Billy Walkabout, a native Cherokee whose actions in Vietnam made him among most decorated soldiers of the war, died March 7, his stepdaughter said Sunday. He was 57.
Walkabout received the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, five Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars. He was believed to be the most decorated Native American soldier of the Vietnam War, according to Department of Defense reports.
Walkabout, who lived in Montville, died of pneumonia and renal failure at a Norwich hospital, said his stepdaughter, Randi Johnson of Norwich.
He had experienced complications related to his exposure to the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam conflict, she said, and he had been on a kidney transplant waiting list and undergoing dialysis three times a week.
Walkabout, a Cherokee of the Blue Holley Clan, was an 18-year-old Army Ranger sergeant when he and 12 other soldiers were sent on an assassination mission behind enemy lines on Nov. 20, 1968, in a region southwest of Hue.
However, they ended up in the enemy’s battalion area and came under fire for hours, during which he was seriously wounded. Several of the other 12 men were killed at the scene, while the rest later died of their injuries.
Walkabout’s citation for the Distinguished Service Cross said he simultaneously returned fire, helped his comrades and boarded other injured soldiers onto evacuation helicopters.
“Although stunned and wounded by the blast, Sgt. Walkabout rushed from man to man administering first aid, bandaging one soldier’s severe chest wound and reviving another soldier by heart massage,” the citation states.
Memories that wouldn't die
In a 1986 interview with The Associated Press, Walkabout said his 23 months in Vietnam left him with disabling injuries and memories that refused to fade.
“War is not hell,” Walkabout said. “It’s worse.”
He said he struggled with failed marriages, thoughts of suicide and years of self-isolation when he would spend six months at a time alone.
Over the years, however, he found solace in the Native American powwows where he often was an honored guest.
At the time of his death, Walkabout and his wife, Juanita Medbury-Walkabout, lived in a portion of eastern Connecticut that is home to many American Indian tribal members.
His family is in the process of requesting a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Johnson said.