Speaker tells Vietnam solider’s story


During the Memorial Day ceremony held May 29 at Rivercliff Cemetery in Mount Gilead, Timothy Sharrock called Dennis Hartpence his hero as he gave the keynote speech.

Sharrock noted it has been almost 50 years since the beginning of the evacuation from the Vietnam conflict. He captivated the crowd at Rivercliff as he told the story of Hartpence’s last day in Vietnam where he was killed by the Viet Cong on April 19, 1968.

Sharrock said he knew Hartpence, who grew up just north of Edison, and he learned of his death when he was stationed in Germany.

“My heart went out to his parents, his brother David, and to the family,” Sharrock said.

He added Hartpence was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously “for heroism against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam.”

The details of the story, as told by Sharrock during his speech, are how Hartpence “was serving as a rifleman with his company during a reconnaissance-in-force operation. As the unit moved through the dense jungle, the right flank and point element were suddenly subjected to intense hostile rocket, machine gun and automatic weapons fire from a well-hidden enemy force.”

“Hartpence was the right flank man,” Sharrock said. “He was immediately hit by concentrated hostile fire. However, he detected their positions and placed rapid and accurate fire back on them.

“His devastating fire was so effective that it covered his comrades so they could gain advantageous positions.”

Sharrock added, “Although seriously wounded, Hartpence ignored the calls of fellow soldiers to move back to protection. He remained in forward position, firing at the Viet Cong until he was mortally wounded.”

Sharrock told how the Hartpence family had wondered for many years if anyone in Hartpence’s unit knew him and the real circumstances of his death, when a man from New Jersey named Richard Martinez found the family 35 years later. He wanted to meet the family and share with them his experience with Hartpence.

Hartpence’s younger brother, David Hartpence, said Martinez just drove up to their home one day about 15 years ago and said he was with Hartpence at the time of his death. Both of his parents were alive to hear the full story of the last day of their son’s life.

Martinez was gravely wounded the same day Hartpence was killed, and he had been living on 100% disability. He told them how he and Dennis were together on the right flank. They had bonded together.

The Hartpence family already had some information about the firefight from the lieutenant and the U.S. Army. However, Martinez’s visit and information was of great comfort to the family. They were glad to be able to talk to someone who loved Hartpence and was with him during his dying hour. He was someone there who cared.

Martinez assured the family how Hartpence’s fire was so effective that he covered his comrades while they shifted to safer positions. Hartpence didn’t think of himself, but saved the life of Martinez, his commander, and several of his fellow soldiers. Out of 15 there, nine were killed.

“You are my hero Dennis, I salute you,” Sharrock said. “Hartpence was just 20 years old when he was killed in Binh Duong Province. He is buried here at Rivercliff Cemetery beside his parents Raymond and Veldren Hartpence.”

Sharrock concluded his speech with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Lest I continue in my complacent way, I must remember, somewhere out there, a person died for me today. As long as there must be war, I ask and I must answer, Was I worth dying for?”

“I challenge each of us, be an American worth dying for,” said Sharrock as he asked the crowd to spend Memorial Day in memory of those who paid the ultimate price for the rest of us.

Alberta Stojkovic is a correspondent for the Morrow County Sentinel.

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