Ken Wallingford was born in Munich, Germany in 1948. He says, “My dad was in the Air Force and like most “Air Force Brats” I really grew up everywhere. I went to school in a lot of places, mostly though in Florida, Maine, and New Mexico.” In 1966, Ken graduated from high school in the Miami Military Academy, Miami, Florida. He then attended Texas A&I College in Kingsville, Texas (now known as Texas A&M University, Kingsville). In September 1969 he enlisted in the Army.

He completed Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training in Infantry at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and then graduated from Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. After receiving his “jump wings” as an Army Paratrooper, he was then sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Special Forces, phase one training, and then received orders for Vietnam.

Ken arrived “in country” in August 1970 and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division where he served as a sniper. At the end of his one-year tour he volunteered to extend for the remaining seven months and six days left on his enlistment. After a 30-day leave back home in the United States, he was assigned to MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) and sent to Lai Khe where he served for the next six months.

In March 1972, Sergeant Ken Wallingford was sent from Lai Khe to Loc Ninh. Ken was the junior member of the 5-man MACV Advisory Team #70 (made up of Lt Col Richard Schott, Major Albert E. “Ed” Carlson, Captain Mark Smith, SFC Howard Lull, and Sgt Ken Wallingford) that was with the 200 South Vietnamese troops stationed at Loc Ninh.

Before dawn on April 5, 1972 they came under heavy mortar and artillery fire. This was the beginning of a massive attack launched by three divisions of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), a force of 30,000 men. After two and one-half days locked in fierce combat, the enemy overran the camp with an overwhelming combined arms force of infantry, artillery, and armor consisting of Russian T-54 and PT-76 tanks.

Ken relates the action from him perspective, saying, “The Major and myself had taken up a bunker position some distance away from our other three team members that were in the Command Post Bunker (a UPI photographer, a French national, Yves Michele Dumond, had also come to Loc Ninh the day before because he had heard he could get some action photos there and also because he knew Captain Smith).

Knowing that the NVA troops would come searching and couldn’t miss discovering us where we were, we moved again and concealed ourselves under some sandbags between two buildings, intending to stay in that “hide-position” until after dark when we would then E & E (escape and evade) from the enemy held area. We did not have that much time. An enemy tank scored a hit directly on our position and we were both wounded by shrapnel from the tank shell. I was bleeding from my head to my legs and believed that I was about to die. The Major was not as badly hurt. We lay helpless under the sandbags all that day. After darkness we managed to get back and reoccupy our original bunker position. We re-established radio contact and all the next day called in air strikes, some were very near misses around our own position. We lasted through another night there, but on the morning following, the enemy got on top of our bunker and started pouring gasoline all over the position. We knew then that it was all over. We came out as fast as we could, exiting through the port holes, and were taken prisoner. That was exactly six days before my scheduled date of discharge from the Army.”

During the second day’s fighting, Ken Wallingford became a Christian. A professed agnostic up to that point in life, he was now in a large-scale engagement on the wrong side of a force ratio of 150 to 1. Staring into the face of near certain death, he made his profession of faith, accepted Jesus Christ as savior and prayed to God for deliverance. He believes there are no atheists in foxholes.

The Lieutenant Colonel and the Sergeant First Class of the Advisory Team had been killed but Captain Smith and photographer Dumond survived, as did Sergeant Wallingford and Major Carlson. The survivors had been without food or water for two days.

Ken’s captors gave him water and something to eat “sort of like sardines,” and quickly marched them out of the area and on their way towards Cambodia. Finally reaching a crude jungle camp in Cambodia, he was held in solitary confinement in a five-foot by six-foot bamboo “tiger cage.” He was also chained to the cage with one leg shackled to a ten-foot chain. The “tiger cages” were spaced apart so the American prisoners were isolated from one another (Ken would be held for the next 10 months and during that time neither he, nor any of the others in the Cambodian jungle camps ever received a letter or package from family and home as did those held, Prisoner Of War, in the North Vietnamese POW camps around Hanoi).

An NVA doctor attended his wounds. He was offered penicillin but refused it. As a child he had had an allergic reaction to penicillin and feared if that recurred now in jungle captivity that he might not survive. His wounds were treated with an iodine solution and left open to heal (their practice was not to stitch up wounds), and they gradually did heal.

He says, “I was fed three times a day, rice with a little pork fat, a few tiny little cubes of fat on the pigskin that still had the hair on it; and I had a bowl of water which would be filled at mealtimes. I kept that water bowl and still have it today. About once every 10 days I was taken out of my cage and we prisoners were taken to a stream to bathe and wash what clothing we were wearing. We would then be sat down and made to listen to indoctrination training.

After I had been there about 30 days, I was taken out and made to sit down on a tree stump to be interrogated. The interrogator spoke perfect English and it was amazing how much he appeared to know about me and the current situation in South Vietnam, but from my Special Forces training. I knew that was exactly what he was trained to do. Still it was surprising to see someone with that level of skill in such a small and insignificant jungle camp. Attempts were always being made to obtain confessions and anti-American statements. My answer was always that “I’m not going to sign any statements and I know you are not going to kill me.” It was late in the war and live prisoners were valuable for negotiation.

In January 1973, apparently in preparation for pending repatriation, Ken Wallingford was moved to another prison camp in the Cambodian jungle. After about 30 days there he and several others were moved back across the border into South Vietnam and taken to Loc Ninh, where they had first been captured, probably because there was an airstrip there. Now, he and 27 other prisoners had been assembled there for repatriation.

On February 12, 1973 they were flown by helicopter to freedom in Saigon. Upon landing, they walked up a red carpet that had been rolled out on the flight line and were greeted by the Ambassador and welcomed back by a large group of senior officers. Then it was on to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for three days before the flight home. On Valentine’s Day, 1973, Ken’s plane landed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio and he was taken to Brooke Army Hospital. Ten days later he was released to go home.

He made these statements at that time, “…I was fortunate to have been captured late in the war and spent a very short time imprisoned in comparison to some who were over there eight and nine years. I was able to withstand my ordeal with the help of God and faith in you, the American people. I wish to thank each and every one of you who stood behind us and never gave up hope or ceased your prayers that some day we might return home to our families and loved ones. I would also like to thank everyone who wore a POW bracelet with my name engraved on it. This meant so much to me because it told me you cared. I wish that the 56,000 plus men who gave their lives for a cause could have the same opportunity that God has given me…”

In June 1973 he was discharged from the Army. He had been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal with “V”device and two Oak Leaf Clusters, Prisoner of War Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachutists Badge and eight other medals and unit citations.

Ken Wallingford has lived in Austin since 1973. He was vice president of a bank for six years and has worked as a licensed real estate broker. For the last nineteen years he has been with the Texas Veterans Land Board where he currently serves as the Director of Veterans Liaison. Ken is a Purple Heart recipient and was one of our 26 original members when the chapter was first formed in Austin. This month, Chapter 1919 proudly salutes charter member, Ken Wallingford.

Editors Note: Texas is one of only five states that provide separate benefits at the state level for its veterans. The Texas Veterans Land Board traces its lineage back to the original 1836 Texas General Land Office that was formed, in part, to make sure veterans of the Texas Revolution were given the land rights they were promised in exchange for their military service in liberating Texas. Today the Texas Veterans Land Board serves 1.6 million Texas veterans of all ages (third largest veterans population in the nation), offering LOW COST LAND LOANS up to $80,000; Texas Veterans HOME LOANS up to $325,000; HOME IMPROVEMENT LOANS up to $25,000 for 20-years, or $10,000 for 10-years; care for Texas veterans in any of seven Texas STATE VETERANS HOMES; and a final resting place in one of the two Texas STATE VETERANS CEMETERIES (ground-breaking soon in a third location at Abilene). The Texas Veterans Land Board is available to serve, call 1-800-252-VETS or contact thru the website at