BREWER, Maine — Capt. Herbert F. Hardy Jr. knew when he was a youngster running around in the woods of Great Pond in Hancock County that he wanted to grow up and serve his country.
“He wanted to go to West Point when he was 7 years old,” his widow, Bangor resident Helen Hardy, said Thursday, remembering the Vietnam veteran who was the love of her life.
When “Herbie” Hardy grew up he became a Green Beret and proudly served his country up until the day an enemy sniper ended his life with a bullet to the neck in March 1964 while he was patrolling the Cambodian border. The day before, Hardy, who was on his second tour of duty in Vietnam, had saved the life of a fellow soldier after their group had been ambushed.
He is one of thousands who will be honored on Monday — Memorial Day — a day of remembrance set aside for those who have died in service to the United States.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was first observed on May 30, 1868, when Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, or Union Army, ordered flowers placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery after the Civil War. The holiday later was changed to honor all Americans who died while fighting in any war, and officially became a national holiday in 1971.
Each year just before Memorial Day, Helen Hardy and her children place flowers at her husband’s grave at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Bangor and attend the Memorial Day parade in his honor. This year, Helen Hardy and her daughter Christine Brochu took flowers to his grave on Friday.
Herbie Hardy entered the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer after graduating from John Bapst High School in 1947 and earning an engineering degree from the University of Maine in 1952.
“He went directly into the service” as a second lieutenant, his wife said. “We moved 24 times in 11 years.”
Hardy went to Fort Bragg, N.C., and became an Airborne Ranger, then earned the right to wear the coveted Green Beret as a member of the Army’s Special Forces. By 1960, he was a leader in Battery D, 152nd Field Artillery, which covered from Loring Air Force Base in Limestone to Calais.
“He ate, breathed and slept the Green Berets,” said Brochu.
Helen Hardy sat in her daughter’s Washington Street home holding her husband’s olive green beret in her hands, at times caressing it gently, while telling his story. Over her head, hanging above the mantel, was a hand-hammered bronze gong with an engraved plaque bearing the names of 11 soldiers who served with Hardy and who commissioned the art in his honor.
Among the names is Sgt. 1st Class William E. Edge.
It was Edge whom Hardy saved from certain doom in early March 1964. The two were part of Detachment A-334, 1st Special Forces and were stationed with the 5th Group in Vietnam. During a routine patrol, the platoon came across an enemy training facility and while flanking the site were hit by mortar fire, which separated Hardy, Edge and a Vietnamese ally sergeant from the main group.
The trio “knew that if we stayed there we were dead men,” Edge wrote in an unpublished story he penned called, “Eyeball to Eyeball.” “We both jumped up and charged down the hill.”
In “Green Berets at War,” by Shelby Stanton, the author quotes Capt. William J. Boyd, who took over the detachment after Hardy was killed.
“Captain Hardy and Sfc. William E. Edge, armed only with M16 rifles, then charged the platoon-size Viet Cong training base, killing five VC and injuring twenty-four others,” he wrote.
During the attack, Edge fell “right into a thigh deep punji pit. I landed flat on my face, lost my rifle and my eye glasses and was stuck into the damn hole with a punji stick in my right leg,” he wrote in his story. “I had no idea where Hardy was. Then I looked uphill and nearly passed out from pure fright. There were three NVA [North Vietnamese Army], all with AKs, walking down toward me.”
Hardy took out two of the approaching soldiers and the third “took off like a rocket,” Edge wrote.
Seconds later, “I felt someone grab me by the pistol belt and yank me clear of the pit. It was Hardy,” he states.
Edge and Hardy spent the night in the bush and were rescued the next day by their brothers-in-arms. Hardy continued on the mission and Edge was sent to a hospital and learned the next day that his commander had been killed. Hardy died on March 4, 1964.
“Some time later the man who had saved my life was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions,” Edge wrote.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest honor that the Army awards and is given for extreme gallantry and risk of life in armed combat. Hardy’s medal is displayed in a shadow box that features a military photo of him wearing his green beret, and seven other medals, including a Purple Heart.
A building at Fort Bragg, where he was trained, bears his name as did a Special Forces training facility in Ginoza, Okinawa, that closed decades ago. His name is also on panel 1E, line 45 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“He was one of the first killed, so he’s right in the V,” of the memorial, said his daughter Kathy Hardy, who along with her sister and mother visited the monument in 1985.
Helen Hardy was pregnant with Kathy when her husband was killed. The family was living at a base in Okinawa, Japan, and Helen Hardy packed up her four children, sons Andrew Marshal, Stephen Lee, Robert Scott and daughter Christine, and returned home to Maine. Her youngest daughter was born a few months after the family was back and living in Brewer.
The memorial gong that Helen Hardy received from her husband’s soldiers has been a constant symbol of him, showing up in the background of numerous family photos taken over the last 47 years.
Even though “we were very fortunate that we were raised in his memory,” Brochu needed more and searched online for those who knew her father in the early 2000s. She eventually found Edge, who supplied her with a wealth of information about her father and pictures.
“It just blew my mind,” she said of finding Edge, who has since died.
Helen Hardy said it’s still hard when she thinks of her husband, but she is comforted by the knowledge that he was doing what he had aspired to do — proudly serving his country.
“He died doing what he wanted to do,” she said. “He was a good soldier. He loved the Army and he died for his country.”