Pleiku-Ia Drang Veterans Honored with Medallion
The veterans of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, one of the most devastating and dramatic battles of the Vietnam War, gathered recently in Washington, D.C. to mark a solemn occasion: the fortieth anniversary of the fight that forever changed their lives.
On November 14, 1965, 450 soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry engaged approximately 2,000 North Vietnamese regulars in a fierce battle to secure South Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley. Three days later, American forces heroically fended off another enemy attack at a landing zone less than three miles away. These events constituted the first major battle in what would become America’s longest war.
The Fortieth Anniversary Celebration of the Pleiku-Ia Drang Veterans, which began on Thursday, November 10, was comprised of a series of events organized over a period of four days. An Oral History Project and a Seminar on the Battles of the Ia Drang was jointly conducted by the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University and the Ben Franklin Global Forum. In addition to participating in the traditional Veterans’ Day activities, the veterans who made the trip to Washington, DC had an opportunity to attend a special gala dinner on Saturday, November 12.
The dinner, which took place at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel, was attended by over 1,100 guests, including some of the U.S. Army’s most celebrated commanders, including Gen. (ret.) Eric K. Shinseki, former Army chief of staff; Gen. (ret) Barry McCaffrey, a 7th Cavalry Vietnam veteran; Lt. Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, who commanded the 10 th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. Also attending were Randall Wallace, who wrote and directed the movie We Were Soldiers about the Ia Drang battles, and actors Barry Pepper and Josh Daugherty, who were cast in the movie.
“We wanted to make this year’s reunion stand out,” said Bob Daniels, Chairman of the Philadelphia-based Ben Franklin Global Forum and the Vice-Chair of the 40 th Anniversary Committee. “Holding a gala dinner to honor the men who did not return and to celebrate the achievements of those who did was one of the ways we tried to make this year’s event unique,” added Daniels.
Galloway, who co-authored with LTG (ret) Hal Moore, the acclaimed book about Ia Drang entitled We Were Soldiers Once, agreed that the fortieth anniversary of this pivotal battle warranted a unique tribute.
In addition to the Gala Dinner, the planning committee commited to another detail: “We knew that we needed something tangible that would outlast the event itself,” recalled Bob Daniels. The committee decided to commission the minting of a special commemorative medallion to serve as a lasting tribute to all the Ia Drang Veterans.
Regarding Northwest Territorial Mint, the chosen coin maker, “I was impressed that the company had over twenty years of experience in creating specialty coins for America’s military,” Daniels said.
“Right from the start, I got the feeling that Northwest Territorial Mint really wanted to make this commemorative medallion to honor the sacrifice of the Ia Drang Veterans,” he added.
Bill Beck, a renowned freelance commercial artist by profession, whose crucial role at Ia Drang forty years earlier saved the lives of countless soldiers, was solicited to create the design. Without hesitation, Beck, consented to sketch out the artwork and design for the piece.
Gene Frink, a representative from Northwest Territorial Mint who oversees the company’s contracts with the U.S. Military, was on hand at the gala dinner on Saturday, November 12 to help distribute the medallions.
Reflecting on the event, Frink, who is a former Army Ranger, said: “The room was filled with bona fide American heroes. It was a very moving experience and an honor just to be able to meet the men who served their country so courageously at Ia Drang.”
“I’m glad that Northwest Territorial Mint had an opportunity to work with Bill Beck to create a lasting tribute to their sacrifice,” he added.
When asked about his contribution to the Fortieth Anniversary event, Beck replied: “It was an amazing honor to be asked to create the artwork for the medallion. It took me several months to come up with the final design, but I think I created something that represents us all.”
The Pleiku-Ia Drang 40th Anniversary Medalllion is available for purchase at the Northwest Territorial Mint Store. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this coin will go to benefit the Pleiku-Ia Drang Veterans.