Battle of Fire Base Ripcord veteran to keynote Memorial Day ceremony

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DOVER — Decorated combat veteran Lee Widjeskog will keynote Kent County Chapter 850, Vietnam Veterans of America’s Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 31, at 2 p.m. at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park, S. Little Creek Road.

In 1970 U.S. Army Infantry Lt. Lee Widjeskog of Rosenhayn, New Jersey, never expected to be part of one the major battles of the Vietnam War.

After graduating from Bridgeton High in 1965, he attended Colorado State University and received a degree in wildlife biology and an ROTC commission in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1969. His infantry officer basic and airborne training were taken at Fort Benning, Georgia.

He later served six months in Fort Polk, Louisiana, in the advanced infantry training field course at Tiger Ridge and Jungle School in Panama, followed by a year in South Vietnam with the 101st Airmobile Division as an infantry platoon leader in Alpha Company.

By 1970, many American positions were weakened by the cuts in troop numbers as the war was winding down. The only full-strength division left in Vietnam was the famous 101st Airborne. 

Fire Base Ripcord was set on four hilltops as outposts overlooking the A Shau Valley for a planned offensive by the Marines to search and destroy North Vietnamese supply lines. As many as 25,000 NVA troops launched sporadic attacks between March and June.  

During a 23-day siege 75 US servicemen were killed while the battle for the hilltops raged for days. The 101st was surrounded and outnumbered almost ten to one and running low on supplies. It was only the high ground and the bravery of its defenders that kept the enemy from overrunning the Fire Support Base Ripcord. Two Medals of Honor and five Distinguished Service Crosses were later awarded. 

On July 22, Lt. Widjeskog’s platoon was cut off from the rest of Alpha Company by NVA. After six hours of fighting, the platoon and company were able to rejoin and prepare for possible night attacks. Of 76 men in the company 14 were killed that day and 56 wounded. Alpha Company was evacuated the next day as was the fire base. 

In September Lt. Widjeskog was assigned as supply officer for the 3rd Brigade Headquarters Company of the 101st until March 1971.

From 1971 thru 2011, Mr. Widjeskog worked for New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife as a waterfowl biologist, wetlands expert, and superintendent of 190,000 acres of state-owned land.  Since retirement he has been part of an adaptive management team overseeing Public Service Gas and Electric estuary enhancement program on Delaware Bay marshes.

He and his wife married in 1968 and have two children and one grandchild.