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august2009


Vietnam November


Forty years after his experience in the jungles of Vietnam, Deadwood native Niles Harris finds his story in the national spotlight.
By T.D. Griffith

Vietnam November
CREDIT: T.D. Griffith

He wasn’t looking for the attention.

But, sometimes fate intercedes despite your best intentions or your personal desires. For Deadwood resident Niles Harris, his fate may have been sealed two autumns ago when he hobbled downtown to listen to an aspiring country duo known as Big & Rich.

“I met ‘em that night at the Buffalo Bar and we got along pretty well,” Niles recalls, rubbing his gray goatee. “I took them out to some abandoned gold mines in the Black Hills a few days later and they enjoyed it. While we were hanging out, I gave them this story of a battle I was in in Vietnam.”

That battle, now four decades old but still not long enough ago for Niles, is about to be brought to life through the music of Big & Rich. It is the story of young men sent far away to do battle against an often unseen enemy, in jungles so thick and moist Niles can still smell them.

It is the story of the “8th of November.”

Veteran musician and actor Kris Kristofferson has already recorded the introduction and Big & Rich have performed its haunting melody. The “8th of November” is one of 13 tracks found on Big & Rich’s new album, Comin’ To Your City, due out in mid-November.

“Meeting Niles, writing a song about his life, then traveling with him to the other side of the world was a life-changing experience for John and me,” says Big Kenny, whose trademark beaded top hat was a gift from Niles. “He’s a remarkable person and a great friend.”

Then just 19 years old and assigned to the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, Niles joined his C Company landing in Vietnam’s War Zone D on November 5, 1965. Three days later, his Second Platoon, with just 30 men, was attacked by 1,200 soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army equipped with machine guns, claymores and sniper rifles.

“It was early in the morning, about 7 a.m.,” Niles recalls before his voice trails off. “The first blast just about wiped out our squad. It was one helluva big ambush. Minutes later we had returning fire and were holding our own, but our platoon got nailed first. In the jungle, it’s just so thick you can’t see anything.”

At the end of that fateful day, 48 Americans and over 400 North Vietnamese soldiers had died. And, on that day, Lawrence Joel earned the highest military decoration awarded by the United States: the Medal of Honor.


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