Bounty on a Blue Spader
Austintown vet earned Purple Heart in Vietnam
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans. To nominate a veteran, email metro editor Marly Reichert at email@example.com.
AUSTINTOWN — Shipping off to Vietnam was not usually something soldiers chose to do — except for Clark Eckenrode.
Eckenrode, now 74, began his service in Germany in 1966 but soon found himself volunteering to go to the Phuoc Vinh Base in Vietnam.
“I was in Germany for six months when I read a story about Captain William Carpenter who was an All-American football player. His unit got hit pretty hard,” Eckenrode said. “The next morning a dozen guys from my unit were at the first sergeant’s office volunteering to go because of that story. I was right there with them.”
While in Vietnam, Eckenrode said he was only at base for a total of 13 days; the rest of his service was spent out in what Eckenrode called “the boonies.” He and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division are known as Blue Spaders, whose task was long range reconnaissance. They would scout out enemy activity and report back what they found.
“It’s not as dangerous as it sounds,” Eckenrode said. “But we needed to always be ready for battle.”
While out on recon, Eckenrode said he saw the good, the bad and the ugly over there.
“I always said there was a good thing to Vietnam, there was a bad thing and there was an ugly thing. It wasn’t a bowl of cherries, but it wasn’t all ugly. It got ugly at times, but not all,” Eckenrode said.
The good Eckenrode saw was in the relocation of about 5,000 Vietnamese citizens out of harm’s way, but most of what he saw was bad and ugly. The bad was that the Blue Spaders were a hot target for the enemy. The Viet Cong, or VC, awarded money to soldiers who killed a Blue Spader. This led to many ambushes on the base, one for which Eckenrode earned his Purple Heart. The VC had infiltrated the base and when Enckenrode intercepted, he was wounded in the leg.
These bounties motivated the VC to strike, but the Battle of Ap Gu proved the Blue Spaders were not to be messed with. The VC lost over 600 soldiers whereas only 15 Blue Spaders were killed.
The ugly side of Vietnam came in the form of Agent Orange. Eckenrode is completely disabled because of the aftermath of Agent Orange.
“No one knew how bad Agent Orange was,” Eckenrode said. “Within a short amount of time, all vegetation was gone. It was barren like the moon. It killed all the vegetation and it also killed innocent people.”
Eckenrode said they were never notified when Agent Orange would drop. They only knew because it would come down on them like rain.
When Eckenrode had about eight months left in his service, he was able to relax at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. His time there was tame compared to Vietnam. Once his service was complete in 1968, he took a bus back home.
SERVICE BRANCH: Army
MILITARY HONORS: Purple Heart, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross Medal With Palm, Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Medal and U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge
OCCUPATION: Retired from Youngstown Sheet and Tube
FAMILY: Wife, Deborah; two children, Jeremy and Joseph; and two grandchildren