Steve Forgey knows mortal danger intimately. His year in Vietnam is a tale of wounds from infantry combat, an exploding bunker and nature’s less friendly aspects.
It was a time and place in which he came to make no assumptions about what to expect. Fate was always handing out experiences with lasting impact.
The Freetown native enlisted in the Army in 1967, figuring that with his dad being on the local draft board he’d come to the military’s attention anyway. Forgey underwent basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and advanced individual training on an M16 rifle at Fort McClellan in Alabama.
He enjoyed a 25-day leave after that, savoring time with friends and family. Then Forgey was off to Fort Lewis and then McChord Air Force Base, both in Washington state.
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The next stop was Cam Ranh Bay, an Air Force airlift facility on Vietnam’s southeastern coast. Those beginning 12-month tours of duty would get their assignments there.
“I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and sent to Pleiku in the central highlands,” Forgey said.
Within a few weeks, he got a taste of how suddenly everything can change at a base in the field. A North Vietnamese Army unit blew apart the bunker where he was staying. Everyone took cover and survived.
The next major incident left him with a permanent reminder of his time there.
“I’d been in country not quite two months and got hit in the shoulder with mortar,” Forgey said. “Three guys got killed in that fight. I still have a real small piece of shrapnel in my head.”
He spent a week recovering at the 71st Evacuation Hospital at Pleiku. Then he was put on a plane for Cam Ranh Bay, where he spent two weeks at the 6th Convalescence Center.
“Cam Ranh Bay was like serving stateside,” Forgey said. “They had running water and everything.”
The current Vietnamese government has erected a memorial at the base of the mountain for the NVA soldiers killed in that fight, “but certainly not for Americans,” Forgey said.
After he went back to his unit, he was put in a supply outfit that supplied the entire 4th Infantry Division with automotive parts and weaponry parts.
It wasn’t like he was out of harm’s way, though.
“Even then, we still had to pull perimeter guard, just like when we were in the bush.”
That guard duty also left him with a permanent souvenir.
“There were Howitzers going off while I was in the guard tower. I still have some hearing loss,” Forgey said.
Even nature could turn hostile in Vietnam.
“There were rats everywhere. In monsoon season, you had to deal with leeches,” he said.
Troops were offered periods of respite — known as “R&R” — that could be taken in-country or out-of-country, commonly in Hawaii. Forgey opted to just slog straight through his tour.
“I didn’t want to start getting relaxed and then think about going back,” he said.
The enemy’s relentlessness was impressed upon him to the very end.
“The day I left Vietnam, while we were getting ready for our flight, some Air Force guy asked if we’d just come from Camp Enari (the 4th Infantry Division’s main base camp),” Forgey recalled. “We said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘It’s good you’re out of there; it’s getting hit pretty hard right now.’”
Processing out consisted of filling out some paperwork and turning in his equipment. His final two stops were Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort Drum in New York.
“I flew into Louisville and my mom and dad came and got me,” he said.
He got a job at Golden Foundry in Columbus, where he remained until that long-time factory closed. In short order, he met his wife, Brenda.
“He was awful nervous when he came back,” she said. “Even fireworks would startle him.”
About five years ago, he began participating in the Bartholomew County Honor Guard, which performs at the funerals of all county veterans.
“I always thought when I retired that I’d like to do that for my fellow veterans,” Forgey said.
He’s attended some reunions over the years. Fellow troops from his infantry unit have reconvened in Oklahoma three times, and he attended a large gathering for all Vietnam veterans in Tennessee.
At this point, he basically lives the life of a contented Petersville area resident, enjoying family and friends. And like so many with the Vietnam conflict in their pasts, he is quietly aware of the cost of his freedom to do so.
Vietnam service: April 1968 to April 1969
Awards/honors: Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal
Family: Wife, Brenda; daughter Tina Pickett
Occupation after military: Various positions at Golden Foundry