By Max Hrenda
Of the 364 days that Wayne Gaskins spent patrolling the jungles of Vietnam, one week in 1969 may stand out more than the rest.
Gaskins was among the approximately 1,800 U.S. Army soldiers that participated in the notorious Battle of Hamburger Hill, from May 10 to May 20, in the Thua Thien province of South Vietnam.
Although it would prove to be the largest campaign — and arguably, the most dire situation — Gaskins would participate in during the Vietnam War, he said his resolve was not shaken by the experience.
“I was kind of hard-headed,” Gaskins said. “I was still pretty gung ho and ready to see action.”
That “gung ho” attitude, along with a sense of patriotism, is what drove Gaskins to enlist in July 1968.
After his training at Fort Benning, Ga. — and his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, S.C. — Gaskins was shipped off to the Asian theater and assigned to the 327th Infantry, Co. D, of the 101st Airborne Division. Before landing in Hue, Vietnam — by way of Long Binh, Vietnam — in January 1969, however, Gaskins learned that he and many others were almost replacing the company in its entirety.
“The company I was assigned to had been completely wiped out, except for two men,” Gaskins said. “That was what they call ‘friendly fire.’ They got into a battle, and they called in the Air Force for an air strike. They came in and overshot … and dropped napalm on the Americans. I was sent to be a replacement for one of the guys killed from that.”
Despite the fate of his predecessors, Gaskins said the news helped prepare him for what was to come.
“It let me know I was going to see some action,” Gaskins said. “When I went over there … I wanted to see some action. It let me see the action shortly after I got there.”
By “shortly,” Gaskins meant “minutes.”