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25 Hours of Hell

Galen Bungum Galen Bungum

The Vietnam War is arguably one of the most controversial engagements in American history. It demanded the attention of nearly 9 million U.S. troops. Nearly 50,000 of them lost their lives while battling overseas.

November 14, 1965 was the start of the first significant battle between our American forces and those of North Vietnam. It happened in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam's central highlands area. More than 200 U.S. soldiers died in that battle. 800 survived, many with injuries, including a soldier from Hayfield. 

Galen Bungum was 22 at the time. And though the battle happened 50 years ago, the memories are still vivid.  

More than 25 hours. That's how long Galen fought to survive.

"We fought for each other, to save each other," Galen said.

They were the most intense hours of his life, forever seared in his mind. He was just a farm kid from Hayfield, caught up in the first major battle between the United States and North Vietnam. 

"You never knew anyone was scared. You just tried to survive."

Galen was part of a small platoon cut off from the other forces. Trapped for more than 25 hours, he and his comrades fought through the thick brush of the valley, eventually forced to the ground, unable to stand up or move, or risk getting shot by the enemy. 

The military tried to send reinforcements a handful of times. Nothing worked. Hours passed, darkness came, some of their weapons were either captured or stopped working. 

At one point, Galen felt certain he wouldn't survive.

"I didn't think we'd make it through the night," he said "I didn't think there was any way." 

And so he prayed.

"I asked the Lord to help get us out of here, to live long enough to see the sun rise again." 

Meanwhile, the enemy's bullets clipped all around, hitting trees, cutting the grass. Some guys in the platoon were killed, others were seriously injured. 

In the end, the platoon leader and sergeant were dead. So were eight others. 13 were wounded. 

This is not just a story about Galen's heroic efforts during those 25 hours of hell. This is a story about his comrades-- all the guys in his platoon who took their orders. They did what they were supposed to do, some giving the ultimate sacrifice. 

"There were guys who didn't survive. Do you think about them?" Tom Overlie asked Galen.

"I do," Galen said. "A guilt feeling of why they didn't make it. But...they didn't." 

Time has passed. 50 years. Though the memories of Ia Drang are still vivid.

"Do you ever get over it?" Tom asked.

"No, I don't think you do. It's with you all the time," said Galen.

Some won't, or can't, speak of the horrors. Galen does, but reluctantly because *his is the story of his comrades. They were all in it together in Ia Drang. Galen only shares so that we will never forget. 

Galen got a Bronze Star for his time in the battle. He also credits Sgt. Ernie Savage who, after the platoon leader was killed, stepped in to do the necessary things to save the surviving soldiers. 

Years later, the Ia Drang battle got a lot of attention following a hit book We were Soldiers Once...and Young, and then a movie, starring Mel Gibson.

Despite all the hype, Galen Bungum says he just a young kid, like so many, following orders, and caught in a war many didn't fully understand at the time.  

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