Dakota Datebook

Joseph Conmy Jr. traveled the world

Thursday, March 27, 2014

 

Although he considered Pembina his home, Joseph Conmy Jr. traveled the world, walked beside Presidents, was decorated in three different wars, and was the commander in charge on Hamburger Hill in Vietnam. His story is so far-reaching it merits its own book. But today, we focus on his second Silver Star award for gallantry.

Conmy was commanding the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade when, at 3 a.m. on this date in 1969, one of his men woke him to say one of his fire bases near Camp Evans was under heavy enemy attack from rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire. This “softening up” action was meant to disorient the Americans while a ground attack was launched by Viet Cong “sappers,” who could be described as commandos.

Conmy immediately got on his command radio, while his Command and Control helicopter prepared to depart. As dawn approached, he flew over the scene to make a personal assessment, and then made a visual reconnaissance of the areas where the Viet Cong might now be withdrawing. As they swept the area, he spotted several of the sappers nearing an American Ranger Patrol and quickly directed his Battalion Commander to bring up another company so that both units could sweep the area and close in on the commandos. He also called in a direct aerial rocket strike and stayed in the air to guide the gunships to where the sappers were hiding, while having a nearby South Vietnamese force move up to cut off the sappers’ escape routes.

 

When the gunships arrived, they received a heavy volume of rifle and machine gun fire, so Colonel Conmy directed his pilot to repeatedly fly in low over the Viet Cong positions to draw fire so the gunship pilots could see where to concentrate their fire. Each time he flew over he was exposed to enemy fire, but the gunships were soon able to take over. Conmy then directed his pilot to set down in front of the friendly forces, because he could see from the air they were going to miss the sappers’ most likely hiding spots.

 

This was not a typical action for a colonel, but Conmy left his helicopter, took charge of the friendly units, and personally led them to the enemy’s hiding place. His Silver Star citation reads: “His appearance on the ground inspired confidence and determination in his men as they aggressively swept the area under the leadership of Colonel Conmy.”

 

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

 

 

Source: Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division, General Orders No. 4012 (May 1, 1969).

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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