By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Dave Paschke, son of Russ and Thaline of Winsted, joined the Army in the fall of 1969, and had a total of eight weeks of basic training when he arrived in Vietnam Jan. 2, 1970.
“I had no idea what I was up against,” Paschke said. “Vietnam was really guerilla warfare, and we didn’t get any training for that.”
Just three months into serving in Vietnam, March 26, 1970, his unit, Troop A, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, also known as the Black Horse Regiment, saved the lives of 100 American infantrymen who were surrounded by the North Vietnam Army (NVA).
Although it was almost 40 years ago, Paschke still remembers the day of the rescue, and even the night before.
A mortar exploded in one of the unit’s armored tanks, called tracks, killing four guys, according to Paschke.
“Everybody was afraid that we were getting hit by the enemy from within,” Paschke said. “Afraid they had penetrated our perimeter.”
The unit had to move its tracks during the middle of the night and no one was able to get much sleep.
The following day, because Troop A had been under intense pressure for several months, it was told to take it easy, and just do light duty.
It was early in the day when they heard some gunfire a mile or two away and knew somebody had made contact with the enemy.
At noon, Troop A got a call that Company C unit was surrounded by enemy forces near the Cambodian border in War Zone C and would be captured by the enemy within hours.
Company C was running low on water, ammunition, and it had numerous casualties, according to Paschke.
“We didn’t have to go,” Paschke said. “We volunteered to go.”
They were outnumbered three to one by the battalion of (NVA), Paschke said.
“They were a superior fighting force, but we knew it was something we had to do. We couldn’t leave these guys.”
They began “breaking jungle,” which means pushing over trees and clearing brush to rescue the men, according to Paschke.
He described the thick vegetation in the jungle being so thick it was like “midnight during broad daylight.”
“We broke jungle for between four and six hours,” Paschke said. “We had to go through triple canopy.”
Troop A was able to get to Company C, load everyone up, and get out of there safely.
“It was already dark, and the same thing could have happened to us,” Paschke said.
The night march back was dangerous, as well.
“My thoughts were to stay alive the best I could,” Paschke said. “We had no idea if we would come out.”
The unit did make it back safely, ready for another day.
The rescue of Company C was not anything unusual for Paschke, who said combat was part of the daily routine for him the first seven months he was in Vietnam.
“Our job was to go out and find the enemy and keep them busy so they wouldn’t destroy the highway we were building,” Paschke said. “That was our job in War Zone C.”
War Zone C, Tay Ninh Province of the Republic of Vietnam, was a free-fire zone.
“If it moved, it was a target,” Paschke said.
“Every day we would go out and would hunt for these guys (NVA), Paschke said.
“Every day you would wonder, ‘Is this going to be it? Is this going to be the end? Am I not going home? Am I not going to be able to walk home? Am I going to go home in a casket?’” Paschke said.
“Every day was like that over there because we were in War Zone C, which was one of the worst parts of Vietnam besides the DMZ (demilitarized zone) up on the border of North and South Vietnam.”
Tank training was included in Paschke’s basic training, and was useful in Vietnam as the tracks became Paschke’s home.
Throughout Paschke’s entire stay in Vietnam, from January 1970 until December 1970, he slept outside.
“During the dry season it was 6 inches of dust, and during the wet season, it was a foot of mud,” Paschke said.
When it was the rainy season, it rained 24/7 for a couple of months, according to Paschke.
“So hard, sometimes you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face,” he said.
To keep as dry as possible, he used a poncho liner stretched over the track to keep dry.
There were four guys on each track. The driver, a commander, and two gunners.
Paschke was a gunner.
The Vietnam War, or Second Indochina War, took place in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from September 1959 to April 1975.
It is estimated that the US lost 58,159 soldiers.
The capture of Saigon by the NVA in April 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War. North and South Vietnam were reunified the following year.
It was an unpopular war, which Paschke was aware of when he returned home.
In Winsted, it was different.
“It felt good to be home. I had a lot of friends here, when I came back, because a lot of these guys were in Vietnam, too,” he said.
Receiving the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery at the Pentagon Oct. 20 was definitely an honor for Paschke. But even more, he valued the reunion of 85 of the 100 men he served with in Vietnam. These were men he had not seen in 40 years.
“We really had a good time that night. Most of us didn’t even go the restaurant they wanted us to go to,” Paschke said. “Most of us stayed back and wanted to talk. We looked at pictures and got each other’s e-mail addresses.”
“In Vietnam, I met a lot of people from all over the US and now, I am going to be in contact with them again.”
Paschke has been married to Carol, for 35 years, and they live in Watertown.
They have three sons. Nicholas lives in Eden Prairie; Michael is married to Alyssa and they live in Montrose with their daughter, Kailey Marie, 10 months old; and Joseph lives in Montrose.