Denise Eubanks and I drove to Mundelein, IL for a luncheon to honor Father Patrick Boyle, SJ. The event was held on June 16, 2021. Father Pat is 89 now, but he was very perky. He still insist that the holster he carried on his side in Vietnam contained his mess kit. I told him his mess kit had a 1911 handle on it. He laughed.
Over the years, many of you have heard me talk about Father Pat and the bravery he exhibited in Vietnam. On March 31, 1970, we were on Fire Support Base Illingworth located in the Dog’s Head very close to the Cambodian border. Enemy (NVA) trucks had been moving troops down the Red Ball all afternoon and unloading them in a field in Cambodia. The chaplains had come out to lead worship services for us. We set up a chapel area in my mortar area using ammo boxes.
I attended the protestant service and started to walk to FDC. My Blue 3 squad leader, Juan Romero, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Sarge, why don’t you come with me to the Catholic service, we will need all the help we can get tonight”. I went with Juan and took communion from Father Pat. After the service, I saw the Protestant chaplain get on a chopper and leave for the rear. Father Pat stayed on the little base. Someone said in reference to Father Pat, “Why would the shepherd leave when the wolf is just outside the gate”.
Father Boyle usually traveled with his trusty friend, NoNutts, but I do not recall NoNutts being with him on his trip to Illingworth. We all loved NoNutts and he was everyone’s buddy. Once on LZ Carolyn, Father Boyle came over to a group of us in the mortar area. He was talking with the group and NoNutts was traveling with him. NoNutts had just crawled on his belly and then rolled over exposing his nutless undercarriage. A young member of our group said, “Captain, why do you call that dog NoNutts?” Captain Boyle looked down at NoNutts and then looked at the soldier and said, “Damn son, he ain’t got no nuts”. Here is our great little buddy.
I was doing a slide presentation along with my talk at the luncheon. When I showed this picture of NoNutts on the screen Father Boyle said, “There is NoNutts. Look, that is NoNutts.”
There were 208 of us on the base. They were staging in a large area to our west. We knew they were going to attack. At about 11:00 pm we fired everything on the base at them except the 8 inch guns. The 8 inch guns could not fire because the shrapnel would have come back on us. At 2:30 am on April 1, 600 – 800 NVA and Chinese troops stormed our berm on the southwest side of the base. As luck would have it, that was right where my mortars were located. We had 25 of our soldiers killed that night and 93 were wounded. During the battle Father Pat crawled around the perimeter holding the hands of the wounded and praying with them. As he came to dead soldiers he administered Last Rites.
The next morning I saw Father Pat still praying with the wounded as we were loading them on choppers. I had already had several very friendly encounters with Father Pat, but the previous encounters were happy times when we were for the most part just having a good time. Without knowing it Father Pat has been a mentor for me throughout these past 51 years. Words that he said to me long ago will never be forgotten. On April 2, 1970, we held a memorial service for those killed on Illingworth, LZ Jay, the Charlie Company ambuse on March 23, and the soldiers from the 11th Armored Cav who were killed during their rescue of Charlie Company. During that service Father Pat said, “You will never be as close to any other person as you will be to the people you fought beside in a do or die battle”.
I recently learned some things about Father Pat that I did not know while I knew him in Vietnam. He joined the Army at age 36 and requested that he get to go to jump school. That was because he didn’t want soldiers thinking that he had gone through less than they. He volunteered serve in Vietnam because he knew young men were going through a tough time in Vietnam and he wanted to minister to them. He hates flying in helicopters though he had to fly in them almost daily while in Vietnam. Here is the tough guy we knew in Vietnam.
You probably get the idea that I consider Father Pat to be a hero. That is true. I was given the opportunity to walk among many heroes in Vietnam, but almost all of those were there because we were sent by our friends and neighbors to fight a war that nobody wanted to fight and by people who turned their backs on use when we came home. Oh, forget I said that even if it is true. But Father Pat was there because he felt that God wanted him to be there. So Father Pat is my hero among heroes.
The second picture is the group that assembled to honor Father Pat. These people were in the Special Forces except for the two seated on the right and me standing on the right. George Ahearn is seated at the right. George was a young medic on FSB Illingworth. Denise Eubanks is seated beside George. Denise was wounded on LZ Becky in a horrific battle. It turns out that Father Pat was also with them on Becky and Denise took communion with Father Pat the evening before that battle.
It was my honor to get to see Father Patrick Boyle again. It was also an honor to meet all of these brave men who defended our nation in time of war. Every one of these men was a true bad-ass when serving in uniform. They are all examples of what we need more of in this Nation today.