Service above self: Riddle rememberedPublished 8:24am Sunday, May 26, 2013
James G. Smith
Special to the Times-Journal
According to the National Archives and Records Administration, 58,220 files are on record spanning from June 8, 1956 to May 28, 2006 of those killed or missing in Vietnam. The Vietnam Virtual Wall now has 58,272 names etched in the black granite as a stark reminder of the price paid in human life.
What a tragedy for us as well as the South Vietnamese in view of the end results. Lessons should have been learned, but apparently were not.
Memorial Day is a time for reflection and remembrance of those who gave their life in service to our country in times of war. We can never take away the pain for their families, but we can and should remember them, and pay our respects for their ultimate sacrifice.
For many years, I have passed by the grave of SP4 Riddle in New Live Oak Cemetery, and gazed upon his haunting image starring back at me. I cannot explain the range of emotions it invokes for me each time I pass.
Bobby Riddle was born on July 9, 1948 to Tallie and Gladys Riddle. A sister, Carol, rounded out the Riddle family.
He grew up in Selma, and attended the public schools in Selma and at Dallas County High School. Due to some hardships, he completed high school in the Army through the G.E.D. program.
At about the age of 17, Riddle began seeing Peggy Hill. They dated for a period of about two years before getting married in December 1967. At that time, he was employed as a mechanic at Joe Green’s Auto Electric. Five months after the marriage nuptials, he received a draft notice to report for service. Of course, the Vietnam War had heated up to an inferno by this time and more and more U. S. troops were being committed to the effort. The young couple was devastated, but had little choice in the matter.
Riddle reported to Ft. Benning, Ga., and began training for an eventual deployment to Vietnam. After training and spending a short time in Alaska, he was on the high seas for the combat zone.
Although details are now sketchy, Riddle arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to the 1st Platoon, 23rd Military Police Company, Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division) on November 18, 1968 at Chu Lai. “The Americal Division (23rd Inf. Div.) formed from Task Force Oregon in Chu Lai, Vietnam in October 1967. It fought a determined enemy in hostile areas from the coastal plains of the South China Sea to the jungle mountains along the Laotian border. Its elements were among the last to leave the Vietnam War.” americal.org/history
SP4 Riddle had completed nine months of his tour with only about three months remaining when the incident occurred in the Quang Ngai province. He had survived to become a short-timer only to be killed in the latter stages of his deployment. It was thought most young soldiers coming into the theater were killed within the first three months of their tours. Those fortunate to survive longer than three months had a good chance of survival.
The Vietcong were schooled in the art of tactical ambush and were well armed. They used guerilla tactics to perfection with a myriad of lethal weapons including booby traps, an array of anti-personnel and vehicle mines, and improvised explosive devises. All of these caused concern, apprehension and anxiety on the part of American and South Vietnamese troops dealing with them on a daily basis.
The Quang Ngai Province, where SP4 Riddle was killed, lay in the South Central coastal area of Vietnam. It was south of Da Nang and on the coast of the South China Sea. It is predominantly rural with only about 15 percent of the population living in villages or towns. Most Americans knew it for the My Lai Massacre, and subsequent court martial of 2nd Lt. William Calley in 1968.
During the war, the area was considered a Vietcong stronghold and many ambushes and attacks of American and South Vietnamese forces occurred there particularly at night.
It was against this backdrop of difficulties SP4 Riddle entered for duty on Nov. 18, 1968. The incident that took his life occurred on Aug. 18, 1969.
Riddle was a passenger in a quarter ton truck en route to escort a convoy near Bich Chieu, a village about 20 miles southeast of Quang Ngai City. The truck struck a land mine in the road at 10:50 a.m., resulting in a severe closed head injury to SP4 Riddle. He was airlifted to the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai where he succumbed of injuries at 1:20 p.m., in spite of a valiant effort by medical personnel.
Peggy Hill Riddle was paged from her job at Coastal Industries a few days later by her father-in-law, who told her she must come home immediately. He told her there was a man from the Army there to see her.
Peggy said she did not want to go for fear of the worse, but knew she must face whatever lay ahead. The representative broke the news to her and Bobby’s parents of the tragic death of SP4 Riddle.
The body of SP4 Bobby Riddle was shipped to Selma, accompanied by Major Wolfe representing the Army. Major Wolfe stayed in Selma a few days helping Mrs. Riddle with the burial and final arrangements for her before leaving. She was allowed a viewing of the remains from which she positively identified her husband SP4 Bobby Riddle.
Peggy still resides here in Selma and to this day has never re-married.
SP4 Riddle’s final resting place is in Division 33 of New Live Oak Cemetery. He occupies Panel W19 Line 63 on the Vietnam Virtual Wall.
“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” John F. Kennedy, Oct., 27, 1963
We honor our war dead and vow to never forget them.