Patriot, Chapter 1919
Ken Wallingford was
born in Munich, Germany in 1948. He says, “My dad was in the Air Force
and like most “Air Force Brats” I really grew up everywhere. I went to
school in a lot of places, mostly though in Florida, Maine, and New
Mexico.” In 1966, Ken graduated from high school in the Miami Military
Academy, Miami, Florida. He then attended Texas A&I College in Kingsville,
Texas (now known as Texas A&M University, Kingsville). In September 1969
he enlisted in the Army.
He completed Basic Combat Training and Advanced
Individual Training in Infantry at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and then graduated
from Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. After receiving his “jump
wings” as an Army Paratrooper, he was then sent to Fort Bragg, North
Carolina for Special Forces, phase one training, and then received orders
Ken arrived “in country” in August 1970 and was assigned
to the 25th Infantry Division where he served as a sniper. At the end of
his one-year tour he volunteered to extend for the remaining seven months
and six days left on his enlistment. After a 30-day leave back home in the
United States, he was assigned to MACV (Military Assistance Command,
Vietnam) and sent to Lai Khe where he served for the next six months.
In March 1972, Sergeant
Ken Wallingford was
sent from Lai Khe to Loc Ninh. Ken was the junior member of the 5-man MACV
Advisory Team #70 (made up of Lt Col Richard Schott, Major Albert E. “Ed”
Carlson, Captain Mark Smith, SFC Howard Lull, and Sgt Ken Wallingford) that
was with the 200 South Vietnamese troops stationed at Loc Ninh.
Before dawn on April 5, 1972 they came under heavy mortar
and artillery fire. This was the beginning of a massive attack launched by
three divisions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), a force of 30,000 men.
After two and one-half days locked in fierce combat, the enemy overran the
camp with an overwhelming combined arms force of infantry, artillery, and
armor consisting of Russian T-54 and PT-76 tanks.
Ken relates the action from him perspective, saying, “The
Major and myself had taken up a bunker position some distance away from our
other three team members that were in the Command Post Bunker (a UPI
photographer, a French national, Yves Michele Dumond, had also come
to Loc Ninh the day before because he had heard he could get some action
photos there and also because he knew Captain Smith).
Knowing that the NVA troops would come searching and
couldn’t miss discovering us where we were, we moved again and concealed
ourselves under some sandbags between two buildings, intending to stay in
that “hide-position” until after dark when we would then E & E (escape and
evade) from the enemy held area. We did not have that much time. An enemy
tank scored a hit directly on our position and we were both wounded by
shrapnel from the tank shell. I was bleeding from my head to my legs and
believed that I was about to die. The Major was not as badly hurt. We lay
helpless under the sandbags all that day. After darkness we managed to get
back and reoccupy our original bunker position. We re-established radio
contact and all the next day called in air strikes, some were very near
misses around our own position. We lasted through another night there, but
on the morning following, the enemy got on top of our bunker and started
pouring gasoline all over the position. We knew then that it was all over.
We came out as fast as we could, exiting through the port holes, and were
taken prisoner. That was exactly six days before my scheduled date of
discharge from the Army.”
During the second day’s fighting,
Ken Wallingford became
a Christian. A professed agnostic up to that point in life, he was now in a
large-scale engagement on the wrong side of a force ratio of 150 to 1.
Staring into the face of near certain death, he made his profession of
faith, accepted Jesus Christ as savior and prayed to God for deliverance.
He believes there are no atheists in foxholes.
The Lieutenant Colonel and the Sergeant First Class of
the Advisory Team had been killed but Captain Smith and photographer Dumond
survived, as did Sergeant Wallingford and Major Carlson. The survivors had
been without food or water for two days.
Ken’s captors gave him water and something to eat “sort
of like sardines,” and quickly marched them out of the area and on their way
towards Cambodia. Finally reaching a crude jungle camp in Cambodia, he was
held in solitary confinement in a five-foot by six-foot bamboo “tiger
cage.” He was also chained to the cage with one leg shackled to a ten-foot
chain. The “tiger cages” were spaced apart so the American prisoners were
isolated from one another (Ken would be held for the next 10 months and
during that time neither he, nor any of the others in the Cambodian jungle
camps ever received a letter or package from family and home as did those
held, Prisoner Of War, in the North Vietnamese POW camps around Hanoi).
An NVA doctor attended his wounds. He was offered
penicillin but refused it. As a child he had had an allergic reaction to
penicillin and feared if that recurred now in jungle captivity that he might
not survive. His wounds were treated with an iodine solution and left open
to heal (their practice was not to stitch up wounds), and they gradually did
He says, “I was fed three times a day, rice with a
little pork fat, a few tiny little cubes of fat on the pigskin that still
had the hair on it; and I had a bowl of water which would be filled at
mealtimes. I kept that water bowl and still have it today. About
once every 10 days I was taken out of my cage and we prisoners were taken to
a stream to bathe and wash what clothing we were wearing. We would then be
sat down and made to listen to indoctrination training.
After I had been there about 30 days, I was taken out and
made to sit down on a tree stump to be interrogated. The interrogator spoke
perfect English and it was amazing how much he appeared to know about me and
the current situation in South Vietnam, but from my Special Forces
training. I knew that was exactly what he was trained to do. Still it was
surprising to see someone with that level of skill in such a small and
insignificant jungle camp. Attempts were always being made to obtain
confessions and anti-American statements. My answer was always that “I’m not
going to sign any statements and I know you are not going to kill me.” It
was late in the war and live prisoners were valuable for negotiation.
In January 1973, apparently in preparation for pending
repatriation, Ken Wallingford
was moved to another prison camp in the Cambodian jungle. After about 30
days there he and several others were moved back across the border into
South Vietnam and taken to Loc Ninh, where they had first been captured,
probably because there was an airstrip there. Now, he and 27 other
prisoners had been assembled there for repatriation.
On February 12, 1973 they were flown by helicopter to
freedom in Saigon. Upon landing, they walked up a red carpet that had been
rolled out on the flight line and were greeted by the Ambassador and
welcomed back by a large group of senior officers. Then it was on to Clark
Air Force Base in the Philippines for three days before the flight home. On
Valentine’s Day, 1973, Ken’s plane landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San
Antonio and he was taken to Brooke Army Hospital. Ten days later he was
released to go home.
He made these statements at that time, “…I was
fortunate to have been captured late in the war and spent a very short time
imprisoned in comparison to some who were over there eight and nine years.
I was able to withstand my ordeal with the help of God and faith in you, the
American people. I wish to thank each and every one of you who stood behind
us and never gave up hope or ceased your prayers that some day we might
return home to our families and loved ones. I would also like to thank
everyone who wore a POW bracelet with my name engraved on it. This meant so
much to me because it told me you cared. I wish that the 56,000 plus men who
gave their lives for a cause could have the same opportunity that God has
In June 1973 he was discharged from the Army. He had
been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf
Cluster, Army Commendation Medal with “V”device and two Oak Leaf Clusters,
Prisoner of War Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star,
Combat Infantry Badge, Parachutists Badge and eight other medals and unit
Ken Wallingford has
lived in Austin since 1973. He was vice president of a bank for six years
and has worked as a licensed real estate broker. For the last nineteen
years he has been with the Texas Veterans Land Board where he currently
serves as the Director of Veterans Liaison. Ken is a Purple Heart recipient
and was one of our 26 original members when the chapter was first formed in
Austin. This month, Chapter 1919 proudly salutes charter member,
Editors Note: Texas is one of only five states that provide separate
benefits at the state level for its veterans. The Texas Veterans Land Board
traces its lineage back to the original 1836 Texas General Land Office that
was formed, in part, to make sure veterans of the Texas Revolution were
given the land rights they were promised in exchange for their military
service in liberating Texas. Today the Texas Veterans Land Board serves 1.6
million Texas veterans of all ages (third largest veterans population in the
nation), offering LOW COST LAND LOANS up to $80,000; Texas Veterans HOME
LOANS up to $325,000; HOME IMPROVEMENT LOANS up to $25,000 for 20-years, or
$10,000 for 10-years; care for Texas veterans in any of seven Texas STATE
VETERANS HOMES; and a final resting place in one of the two Texas STATE
VETERANS CEMETERIES (ground-breaking soon in a third location at Abilene).
The Texas Veterans Land Board is available to serve, call 1-800-252-VETS or
contact thru the website at