GREENFIELD — Night fell as veterans, classmates and family gathered to celebrate a life cut short by war.
As taps rang out, they shielded candles lit in memory of Roger Dale Haste from the wind.
Haste was just 19 years old when he was killed in a firefight with Vietnam soldiers in 1967, one of 14 men from his unit who died in action Dec. 22 — three days before Christmas.
A private in the U.S. Army, Haste joined the military just 10 months earlier. He’d been in Vietnam about six months when his family learned his life was lost in the war.
This month, veterans and citizens joined to remember the county’s second Vietnam casualty, 50 years after he took his final breath. They’ll come together 10 more times in the next three years to honor the other county servicemen who died in the war, which ended in 1975.
The local American Legion post and several other veterans organizations have teamed up to host the services at the Hancock County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where each casualty’s name is listed, along State Road 9.
More than 58,000 men and women were killed in battle between February 1961, when the United States’ military involvement in the war began, and May 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Among them were 12 Hancock County natives, according to American Legion officials.
As the 50th anniversary of each of their deaths passes, Hancock County will stop to remember them, holding memorial services for each to honor what they gave to protect their loved ones back home, said legion commander Kurt Vetters.
The ceremonies are short, not unlike the lives of the men they honor. But they serve as a reminder of the cost of freedom, Mayor Chuck Fewell said.
“We are free because of them,” he said.
Haste was born in Greenfield in November 1948 to Cora Saunders and Arnold Haste. He graduated from Greenfield High School in 1965 before entering the military in February 1966.
He went through basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, before being sent directly to Vietnam. His friends and family knew him as a good boy, they said Friday evening during the ceremony.
He loved to play guitar, his younger cousin, Ed Haste, remembered.
Roger Haste moved to Greenfield before the fifth grade, his classmate and childhood best friend, Jim Thomas, said. Thomas, who still lives in Greenfield, made a special trip back to Greenfield from Christmas celebrations in Ohio to be at the ceremony for his old pal.
The pair were fast friends who maintained their relationship even after Haste left for the war, exchanging letters before his death. Fifty years later, Thomas still has some of those letters, mementos from a friendship ended early.
In one of the last letters he sent, Haste told Thomas he’d been nominated for the bronze star metal, awarded to military members for heroic or meritorious achievement in a combat zone.
He died before he received the award, Vetters said.
The night before the ceremony, Vetters penned a poem in Haste’s honor.
As he read it aloud Friday, he grew emotional, thinking of the young man’s sacrifice.
“And my heart, stilled by another soldier, does it still beat for freedom in the breast of other Americans, just as willing to answer the call,” he read. “I say it does. I say that though I have given everything for my country, for America, that the best of her people still remember me, honor me.”
Eleven Hancock County men died during the Vietnam War, and one was missing in action. They were:
John Modglin on July 18, 1967
Rodger Haste on December 22, 1967
Frank W. Marks on March 9, 1968
Elvin Gose on March 18, 1968
Michael Ebert on March 21, 1968
Vaughn Brown on July 1, 1968
William Brees Jr. on Feb. 10, 1969
Huger Phelps on Feb. 10, 1969
Michael Terry on Oct. 12, 1969
Norris Borgman on Jan. 6, 1970
Mark Draper on July 22, 1970
Robert Harlan II, missing in action on Oct. 25, 1965