Around Memorial Day 35 years ago, Hudson native Leigh Livermore probably never thought very far into the future.
That's because he was humping through the jungle as part of the U.S. Army's biggest combat operation into Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
Livermore, 56, took time to reflect on those days of his youth during a conversation in his North Hudson home recently.
He served with Echo Co. Recon, 1st Battalion, 5th Calvary, 1st Air Calvary Division (Airmobile).
"We were due for stand-down after about 60 days in the field in Vietnam," he said. When the helicopters picked up members of Echo Recon they were looking for a few days out of the bush and maybe a cold beer or two.
The Army, it turns out, had other plans on a grand scale. Not long after E Company got to the rear, they joined lift after lift of Huey Slicks headed for an invasion of Cambodia May 1, 1970.
The Cambodian Incursion from April 25 to June 30, 1970, involved 30,000 U.S. and 50,000 ARVN (South Vietnam) troops in the largest allied operation of the war, according to military historians.
It was rather quiet for Livermore's unit early in the mission with some light fire fights but the atmosphere soon changed.
"Every day in June we made contact with the NVA, and they were good soldiers," Livermore said.
One day during the mission, Livermore's company, which had 26 men at full strength but was reduced to 12 through casualties, illness and R&R, set out on a recon patrol with about six new guys.
After discovering some trip-wires to ambush sites, the patrol came across a well-traveled path that was part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Later they uncovered a hooch with a cache of about 800 pounds of rice, Livermore recalled.
Further investigation turned up more huts that contained some 200 tons of rice.
When a GI shoved his rifle into the ground and it disappeared, a closer look turned up supplies hidden under the rice. "There was a hole under each hooch filled with anti tank rockets, machine guns, ammunition, bicycles, generators, everything," Livermore said. "It was a major NVA supply depot."
The soldiers lined the pits with explosives and began to blow up the supplies.
Livermore said just after explosives were set in one of the holes, he was about to enjoy some ice cream that was brought into the field by air as a reward for a job well done when "all hell broke loose."
"Small arms fire and rockets came down on us. I was standing next to another soldier, and the only place to go was into the pit full of explosives. We jumped in," he said.
Livermore's best friend was wounded and things were looking slim until re-enforcements came through and backed off the NVA. That was on June 11, 1970.
On the 29th of June, they walked back to the Vietnam border and got their first hot meal in weeks. Echo Recon was then set up to help Alpha Company on a river crossing out of Cambodia on the Vietnam border.
The next day, after the river crossing was complete, Livermore was leading a patrol looking for a missing claymore mine from their perimeter. He was just about to call off the search when the NVA detonated it at a nearby ambush site. He was hit under the collar bone and knocked down by one of the claymore pellets, which he said was about the size of a piece of 00 buckshot.
"I was wounded twice before by shrapnel but never had to leave the field. The medics took care of it," he said.
But this one required some medical attention. "It knocked a hole through my collar bone," he added.
He was sent to the 15th Med, and then airlifted to the 24th Evac Hospital for surgery that couldn't remove the claymore fragment. He was moved on to a larger hospital at Cam Ranh Bay for three weeks.
All the time, Livermore pleaded for a release from medical care so he could get back to his unit in the field. Finally a doctor gave him the OK.
"I was walking to catch the bus to the airport and fly back to my unit. I woke up three days later in the hospital. I had malaria, intestinal parasites from drinking the water in the bush, and the wound wasn't healing completely," he said. "It took another month, until the end of August, before I healed up."
He still has the Claymore pellet in his chest as a memento of the incident.
Livermore - who graduated from Hudson High School in 1967, played football and was a conference wrestling champion at 180 pounds - said he wanted to return to his unit. A "full bird" colonel much bigger than he explained the facts of life to him in no uncertain terms and his combat days were over.
He finished out his tour as the 1st Calvary's NCO liaison at several hospitals.
"The job was rewarding and fulfilling, but tough," said Livermore, who was a 21-year-old staff sergeant at the time. "You'd see young kids with their legs blown off. You knew some of the wounded would go on to Japan and probably die there."
He unexpectedly got his ticket home on Feb. 1, 1971. He married the former Mary Scobey of Deer Park the following June 5.
Livermore had left college to join the Army on Feb. 28, 1969. He returned to UW-River Falls and earned a bachelor of science degree in education and art in 1975.
He was an art teacher and coach in Hudson for six years before entering the business world. He is operations manager for the Hudson Division of Cardinal Distribution.
Leigh and Mary have three grown daughters, Tara, Mandy and Jaime.
"I have been really blessed," he said. "I've got three wonderful girls."
Army Staff Sgt. Leigh Livermore dabbled in poetry while serving in Vietnam. The following is a work composed while he was recovering from a wound suffered when he was hit by a claymore mine pellet June 30, 1970, on the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
Here I sit in a hospital bed,
Long Binh, Viet Nam,
The 24th med.
Not much of anything really to do,
Just help feed a buddy,
Or read life, or true.
Nurses are nice, like in the world,
But none can replace,
That one special girl.
It hurts, but I can laugh and walk,
It hurts the guy next to me,
To even try to talk.
I look at these guys, all cut to hell,
And thank God above,
That I'm almost well!
For some of the guys, the future looks dim,
They've got to have courage,
If they figure to win!
Then comes the time and the happy yelp,
He moved his arm,
Without any help!
Then comes the day he leaves the ward,
Thanking nurses and doctors,
But mostly his Lord.
--24th Evac Hospital in July 1970
Jon Echternacht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org