Operation Lone Star steadfast in continuing to honor heroes

Jim Conley

0200 hours, Jan. 17, 1971.

Three squads of Recon Platoon, 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division are approaching the South Vietnamese village of Quant Ngai, a known Viet Cong stronghold. Their mission is to kill or capture returning Viet Cong fighters. The vegetation is difficult to penetrate as the 3 squads spread out with 3rd squad in the center position as the platoon closes in on the village.

Suddenly there is a deafening explosion. A soldier has stepped on a trip-wire which detonated a booby-trapped 105 round. Almost everyone is a casualty. Two soldiers have lost an arm. Another one leg. Gary “Hooter” Judy has lost one leg above the knee, the other below. In an attempt to calm everyone, he is, in spite of his injuries, yelling at the platoon, “It’s gonna be all right! It’s gonna be all right!”

The night was filled with chaos and carnage. Dave Coon of New York has died in the arms of a comrade. Medevac is called and the most seriously wounded are being loaded on the first “dust-off.” They included William “Soul Patrol” Blackmon from Pennsylvania and John “Tex” Dobroski from Houston. William Blackmon dies on the chopper while en route to the field hospital. John Dobroski dies later that morning in the hospital.

The surviving Recon Platoon members are pumped up and want to go into the village but are ordered back to their fire base. Almost 50 years later they agree that it was probably the best thing to do.

Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops had the honor and privilege of co-sponsoring their 21st Annual Reunion held at American Legion Post & Unit 618 in Willis April 6-8 this year. It was their second consecutive reunion in Willis as well as our second time co-sponsoring it.

My brother and I grew up with six other boys. As we graduated from high school the war in Vietnam was heating up. In a time some people were dodging the draft, running to Canada, and getting deferment after deferment to avoid military service seven of us enlisted right out of high school. Over a two- or three-year period we all went to Vietnam; two Army, two Navy, two Marine Corps, one Air Force.

Six of us were home in 1970 when the last man enlisted and was sent to Vietnam. That man was John Dobroski. The last to go. The only one who didn’t survive.

Several years ago, I was at Rosewood Cemetery in Humble, where John is buried, and a funeral director told me that a soldier who was with him the night he died visits his grave every Memorial and Veterans Day. Since we had lost contact with John’s family, we had no idea who this could be.

We placed a Memorial Day wreath on John’s grave and I stapled my business card to a ribbon with a note on the back requesting that the visitor to call me. Within days I received a call from Dennis Loop, a Recon Platoon member who was with John, Blackmon and Coon when they died. Dennis had moved to Houston from California in 1998 and had been visiting John every year since then. He told us that he had seen the wreaths every year and wondered who had been placing them.

Unfortunately, we both lost each other’s phone number after our first conversation. Dennis found my number three years ago and contacted me. We agreed to meet at John’s grave on Memorial Day 2016. On that date Vice President Judy Conley Pierce and Secretary/Treasurer Sandy Alexander arrived shortly before me. Dennis was there waiting. They introduced themselves and told him I was on the way. I arrived shortly after and walked up to a man I had never met, but who had been a friend of my friend. As I reached out to shake his hand he stepped up and hugged me. It was as though we already knew each other. That day we finally heard the details of John’s death. We visited for about an hour, Dennis telling us about “Tex,” Judy and I telling him about “John.”

Dennis then invited us to the 2016 reunion in Willis. He wanted the rest of the platoon to meet us. We told him Operation Lone Star would be proud to co-sponsor the reunion.

We arrived in the early afternoon on Friday, the second day of the reunion. As we were introduced to the members of Recon Platoon and other 1st Battalion companies, we were greeted with open arms. They immediately told us we were family. We met John’s older brother, Charles, whom I hadn’t see since just after John’s funeral in 1971. We were also introduced to Doug Coon, whose brother Dave was killed the night of Jan. 17. I gave each an Operation Lone Star Alamo challenge coin, the one we give only to surviving family members and Purple Heart recipients. They each gave us a heartfelt thank you.

We gave each former soldier a Vietnam Veteran lapel pin which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. For his commitment to his comrade-in-arms, Tex, and our friend, John, Dennis Loop was presented with our Operation Lone Star Hero Award for adhering to the Army’s code of never leaving a comrade behind.

We then proceeded to Rosewood Cemetery where a memorial service for all of the lost soldiers of 1/52 Americal Division was conducted and a wreath provided by Operation Lone Star was placed on John’s grave.

The following day we met at the H.E.A.R.T.S. Military Museum located in Huntsville, completed a tour, then proceeded to a local restaurant where a country-style lunch was provided to everyone. At the conclusion of lunch we were invited to the 2018 reunion. We again offered to co-sponsor the event.

On Friday, April 7, we met Dennis and his troops at the National United States Military Museum located on Wallisville Road in east Houston and enjoyed a tour of the facility. It was good seeing our new friends again. After the tour we went to the Texas Seafood Restaurant on I-10 East for lunch which was provided by Operation Lone Star.

After lunch we met at the American Legion facility in Willis for a memorial service for all of the men in 1/52 Americal Division who were killed in action in Vietnam. We presented a wreath dedicated to the unit then Dennis asked members to name the men whose lives were lost in Vietnam. It was a sobering moment as names were spoken aloud, company by company. One man might say three names; another five, another two. One veteran stated that in the late ’60s, early ’70’s two out of every three soldiers attached to 1/52 would be a casualty. A prayer was said and a salute rendered.

I then thanked the group for allowing us to attend and was interrupted by, “You’re family!”

A fine group of men, soldiers, heroes.

Judy, Sandy and I then went to Rosewood Cemetery where we placed the wreath on John “Tex” Dobroski’s grave to honor him, William Blackmon, Dave Coon and all of the men of 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.