As a young adult, Morris resident and U.S. Navy veteran Ed Aldrich aspired to work in law enforcement. Little did he know that goal would lead to an unprecedented role with his unit during the Vietnam War.
Aldrich, who served in the Army’s 720th Military Police Battalion’s B Company from July 1969 to July 1970, provided a unique service in the depths of combat. He and others in the unit took part in infantry duties, which was a departure from the previous practice of providing security for fighting troops.
For decades, the true scope of the unit’s service went unnoticed.
That changed this year during a historic ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Aldrich and 32 other members of the 720th attended a ceremony and received the Bronze Star Medals for their roles in combat. Dozens of members were recognized, although some were unable to attend for myriad reasons, including death, poor health or lack of financial means.
“We’re recognized, and now there’s closure,” Aldrich said when asked to describe his sentiments of the ceremony.
For years, Aldrich said he frequently would leave other veterans in bewilderment when he described what he did during the Vietnam War, the result of the lack of recognition and the unprecedented nature of the role.
“When I would tell them I was an MP, I felt like they weren’t listening or they didn’t believe me,” Aldrich said. “Other veterans, especially, weren’t listening or believing what we did.”
The Bronze Star oversight – as it has been deemed – spanned more than a half-century but ultimately was rectified after members from the unit sent letters to congressional representatives asking for the recognition.
“Now the public knows what we did,” Aldrich said. “I’ve wanted to get the word out, not so much for me but for my guys. It was something that the Army tried. We were guinea pigs, or sacrificial lambs, to protect and alert.”
During his yearlong role as a military police officer in the Vietnam War, Aldrich had a number of assignments. He began as a radio man and served in roles such as a machine-gunner and boat driver before culminating in his role as a driver for the company commander.
Aldrich was in the Army for a total of three years, October 1968 to October 1971. Before his tour of duty overseas, he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. After the war, he finished his service at Fort Rucker (known today as Fort Novosel) in Alabama.
The years of service brought other pivotal experiences into Aldrich’s life, most notably getting married. He and his wife, Margie, are approaching 54 years together.
Reflecting on the period of time immediately after marriage, Aldrich said, “I brought Margie back down [to Fort Sam Houston]. Ninety days later, I get a notice in the mail for Vietnam. I had to kiss her goodbye for 365 days. That was one of the hard parts about the war.”
As it turned out, Aldrich never did work in law enforcement after his years of service in the military. The Streator native applied to work as an Illinois state trooper, but he faced a tough, competitive applicant pool.
Instead, he entered into an apprenticeship program through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 176 in Joliet.
“I think I was better off doing that because I eventually was able to retire from it,” Aldrich said. “Really, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”