Lieutenant Tink Haney had been in Vietnam for five months and witnessed men wounded and killed by landmines. Each morning they went down a 12-mile stretch of dirt road, the men walking fast in front of the trucks, sweeping for mines with metal detectors. The VietCong usually buried the homemade mines a foot deep in dirt, rendering the detectors practically useless. “I’d drop a piece of shrapnel on the road and cover it with my foot to test my men,” says Haney. “They never found it.”
When a mine was discovered near the end of a bridge or culvert, Haney didn’t detonate it for fear of damaging the structure. He ordered his men back and dug it up himself. His men weren’t surprised when he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism. “First Lieutenant Tink Haney personally disarmed and removed several mines, some of which were booby-trapped… exposing himself to sniper fire and ambush… selflessly disregarding his own personal injuries… was an inspiration to others…,” the citation stated in part.
So far he hadn’t received a scratch. Some might say he was lucky. If so, he made a lot of it himself. He filled the back of a 5 ton truck with dirt and the men rode on top after they had swept their assigned stretch of Highway One. “One week I made them back up all the way to our starting point. If the back wheels ran over a mine the dirt would absorb the shock.” But every day the odds were piling up against him and he knew it. “I had enough sense to know that we weren’t finding all of the mines.” He rode on the passenger side of a ¾ ton truck and as a precaution sat on top of sandbags he had stacked on the floorboard. Unfortunately, the driver couldn’t do the same because of the clutch, brake and gas pedals. On the morning of October 23rd, Haney was riding shotgun in a ¾ ton truck as they approached a bridge.
KA-BOOM! A deafening blast shattered the peaceful morning. A fireball shot upward. Chunks of metal, sand and debris sailed through the air followed by billowing smoke. Addled and disoriented, Haney found himself on the side of the road. He had been blown out of the truck, which was now a smoking pile of metal. “A mine exploded on the driver’s side and hit him in the face,” says Haney. “We were receiving fire and I ordered the men to return it. I was lucky. I got up off the ground and discovered that the driver’s feet were blown off.” A medic riding in the back of the truck administered aid. Luckily, a Colonel aboard a chopper saw black smoke and dropped down to lend assistance. “I can’t remember how I got to the hospital at Chu Lai but I’m sure it was by chopper. My back was injured, my right hand was busted and my right knee was cut. I was laid up in the hospital in a warehouse and soldiers were being brought in blown up and crapping on themselves. Finally, they sewed up my hand.”
Later a female physician came by and asked Haney if he was ready to return to duty. “I can’t move,” he replied. He was finally admitted and on the fourth day, his Battalion Commander came by to check on him. “My back hurts. They never checked it,” said Haney. The Colonel chewed out the doctor. The nurses were running around, “What did you tell that Colonel?” they asked Haney. Finally, they x-rayed his back and returned him to duty.
Later, another platoon had several mines behind a berm when one exploded sending flying shrapnel at Haney. “It hit my right jaw and broke it.My face was numb but I could feel my teeth were intact.” He was helicoptered to a hospital.
“Lieutenant, with these wounds, I can send you to Japan and you won’t have to go back to Vietnam,” the doctor told him. Haney chokes. “When I tell this I get emotional. I told the doctor that we were short Lieutenants and they needed me so I went back.”
In early May 1969, Haney boarded a plane at Cam Rahn Bay, along with other returning soldiers, and flew home. He had served 11 months and 26 days in Vietnam. Packed away in his bag were two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Metal with a V device for Valor, and a Bronze Star. The returning soldiers were quiet and reflective. “You’d think the people would be hollering, but nobody said a word until we landed in America. All I could think of was reaching home,” says Haney. They landed Ft. Lewis, Washington and were greeted by war protestors carrying signs.
Haney worked for TVA in Chattanooga for a year and then was transferred to Brownsferry. In 1975, he married Sharon Rainey of Savannah, Tennessee. “Met a good un,” he says. They had two children, Heather, a NASA employee, who lives in Athens and Will who passed away with cancer in 2011. Haney joined the 1343rd National Guard Combat Engineers in Athens, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and Battalion Commander. After 27 years of service he retired. He and Sharon live on Lindsay Lane where they raise pullets. He is a member of the Athens-Limestone Honor Guard and active supporter of the Alabama Veterans Museum.
By: Jerry Barksdale