Forty-five years have passed since the end of the Vietnam War or, as it was sometimes called, the Second Indochina War.
The United States, along with other notable countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and South Korea, took the side of South Vietnam.
The North Vietnamese boasted supporters such as the Viet Cong, Khmer Rouge, China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea. The fighting took place, not only in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia.
Vietnam veterans can still be found among the Marshall County population. Their hair may have thinned, turned greyer, or may have grown out and tied into a ponytail.
Many may walk with a slow gait, some even missing a limb.
Most may have gained some weight since their war fighting years. Some may be experiencing health complications caused by the war or even cancer due to Agent Orange exposure.
A soundness of mind may be a thing of the past for some of these warriors, but they are still here and still kicking. All remember the fighting and bleeding in a war where the daily carnage spilled into our living rooms during the dinner hour on the evening news.
Vietnam was America’s first TV war.
In 1973, President Richard Nixon, in response to the the Paris Peace Accords, which was an international effort to end the war, ordered all U.S. forces to start withdrawal from Vietnam and its western neighbors, Laos and Cambodia, and Air Force bases in Thailand.
All this was ordered under President Nixon’s edict of “Peace with Honor.”
On April 23, 1975, Nixon’s successor, President Gerald R. Ford said in a speech, “…that war is finished as far as America is concerned.”
Just seven days later, the North Vietnamese overran Saigon, the then capital of South Vietnam. This action ended the war and reunited the Southeast Asian country where one year later the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was created.
On the Vietnam War Memorial in front of the Guntersville courthouse, there are the names of 15 sons of Marshall County who did not come back from that Asian battlefield.
Those names represent the price this county paid for our country’s involvement. The 12th name on the list is Roger Dale Justice, the son of Namon Jasper and Beulah Dison Justice.
Namon Justice was born in 1901 in Winston County. His wife, Beulah Dison, was born in Cullman County in 1907.
They somehow got together and were married in Lawrence County, Tenn., on July 11, 1926, where Namon was working at a sawmill.
More than a year after their marriage, they welcomed their first child, Mildred Marie.
The Justice family lived a nomadic lifestyle, frequently moving from place to place. In the early 1930s, the family moved to a farm in the Howelton Community of Etowah County.
Beulah’s married sister, Roxie and her son, Earl, boarded with them.
In 1935, the couple moved back to Lawrence County, Tenn. In the early 1940s, the couple with their now six children moved to neighboring Maury County.
Roughly six years later, they returned to Alabama, taking up residency in Joppa, where Roger Dale Justice, one of six boys, was born on Aug. 2, 1946.
Some 20 years later, on Dec. 30, 1966, Roger joined the Army and went to jump school to become a paratrooper. He entered the service from Cedar Lake, Indiana.
It is not known why he was in Indiana. He may have moved there for work a few years earlier.
The following year on Aug. 28, 1967, the Justice family lost its patriarch, Namon Justice. The father of 11 children died in Scant City where he and Beulah were living.
Namon was buried in the Friendship Baptist Church cemetery in Boaz.
On Feb. 14, 1968, roughly six months after the death of his father, SGT Roger Justice, now 22 years of age, landed in Vietnam for his tour of duty in Southeast Asia.
He carried the MOS (military occupational specialty) of 11B4P – Infantryman, Airborne Qualified. He was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, also known as the “All American Division,” and the “Eighty Deuce.”
Its shoulder patch was a double-A (AA). Roger was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry, 3rd Brigade of the 82nd.
As a testament to Roger’s leadership skills, he was placed in charge of a squad in Charlie Company. All the men Roger served with, as well as those that served under him, liked Roger very much.
Roger arrived in-country just over a month after the start of the Tet Offensive. In Vietnam, Tet is considered one of the most, if not the most, important holidays of the year. It is recognized as the first day of spring and happens the same time as the Lunar New Year.
This was the time chosen by the North Vietnamese to escalate their end of the war with synchronized attacks on South Vietnamese cities and villages to possibly generate a rebellion from the people.
The North had the notion that this would result in the United States reducing its military actions in the conflict. The Tet Offensive continued until Sept. 23.
In October 1968, Justice and other members of his battalion were assigned a mission to defend a route from Tay Ninh, Vietnam, in the west near the Cambodian border, to the capital city of Saigon.
Enemy forces were heavily scattered throughout this area and deeply imbedded within the local population. To counteract the enemy’s strategy, the American units conducted rapid day and night ambushes and raids with the objective to locate and destroy enemy supply and ammunition stockpiles.
As expected, this created supply and manpower shortages for the enemy. It was also during one of these operations that SGT Roger Justice lost his life.
On Nov. 5, 1968, Roger and his unit were conducting a nighttime ambush patrol in the hamlet of Gia Dinh on the northern outskirts of Saigon.
One report stated that Roger was climbing onto the back of a truck when a grenade somehow fell from his web gear and detonated.
David Hancock, a former member of the 82nd Airborne who remembered the incident, said “…the safety pin on a fragmentation grenade that Roger was carrying… worked its way loose and… exploded.”
Hancock’s version of the mishap made mention of Roger climbing into a truck.
Whichever scenario surrounding the death of Roger Justice is factual, both concur he was killed instantly.
Steve Vogel, the radio telephone operator in 4th platoon of Charlie Company, served with Roger from June 1968 until his death. Vogel said, “…he was a good friend and well-liked by everyone in our platoon.”
On Thursday, Nov. 14, 1968, the Marshall County newspapers told the public of Roger’s death. His remains arrived back in the state at the Birmingham Airport during the evening of Nov. 15.
The funeral was held the following day, on Saturday. Roger was laid to rest with a military funeral at the Friendship Baptist Church in Boaz where his father was buried.
An Army Chaplain from Redstone Arsenal oversaw the funeral. Soldiers, also from Redstone, served as pallbearers.
In Washington, D.C., the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contains more than 58,000 names of those men and women who died or are missing from the Vietnam War. Roger’s name is on that wall, too.
If you are ever in Washington, pay a visit to the Wall and locate panel 39 west, line 23. There you will find the name of Roger D. Justice.
Note: Sgt. Justice was the brother of Linda Justice Whisenant, the mother of Tribune editor Charles Whisenant.