For this week’s Veterans page, I chose to continue Chaplain Amos E. Clemmons’ story, as we
sat down for another interview session. I’ll readily admit that I hold great admiration for his exceptional service that he provided to our soldiers and his ongoing service to our community. He reminds me so much of this writer’s wonderful battalion Chaplain in Vietnam, retired Colonel Bernie Windmiller, a man whom all of our “Boys of ’67” hold in high esteem. Both Chaplains accompanied their men on dangerous patrols seeking out enemy forces.
Amos entered active duty from Saugus, California, July 5, 1966 and retired from the U.S. Army September 25, 1999. From a thirty three year career, it is impossible to relate Chaplain Clemmon’s whole story in these articles, so what is written here only touches on a few years and events.
Big Red One
Once Amos arrived in The Republic of Vietnam, he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed The Big Red One. Amos reported to the Division Forward Base and the home of the 3rd Infantry Brigade at Lai Khe Base Camp along Highway 13 (Thunder Road). However, on his first night he was absent without leave (AWOL) because the helicopter transporting him to Lai Khe inadvertently took him to the wrong base camp. Amos laughs about that now.
Soon, his duty was “area coverage” which he rotated with three other Chaplains to various base camps within his infantry brigade’s assigned area. Amos accompanied his fellow ‘grunts’ on their company-size patrols seeking out enemy forces. It’s noted that Chaplains by law are considered “noncombatants” and do not carry weapons. Amos said, “It was important for my men to see me unarmed because I wanted them to know that I had complete trust in them performing their jobs well. This helped dispel fears that new replacements had during their first jungle patrols.”
Blown to Smithereens
Amos had several close calls during their “search and destroy” missions, and jungle operations. The first night of the 1968 Tet Offensive when North Vietnamese regulars attacked Lai Khe with mortars and rocket fire, Amos had just scrambled for cover when an enemy rocket blew his ‘hooch’ to smithereens. Amos said, “I always felt more comfortable on patrols with my men because our base camp which was adjacent to Lai Khe village was so poorly secured”.
During his military ministry, Amos conducted numerous memorial services for his fallen warriors. He sent many letters of condolences to their families, some of which he communicated with for years. He also served his men well by assisting them thru their relationship issues from back home as many received hurtful Dear John letters. He even assisted one soldier in travelling home to resurrect his marriage. Clearly, Chaplains are a vital element of our Armed Forces, especially for our combat soldiers.
Pause and Visualize
At this point Amos would like us all to pause and visualize the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D. C. According to 1st Division Yearbooks covering the period May 1965 to December 1968, two-thousand, one-hundred-fifty-four of those engraved names are names of Big Red One Soldiers killed in action (KIA) as a result of hostile action. Tragically, this includes Division Commander, Major General Keith Ware, his Sergeant Major, Joseph Venable and six other soldiers who died in a helicopter crash, Sept. 13, 1968. General Ware was a World War Two Medal of Honor recipient. The 1st Division left Vietnam in 1970 and many more brothers in war names were added to our Memorial Wall. Amos is a generous contributor to Santa Clarita Valley’s Fallen Warrior Monument proposed for our Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall.
Cried For Their Safety
On August 18, 1968, Amos’ Vietnam tour of duty ended and he returned home for a 30 day leave. Amos said, “As I departed Lai Khe and so many good friends, leaving them in such a hazardous place, I cried and prayed for their safety”. After his leave, Amos reported to Fort Baker near the Presidio in San Francisco as Deputy 6th Region Air Defense Chaplain and Post Chaplain, where he served until July 1970. He was then discharged from active duty and became a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. Following active duty, Amos became Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Eureka, California for 22 years. Ernestene and Amos lived there 33 years until November 2003 at which time they moved back to Santa Clarita to be near their daughters, grandchildren and great-grand children.
Music Redefined My Life
Amos retired from the US Army Reserves in 1999 at age 60 due to mandatory retirement policies. Amos’ military awards are: Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star with 1st Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal for Meritorious Service, Army Reserves Achievement Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, National Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, RVN Campaign Medal, and RVN Service Medal.
Singing For Seniors
Since retirement, Amos has continued living a full life as his primary hobby is music, singing with a band, the “Memory Makers,” which voluntarily entertains at SCV’s various senior living complexes and other venues and communities. He’s also a member of the “Santa Clarita Silvertones Choir”, a SCV Senior Center volunteer activity. Thank you Amos Clemmons for your patriotism and for your service to our Country and our community.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.