Benjamin L. Reynolds, Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army, Vietnam Two Silver Stars

Published 1:00 pm Friday, September 29, 2023

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As the helicopter circled, the scene below looked pretty grim. Smoke was coming from the crater where several of Sgt. Reynolds’ men were pinned down. The original LZ [landing zone] was blocked by the burning helicopter that had off-loaded an assault force. Sgt. Reynolds turned to the pilot and said, “Put us in. They need our help!” The pilot asked Reynolds again to be sure and he replied, “Yes, put us down.” 

The pilot maneuvered the chopper in low and hovered, preparing to let Reynolds and his men off. Suddenly, the aircraft was raked with enemy fire. All sorts of warning lights went off on the dashboard. The pilot had been wounded and the fuel tank had been ruptured and was leaking fuel. 

The co-pilot managed to recover the ship and took off for a nearby Special Forces firebase about five miles away. He narrowly avoided crashing a couple of times, but eventually got the aircraft on the ground. Reynolds and his men quickly exited, fearing a fire. 

The story that would earn Sgt. Reynolds a Bronze Star [later up-graded to a Silver Star] had just begun {See Part 2 to be published Oct. 7].

Benjamin Lee Reynolds was born October 19, 1929, in the Spring Hill community in Pike County, Alabama. His parents were Jessie Frank and Era Elizabeth Stephens Reynolds. Ben was the third of eight children. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Kinston, Alabama, where they sharecropped on a farm. Ben worked on the farm and attended Kinston schools through the seventh grade when he quit to work fulltime on the farm.

At the age of 24, Ben married Helen Elizabeth Farmer in Andalusia, Alabama. He was drafted not long after that and reported for basic training to Camp Gordon, Georgia, in February, 1954. After completing basic, Ben was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, with the 101st Airborne. That unit had been stationed there after being reactivated after WW II, and was mostly a training unit at the time. In March 1956, the 101st was transferred to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they became a combat division.

In November 1954, Ben was sent to Wildflicken, Germany, as a Light Weapons Infantry Leader with the 373rd Armored Infantry Battalion. He was a squad leader and trained soldiers. Since Ben had quit school in the 8th grade, he was not eligible to be promoted to Sergeant. While he was training soldiers fulltime, Ben completed the 8th grade studies and eventually obtained his GED. He got that promotion to Sergeant!

The long hours of study while still maintaining a full work schedule says something about Ben Reynolds as a soldier. Using his own words, I want to tell you about Ben the man: “Every Sunday morning I had to go to Sunday school and church with Steve and Helen. In March 1957, I was baptized and started going to church for myself. I give all the credit to Helen – without her, I would not have gone to church.”

In January 1956, Ben was returned to Fort Jackson, where he was a Sergeant and a platoon leader with the 11th Battalion, U.S. Army Training Center. Ben and Helen’s son, Steve, was born in November 1956. Their daughter, Gail, was born in March 1959.

Ben Reynolds’ career path was training soldiers. Over the next four years, Ben trained soldiers at Fort Jackson and finally at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1961, he was sent to Korea and assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Division. Ben took a break from training soldiers to manage an NCO Club for a year. In October 1962, he was returned to Fort Jackson, where he continued training soldiers.

In 1964, Ben was in the inaugural group of soldiers to attend what would later be called the Drill Sergeant Academy. When he had completed the school, he became an instructor at the academy.

Ben was transferred to Fort Rucker, Alabama, in early 1966, to be near his mother who was dying of cancer. While there, he was promoted to First Sergeant. After his mother’s death, Ben was sent to Fort Benning in December 1966.

Ben was deployed to Vietnam for the first time in October 1967. He was assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. His company headquarters was at Pleiku in Kontum Province. He reported to the Company S-3, Major Carl Stiner, for assignment and was named First Sergeant. He was responsible for the 156-man rifle company. His company commander was Captain Robert Morton.

First Sergeant Ben Reynolds spent the next 12 months with Company B, comprised of six officers and 156 enlisted men. Their mission was to search for the enemy and destroy them. One such mission in January 1968 was particularly bloody.

On January 19, 1968, Company B was operating in Kontum Province, just west of Dak To. As the men stopped to eat, they suddenly came under fire from a large NVA [North Vietnamese Army] force. They had walked into a well-planned ambush. Captain Morton, the company commander, ordered his men to pull back to the crest of a hill. The battle that ensued can best be described by Sgt. Reynolds: “Within seconds, I looked around and all I could see was me and the RTO [radio telephone operator]…I gave my rifle and helmet to the RTO and ran forward to pick up what I later discovered was the dead Forward Observer….As I was moving back to a group from my company, we came under fire from the trees behind us. 

“Just then, a Private Williams got hit and was screaming with pain. I ran to get him and pulled him behind a tree. About that time, an 82mm mortar shell exploded where I had been lying and wounded Captain Morton and two RTOs. The CO [Morton] had multiple wounds to his lower back and buttocks…I quickly fashioned a make-shift litter to carry the CO…I called out to Lt. Wade, our senior platoon leader and said ‘you’ve got yourself a company.’ He called back, ‘I’ve got all I can handle here.’ The other platoon leaders all said the same.

“About that time, Lt. Col. Hendrix, our battalion commanding officer came on the radio. He said that he had been monitoring everything…He told me to take charge of the company and let him know how he could help…I told him we were receiving fire from the trees and he needed to send a unit down the ridgeline to help…The threat of that unit made the enemy move out…We then returned to the battalion area. We had six dead, 14 wounded and Spec. 4 Daryl Johnson was missing. Johnson was from North Carolina and is still missing.” 

Company B First Sergeant Ben Reynolds would be awarded the Silver Star for his actions that day. His award reads in part, “First Sergeant Reynolds displayed exceptional leadership ability as he deployed his men in strategic positions, while running from one position to another, directing fire and offering encouragement. His brave actions during the engagement saved many lives and contributed immeasurably to the successful completion of the Company’s mission. First Sergeant Reynolds’ personal bravery and exemplary devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army.”

John Vick [to be continued]