I recently bought a book titled, "Flatwoods and Lighterknots" by James Elders, which he calls a "cultural visit to the coastal plains of Georgia."
"Jimmie," as his friends knew him, dedicated his book to my first cousin's (W.D. Sands of Daisy), son who was Jimmy's childhood friend. It reads, "The words of this book are dedicated to the memory of Captain William D. "Bidd" Sands, commander, Company A 1st Bn., 8th Reg., 4th Infantry Division, killed in action, Vietnam, March 23, 1967."
Captain Sands' depleted company of 85 men was ambushed by more than 400 NVA in what was later named "The Valley of Tears." He was one of the 22 men of his command who were killed and 55 Purple Hearts (some were wounded on more than one occasion during the day) given to the wounded. There was also one Congressional Medal of Honor, two distinguished service crosses and seven Silver Stars and Bronze Stars for almost everyone else. The pitched battle lasted from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
My first cousin, W.D., only had two children, David and Bidd. David was not the outdoor type and later became an interior decorator. It was Bidd, born in 1940 and died at age 27, captain of the football team, graduate of The Citadel in Charleston who could have taken his father's place in their heavy equipment, farming and turpentine business.
Sadly, W.D. never got over the loss of his son and seemed to just "give up." In the late 1950s, W.D., his brother, Carson, and his son, Bidd built some large lakes, which he later sold to the state and are now wildlife-fishing lakes named the Bidd Sands Lakes. An article in the Herald last spring stated that the lakes were now open after having been drained and renovated at the cost of $750,000.
A documentary named, "Honor in the Valley of Tears," was produced two years ago, which I was not aware of. I recently was watching TV on the documentary channel when I heard a helicopter pilot relate being engaged in supporting a ground battle and remarking that he was talking to Captain Sands. It got my attention, and after other communication, he could no longer reach the captain by radio. Later, another of the combatants reached the helicopter pilot and said, "The captain has been killed." He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously.
Bidd may have had a premonition of his death. Before he went overseas, he came to visit us, which was a rare occurrence. We had a good visit and never saw him again, as he came home in a body bag. We went to Bidd's full military funeral at the Sands' Cemetery (called Sand Hill Cemetery), located between Bidd Sands Lakes and Daisy.
The ground battle that the helicopter pilot was supporting was the Battle of Plei Trap Valley. The area is a torturous place with some of the most difficult terrain imaginable — steep mountains, mist-shrouded valleys, dense jungle coverage. The low-lying areas are overshadowed by rugged mountains and daylight temperatures soar above 105 degrees. In 1967, potable water was scarce, but insects and other pests — including the enemy — were plentiful. The Plei Trap Valley had a nickname, The Valley of Tears. And into the Valley of Tears came the men of the 4th Infantry Division, including Bidd's Company of 85 men. There was an eerie silence in the jungle, (no birds), and the threat of danger was ominous.
During the fight, Alpha 1/8 suffered 22 men killed in action and an additional 42 wounded — a 75-percent casualty rate. But the greatly outnumbered GIs were not routed by the NVA. They held their ground until relieved and they brought their dead and wounded out with them. No one shirked his duty or lost his nerve, and the bravery they showed was beyond belief.
In 1967, Bidd was survived by a 2-year-old son and an unborn daughter who was conceived when his wife met him in Korea where Bidd's unit was on R&R. Other survivors were his parents, W.D. Sands and Bessie; his brother, David; and his uncle, Carson Sands, and wife, Ann, all of Daisy. Also, his aunt, Virginia Edwards of Claxton; and her husband, Tom Edwards. He was also survived by my aunt, Sallie Sands, who was his grandmother.
Deweese Martin is a lifelong resident of Bulloch County who lives in the Nevils Community. He is a member of the Bulloch County Historical Society and has a long-time interest in Bulloch County history. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgia Southern University.