‘Glad to be alive’
“We met while serving in ’69 and ’70 in the Quang Tri (Province) in Vietnam, right up next to the (demilitarized zone) — we were about as far north in (South) Vietnam as you could get,” Howell said. “Dale and I both were in (separate) tanks and we went on search and destroy missions together. We slept in cots maybe three weeks because we were in the field and sleeping on the ground most of the time.”
Howell was converted from an infantryman to a driver and later a tank commander, while Bale was a gunner. Bale said they rode in the M-48 tanks with a 90mm gun and Sheridan tanks with 152mm combustible cartridges, regularly encountering land mines and coming under fire from rocket-propelled grenades.
Due to lost paperwork, Howell said he has never received his Purple Heart medal with an oak leaf cluster, which is awarded when a service member is wounded twice in combat. He is currently attempting to get the necessary paperwork completed and approved for the belated decoration.
“Dale was blown up three times in tanks and I was blown up twice,” Howell said. “I would have received two Purple Hearts but my records got destroyed.”
When asked if they would ever return to Vietnam as civilians, Howell and Bale grinned but quickly answered there were too many negative memories.
“We wouldn't give a million dollars for our experience in Vietnam but we wouldn't give one cent to go back,” Bale said.
Bale, a retired golf course superintendent who has a crop and cattle farm with his wife Nancy, has hearing aids and diabetes, while Howell has multiple health issues from the cancer and his war injuries.
But they said they felt grateful to have survived to raise their families, with each having three children. Bale has five grandchildren, while Howell has three.
“Our unit was about 300-strong and probably more than 150 or more have passed away,” Howell said. “It’s just great we’re alive and we made it this far.”