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Mayport pauses to honor lives lost in Vietnam War battle

USS Hue City is the only U.S. warship named for a Vietnam War battle.
USS Hue City is the only U.S. warship named for a Vietnam War battle.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Naval Station Mayport set aside Sunday to remember and honor those who served and died in the Battle of Hue City, one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War.

The Mayport-based ship named in honor of the battle, the USS Hue City, hosted the memorial service, which included stories of survival from a former prisoner of war and heroics of a Purple Heart recipient during the battle.

On the deck of the USS Hue City, the only U.S. warship named for a battle that took place in  February 1968, retired Lt. Col. Tran Ngoc Huea Silver Star recipient and former POW,, spoke about the battle.

“Freedom is not free. And if you want to have the freedom, you’ve got to pay,” said Hue, who spent 13 years in a POW camp.

Speaking at the gathering, Lance Cpl. Tony Cartlidge said those on the battlefield had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

“We did it with the intention of trying to help them stay free. We were enormously outnumbered," Cartlidge said. 

Cartlidge was injured, but said the bigger tragedy is the number of lives lost.  Allied forces lost 668 dead and 3,707 wounded in the battle.

“I got blown up in a minefield with my whole platoon. We lost the platoon,” Cartlidge said.

Cartlidge, who received a Purple Heart, said the lesson he learned in Vietnam is that everyone is capable of receiving a Purple Heart. 

“I believe every generation of Americans can rise to the occasion," Cartlidge said. "They may not think it at the time. I didn’t think I was going into what I went into at the time. But circumstances come up that you have to bear that medal that’s inside of you that you don’t even know is there. And when you see your friends dying around you ... and your friends losing limbs, it steels you up and makes you more determined to be the winner, to destroy the enemy. And I believe every American has that in them. They just don’t know it.”

Probably the biggest takeaway from this 48th anniversary of the battle is that the spirit of the men and women who lost their lives during the battle lives on aboard the USS Hue City.