Vietnam vet and sheriff’s volunteer lives to serve

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FALLBROOK, Calif. – Ret. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ken Pipes has volunteered as a reserve captain at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for 20-plus years.

“I’m down at the station here in Fallbrook, generally two or three times a week,” Pipes said.

He doesn’t get paid but he is sworn officer, carries a gun and is able to make arrests. But what many don’t know is he used to don a different uniform.

Pipes joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1957 and served 25 years. From 1967 to 1968, the Lt. Colonel commanded Bravo Company 1/26 during the Tet Offensive and the 77-day Battle of Khe Sanh, considered one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

“It was dirty, it was filthy. There were men getting killed and wounded every day. It was a very demanding, sometimes very emotional and sometimes, a bit of fear that you couldn’t show,” Pipes said.

Pipes was shot and wounded twice during the siege. He also led what was called the Payback Patrol, when he retrieved the bodies of men left behind.

“We remember them, because many of them, many of them died so we could be here,” Pipes said.

For his bravery, Pipes received several awards and medals, including a Silver Star.

“That’s the third-highest gallantry award that our country gives,” Pipes said.

He also received a Bronze Star with a Combat V, Meritorious Service Medals, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and three Presidential Unit Citations for combat service.

“I was wounded twice but received one Purple Heart,” Pipes said.

“Bravo!,” a documentary about the Battle of Khe Sanh, featured Pipe and his unit’s courageous acts. It recently received Best in Show during the KPBS Film Festival.

On this Veterans Day, the war hero says it’s never been about the awards or the recognition. It’s always been about wanting to serve.

“And most of us that are fortunate enough to now be old, like I am, if we had the opportunity to do it again, we would,” Pipes said.