Few historians chronicled battles of the Vietnam War. Like the brutal war in Korea, most politicians that made bad decisions would rather forget it ever happened. Returning veterans were scorned and so disheartened many refused to talk about their roles in combat. Time does not heal wounds of war. Combat veterans carry their scars, physical and emotional, to the grave.
November 8, 2014 heralds the anniversary of a significant battle in what was dubbed War zone D near Bien Hoa. The U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade landed there on November 5, 1965. The troops of Companies C and D became locked in a fierce battle with 1,200 regular Viet Cong army troops. When the battle ended 48 Americans lay dead. Many others were wounded. Some 400 Viet Cong were killed.
The story of one of those wounded inspired two musicians to create something that would memorialize the battle. It didn’t happen right away. It took years before wounded combat veteran Niles Harris met Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich in Deadwood, South Dakota. Big and Rich were performing at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Holiday Inn Resort. Niles took Big Kenny and John Rich touring around the Black Hills. He showed them some of the old mines that made Deadwood famous during the 1875 gold rush era. The men biked trough some of the most beautiful country in America. During their time together Niles recounted his experiences in Operation Hump.
At the November 8 battle, Niles Harris was hit with machine gun bullets in his right leg from his knee to his hip. He was 19 years old when he joined the 173rd Airborne. His story inspired Big and Rich to write the song ‘Eighth of November.’ It is a tribute to all Vietnam War veterans.
“We are only 15 miles from Sturgis. During the motorcycle rally Deadwood Mountain Grand Holiday Inn Resort sponsors ‘Haulin for Heroes.’ It is a ride and auction for Wounded Warriors. Every single dime goes to their program. Last year we raised $30,000. When I told Wounded Warriors they were blown away. We auctioned off autographed celebrity guitars. We are going to do it again on the Thursday of the rally,” Susan Kightlinger, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Mountain Grand said.
“We love doing it. We are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. The ride will be from 2 to 4 PM on Thursday during the rally. It will end back here at our event center. We hope to make it a national event,” Susan added.
“Big and Rich designed this customized chopper to thank Niles.” Susan pointed to an amazing chromed motorcycle that was on display in the main entrance to the Mountain Grand. A painting depicting the Battle of November 8th, a 173rd Airborne jacket, enlarged photographs of Big and Rich with Niles and caps were also displayed.
The motorcycle was built by Nick Hoffman of Logic Motors in Salem, Ohio. “Big Kenny and John handpicked every design on the bike to pay tribute to the battle,” Susan explained.
There will be a free dinner for veterans on November 8, 2014 at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Holiday Inn Resort. It is sponsored by local businesses. The hotel, casino and event complex is built on the side of a mountain. It was the site of Hometake Mine’s slime plant where crushed gold ore was mixed with cyanide to refine it. Much of the old structure, including massive wood beams, have been kept in the design of the hotel that opened on July 1, 2011.
“Niles Harris’ chopper has been on display since the Mountain Grand opened and it will stay. It honors veterans of the November Eighth battle and all veterans. Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. We plan a big event. The ride will take place on August 6, 2015. We are planning a special auction to raise money for Wounded Warriors. We have a lot of memorabilia from performing artists and entertainers that our owners will contribute,” Susan explained.
As November 8th approaches it is time to pause and remember the many veterans that served in combat. Perhaps the modesty of Niles Harris’ words says it all: “I didn’t do anything but stop a bullet. Tens of thousands of other soldiers have done the same thing and many didn’t come back.”