Even after more than 50 years, the memories remained fresh.
David Craggs spent much of 1969 in the jungles of Vietnam, patrolling and securing a critical area known as the A Shau Valley. The Greenwood resident was in the field for 156 days, taking part in 12 helicopter combat assaults. The mission was grueling, hot and dangerous.
“There are things that happen to you that you never forget,” he said.
Craggs has shared his experience — and the bond he shares with other Vietnam veterans — in a new book. “Road to A Shau Valley” documents the fierce fighting in the A Shau Valley region of Vietnam while he served in the war with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Using a treasure trove of letters he had written his mother during his time in Vietnam, Craggs was able to give readers a look at the war from an infantryman’s perspective.
“It’s from the guys who were there,” he said.
Craggs was drafted in the Army in late 1968, and when he arrived in South Vietnam in 1969, he was assigned to the 2/327th Infantry of the 101st Airborne. He and his fellow soldiers made their way to the valley at a crucial time in the war.
The valley is a mountainous region in central Vietnam near the border with Laos, and during the Vietnam War, it served as a key entry point for North Vietnamese soldiers moving into the southern part of the country.
In 1969, it fell to the 101st Airborne to clear and control the area. The dangerous work forged bonds among the soldiers that have lasted ever since, Craggs said.
“We were in the jungle for 156 days, and when you’re in that situation and you’re walking through the jungle, the only thing in front of you is what you don’t want to see —the bad guys,” he said. “So you’re with all these guys for eight weeks, day and night, and then you never see them again.”
The idea to put a book together came from another author and Vietnam veteran. Lloyd A. King, who served in the 101st Airborne as well, wrote “From ‘Nam With Love” as a book of poetry focused on his experience in the war. The book, released in 2006, won a gold medal from the Military Writers Society of America.
Around the same time, members of the 101st Airborne started coming together for reunions — to catch up and reminisce. Craggs wanted to write a book for those men he had served with.
“At the reunion, seeing all the guys together, and how they changed their lives, I wanted to do this,” he said.
Craggs tells his story in chronological order, starting with his childhood and quickly moving to when he was drafted into the Army. The details and dates from his time in Vietnam come from the letters he mailed back to his mother, who kept each one in a bound book.
“After she died, I found the letters. So I had a complete history for 1969 in those letters,” he said.
Craggs includes his own memories, as well as weaving in stories from others who served in the A Shau Valley. He featured dozens of photographs from his time in Vietnam, allowing readers to see some of the locations mentioned in the book.
“When I started going to the reunion, the first one was just getting together. Each year, we learn more about what we’re doing,” he said. “A lot of these stories came out after I started going to the reunions.”
“Road to A Shau Valley” was released in late 2022. Craggs decided to donate a portion of the sales to Greenwood VFW Post 5864, as he’s a lifetime VFW member. He now gives all the proceeds to the VFW.
For him, it’s a way to help other veterans like himself who gave so much for their country.
“There are parts of the book where you’re smiling, and parts of the book where you’re crying. It takes you both places,” he said.