Friend pays tribute to MIA Army sergeant
Published 11:52 am Saturday, July 4, 2015
The mystery behind U.S. Army Sgt. Billy Joe “Turk” Ellis’ disappearance and speculated death in Vietnam has haunted Wayne Hill for most of his life.
The last memory Hill has of Ellis is of spending three evenings with him while they were both stationed in South Vietnam.
“That was about two months before he got killed,” Hill said.
In Hill’s research of Ellis’ disappearance, he met with a sergeant who witnessed the attack.
“He told me the whole story,” Hill said. “I kept it all these years from the family because, to me, it was just second-hand information.”
Hill set the scene by describing what Ellis was doing before the explosion that many believe killed him.
“He was on radio watch at landing zone Leslie in the Quang Nam Province in South Vietnam,” Hill said. “The landing zone came under heavy mortar and small arms attack.”
Members of Ellis’ unit were able to find a safe place to wait out the attack.
“Other members of Ellis’ unit stated that he had been hit in the initial barrage,” Hill said.
But after the attack ceased, there was no sign of Ellis’ body.
According to witnesses, it was assumed that Ellis had probably crawled into an ammunition bunker that exploded during the attack, Hill said.
Since a body could not be recovered, Ellis was declared Missing In Action.
Regardless of what happened to him, Ellis now has a place for family and friends to pay respect to his life and service.
Hill launched the initiative to have the bridge near his and Ellis’ high school — Happy Valley — named after his friend and fellow Vietnam veteran.
“We were friends and graduated together,” Hill said. “We were both in Vietnam at the same time, but we were in different companies.”
The Buffalo Creek Bridge, now called the Staff Sgt. Billy Joe Ellis Memorial Bridge, was dedicated on June 27.
After the dedication, Hill said he observed Ellis’ family standing near the bridge.
“They were standing there looking at that sign,” Hill said. “They were just in tears and hugging one another. All of this was worth that one moment.”
Hill was also proud to see the community rally in his friend’s honor. He was glad to see Ellis earn the recognition he deserves.
“We should have done this years ago because he has no grave or marker or place to put a wreath,” Hill said. “Now he does.”
The Carter County Commission approved the resolution to dedicate the bridge on Nov. 17, 2014.
“Due to (certain) circumstances, the family of Staff Sergeant Ellis never obtained any definitive answers or closure,” according to a resolution signed by County Mayor Leon Humphrey. “Unfortunately, Betty Ellis, Staff Sergeant Ellis’ mother, passed away never knowing exactly what fate befell her son. Staff Sergeant Ellis gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, and he served with honor while defending our freedom and our way of life so that we could continue to live in peace here at home.”