Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell: Last Man Out

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One year ago, we lost Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell. He served our country nearly 40 years beginning as a SOG Recon man out of Phu Bai. He was the same humble, fearless warrior that I served with in 1968,” John Stryker Meyer

Eldon Bargewell John Stryker Meyer Photo

Last Man Out USSOCOM Tom Nevin From Marsoc, Marines

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell received U.S. Special Operations Command’s highest honor when he was awarded the 2010 Bull Simons Award in Tampa, Fla., June 16. This lifetime achievement award, named for Army Col. Arthur “Bull” Simons, honors the spirit, Vietnam. During
his two tours in SOG as a Non-Commissioned Officer Team Leader.
Bargewell conducted more than 25 reconnaissance, direct action and team recovery missions into Cambodia, Laos values, and skills of the unconventional warrior.

“Major General Eldon A. Bargewell’s career of service is an amazing example of how one person, always learning and always leading, can profoundly impact both mission success and the people who are privileged to work with him,” said Navy Admiral Eric T. Olson, commander, USSOCOM.

“He is the man you want planning the mission, the one you want close by, on your right or left during a firefight, and the one you can trust to tell the truth when its over.”
Bargewell, a Hoquiam, Wash., native, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1968. In September of that year, he was assigned to the Studies and Observation Group in and North Vietnam where he ultimately earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor.

A year after leaving his recon company in Vietnam, Bargewell said he volunteered to return because he “was comfortable with their mission, and Billy Waugh was the recon company sergeant major.”

Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Billy Waugh, a legend in his own right in the Special Operations community and author of the book “Hunting the Jackal,” described Bargewell as a strong, decisive combat leader who carried a unique weapon in Vietnam.

“Bargewell was unique because he liked to carry an RPD, which is a Russian heavy machine gun, seven point six two, muzzle velocity of thirty-two hundred feet per second. It’s an ass-kicker, and when that round hits you, you are dead,” Waugh said.

The RPD is the weapon Bargewell used in the battle where he was credited with killing between 35 and 40 enemy, saving his platoon.

Bargewell’s extensive career in special operations and his commitment to ensuring soldiers were properly trained prior to combat were instrumental in his selection for this award.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell

“Waugh took me up in a helicopter to nine thousand feet and he threw me out.”
— Maj. Gen. Bargewell

Staff Sgt. Eldon . Bargewell Vietnam War

Last Man Out

September 1971. Somewhere in Laos, in the northern part of the A Shau Valley. A team of U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers and indigenous Montagnard and Cambodian fighters, about 15 strong, sets down by helicopter at last light and quickly disappears into the jungle. Their objective: perform reconnaissance of Route 922, a major transit road that made up the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. Their particular target is a road chokepoint codenamed Golf 5. Staff Sgt. Eldon Bargewell leads the team into the gathering darkness, knowing that the enemy is probably fully aware of their arrival.

The team is part of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam–Studies and Observation Group (MACV–SOG), a joint unconventional warfare command formed in January 1964 to advise, train, and support South Vietnamese forces in their fight against the communist regime in North Vietnam. MACV-SOG teams frequently operated in cross-border operations into Cambodia, North Vietnam, and, as with this mission, into Laos. This particular mission stands out, though, because before it would end the next day, Staff Sgt. Bargewell would engage in actions that led to his being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second-highest honor for valor in combat.

Bargewell had no illusions about what faced him that day. In fact, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had dedicated 80,000 soldiers to ferret out the special operations teams. The Ho Chi Minh trail was an important lifeline for NVA regulars and Viet Cong fighting in South Vietnam, and teams such as Bargewell’s were a major headache for them. In fact,
Staff Sgt. Eldon Bargewell on an earlier mission Bargewell had captured a map of the entire Ho Chi Minh Trail complex, including waypoints and rest areas, providing American targeters with a rich intelligence source. (On that mission Bargewell survived an AK round that hit him in the chest but lodged in the NVA ammo pouches and magazines he wore there.)

“Route 922 was a hell of a target,” said Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Billy Waugh, who served several tours with MACV-SOG. “We sent team after team into that target area and lost many men there.”

“We’d been having a lot of trouble getting teams into landing zones without being shot up at the landing zone, having helicopters shot down” Bargewell said. “We felt that they knew where we were going to land before we got there.”

Indeed, Waugh said, the NVA’s communications capability was every bit as good as the Americans’, and they frequently intercepted our messages. “They knew he was there,” he said of Bargewell, “so the chase was on.”

Bargewell’s team set up a small perimeter, perhaps 20 feet in diameter, and placed Claymore mines in front of them— not too far out, though, so the enemy could not sneak up and turn them around. Bargewell himself carried a formidable weapon: the RPD (Ruchnoy Pulemyot Degtyareva), a Soviet-bloc light machine- gun that fired a 7.62mm round at 3,200 feet per second at 650 rounds a minute. “It’s an ass-kicker,”
Waugh said, “and when that round hits you, you’re dead.”

They were overrun and repulsed each time by the team’s fire, particularly the heavy, accurate fire from Bargewell’s RPD. Because of his incredible firepower, the NVA concentrated their efforts on his position.

“We were in dire straits and about to be overrun,” Bargewell said. “They needed to come with the helicopters and gunships and get us out of there.”

The team moved to a predetermined pickup point, but the NVA pursued. As they moved to leave, Bargewell held his position, laying down protective fire. “He evacuated everyone but himself,” Waugh said. “He wouldn’t go out. He had the weapon that was saving the day.”

“They came on a final assault with about 60 guys,” Bargewell said. “At that point I had about 400 or 500 rounds left out of my thousand rounds of ammo. I wound up breaking up their assault.

They were going to attack us,” Bargewell said. And just as first light was peeking through the foliage, the NVA fired two RPG–2 rockets into the small perimeter and opened up with AK–47s at the same time.

“Everyone was wounded,” Bargewell said. A piece of a fragmented AK round hit the left side of his face and lodged beneath his right eye. Despite the wound, he quickly returned fire.

“I saw them coming through the jungle, about 20
feet away, 10 to 12 guys on line,” he said. “I basically took them out.”

The NVA tried again, from a different angle. “They were moving at a crouch, half- stepping but moving quickly towards us,” Bargewell said. “They were firing over our heads. I was laying down low, firing from behind a log, and I took that second line out.”

The NVA tried three more times to on the LZ.”
The team called in supportingair strikes, and A–1E Skyraiders spent 45 minutes placing accurate fire between Bargewell’s team and the pursuing NVA. Once at the landing zone, Bargewell refused medical treatment in order to defend the LZ and ensure the safe evacuation of his team. He was the last man out.

For his actions that day, Eldon Bargewell was awarded the Distinguish Service Cross in November 1971. By MARSOC.MIL

Epilogue: Staff Sgt. Bargewell was medevac’d to Da Nang,
suffering serious internal bleeding from a severed artery in his nasal sinuses. After doctors stopped the bleeding, he was due to be further evacuated to a military hospital on Okinawa. Instead, he asked a visiting buddy to help him, and at 0100 a few days later, he snuck out of the hospital and went back to his MAC V-SOG base, where he spent another five months in Vietnam.

From John Stryker Meyer Facebook

Because Eldon Bargewell was such a caring warrior leader of men, I wanted to add one more story that portrays the man so highly respected by all who served with him. 
On Aug. 20, 2005, my stepson Evan Bozajian was wounded in action south of the Green Zone by an IED while on patrol as a Scout attached to 3rd ID. I had mentioned the incident to Eldon in an e-mail who was the Spec Ops OIC in Iraq.
Eldon took time from his busy schedule to travel to the hospital to visit Evan – who was amazed when a 2-star general appeared. Evan was amazed and startled when Eldon arrived at the hospital.
As Evan gained his composure, Eldon told him that he had served with me in Vietnam 1968-69 and asked how he was doing. 
Needless to say, Evan’s care at the hospital improved. To this day our family has been eternally grateful to Eldon. 
That’s the kind of soldier he was. Slow-Hand Salute
Here’s a photo of that visit.

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