk Krohe

FORT RILEY — Decades later, several brave men finally received their due Friday. Four Vietnam War veterans of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division received Silver Stars.

“It’s very, very humbling to receive the Silver Star,” Ronald W. Mackedanz said, noting that the award is third highest award given for valor in the United States military.”

Mackedanz along with Alfredo G. Herrera, Douglas J. Ludlow and Melvin McElreath were honored with Silver Stars Friday morning. Stephan Biernacki was honored with the Bronze Star and Sergeant Brian Jergens was honored with the Purple Heart as well. McElreath was unable to attend the ceremony Friday; the others received their awareds in person.

Active duty members of the regiment were also in attendance.

“It’s a great honor, especially being a part of this tradition of the 116th” Specialist Christopher Coughlin said.

Coughlin was deployed in Afghanistan for nearly a year before coming back to Fort Riley. He said he couldn’t be prouder to be part of the the 116th’s storied tradition.

Friday’s emotional ceremony was the culmination of a three and half year process to recognize the heroism of members of the Bandido Charlie Company. The recognition is related to a battle that took place Aug. 12, 1969 in Quan Loi, South Vietnam.

Mackedanz said two of his former commanders and a 1st Sergeant from Vietnam put a tremendous amount of work into securing the Silver Stars.

“Between the three of them, they worked very diligently over the last three years clearing a lot of hurdles,” Mackedanz said.

Lt. Col. Ken Cassels said he helped work on securing the Silver Stars but most of the credit should go to Col. Phil Greenwell.

Cassels led the Alpha and Bandido Charlie companies that day. A multi-batallion size force from the North Vietnam Army positioned themselves on a rubber plantation with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Casells said he knew they had found the enemy when they were hit with rocket propelled grenades.

“We finally figured out after eight hours of battle they probably had 500,600 people,” Cassels said.

But the Bandidos prevailed

“By the end of the day, we knew we had won,”Cassels said.  “They were good but our people were so much better.”

He said he owes the victory to his men,“I was very lucky to lead a brave bunch of men that particular day.”

“This is very meaningful to be able to receive this in front of the active duty troops that served in the same unit that we served in,” Mackedanz said.

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