Class of 1966
Irwin Norman Sokal was a member of Plainedge's 'Class of 1966'.. "Soak" as we called him, was just a member... not the class president, not the most popular...not the 'most' anything.. In fact, I think he only appears once in the 1966 yearbook. What Irwin excelled at was being reliable ..He was someone you could count on in a pinch if you needed to borrow lunch money or copy notes or even homework for 7th period English. He had a good soul...I never heard him utter an unkind word about anyone.. .I believe he considered me a friend... I'm ashamed to say that, back then, I considered him more of an acquaintance.. Irwin was someone who could be useful, but too un-cool to hang out with. I mean, my own position in the social hierarchy of the class was somewhat tenuous, at best. I believed that being a BFF with Soak would not have improved my popularity status in any which way. How wrong I was ! Irwin Sokal was a man of exceptional character and it was I who was not worthy of HIS friendship. .....Now, 44 years removed from Plainedge, I consider Irwin to be one of my heroes.. Its a very short list, indeed! I only wish I had treated him better back then.
From what I can piece together, following graduation, Soak joined the U.S. Army during the height of the Vietnam War. .. His first stateside assignment was as a Jewish chaplain's assistant, but he was soon ordered to Vietnam as a 'sky trooper' with the fabled Company D, 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry... General Custer's old command. Unfortunately, the situation General Custer found himself in at the Little Big Horn and the Air Cav's helicopter assault at LZ Green would be eerily similar.
On the 3rd of December 1968, Sgt. Sokal and the troopers of Company D were heli-lifted into an LZ (landing zone) as the advance party to a large reconnaissance-in-force that was to follow. Unbeknownst to military intel, the LZ was adjacent to the underground base camp of one of the fiercest, and combat hardened units in the North Vietnamese army, elements of the 1st NVA division. Once on the ground, the situation deteriorated rapidly for the 116 sky troopers.. The enemy had pillboxes, mortars, and 51 caliber machine gun positions set up in a classic U shaped ambush around the LZ. With nothing more than waist-high elephant grass and 2 foot tall anthills as cover, Delta Company hastily set up a defensive position around the LZ. Enemy fire was intense with a maelstrom of NVA small arms, mortar and RPGs raking the encircled Americans. With officers, senior NCOs, and key platoon leaders down, Sgt John Holcomb, a D Company squad leader, took command and rallied the troopers to hold off 3 human wave attacks by a battalion-sized force of 800 to 1000 enemy bent on overrunning the LZ. Without a doubt, the situation had the appearance of the Little Big Horn debacle all over again. To make matters worse, a raging grass fire, ignited by phosphorus mortar shells, consumed many of the wounded and dead. LZ Green was turning into a little patch of hell on Earth, but Sgt Irwin Sokal held his position on the perimeter and returned fire for all that he was worth. It was during one of the NVA attacks that Soak was seriously wounded in the leg . He reacted by lifting up from his prone position to check his wound. At that exact instant, a round from an AK-47 assault rifle hit him squarely in the forehead killing him instantly. Sgt Irwin Sokal, the nice Jewish boy from Plainedge, died at his fighting position for his country and his fellow sky troopers. The battle lasted 5 long hours with the NVA taking heavy casualties before breaking off the engagement. Company D 2nd battalion 7th Cavalry suffered 26 killed, and 46 wounded in the battle, but managed to hold the LZ against impossible odds. Sgt John N. Holcomb was posthumously awarded the Medal Of Honor for his extraordinary actions that day. Custer would have been proud !
I can only imagine the horror of that day. I wonder how any one of us would have reacted in that fearful life and death situation. All I know is that Irwin Sokal stood tall and gave his life to save his unit from being overrun and annihilated. He is a hero in every sense of the word and has earned his calvary spurs and a place in Fiddler's Green, the mythical eternal resting place for deceased cavalrymen. In the annals of the Plainedge Class of 1966, I do believe Irwin Sokal is deserving of a few 'Most' honors... 'most patriotic', 'most steadfast' and of course, 'most courageous'.. Without question, he was one of the best our generation had to offer...
...ON THE 42nd ANNIVERSARY OF HIS SACRIFICE....
The events of the battle with a mention of Irwin appeared in the Stephen Banko III article in Vietnam Magazine entitled 'No DEROS Delta"
Honoring Our Heroes
This area is dedicated to our alumni that have served or are serving in our armed forces!
Lost Class Rings
Have you lost your Plainedge High School class ring? Have you found someone's class ring? Visit our lost class ring page to search for your class ring or post information about a found ring.