U.S. Army – Vietnam
After arriving in Vietnam on January 1, 1969, Rodger McElhaney wrote a lot of letters home. He told them that his unit operated out of LZ Gator, a base of operations in Quang Ngai Province, near the coast of the South China Sea. A book by Tim O’Brien, a soldier who was in his company, describes the place: “LZ Gator was home to 700 or 800 American soldiers, mostly grunts. I remember a tar helipad, a mess hall, a medical station, mortar and artillery emplacements, two volleyball courts, numerous barracks and offices and supply depots and machine shops and entertainment clubs. Gator was our castle. Not safe, exactly, but far preferable to the bush. No land mines here. No paddies bubbling with machine-gun fire.”
Their company got back to the base once a month or so for three or four days to relax, blow off steam, take hot showers and eat warm meals. The rest of the time they spent out in the bush.
That’s where things were really rough. Once Rodger was pinned down for a whole night in one of those rice paddies bubbling with machine gun. While he was a radio operator, he had to carry not only the heavy radio, but also his rifle, 300 rounds of ammunition, and his chow. On one mission he walked 18 miles in three days carrying all that stuff. After a week or so fighting on Batangan Peninsula, he started going to church and wore a cross around his neck.
He probably got a morale boost at the end of May when his home-town friend, Charlie Reefer, was assigned to his company.
Rodger treasured the “care packages” he got from home. In one letter he thanked his mom for the cookies she had sent, and told her that it had rained hard right after they arrived. He says he ate them with a spoon. Rather than having cookies and cream, he had cookies and water.
His letters were filled with thoughts and dreams about what he would do when he came home. Before he went to Vietnam, he owned a Harley 350 motorcycle. His dream was to buy a bigger bike when he got back.
Unfortunately, that dream was to remain a dream forever. He was killed on July 16, 1969, the second of three men from the small community of Jamestown, PA, to die in Vietnam within a two-month period.
On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Panel W20, Line 7