Decorated soldier’s memory to be honored

He was a son, a brother, a husband and a father. He was a decorated Army soldier and was the first Randolph County resident killed in the Vietnam War.

On July 19, the West Virginia Department of Highways and local veterans and dignitaries will gather to name the bridge over Becky’s Creek in honor of Sgt. Cecil Wilbert Kittle Jr.

Kittle was born March 15, 1940, in Glady, the son of Cecil and Omega Armentrout Kittle. He had one brother and two sisters. He attended Tygarts Valley High School and, in 1962, he married the former Betty Irene Wilt in Elkins. They had two sons, Richard Nicholas and Randall Lee.

Sgt. Kittle was a career soldier, entering the Army in July 1958, and serving several tours of duty in Europe with the Seventh Army. In 1961 he was involved with activities surrounding the Berlin Wall crisis while serving with the 51st Infantry in


He arrived in Vietnam in 1965, where he was assigned to the Seventh Calvary/First Calvary Division (Airmobile). That division was involved in the heaviest fighting at the Battle of la Drang Valley and Chu Pong Mountain, the first major battle for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. American leaders had decided to use newly developed airmobile tactics by flying in American troops by helicopter.

The Battle at la Drang Valley lasted approximately four days with more than 300 American soldiers killed. Troops were airlifted into the valley to locate North Vietnamese Army soldiers.

With only 16 helicopters available to bring in the U.S. soldiers, it took more than four hours to get all of the men on the ground. The first group, dropped off at a clearing known as Landing Zone X-Ray on Nov. 14, were immediately surrounded and attacked by thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers. Dozens of men died within this first wave of attacks.

On Nov. 17, military operations were moved to Landing Zone Albany, where U.S. troops were again surrounded and attacked by an overwhelming number of NVA soldiers. This second wave of attacks is considered the deadliest ambush of a U.S. unit during the entire course of the Vietnam War. During the night, North Vietnamese soldiers walked through the woods, executing all wounded American soldiers.

Sgt. Kittle was killed while on a search-and-destroy mission during the second wave of NVA attacks. He was one of nine West Virginia soldiers who died at the Battle of la Drang Valley, and the first Randolph County casualty of the Vietnam War.

His second son, Randall Lee Kittle, was born approximately one month after his death.

Air strikes and artillery eventually allowed U.S. soldiers to secure the area and rescue the survivors. The battle set the tone for the remainder of the war as American forces continued to rely on air mobility and heavy fire support.

The Battle at la Drang Valley was documented in a CBS News Special Report and several books, including “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young” which served as the basis for the 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper.

Sgt. Kittle was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V Device for heroism and valor for courageous actions against hostile forces at the Battle of la Drang Valley. He was also awarded the Purple Heart, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.

Sgt. Kittle is buried at the Old Brick Church Cemetery in Huttonsville along with his parents and other family members. The bridge dedication ceremony will be at noon July 19 at the Valley Chapel United Methodist Church located near the bridge. A reception will be held following the ceremony.