Entering Altoona’s Alto Reste Cemetery, I was glad I had directions to the graves I sought. Although far from the largest cemetery I’ve visited, it would have definitely been a challenge to find any grave without help.
As I drove along the cemetery’s roadways, I could see the familiar military stone in the middle of the intersection a short distance ahead of me. Parking next to the grassy plot that held a single stone and military artillery, I got out and walked over to read the stone. As I approached it, something caught my attention – the familiar white military stones usually don’t have writing on the back. Stepping around the stone, I noticed the added words at the top – “in memory of.”
The stone was a cenotaph – which means there is no one buried beneath the marker – but that was not stopping me from paying my respects to an Altoona native who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Vietnam War.
Staff Sergeant Glenn Harry English, Jr. was born in Altoona on April 23, 1940 and spent his early years in the Williamsburg area. He entered the US Army in 1962 and served with Company E, Third Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
On September 7, 1970, the US Army base Landing Zone Uplift was attacked. The base, which was established in 1966, was located near Phu My in Binh Dinh Province. Around five that morning, the base was hit by four mortar rounds which resulted in six injured Americans, one with severe injuries. Later that morning, the base again came under rocket fire and an observation helicopter was brought down by enemy fire.
A unit consisting of armored personnel carriers (APCs) and a sherman tank left the base in search of the locations where the enemy was firing from. Around one that afternoon, the unit came under attack.
A mine buried in the road was detonated, destroying the lead APC. Enemy fire from both sides of the road destroyed a second APC and damaged the tank plus two additional APCs.
As one of the APCs burned, Staff Sergeant English ran from his vehicle in an attempt to rescue the men in the burning vehicle. As he was pulling a wounded man out of the APC, the fuel and ammunition onboard exploded, killing English and Privates First Class Eugene A. Aaron, Eddie J. Padilla, and Brent W. Sveen.
English’s remains would be buried at the Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The citation for Medal of Honor states: “S/Sgt. English was riding in the lead armored personnel carrier in a 4-vehicle column when an enemy mine exploded in front of his vehicle. As the vehicle swerved from the road, a concealed enemy force waiting in ambush opened fire with automatic weapons and anti-tank grenades, striking the vehicle several times and setting it on fire. S/Sgt. English escaped from the disabled vehicle and, without pausing to extinguish the flames on his clothing, rallied his stunned unit. He then led it in a vigorous assault, in the face of heavy enemy automatic weapons fire, on the entrenched enemy position. This prompt and courageous action routed the enemy and saved his unit from destruction. Following the assault, S/Sgt. English heard the cries of 3 men still trapped inside the vehicle. Paying no heed to warnings that the ammunition and fuel in the burning personnel carrier might explode at any moment, S/Sgt. English raced to the vehicle and climbed inside to rescue his wounded comrades. As he was lifting 1 of the men to safety, the vehicle exploded, mortally wounding him and the man he was attempting to save. By his extraordinary devotion to duty, indomitable courage, and utter disregard for his own safety, S/Sgt. English saved his unit from destruction and selflessly sacrificed his life in a brave attempt to save 3 comrades. S/Sgt. English’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the cost of his life were an inspiration to his comrades and are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
In addition to the Medal of Honor, English also had awarded other medals in the US Army, including the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal. English’s name can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on panel 7W, Line 44.
Remembering English’s sacrifice, I left the memorial thankful for the bravery he showed under enemy fire.