Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I remember Harmon L. Remmel, III, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, my home town, who died nearly 50 years ago in Vietnam. There were eight residents of Fayetteville killed in Vietnam from 1967 through 1971, but Harmon was the only one who was a close friend of mine.
Harmon came from a distinguished Arkansas family. His grandfather Harmon Liveright Remmel (1852–1927), led the Arkansas State Republican Party from the 1890s until his death October 14, 1927, which must have been frustrating in a state totally controlled by Democrats through the 20th Century. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1900. Remmel Dam (Hot Springs County, Arkansas), which was named in honor of the senior Mr. Remmel, was the first hydroelectric power dam in Arkansas.
On March 13, 1878, Harmon Liveright Remmel married Laura Lee Stafford of Virginia, who died in October 1913, and in 1915, he married Elizabeth I. Cameron of New York. He adopted her daughter, Elizabeth. They had one son, Harmon L. Remmel Jr., born November 14, 1916, who married Sheila Bucknall.
Harmon L. Remmel Jr., and Sheila Bucknall Remmel moved to Fayetteville from Little Rock after they had two sons, Harmon L. Remmel III and James Bucknall Remmel. The Remmels became good friends with my parents, and I went to Fayetteville High School with Harmon. He was a year older and had a car, maybe a 1956 Chevy, giving several of us rides to high school on a daily basis.
The Remmels lived on the outskirts of town on Highway 45 East, in what we would now call a Mid-Century Modern home, single story with lots of wood and glass and a flat roof. Harmon’s father, James L. Remmel, Jr., appeared to have sufficient means not to have a regular job. Instead, he had a well-outfitted professional gun shop and firing range at the home and apparently practiced gunsmithing as a combination hobby and business. Harmon and I spent a lot of time exploring the woods to the south of their home that eventually led down to the White River.
Everyone had guns back then, probably more than are on the streets of Richmond today. But they were used only for hunting and target practice. One day, Harmon and I drove in his car down to the river to “shoot snakes,” which I recall we did. On the way back, Harmon spotted something (I don’t remember what – probably some kind of “varmint”) in a field next to the country road. He opened his door, steadied his rifle (maybe a .30-06) across the roof of the car to shoot. Not knowing he was preparing to fire, I exited at the passenger door to get a better look. Just as I stood up, I felt the muzzle blast just inches from my head. Obviously, I survived, but it was probably the closest I ever came to being shot. My ears rang for days.
After high school, I lost track of Harmon, who attended Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, majoring in history, instead of, as many of us did, the University of Arkansas.
At Westminster, Harmon was elected vice-president of Sigma Chi fraternity in 1964. The same year, he was named to “Who’s Who in Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.” He participated in ROTC, graduated, was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and entered military service on January 3, 1966. He spent three months at Fort Knox and was assigned to the 64th Armored Third Infantry in Schulenburg, Germany, becoming a battalion operations officer. after a leave in July, 1967, he spent six weeks at Ft. Gordon, GA at Civil Affairs Officer School and 12 weeks at Ft. Bliss, TX for Vietnamese language training. At some point, he became Ranger Qualified. He spent Christmas 1967 in Fayetteville, leaving December 27 and arriving in Vietnam December 31, 1967.
After less than two months “in country,” at age 25, Harmon was killed on February 7, 1968, in an incident described as follows: (https://www.vhpa.org/KIA/incident/68020777KIA.HTM and http://www.134thahc.com/History.htm)
On 7 February 1968, the 134th suffered its first combat casualties. An entire crew and aircraft were lost while on a MACV support mission at Phu Bon near Cheo Reo. The aircraft flew MACV senior advisors and local commanders to a village that was to have been secured earlier in the morning by nearby PF (Popular Forces) ground troops. On arrival over the village there was no radio contact with the ground unit supposedly at the site but smoke was popped by someone on the ground and the crew landed. However, the PF troops had not yet arrived and the village was occupied by VC who had taken it over the previous night. After landing and shutting down the aircraft, the crew and six others were ambushed and killed. The aircraft was set on fire and destroyed. Members of the crew were CW2 Roy E. Worth, CW2 Guido S. Reali, SGT Ronald R. Loveland and SGT Harold O. Hoskins. This was a very traumatic experience for everyone in the unit since the 134th was a close knit group and everyone knew the lost crewmembers well. The war hit home to all in a very personal way. After this, aircraft from the 134th were not allowed to land in remote locations without establishing radio contact with ground personnel or positive identification. In a bizarre twist, less than an hour before the ambush of the crew, WO Trainee Hall and WO Mike Harding had been searching for a MACV advisor with the PF troops and had landed at the same village after smoke was popped on the ground. However, they did not shut down or get out of the aircraft. They saw what appeared to be local troops, waved to them (their waves were returned) and realizing their intended passenger was not there, they took off again. One of our crews form the 92nd AHC, picked up the bodies and flew them back to Cheo Reo. Jim Koch has a photo of 675 burning on the ground.
P WO1 Reali, Guido Silvestro Jr KIA
P WO1 Worth, Roy Edward KIA
CE SP4 Loveland, Ronald Ray KIA
G SGT Hoskins, Harold Orion KIA
Passengers and/or other participants:
LTC Whan, Vorin Edwin Jr, AR, PX, KIA
1LT Remmel, Harmon L III, AR, PX, KIA
Another source described it as follows (Forrest Woods says: https://macvteams.org/team-31/ , December 15, 2016 at 8:28 am):
Hi; My name is Forrest Woods, I was the Dep Asst Senior Pro Advisor In Phu Bon Prov from Mar 67 to late Feb 68. Stanley Howroski ( SP) was the senior Pov Advisor a COORDS Civ. Ltc Vorin Edwin Whan was the Asst Prov advisor, Until Feb 7 1968 when he and 1Lt Harmon L Remmel were Killed By hostile Fire in the village of Buon Blech In southwest Phu Bon Prov. There were 4 other people killed that day 2W1’s and 2 Sgt’s E-5 all from and AVN Co. The 134th Assualt Avn Co If my memory serves me correctly. They had been on a mission for relocate a village of Montanyards (SP). When they received fire from the ground, The helicopter crashed in the village of Buon Blech and burned (all that was left was the Tail section). I received a radio call that a helicopter has crashed. I was in Phu Bon at the time, there was slick and a 2 gunships available. I and a DR (LTC) of the Korean MEDCAP team Immediately flew to Boun Blech to see if there were any survivors. AS I arrived in Buon Bleck it was apparent there would be none. I landed on the far side of the village and started making our way to the crash site. Upon reaching them I discovered all had been shot in the head at close range. The Village was Deserted. By this time the CIDG that had been securing the village began to filter back in. All that was left to do was to call in Husky and evacuate to Graves registration in Pleiku, Maj Charles Mason was the S3 and a Cpt Westover (I think) was in the the Ops cntr. I also seem to recall a SFC Rivera was head of the security detail at that time. I am sorry but I don’t remember who came in to replace LTC Whan. We all are getting older (84) and memories are not as clear as they used to be.
Harmon was buried on February 19, 1968, at Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock. Pallbearers were his high school classmates James Dickson, Chaim H. Siegel, Gary Kennan and Coy Kaylor, Jr., his father Harmon L. Remmel, Jr., and John T. Jernigan, P.K. Holmes and Remmel T. Dickinson.
On June 21, 1968, the Northwest Arkansas Times reported that Harmon L. Remmel III had been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for Valor with First Oak Leaf Cluster for heroism. Initial reports had said he died in a helicopter crash, but apparently there was much more to it.
The citation reads in part: “While serving as civic affairs action advisor, Phu Bon Province, on a mission to Ban Hiao Hamlet located in a remote, sparsely defended area, Lieutenant Remmel and the small party he was with were engaged by the North Vietnamese Army. Realizing they were faced by a numerically superior force, Lieutenant Remmel assisted in rallying his party and getting them aboard the helicopter while he remained behind to lay down suppressive defensive fire to cover their withdrawal. As the aircraft was taking off, it came under intense automatic weapons fire which disabled the aircraft, causing it to crash land a short distance from takeoff. Lieutenant Remmel then moved through the fierce fire to the downed craft’s position and provided covering fire as the men deployed into defensive positions,. He executed a fire and maneuver plan and managed to move a portion of the party into a better protected position before again being pinned down. He continued his courageous actions in the face of overwhelming odds until he fell, mortally wounded.”
Lieutenant Remmel held the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnamese Service Medal and the Vietnamese Campaign Ribbon for his service as Civic Action Advisor, Advisory Team No. 31, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
The awards were presented to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harmon L. Remmel, Jr., of Fayetteville in ceremonies Wednesday at the Army ROTC Department at the University of Arkansas.
Harmon L. Remmel, III, is honored on Panel 38E, Row 12 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
I can’t verify it, but I heard that after Harmon was killed in Vietnam, his father got rid of all his guns, which had been a lifelong hobby and business and never touched one again. I last saw Harmon L. Remmel, Jr, at my mom’s funeral in 1992. I believe he died in 2003.
In 1970, Harmon’s parents established the Harmon L. Remmel, III, Prize for Most Outstanding Senior History Thesis at Westminster College.
R.I.P. Harmon L. Remmell, III.