American Military Memorial - Lance Corporal Roger Dale Cecil - Alma-KIA Vietnam-July 14, 1967
With the exception of a three year standstill in Korea from 1950 to 1953, Americans weren't used to being on the unsuccessful side of any war in what is considered modern military history.
So while we spent almost 20 years fighting in the jungles of Vietnam--losing 47,424 soldiers in the process--the bitter end came to the conflict on April 30, 1975. American politicians painted the withdrawal of troops a draw, but the rest of the world new better.
Vietnam was a war of numbers. The 47,424 mentioned above is the biggest one, but when you break it down it becomes more and more personal. In all, 678 Arkansans lost their lives in what is formally known as the Indo-China War. Thirteen of those individuals came from Crawford County. Of that number, only two hailed from Alma.
This is the story of one of those men from what was apparently a military-minded family.
Roger Dale Cecil was born March 2, 1946 in Mulberry to Glendell "Dan" Cecil and Irma Spencer Cecil. Not much s known about his parents, but Mulberry must have been home for at least a few generations as his grandparents Grover and Goldie Cecil and father resided there and show up on 1940 census count. Grover served as a private in World War I in the US Army.
According to information from the US National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Glendell Cecil served in the Navy during World War 2. He would have been 25-26 when Roger Dale was born in 1946 in Mulberry, but somehow the family would later split up with Irma eventually moving to Alma while Glendell stayed on in Mulberry.
One family member said Glendell may have been a bit of a "traveling man" who spent a considerable amount away from home in the late 40's and early 50's. By the time of his death in 2002, Glendell's obituary listed three daughters, three sons, a stepdaughter, a stepson, a brother, 12 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
About the only thing know about Roger Dale's youth was that he played football for the Alma Airedales while in high school. According to the timeline from his military records, he would have graduated in 1963 0r 1964, and he was inducted into the United States Marine Corp in Little Rock on September 1, 1966. It appears he may have been a draftee.
Given the standard of six months from the beginning of basic training until a soldier finishes his specialist training, that would have made Roger Dale a battle ready soldier sometime in late April/early May with transfer to the Vietnam theater imminent that summer.
One government source lists his in country date as late June, 1967 which dovetails with family anecdotical comments from a family source.
Roger Dale was assigned to M Company of the 9th Marines, Third Battalion of the Third Marines which was already heaving invested in fighting near in the southern half of the Demilitarized Zone, around Con Thien in the Tri Province of South Vietnam when Lance Corporal Cecil's boots hit the ground in late June.
On July 2, the Marines fighting on the ground started Operation Buffalo, an intense ground and artillery battle that was meant to take back what the military considered strategic strongholds in the area.
On July 5, Marines operating north of Con Thien came under artillery and mortar fire, but there was little ground contact and the Marines were able to collect the dead from the July 2 fighting.
It was reported that some of the marines were shot at point-blank range by the People Army of Vietnam and some of the bodies had been booby-trapped while others had been mutilated by the enemy In the afternoon PAVN soldiers were seen three kilometers northeast of Con Thien and artillery and tactical air strikes were called in resulting in US claims of an estimated 200 PAVN killed.
On the morning of July 6 a company of Marines ran into a PAVN force north of Con Thien and killed 35 enemy with a loss of five killed and twenty-five wounded in the exchange. Best intel says that Lance Corporal Roger Dale Cecil was among the twenty-five who were wounded and evacuated that afternoon to the USS Sancuary, a naval hospital ship located off the eastern coast of South Vietnam.
According to military records, Cecil arrived at the hospital ship via chopper and was taken to triage immediately. He suffered from fragmentation wounds from an unknown hostile device in his left arm and shoulder, chest, abdomen and both legs. After two surgeries he languished for a little more than seven days before perishing from his wound at 2:45 p.m. on July 14.
In addition to a posthumous Purple Heart, Lance Corporal Cecil was also awarded nine other commendations for his service and sacrifice including:
★ Combat Action Ribbon
★ Marksmanship Badge
★ National Defense Service Medal
★ Vietnam Campaign Medal
★ Vietnam Service Medal
★ Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation
★ Vietnam Gallantry Cross
★ Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
★ Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal
As a further honor, Cecil's name was one of the original ones etched on the Crawford County War Memorial monument on Main Street in Van Buren. ee is also listed on the National Vietnam War Monument in Washington D.C.
His body was returned to Crawford County and a few weeks after his death, the former Alma Airedale was buried in Section 9 Site 4047 of the Fort Smith National Cemetery. Grandpa Grover, who lived to be 84 and died in 1977, is a stones throw away in Section 11, while Daddy Glendell, who passed at the age of 83 in 2005, is interred in Section 19.
On this day, a little more than 54-years after his death, we salute Lance Corporal Cecil and all his brave brothers and sisters who died fighting halfway around the world in the name of freedom.