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Khe Sanh and Beyond: Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely Interview

By Gerald D. Swick
8/26/2010 • HistoryNet Interviews, Interviews

HN: An event called Colonel Joe Abodeely’s Maricopa Arizona Base Camp is held on the first weekend in April every year. Explain to us what that is, and how you came to start it, please.

JA: It started long before I got involved. A medic from the 101st Airborne bought some property outside Maricopa, a small town between Phoenix and Tucson. It’s a rural area, out in the desert. “Doc,” as the medic was called, lived out there and had a kind of rally once a year in which he’d invite vets, mostly Vietnam vets and their families. They’d sit around telling war stories, drinking beer and swapping lies.

Joseph Aboldeely next to former ARVN Ranger Lam Bui during 2009 Base Camp. Click for larger image. Courtesy Base Camp Website.
Joseph Aboldeely next to former ARVN Ranger Lam Bui during 2009 Base Camp. Click for larger image. Courtesy Base Camp Website.
After Doc passed away some others picked up the idea and moved the rally to a place a few miles from where I live now, to keep it going. They eventually lost the property in foreclosure. I called owners in California—this was when real estate was still cheap—and bought it, partly as an investment but also because I wanted to keep Base Camp going.

There was already electricity at the place. We put in a Vietnam bar, built a guard tower, and a stage with electricity. A vet with a backhoe dug out a place at the base of the mountain and we put in a shooting range. Each year in April, we have Base Camp and invite veterans from all wars. We get some of the younger guys, but vets of any war are kind of parochial. The World War II vets didn’t really associate with us Vietnam guys, either.

HN: Looking at some pictures on the Base Camp Website, it appears you draw more than just American vets.

JA: I’m involved with the Vietnamese community here. We forget that we went to South Vietnam to help the Vietnamese people; I know that’s why I went in. We bring these Vietnamese to the Base Camp, and when we run the American flag up the pole we also run up the flag of South Vietnam. They can’t fly that Vietnam flag anywhere anymore. It doesn’t exist. They lost their country. In October, a Vietnamese Buddhist youth group comes out and camps here.

It’s just part of my way of giving back. I try to help people that our government left in the lurch.

HN: Tell us a bit about your work with the Arizona Military Museum. What is the origin and mission of that museum?

JA: We’re an official Army Museum of History and are certified by the Arizona Historical Society. We’re open every Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4, September through May. The Arizona National Guard had set aside an old WPA adobe building, the largest adobe building still in continuous use in Arizona. We have a portion of it for the museum.

When I was in the Guard as a young officer, back in 1975, I went to a state Guard convention. Some senior officers were promoting the idea of having a historical society to collect memorabilia of the Arizona National Guard and Arizona military history. I joined and gave them some money, but didn’t think much more about it until I got a call in 1980 asking me to serve on the board. They screwed me—they made me president and they keep re-electing me.

I told the board—I was a major, and I had colonels and generals on that board—”We’re going to be a working board.” We tore out old bins, built this big room, brought in display cases. None of us get paid. We’re all volunteers.

Displays from Conquistadores to modern wars. Courtesy Arizona Military Museum.
Displays from Conquistadores to modern wars. Courtesy Arizona Military Museum.
The museum’s displays start with the era of the Conquistadores, then the Spanish Colonial Period, the U.S. war with Mexico (1846–1848), and the California Column in the Civil War. During the Civil War, the governor got permission from the U.S. government to raise five companies to protect against Apaches. The 1st Arizona Regiment was made up mostly of Mexican and Maricopa and Pima Indian volunteers. It only lasted one year, and then the U.S. Army came out and fought the Indian Wars.

We cover the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, “On the Border” (Mexican Revolution of 1910)—my grandpa was in the 1st Cavalry during that border action. I have his helmet on one of the mannequins.

We may have one of largest Vietnam displays in country. There’s a Huey in the middle of it, and we’re working on a Khe Sanh diorama. When I started as president in 1980, Vietnam was as far as we could go. Since then we’ve added Desert Storm and other recent wars. I think Iraq and Afghanistan are going to make Vietnam look like the Quest for the Holy Grail, but I don’t put my opinions into those displays. You can damn the war but don’t damn the warrior.

(To view a slideshow of displays at the Arizona Military Museum, see the article by Peter Suciu on our partner site,

HN: You have a Website and had a talk show and a TV program. What motivates you so strongly to share your information and opinions with the public?

JA: I have a high opinion of my opinion. (Laughs.) I’ve just been lucky to have a great deal of experience. When people talk about the military, saying we should do this, we should do that—well, I led troops in combat. I served as a JAG officer. I’m better equipped to talk about it than some professor or media personality.

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19 Responses to Khe Sanh and Beyond: Col. (ret) Joseph Abodeely Interview

  1. […] Cavalry platoon to reach the firebase at Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War. To read an interview with Joseph Abodeely about Khe Sanh, the Arizona Military Museum and more, click the link. Help Armchair General by […]

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      General Tolson’s report said he ordered Colonel Lownds to send Marines to Hill 471. That is not inconsistent with what the article says. There just isn’t as much detail.

  2. bill rider says:

    1st.Bn. 9th Mar. Regt. 3rd Mar. Div was the Marine unit that attacked and held Hill 471 on April 4th for 2 days. On April 5th at 5am we were assaulted by a Bn. of NVA and fought them til 9am and kicked their ASS. You are insulting the spirits of brave Marines who later lost their lives on Hill 689 on April 16th—-get your facts straight.–Bill Rider,Sgt. 2nd plt. 1 Bn., 9th Mar. Regt.(WALKING DEAD)

  3. Tom Foster says:

    What is your e-mail. I have some interesting data about Vietnam that I think you may be interested in.
    You Cav. guys did a bang up job of breaking the seige of Khe Sahn.
    I was in Mech. infantry with the 25th Infantry Division during
    Tet 1968. The action was fast and furious . I am now retired and busy !
    Hope to hear from you soon
    All the best
    Tom Foster
    Marietta, Ga.

  4. Doug Knab says:

    Thank you for the information and thank you for your service to our country.

  5. Joe Abodeely says:

    The Marines were under siege until the 1st Air Calvary Division’s Operation Pegasus relieved them on April 8, 1968. They did not fight their way out of the siege (as some Marines claim) as they could not go up and down highway 9 until the airmobile infantry (augmented with some Marines and ARVNs) cleared the road to the Khe Sanh Fire Base. They had to be resupplied by the Air Force with LAPE methods. The Air Force had bombed the AO around KSFB with fantastic bomb tonnage, and the NVA were still there keeping the Marines from sending two companies per the contingency plan to aid Lang Vei Special Forces camp when it was attacked by NVA tanks. Air Force bombing did not drive the NVA away as some USAF proponents claim. If the NVA left before the 1st Air Cavalry conducted Operation Pegasus (because they “heard about it”)–when was that? And if they did–so much the better. The art of war is not defeating your enemy in a hundred battles–it is putting him in a position whereby he must capitulate. (Sun Tzu). Even the famous History Channel with its recent Vietnam series comments that the air force drove the NVA away so the 1st Cavalry Division could relieve KSFB. When did the Air Force drive them away because we were still fighting them in Operation Pegasus? USAF bombing was important, but not decisive. The 1st Air Cavalry “boots on the ground” are what drove the NVA away, cleared Route 9, and relieved the Marines from the siege at Khe Sanh Fire Base.

  6. terrance p girard usa retired says:

    Thank you joe. had to be there for that to know the truth. and what you said was very right. we the cav ran the nva off. I was with D company 2/7th was the first to the wire that day. it was a mess up there.
    Thanks joe

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      Terry: Thanks for the comment. We need to get more Cav guys to speak up. A lot of misinformation is our there. Some Marines say they were never even under siege or that THEY fought their way out or that there were no NVA left when we cleared Route 9 to the wire at Khe Sanh. I was second platoon leader of D company 2/7. Garry Owen.

  7. terrance p girard usa retired says:

    Some of D company troopers are coming to florida in feb. will send you some pics of khe sanh later. I was in 3rd plt.D 2/7th. Lt. little was our Plt Leader. we are not trying to Insult anyone. our job in the cav was to releive troops that were pinned down or what ever. we kept the nva on the move as much as we could. lost some good men that day going into khe sanh. I will never forget them.
    thanks joe

  8. Joe Abodeely says:

    Terry: I remember Lt. Little. I thought he was a good officer. I often thought we had some friendly competition going, but he was a good officer. What ever happened to him? Did he stay in or go back to school like I did? If you can get email addresses of guys who were in 2nd platoon for Khe Sanh, I’d appreciate it. I know Captain Stevens is still around. I had RTOs named Snyder and Pee Wee. I’d like to know what happened to them.

  9. Roger (Doc) Lutz says:

    Terry sent me the link and mentioned that you had written about the Khe Sanh operation. I enjoyed reading the account. I certainly agree that there is a lot of misinformation running around. Yet I also realize that many of those that participated did not have the total picture–only their perspective as viewed from a small part of the action.

    I was a medic in that mess–and one of my prouder moments was to be able to serve not only the guys in the 2nd of the 7th, but to also act as a Marine Corpsman taking care of those precious marines as well.

    As you, I stayed in the active reserves (Air Force) and retired in 2000. I did tours in Desert Storm as well as flew alerts and missions to most parts of the world. My civilian career as a water engineer has allowed me to serve in projects in Asia, the South Pacific and of course here in my home state of California as well. As you well know Vietnam is a detail that has become part of each of us–and find myself drawn back to various locations in both North and South Vietnam on a regular basis.

    It is certainly a pleasure to communicate with you! I had met Col Ron LIttle in 1988 as I remember he stayed in the military–and I believe he retired not too long after we met. I have not heard from him since. The other names are but memories—and I have not communicated with any except Lee Craig–I believe he was in the 2nd Plattoon and now lives in Redding Ca.; Ron Halvarson who lives in Chicago; Pat Nardi–lives in El Sobrante CA.; Sammy Johnson that lives in Florida; Steve Banko; –Terry and a few more that evade my memory at the moment.

    Garry Owen and welcome back I agree with your statement of spurning the war—but not the warrior.

    Let me know how to contact you and I will send you an email

  10. Joe Abodeely says:

    Roger: Welcome home. I don’t want to put my email on line, but Google me, call my office, leave your contact info, and I’ll contact you to give you my info. Joe

  11. Mike Hullinger says:

    Joe, Terrance, Roger,

    My Uncle, Stan Simmons, was a sargent ( and at some point a platoon leader) in D Co, 2nd Bn, 7th Cav during his second tour from January 18, 1968 until he was KIA on July 25, 1968. I had just turned 10 years old at the time. Did you know him, or could you direct me to how I might find out more about his serivce during that time period? Uncle Stan would stay with us on his state side leaves. I still have memories of his visits, and the 1st Cav patches and Gary Owen pin he gave me.
    Thank you for your service and sacrfices for our country!

  12. Joe Abodeely says:

    Mike: I became the Assistant S-4 for the 2/7 Bn in June, 1968–so I missed serving in the field with your uncle. Find the platoon leaders in the company at that time and that may help you. Good luck.

  13. John Halvorson says:

    Col Joe………however you where my 2-6 and I was your Medic in Nam and damn proud to serve with you. I try not to mention my time in Nam as it tends to bring back some very strong feelings and I only want to remember the guys I was there with.

    • Joe Abodeely says:

      Doc: Good to hear from you. Yes, you were my medic and a great one at that. I wrote a sory about the action we had February 27, 1968 called “Firefight”, and you’re in it. Yes, we saw some terrible things, but I still think we were right in helping the South Vietnamese–we won Tet 1968, we kept all of S.E. Asia from going Communist, and we won the war in 1973 with the Peace Accords which got our POWs back and concessions for the South. We promised to aid the South if the North acted up, and Congress broke that promise; the North invaded in 1975 after we left–and we were made the scapegoats. I served over 30 years in the military–active, Guard, and Reserve–and the best unit in the history of the Army was the 1st Air Cavalry Division. And you and I were part of it. Welcome home, brother. Remember–If you ain’t Cav, you ain’t s**t! Garry Owen. 2-6.

  14. Steve says:

    Colonel Joe: We were from A/227th and our helicopter was LTC Roscoe Robinson’s C/C for that last push into KSCB. We flew out from LZ Stud Apr 4 to LZ Thor with LTC Robinson and his staff only to find the movement halted along Route 9 with heavy contact and numerous casualties. The medivac aircraft was shot up and the gunship shot down. LTC Robinson asked if we would get his wounded out. Needless to say we agreed, dropped him at Thor and jumped over to the contact site 2 kicks west. Long story short we got the 6-7 most seriously wounded out, lost the aircraft due to heavy fire but managed to land it back at Thor. LTC Robinson put the crew in for DFCs which MG Tolson awarded a few days later. My co-pilot was on his first mission (flying on C/C was supposed to be safe) received a DFC as well but was KIA a few weeks later north of Dong Ha. And then we went into the A Shau….but thats another story. Garry Owen

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