Ernest W. Payne Vietnam War Images (1967-1968)
This album consists of over 320 color and black-and-white photographs documenting the Vietnam War service of SSgt. Ernest W. Payne of Charlotte, N.C., from 1967 to 1968. Payne was a supply officer in the U.S. Army, serving as Staff Officer (or “S4”) of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division. None of the photographs are dated, though many have dates on the back when the photographs were printed. This is why the images are circa dated. The majority do not have descriptions or locations written on the backs of the photographs. Most of the photographs were taken in Payne's military camps, or at makeshift Army airfields used for supply drops.

Ernest Walter Payne was born on January 20, 1932, in Charlotte, N.C., to Donald L. and Katherine O. Nixon Payne. By 1940, Ernest’s parents apparently had divorced, and Katherine Nixon remarried to a man named McGinnis. Ernest Payne was living with his mother’s widowed father Ernest Nixon and his family in Berryhill Township in Mecklenburg County, N.C. Little is know about his childhood, education, or personal life prior to 1953. On February 20, 1953, Ernest Payne was inducted into military service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War for one year’s service. He was married sometime prior to his later time stationed in Europe.

It is unknown where Payne did his basic training, or where he was first stationed after entering military service. By the time of his honorable discharge on July 16, 1954, he was stationed in Sandhofen, Germany, assigned as a Corporal to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 29th Signal Battalion, U.S. Army. Payne re-enlisted in the Army on July 17, 1954, for a three-year service period. He would attend and complete the Noncommissioned Officers Academy at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on November 2, 1956. By the end of his service period, he was serving as a Sergeant in Company F, Special Training Regiment, U.S. Army Training Center, at Fort Dix. Payne was honorably discharged on April 17, 1957. Payne also moonlighted as a tax driver while at Fort Dix to make additional money. It is while he was a taxi driver that he met his second wife, Jennie Millie Palmucci [Aspromonte]. She was from an Italian immigrant family living in Trenton, New Jersey. The two got married on November 6, 1957, in Charlotte, N.C.

Ernest Payne re-enlisted on April 18, 1957 at Fort Dix. Little is known about his pre-Vietnam War military career. Payne’s line of military work was as an Army supply officer. He appears to have spent time stationed in Europe during this enlistment, having attended supply sergeant courses at the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Signal School, Europe, in the spring of 1959. Payne was serving in the 3rd Battle Group, 6th Infantry Regiment, stationed in Berlin, Germany, as of April 1961. By July 1961, Payne was serving as a Supply Sergeant with the rank of Staff Sergeant in Company C, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 69th Armor, 2nd Infantry Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia.

After another re-enlistment, Ernest Payne remained serving in Company C, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 69th Armor, 2nd Infantry Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia, through 1962. He remained there through 1963 at least (possibly 1964). Payne was stationed in Mannheim, Germany, as a Supply Sergeant with the rank of Staff Sergeant with the Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, by 1965 through March 1966. From April 1965 to June 1966, he was assigned to the supply section serving in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Battalion, 68th Armor.

By January 1967, Payne was assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 4th Brigade, at Fort Ord, California. He would receive the Army Commendation Medal on July 17, 1967, for his supply work and maintenance for his unit. By July 1967, Payne would be sent for overseas duty in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He was assigned as the Supply Staff Officer (or “S4”) Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division, U.S. Army. His unit had nearly become defunct, and Payne would receive a commendation by November 1967 for turning the unit around. He improved the records management systems, training of his staff, and improving supply operations.

Little detail is known about Ernest Payne’s movements, camps, and station locations during his time in Vietnam. However, he noted on a map the locations where he was stationed during undated periods, from 1967 to 1968, including: near the city of Phan Thiết, South Vietnam; and the town of Bồng Sơn, South Vietnam. He was shot at while in a military plane flying somewhere between the Quảng Trị province and the city of Huế. Payne’s unit relieved and resupplied the U.S. Marines during the Second Battle of Khe Sanh, arriving around noon on April 7, 1968, at Khe Sanh. It is unclear when he returned to the United States.

Ernest Payne would receive a number of medals during his time in Vietnam. This includes the U.S. Army Air Medal, awarded for his participation in more than 25 aerial missions in hostile territory in support of counterinsurgency operations from July 1967 to May 1968. He would receive the Bronze Star Medal on June 17, 1968, for his Vietnam service during the period from July 1967 to July 1968.

Payne was assigned as the non-commissioned officer in charge of three sections in Headquarters and Company A, 122nd Maintenance Battalion, 3rd Armored Division (Spearhead), U.S. Army, by January 1969. He was approved for honorable discharge on January 15, 1969, after which time he re-enlisted. In 1971, Payne had a heart attack, which forced him to be placed on the temporary disability retired list by the Army on October 16, 1971. He was discharged as permanently disabled retired after he was deemed physically unable to return to active duty on May 31, 1973.

Ernest W. Payne died on March 10, 1995, of congestive heart failure, and was buried with full military honors in Berryhill Baptist Church Cemetery in Charlotte, N.C.

From Ernest W. Payne Papers, VW 22, Vietnam War Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.
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