Forty-three years after leaving the Vietnam War, Hugh Catron fulfills his goal of returning a family Bible
The 155th Assault Helicopter Company called Camp Coryell in Ban Me Thuot, South Vietnam home from 1965 to 1970. In the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 1968, an intensive attack on Ban Me Thuot and the adjacent airfield began. At that time, both flare and gunships were ordered airborne in support of various check points and outposts under attack. At 2 a.m., 10 minutes after the initial attack, the 155th went into full “red” alert, and at 2:50 a.m. approximately 20 rounds of hostile mortar fire fell on the city airfield complex. Small arms fire was encountered throughout the night.
One of the 300 soldiers fighting the North Vietnamese Army’s force of 10,000 was Noblesville resident Hugh Thomas Catron.
“I was 20 years old when this all was happening,” he said. “I was a young man back then.”
After four days of solid fighting, 24 soldiers volunteered to secure the local missionary compound “at great personal risk” they were told by commanding officers. Catron said the missionaries, which included lead pastor Ed Thompson and his wife, Ruth, would visit the camp for supplies on Wednesdays and provide chapel service on Sundays.
“Ed and I would sit and argue about the Bible. He was very dedicated,” Catron said, recalling a particular disagreement between the figurative and literal parting of the Red Sea. “If I didn’t volunteer I knew they’d say, ‘Where’s Hugh at?’ ”
Unknown at the time, the NVA overran the missionary compound – killing six and capturing two, of which one survived as the Vietnam forces retreated.
“We were expecting the worse. We were expecting to receive a confrontation. All there was were dead bodies. It was pretty shocking … and death was common place,” Catron said. “I can’t believe anyone would kill an unarmed missionary. These people had no way of defending themselves. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Ed and Ruth Thompson were among the murdered Christians. Catron said the Thompsons died holding each other. When the bodies were pried apart, Catron said the couple’s Bible was between them, which he removed.
“I was chewed out by a sergeant. I told him, ‘I hardly think this is a souvenir,’ ” he said. “My intention in 1968 was to get the Bible to the family, but I didn’t know where they were from.”
Catron returned the book in his jungle fatigues pants pocket and stored it inside a foot locker at base camp. After being discharged from the Army in June 1969, Catron lived in Westfield, Indianapolis and now Noblesville.
“The Bible was always there with me,” he said, adding that he kept the Bible safe inside a zip lock bag to help keep moisture out.
A couple of times each month, Catron would spend time looking and holding the bloodstained Bible.
“It’s something you look at; like going through an old high school manual,” he said. “I knew what the contents were – blood and all.”
Over time, Catron said he discarded his photos and other memories from Vietnam and came close to getting rid of the Bible.
“When I was spring cleaning I said ‘do I really need to hold onto it?’ ” he said. “I thought about putting it in the dumpster, but it’s too valuable. It finally found its right home. That’s why I kept it all these years. I knew what I had.”
On July 7, 2011, Catron went onto his computer and searched Google at 3 a.m. He came across the Christian & Missionary Alliance website and left a comment informing the organization of his “temporary” possession.
“It was more on a whim,” said Catron. “I held onto it for 43 years. I wanted to get it into the right hands but didn’t know what the right hands were. I got a call back that morning.”
Catron then mailed the 1809 copyrighted Bible to the alliance, which placed it in an acid-free archival envelope where it will be preserved in the alliance archives.
“It took 43 years but I accomplished it,” he said. “Now I’m a celebrity in Colorado Springs (home of the alliance). Jen Rohde, the alliance’s archival director, told me there are more requests to see this Bible than the alliance founder’s Bible.”
“We wept when we read it (the email),” said Peter Burgo, managing editor of Alliance Life, the magazine of the Christian & Missionary Alliance.
The email surprised everyone, especially the couple’s children.
“God must have a wonderful plan for all of you, and you must be very special to him to have been entrusted to keep this Bible safe for my family,” Judith Thompson Button, the oldest daughter of the Thompsons, wrote to Catron. “I don’t think that we would been appreciative of the significance of this Bible at the time my parents were killed because we were so angry and hurt. We knew that God was in charge but at the time we also knew that the center of our world had been ripped away from us.
“I have been weeping with joy ever since I heard that you had saved the Bible and that it will be kept safe for generations to come. It is the only thing that survived the attack, but the most precious thing of all,” she continued.
The Thompson children all visited Vietnam and their parents’ grave site in December 2009.
“Since 1968, the church has grown from 60,000 to more than 1 million. We also learned that half of all the tribal peoples are now Christians,” said David Thompson, the oldest son of the Thompsons.
Meet Hugh Thomas Catron
Birthplace: Beech Grove, Ind.
Education: 1966 graduate of Westfield High School
Hobbies: All original 1963 split window Corvette, stock market (watching net worth go up and down every day)
Career: Army (1966-69) and merchant marine (1973-current)
Reason for joining Army: Instead of being drafted and placed in infantry, Catron wanted to choose what job he did in the military. It also provided him skilled training.
Interesting fact: Went to summer school (speech class) with David Letterman in Broad Ripple.