ODDS AND ENDS
Our web site, at: www.rattler-firebird.org has been complimented as being the best that is out there by persons that are or have been in that business. This is a fine testimony to our webmaster, Gary White. Gary designed and built this site and oversees the day to day changes that are made.
One of the unique features of the site is the ability to click on the name of one of our KIAs or one of our men who died after serving with us and leave messages or memories of that person. The message below is a wonderful example of what people can leave for their loved ones or comrades.
Comment posted by Stacy Dianne Robbins Vernon for Russell Lindsey Robbins, KIA 2 May 1967.
“I love you Daddy. I long to kiss your cheek and hold your hand. I never met you but know that you are always with me. You have two beautiful grandchildren, Lindsey Hope and Cameron Michael. See you in heaven.”
Another feature of the web site is Pilot’s Call Signs. If you were an aircraft commander with an inherent call sign and desire to have this info posted, contact Gary White at 10015 West 94th St., Overland Park, KS 66212 or through the web site itself. Everyone needs to be aware that a listed time frame on this page generally refers to the tour date rather than the call sign date. An almost 40 year time lapse may affect one’s total recall also.
Among some new display items acquired by Chuck Carlock are a 75mm recoilless rifle. This weapon came in pieces. With a little welding and some body putty it now looks good as new but only to look at. The rifle does not work at all. Another item obtained are some actual 1930s era land titles to some rice paddy areas northwest of LZ Baldy. These may be auctioned off at a reunion but be advised they come with no title policies! This sounds like a unique gift idea for the person who has (almost) everything!
An Austin, TX policeman named Donnie Williamson is into remote controlled aircraft. Donnie is working on a UH-1D remote control helicopter kit at this time. This aircraft is about seven feet long to give you an idea of what it will look like. Our Association was contacted by this gentleman about the feasibility of having the helicopter painted and marked exactly like a Rattler slick for displaying at shows where this material is judged against other entries. Photos of Ron Seabolt’s aircraft, 66-1189, marked as Rattler10, were loaned for this project. Copies were made of Vietnam era photos to be displayed with the aircraft. We will fly again! Go to our web site and click on “Remote Control Rattler” to view this ship.
Steve Lively (EM 69-70) has plans to ride his “chopper” motorcycle from Washington state to the reunion in Washington D.C. next year. Steve would like to have company if any of you are into that type of transportation. Contact Steve via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
One year from now at the 2004 reunion, elections will be held for the Association Board of Directors. If you wish to be on this board or wish to nominate someone, please contact Hal Bowen, the election committee chairman. Hal can be reached at: P.O. Box 57, Gasburg, VA 23857. Phone: 434-577-2608. E-mail: email@example.com . There are two board members whose terms will be completed and must move up or out because of term limits. You must be current with your dues in order to run for or nominate someone for the board. Check to the right of your name on the mailing label of this newsletter. If it has 2003 on the label, your dues expire on 30 June 2003. In order to receive the new address directory in July the label must have 2004 (or higher) or Life.
At this writing we have 209 life members. The life membership rates are determined by age. 50 and below - $200, 51 to 55 - $175, 56 to 60 - $150, 61 to 65 - $125, 66 and over - $100.
The lifers among our Association are aware of an insurance company named USAA. This company is offering a beautiful “challenge coin” for free to any military active duty persons or if you have retired within two years from the military. Call 888-558-8825 and give the promotional code ASCN to the operator or go online at www.usaa.com
Do not forget that our own Bill DiDio, who operates the company LZNam, has Rattler/Firebird challenge coins for sale. A portion of all receipts go to this Association. See the website at: www.lznam.com to view and order this collectable item.
The Association Sergeant-At-Arms, Doug Womack, played a role in the capture of the Washington D.C. area snipers. Doug works for the Baltimore, MD Police Department.. On October 8th, the suspects were found sleeping in their car when approached by a Baltimore policeman. They ran his tag but nothing came back. Later, after enough tips were called in, the FBI identified them as suspects in the shootings. The FBI did not share that info right away, but when they did, a US Marshal on the task force had the FBI do an off-line search of NCIC for suspects.
When the suspects name popped up as a hit for a warrant check at 3am on 10/8, another Marshal talked to a buddy from the Baltimore PD and asked how he could get more info on the stop. The Marshall faxed a request to Baltimore PDs MIS Section, but they couldn’t find it. MIS hand carried it to Communications, where it fell to Doug to review and approve as an Audiotape Transcript request. Doug had one of his people do the search and within 12 hours of the request for help, the suspects were arrested.
This is a plea for any war story you may have that we have not printed before. We need your stories while you are still with us. The texts of our newsletters are posted on our web site for posterity. Please help with this. Do not even consider worrying about spelling, punctuation or anything that might cause you to not submit your memories to the Association. Embarrassing material will not be printed.
Our sixth reunion is to be held from April 29th to May 2nd, 2004. The 29th is a Thursday. The site for this reunion is the Doubletree Hotel Crystal City, 300 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, VA. This is located across from the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
This hotel features 630 guest rooms and is two blocks from the Fashion Center Mall and the Pentagon City Metro Stop. Reagan National Airport is 3 miles away with free shuttle service every ½ hour to the Airport and the Mall.
The room rate is $99 per night single or double plus applicable taxes bringing the daily rate to about $108. ROOM RESERVATIONS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED UNTIL AFTER JUNE 1, 2003. The reservation number is 703-416-4100 directly to the hotel or 800-222-8733 to the national reservation. Be aware that many problems were encountered before our St. Louis Reunion by persons using the 800 number. We suggest using the direct number. Be sure and tell them it is for the RATTLER/FIREBIRD REUNION.
Any reservation cancellation must be done by 4pm of the day of arrival.
Important: Our block of reserved rooms is broken done thusly: Wed 4/28 – 40 rooms, Thurs 4/29 – 130 rooms, Fri 4/30 – 160 rooms, Sat 5/1 – 160 rooms, Sun 5/2 – 160 rooms and Mon 5/3 – 15 rooms. If you are coming in early or staying after the reunion, be aware of these parameters and make your reservations ASAP.
The Association will have a minimum 2500 square foot meeting/memorabilia room in which we will be able to furnish dry snacks, beer and soft drinks.
We have enlisted the services of Armed Forces Reunions Inc. to assist in this reunion. These professional reunion planners will be taking on a number of jobs that in the past have been done by a select few persons. AFR Inc. charges a one-time registration fee of $5 per person when you sign in.
We intend to hold a Memorial Service at “The Wall” plus have a Saturday night Banquet. There will be two menu choices at the banquet. A 10 oz. Prime Rib dinner for $33 or a Chicken Chardonnay dinner for $27 are offered and are inclusive of everything.
The Firebird Freefire Golf outing will be held again also.
In the next newsletter, much more detailed reunion info will be printed.
Work is still being completed on the new book. The Association has been assured that this project will produce a printed book when done. If you have ever read much, you are well aware of printing errors that occur. It takes editing and re-editing and maybe re-editing again to weed these mistakes out of a manuscript. Some will still be missed in the final edition. Ron Seabolt recently finished a new John Grisham novel in which errors were found and millions of those books are printed. Please be patient and be aware that if the books are received a blanket e-mail will be sent out concerning this. Please send the Association your e-mail address if we do not have it.
Persons who happen to stumble upon our web site contact our Association from time to time. If you can help this lady she would be forever grateful. Remember, she was supporting us. If you are not comfortable contacting her, send any info to the Association.
A recently received web site contact came from Mrs. Julia Ross of Newport News, VA. Mrs. Ross writes of wearing the POW-MIA bracelet of Francis Graziosi for years and years:
Dear Rattlers and Firebirds,
I am so excited to find this web page. It is the best site I have ever visited. Every couple of years I hunt around on the Internet to see what is new that turns up on my POW-MIA buddy. Today, for the first time, I was in contact with one of you and now I know the story of how Francis Graziosi, Capt. Crosby, George Howes, and Wayne Allen went into the fog west of Chu Lai. It was only just today I learned of the people he was with when the ship was lost, and that the remains of Wayne Allen were identified in 1991. If any of you knew him (Graziosi) and can expand on all this for me, I would be so grateful! I have no connection with him whatsoever except I wore his name on my arm for AGES. When it’s not on me it’s on my dresser. I consider it my most expensive piece of jewelry. Every dumb detail you guys can dredge up will be appreciated and cherished. What first name did he go by? Are there any pictures of him? Does anyone know about his family? I have looked for them off and on over the years in hopes of exchanging cards with them some Christmas.
I can be reached at: Julia Ross, Tutor’s Ink, 12515 Warick Blvd. #303, Newport News, VA 23606. Phone - 757-930-1450. E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Association has been informed of the following deaths.
In a letter received from Karen (O’Connell) Bourland: My father, William (Bill) Francis O’Connell, died March 29, 1976, at the age of 42 years, of an acute pancreatic hemorrhage. Bill served with A Company 501st Aviation Battalion from November 1965 to October 1966. His call sign was Rattler 27 indicating his service in our 2nd platoon in that time frame. O’Connell was honorably discharged in 1974 after 21+ years of service.
Karen Bourland can be reached at: 11750 Bell St., Newbury, OH 44065 or at: email@example.com.
Received from Aaron Arnout: It is with much regret that I write that my father, James (Jim) Arnout of Anchorage, Alaska, died of a massive heart attack on October 8, 2003 at the age of 60, just after his retirement. Jim had attended our Dallas reunion in 1995 where he won the “Jesus Nut” award for traveling the longest distance to the reunion. Many of us were also able to reunion with Jim at the St. Louis Reunion last year.
Aaron Arnout’s address: The Cherry Tree Assoc., P.O. Box 493, Bronx, NY 10454 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert B. Carey, a 1st platoon crew chief that served in our company from March of 1969 to November 1970, died on April 7, 2003, from colon cancer. Bob’s widow, Kris Carey, can be reached at: 14871 West Harvest Ln., Seabeck, WA 98380-9413 or e-mail at: email@example.com.
At every Rattler/Firebird reunion we have held there has been attendees who did not live to attend another. This is a good reason to reunion with our men while you still have the opportunity.
Several calls have been received since the last newsletter from men who have been awarded disability from the VA, usually for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The most important tenet a person can have on this is persistence. You should expect an initial denial of your claim and be prepared to protest this. An important fact to remember is IF your initial claim is upheld and disability is awarded, you should assume that you deserve a higher award. For instance, if they award you 30% on a PTSD claim to start with, it is safe to assume you deserved 50% so file a protest WITHIN ONE YEAR of your award. If filed within that year and you do receive an increase based on your protest, any increase would revert back to the date of your initial filing, not to the protest date. This can be a significant amount of TAX FREE money. They are not giving you anything! You earned this by your service!
Current compensation rates, effective 12-1-02, for a married veteran are: 10%-$104, 20%-$201, 30%-$347, 40%-$495, 50%-$695, 60%-$876, 70%-$1095, 80%-$1271, 90%-$1429 and 100%-$2318. TAX FREE!
Ron Seabolt’s hearing loss claim that was denied is still under protest. The final results will be published. The amazing quote from an examiner, “Nothing you could have done in the service could cause a hearing loss!” “What did you say?” Because I have a rated disability for PTSD there are many services at the VA that are there for the asking. They furnished hearing aids and recently obtained were a new set of eyeglasses from the VA, free. It took several months after signing up for the eye exam for an actual appointment. The eyeglasses were received three weeks later. Folks, my last pair cost $200. It is my understanding you can get one pair of eyeglasses per year.
Seabolt recently requested an agent orange screening at the VA. An appointment about two weeks later involved a full checkup. This included blood tests, urine tests, chest x-rays, EKG, hernia and prostate checks and exams covering his head to his feet.
CHU LAI (16th CAG IO) – 196th Infantry Brigade troops from Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry were under a massive ground attack near LZ Siberia and called for an immediate combat extraction. Minutes later the 71st Assault Helicopter Company Rattlers (slicks) and Firebirds (gunships), commanded by Major Tommie James, were airborne and headed toward the hot LZ.
As the Rattlers and Firebirds began their approach into the area they began receiving small arms and .50 caliber machinegun fire from the surrounding tree line.
One of the Firebirds spotted the .50 caliber machinegun’s position and immediately showered the area with large volumes of suppressive fire.
During the intense action, one Rattler was hit and went down in a small depression surrounded by the enemy.
Captain James E. Duke, Ft. Worth, Texas and Warrant Officer William M. Ellis, Downey, California, flew immediately to the wreckage and started a high overhead approach.
Unable to land at the crash site due to high trees and bushes, Captain Duke was forced to remain at a hover while the four crewmembers and three passengers of the downed craft were hoisted aboard.
Due to the heavy loaded condition of Captain Duke’s helicopter, he was unable to hover high enough to turn his ship and was forced to take an uphill departure and fly over the known enemy positions.
As the rescue team cleared the enemy infested area, they received intense small arms and .50 caliber machinegun fire.
The seven soldiers were evacuated to the medical aid station at LZ West and were checked for any injuries. With greater concern for their fellow man than their own personal safety, the crew of Rattler 219 (?) acted courageously in the life saving extraction. With cool heads and professional competence, these brave men of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company brought great credit upon themselves and their company.
It was Mother's Day in 1968, 7 1/2 months into my tour. I had been crew chief for 4 1/2 months, having made the big decision to
fly on December 25, 1967, instead of staying in the maintenance platoon safe and sound. I joined the Green Machine wanting to fly helicopters but couldn't pass the eye exam, so I choose to be a helicopter mechanic as an alternative, I didn't want to be drafted and end up being a grunt, I wanted a chance to fly.
We had been hauling ass & trash out of Tam Ky & Ross all morning long. Bill Patrick was my A.C., can't remember the Peter Pilot, Rick Johnson from California was my gunner (he had been in the company for several months longer than me). At around noon on one of the approaches to LZ center with it's 3 pads, just as we touched down on the pad to our left, the center pad went up in smoke (MORTARS COMING IN) Rick and I unassed the cargo faster than a striped assed ape, Patrick pulled pitch even as we were throwing stuff out, damn near fell out myself, "who wears Monkey Cords", got back to my Safe seat and assumed the position behind the gun with Rick doing the same.
As we were climbing out, the usual chatter started (Man that was close, anybody hit, those guys must have been sleeping, What the Hell, OVER). Anyway, the same routine went on for several more sorties. Other ships encountered the same problem. We would line up with say the north pad and just before touchdown slip over to the center pad. Guess what! BOOM the north pad goes up in smoke. This crap went on during the day, it was around 1 or 2 p.m. on maybe our 4th or 5th sortie when we had just lifted off and cleared the ridge, our ass hanging out, slow and climbing, all of a sudden, "it was always sudden", a string of green tracers went zooming by my face (Receiving fire on the left) straight off the down hill side, no more than a hundred yards from the grunts on the F.B. (Those guys must have been sleeping again).
There was the damnedest "No" noise you ever heard and then a lot of noise you didn't want to hear, like your engine quit running or something like that. In the process of lost power the ship wants to make a sudden (there it is again "sudden") turn to the right and of course the driver will quickly stab left pedal to bring it back in line with the world. Remember, "who wants to wear a Monkey Cord, or seat belt", Not Me, too confining, can't get around to handle the gun. Speaking of guns, had it not been there I would have been a goner, as it was, as I was on my way out, and at an altitude of around 1500' AGL I grabbed the gun to stop my exodus from Uncle Sam's "not in such good working order" flying machine. I hit the trigger guard and broke some teeth. No need to panic yet, "Right".
Patrick called out the “mayday” with location as we were descending, also asking other ships in the area for assistance, like pick us up quick. As it was the engine was still running but we could only pull 10 lb. of torque which was enough to barely keep us up along a glide path all the way to "outside the wire" at LZ Ross. We hit the ground, I jumped out to look things over and saw the entire tail boom covered with shinny stuff. Thinking it was fuel, I hollered at Patrick to shut the "Damn Thing Off" we're leaking fuel, and the ass end of the engine is 'Red Hot'. They finally shut it off and as I was walking around checking things out (forgetting all about pilots), I heard Patrick holler to "let ME OUT of this thing"! Oh Yea Sorry!!
After several hours it seemed like, but only 5 or 6 minutes, I opened the engine cowling and the whole thing was covered with what I thought was fuel. I lit up a cigarette to calm down (To this day I still remember the Army telling me to "have a cigarette, it will calm your nerves"). What a dumb thing to do when there is fuel everywhere-never gave it a thought. After a little more investigation, I discovered it was not fuel that was leaking, it was Good old Texaco #23699 Synthetic Engine oil, it was all gone from the tank. Come to find out that the pressure feed line to the #3 & #4 Hot end bearings were 'GONE'. The connector to the engine was missing, 'NOT THERE', removed by a foreign object, possibly made of lead with a copper covering. It's a good thing those guys were poor shots or some kind of a lucky hit, either way it brought us 'DOWN'.
Now that was a Significant Emotional Event. I think at that time I may have been the OLDEST person on that ship 20 years and 4 months (could be wrong). The ship was unflyable, so we took off the guns, radio, etc., caught a ride back to Chu Lai, no more flying that day. The next day Boxcars slung it back to the 'snake pit' for repairs. (Blown engine, bent skids, stretched tail boom retainer bolts, bent gun mount and broken 'Green House Window' (Thank you 'Peter Pilot-Dumb Ass'), what a way to get a day OFF!
It seems like there must have been a shortage of crew chiefs at that time cause the next day Rick and I had to take another ship out and go to work in the same area. Don't know if Bill Patrick got the next couple days off or not. I don't think it was much longer after that event when the first H-Model came to the Company. "I got it" 416 tail number. Of course Lt. Castle 1st pit leader was assigned to it, maybe he was a Cpt. by then I don't remember the small stuff. That ship had 'Balls', lots of Power.
QUANG TRI (23rd Inf. Div. IO) – A premonition of a tough mission ahead started the day for WO1 Wendell Freeman, (Tifton, GA) a helicopter pilot with the 71st Aviation Company “Rattlers” of the 23rd Infantry Division. Freeman, to his chagrin and discomfort, was to be proven correct.
The young aviator and his crew were assisting in the recovery of a downed helicopter inside the Laotian border later that day.
“We were flying low-level at about 125 knots when I told my door gunner to open up over a particularly dangerous area,” said Freeman. “Our gunship simultaneously began taking .30 caliber rounds from enemy positions below.”
“Suddenly my feet flew up and hit the control board. I didn’t feel them come down and I was afraid to look for fear they wouldn’t be there,” he said.
He was to find out later that an enemy RPG (rocket propelled grenade) round had blown a hole in the chopper’s belly, but luckily failed to explode.
“At this time Mr. Patrick Riley, the co-pilot, took the controls and brought our bird down in a very controlled crash landing,” continued Freeman.
WO1 Riley (Stillwater, MN) had jettisoned the rocket pods and landed amongst some high grass and bamboo. The crew was pinned down immediately by hostile fire from a distance of 20 meters.
Specialist Four Dalferro, the crew chief, and Specialist Four Betts, the gunner, put out a barrage of suppressive fire, but the situation was beginning to look hopeless.
“After a few minutes I heard WO1 Hubert Collins, who was flying the recovery ship, take fire and I assumed that he was shot down too. That’s when I really began to worry. I didn’t think another recovery ship could get to us in time,” Freeman said.
Riley, not knowing Collins had landed safely, crawled the 100 meters to aid the other “downed” crew. When Riley came within sight of Collin’s chopper, he saw that Specialist Four Catalina, Collins’ door gunner, was doing an amazing job of covering the crew and the chopper. He also found out that the recovery ship was not severely damaged after all.
Catalina was able to hold the enemy off while Riley returned to his ship and brought the crew back to the recovery ship. Freeman, Riley and their crew climbed in and were lifted out.
“We weren’t down more than 15 or 20 minutes, but I doubt if we could have lasted much longer,” Freeman concluded.
In the war of insurgency it’s supposed to be difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad. But what about distinguishing between the supposed ‘good guys?’ How does one distinguish the ‘good’ good guys without finding trouble? That happened to me one night in August 1969.
Night Firefly missions are dangerous and difficult missions for many reasons. One, if you are the FireFly you’re flying low, slow, and below a safe altitude. Low and slow to allow the FireFly light to penetrate the dark night. Low and slow to look for the bad guys moving surreptitiously away from discovery. Below a safe altitude that provides a comfort zone from enemy ground fire. Below a safe altitude that permits a successful recovery from an unforeseen aircraft malfunction.
The FireFly is a large light system made up of several helicopter landing lights modified into a large frame mounted in the side door opening of a UH-1 Huey helicopter. The FireFly light makes the sun shine on the darkest night. The FireFly team needs four helicopters – one carrying the light, one flying command & control (C&C) high above the planned flight route, and usually two gunships between the FireFly and the C&C bird.
The ‘high’ gunship provides cover for the FireFly helicopter and the low gunship. The low gunship flies ‘blacked out’ – no external marking or position lights shining. The ‘blacked out’ low gunship lurks and snoops for firing opportunities if the FireFly light illuminates a target of opportunity. Flying without position lights or external illumination gives no visible target and provides an element of surprise against ‘bad guy’ ground gunners. In mid-August 1969 I was the Fire Team Leader (FTL) and in command of the low gunship on just such a FireFly mission.
The assigned mission was received through Rattler operations command channels. Aircraft and crews were assigned outside the usual Firebird rotation schedule. The mission briefing took place about 10:30 PM in the Rattler mess hall where the aircraft commanders, operations staff officers, and Vietnamese Army (ARVN) interpreter met to discuss the coming night’s mission. One US Army liaison officer accompanied the mission with the interpreter. Pre-brief explained we were to fly and follow a stretch of river several kilometers south of our Chu Lai base camp. The map reconnaissance laid out the flight route, radio frequencies were exchanged, and the rules of engagement confirmed. The rules of engagement that night allowed a ‘free fire zone’ all along the designated flight route – no friendly troops were reportedly in the area. Piece of cake!
Launch and flight into the river area south of Chu Lai went without incident. All aircraft were operating normally, radio contact was established, and the in-flight briefing confirmed the earlier pre-brief at the Rattler mess hall. The Vietnamese Army (ARVN) interpreter and the US Army liaison officer assigned to the mission were aboard the C&C helicopter. Clearance was received from both Rattler company operations and the ARVN command network (through the interpreter). The aircraft assumed a stacked flight formation for the FireFly mission profile; C&C helicopter above; then the high gunship, and me in the blacked out low gunship following the even lower FireFly ship. In the darkness we descended toward the river.
The summer midnight was cloudless and moonless, clear and dark with no winds to buffet us. The terrain below was a mixture interspersed with tan colored sandy areas and green blotched rice paddies along the river’s edge. The red glow of aircraft instrument lights dimly lit the interior of my gunship. The Fire Fly light ship slipped into its low altitude flight path with my invisible aircraft trailing a short distance behind.
Intercommunications inside my gunship were ‘on’ and my co-pilot, WO Rusty Glenn, retracted the 40mm cannon-sighting device from the left overhead. Rusty peered into the target reticle sight as both door gunners maintained alertness. Silence was kept between each aircraft in the flight. Suddenly the FireFly light illuminated and instantly night became a bright sunray angling toward the ground. We flew along in silence for a few minutes following the FireFly keeping distance still maintaining radio silence.
As we approached a slight bend in the river a tracer-like shot from the ground arced toward the light ship. Without hesitation Rusty began firing the 40-mm cannon. The FireFly pilot called over the radio that he was receiving ground fire from his nine o’clock position. Rusty continued firing away, chunking and ‘walking’ the 40-mm projectiles along the ground through the area where the ground fire had originated. The ground impact and explosions of the 40-mm rounds reminded me of silver popping camera flashbulbs.
Radio chatter began between the C&C, FireFly, and me. Confirmations of firing locations, type of weapons, all-talk above the rattle, thump, and din of our return fire. After a few brief seconds the single round ‘ground fire’ burst into an illumination ‘star’ flare. I recognized that the starburst flare was not enemy fire as it illuminated a small encampment of tents near the riverbank. Immediately I shouted a ‘cease fire’ through the gunship intercom. It was difficult hearing the command above all the noise and racket of gunfire. Several more commands were given before the shooting finally stopped.
As the Firefly ship passed over the encampment, we knew that we had inadvertently fired into an area of troops. At least the shooting had stopped. I called the C&C aircraft and asked for the ARVN interpreter or US liaison and more explicitly wanted to know what in the hell was going on. ‘No friendlies’ in the area was in the mission pre-brief and a ‘free fire’ zone was in effect – ‘return fire’ if/when fired upon. We did return fire! After several confusing moments it was decided to cancel the mission and return to Chu Lai. A post mission report was filed at Rattler operations but not before some heated exchanges between me and the US Army liaison officer who accompanied our midnight mission. If you have ever been in a combat situation gone awry you can imagine the language and gestures involved. We returned to our hootches for rest and sleep.
A few days later as I am enjoying a day ‘off’ in the Firebird hootch, a company clerk informs me to immediately report to the Americal Division headquarters. The clerk intimates it has something to do with the FireFly mission a few evenings ago. ‘Great, why do I have to go to Division HQ to discuss some screwed up mission?’ is my first thought. The shock of my then-life greets me as an Army major (dressed in a tan Class ‘B’ rear echelon uniform) informs me that I am under Article 32 investigation of Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Article 32 is the investigation authority pursuant to military courts martial. ‘Why?’ I ask. For the ‘alleged’ killing of three Army of Vietnam (ARVN) soldiers as a result of firing from the aborted FireFly mission is his response.
As this is a cursory investigation and the major is the investigating officer I am not represented by counsel. ‘So what’ I figure – I did nothing wrong. The mission was properly briefed (albeit with bad information), an US Army liaison officer provided the proper clearances, and the ARVN interpreter was in radio contact with his headquarters command network. Only the major didn’t see the situation exactly as I did. YOU, Mr. Bandini were in command of the flight and the gunships! OK, yes I was. YOU were responsible for the shooting – yes, I was. It was supposed to be a ‘free fire’ zone. YOU then are responsible for the three dead ARVN soldiers! Wow! How did this happen to me?
Dismissed with instructions to prepare my statement and present other crew’s supporting information from that night’s mission, I gathered my thoughts and wrote as best that I could remember all the events of the FireFly mission. During the course of the following days the investigating officer continued his interviews and questions in preparation for courts-martial proceedings against me. Finally I had enough. ‘What evidence is against me?’ I asked. ‘Where is the US Army Captain who was the liaison officer that night and gave mission and ‘free fire’ clearance?’ and ‘Where is the ARVN interpreter who supposedly gave information that no friendlies were in the planned mission area?’ The major only shrugged and said that both individuals were still being located. ‘Man,’ I thought, ‘something is not right here.’
When you celebrate your 21st birthday in Vietnam and have been a helicopter gunship pilot for almost a year not much really worries you other than catching the Freedom Bird to the ‘world.’ So, although I was troubled, I wasn’t too concerned with my fate at that point. A few more days passed before word came from the major at AMERICAL Division. When I reported back he informed me that no other witnesses could corroborate the ‘alleged’ three killings. The ARVN interpreter had suddenly vanished into a rice paddy somewhere and the US Army Captain had mysteriously and handily transferred to the Saigon area. The three ARVN soldier’s bodies could not be found. And, because of these circumstances all charges against me were being immediately dropped. I was free to leave.
Returning to the Firebird hootch that afternoon was a relief. As a reminder to the other guys and me I nailed my five-page legal pad statement onto the wall behind the hootch bar. Screw it I thought – less than 60 days to go and I’m outta here. No more weenie crap, no more rear echelon puke desk drivers second guessing you about flying in a stupid and silly ‘war’ where you need a clearance from Heaven before you can return fire. No more trying to figure out who and where the bad guys really are. Then I remembered what my Dad once told me, ‘Dead men tell no tales.’
DUTY OFFICER’S LOG – 19 AUGUST 69
0001 – Log Opened
0620 – A/C 546, 520 & 303 off at 0610, 0610 & 0620 respectively
0700 – A/C 298 & 453 off at 0700
0710 – A/C 528, 260, 497, 557, 738 & 408 off SP (Snakepit) at 0710
0745 – A/C 663 off SP at 0720 and 875 off at 0745
0800 – Notified Bn Opns (Covington) that A/C 875 will replace A/C 227 and A/C 413 will replace A/C 225
1040 – Notified Bn Opns (Covington) that A/C 298 has M/R blade separation from BD (battle damage) – down at LZ Center
1045 – Notified Bn Opns (Covington) that A/C 663 down at BT025208. A/C was hit by RPG
1230 – Informed Bn that AC 303 has gone down in flames due to enemy fire. Crew & Pax missing in action
1830 - Notified Snakedoctor was off to Baldy to check crack in M/R blade off 875. 875 to be replaced by 528 for 196 flare ship
2030 – Notified Bn that all ships are down
2100 – Summary: Today has been a bad day for the 71st. There were two A/C destroyed. Many aircraft received extensive battle damage. The most difficult thing to accept is the fact that one crew is no longer with us. The crew of 663 AC Gerald Silverstein, P. John Plummer, CE Lavigne, G Steve Martino.*
2400 – Log Closed
Signed James R. Leech WO-1 Avn
The Log above represents a day in the life of 64 men, the crews of 15 aircraft plus Snakedoctor. For the four that lifted off in aircraft 663 at 0745, it would be their last day. (Editor’s note: Snakedoctor probably contained more than the four-man crew)
* Also KIA on A/C 663 were LTC Eli P. Howard, SM Franklin D. Rowell, SP/4 Richard A. Doria and Mr. Oliver E. Noonan, who was a well-known photographer.
One of the best friends I had in Viet Nam was CWO Barry Alexander. We met the first day I came to the 71st Assault Helicopter Company, the Rattlers and Firebirds, in June 1969. I was going to be the FNG (F___king New Guy) that moved into his hooch. Eric Kilmer was to move in there as well and that was a comforting thought because we had just gone through flight school together. Barry was the kind of guy you liked immediately. He was a tall, soft-spoken, ever smiling, Southern boy who was the perfect model for college fraternities. His easygoing ways and cheerful demeanor made him a popular pilot in the unit and someone that the newer pilots hoped would be their Aircraft Commander (AC). Caution was a must with Barry and he was ever lecturing about the dangers of flying in Viet Nam, from bullets to thunderstorms. In fact, I think the only time I ever really saw him get mad was when someone was “unsafe” around him. That is why this story is so funny, because it was probably the most unsafe flight we had together. After every flight it was customary to report to the Ops hooch and log your times, the condition of the ship and any incidents you may have had that day. During this time, I always asked about whom I would be flying with the next day. Whenever possible, I always asked to fly with Barry. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the other ACs in the unit; I just enjoyed the time that Barry and I had when we flew.
This particular mission was to an Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) out post to do some resupply by sling load. Barry was really freaked out about the flight because he said that every time he flew to this sight, he got shot up. Seems that the ARVNs there were sympathetic to the VC in the area and let them take a few shots at the choppers that came in. This turned out to be a true statement for our flight! The name of the LZ escapes me now, but it was located among some rocky hills North of LZ Baldy and Southwest of DaNang. We got our bird and picked up the sling load of supplies and headed out. In my mind, the most dangerous part of the flight would be getting the sling load to the destination. You didn’t get much practice with sling loads and if they started to oscillate and sway, they could bring a helicopter down. Barry wanted me to fly as he monitored the sling load so I could get the experience I was going to need as an AC. The trip out was perfect and uneventful. The sling load never moved and the ship just seemed to glide through the air making me believe I was the best pilot around. This was really funny to Barry and he reminded me I was just an FNG Peter Pilot (Co-Pilot) he had taken under his wing. When we got to the base of the hill where the LZ was located, Barry took the controls and told me he was getting really nervous. We started up the hill, mostly large rocks, and Barry told all of us to look out for guys in black pajamas with AK-47s. The thought of a guy jumping up in black silk PJs and a cone hat with an automatic weapon was kind of humorous to me and I can remember smiling to myself about it as we climbed up the hill.
There were ARVN soldiers working around the rocks and on the LZ itself as we approached. One soldier seemed to be motioning us to bring the sling load towards him as he moved his hands straight up and then back. We turned the chopper towards this soldier and began to slowly move in his direction. Barry suddenly screamed that there was a gook with a gun pointing at us and that we were getting the hell out of there. He swung the nose of the helicopter up and around as he began a dive straight down the hill. As soon as we turned around we heard a burst of AK fire and felt the bottom of the ship thud as the rounds hit us. This was the closest I had ever been to an actual AK firing and I was amazed at the Tat Tat Tat sound it made, unlike any other weapon I had heard. Barry yelled for me to get on the controls with him as we sped down the hill just barely above the jagged rocks. At the bottom of the LZ there was a ring of concertina wire and some machine gun emplacements. We zipped over the gunners and saw them scatter as we flew by, thankful that they too did not open fire on us. The bird shot out over the wire and into the open fields of rice paddies that cover the lowlands in Viet Nam. There was a feeling of relief among the crew that we had escaped our plight quickly and safely when we abruptly stopped in mid air. Barry and I looked at each other as we pushed forward on the cyclic demanding the helicopter to obey our commands and move forward. What the f__k is going on was the harmonious reply from both of us! The crew chief looked out side the craft to ascertain the situation and yelled back in for us to punch off the sling load because it was caught in the concertina wire. With lightening speed I punched the sling load loose without a clue as to what was about to happen. The chopper bolted forward as though we had been launched from a catapult. To say we were out of control is too mild; we were totally and completely out of control and flying twice as fast as we were just a few seconds before. It took both Barry and me to keep the ship from going nose down into the ground as we wrestled to stay upright and level. Just as suddenly as we lost control we regained it and began to recover the aircraft into a normal flight attitude. Much like funeral humor, we began to laugh to release the tension of being shot and almost crashing. We laughed so hard that I know the helicopter must have been shaking and jumping as we flew. As we flew back, Barry wanted to concoct a story about the shooting and not mention the sling load incident; after all he had a reputation to uphold. The rest of the crew just smiled and thought about the laughs we would get back at the Snake Pit and the clubs.
True to his word, Barry told the Ops Officers about the shooting and the hits to the ship but never mentioned a word about the sling load catching the wire. When we landed we checked the bottom of the helicopter to discover four neat holes in a row almost in the middle of the ship. As we plotted the angles of flight and the shots fired, it appeared that we would have taken those hits directly into the front of the chopper if Barry hadn’t reacted as quickly as he did. If you stop to think about it, this story could be about the death of two pilots lost on an ARVN hilltop instead of the amusing mishap with a sling load. Once we hit the company area I headed right for the Officers Club and upon entering yelled, “I lost my cherry today with Mr. Alexander!” To that, the crowd of Army aviators gathered there began to chant, “You have to buy the bar!” There was a tradition that when a pilot lost his cherry, or got shot up the first time, he had to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. It was a proud moment for me when I slapped my money on the bar and told the bartender to set um up. Of course, everyone wanted to hear exactly how it happened and they all nodded in agreement when Barry and I told them the location and discussed how many helicopters had been shot at there. Then the war stories began to pour out of everyone. The mood was light and festive for a discussion about combat and danger. But no one was thinking about danger at that time. We were a gang of aviators who flew out into the war every day and, just like in the old war movies, hoped that everyone would return home again at nightfall. Ours was a daring occupation and this story had proved once again that we were immortal.
There was no way I was going to keep quiet about the sling load catching the concertina, so in the midst of the stories and laughter I said that there was more to the story. Barry looked at me and turned bright red as he told me to keep quiet. Everyone at the bar turned to me and begged me to tell the rest of the story. Seems that Barry had a reputation of turning red in embarrassment whenever he became the spotlight of some joke or incident. This was part of his charm and charisma as a person. Being the great storyteller that I am, I really laid it on about how we evaded the enemy down that rocky mountain and blasted out over the rice paddies…until…we were stopped in mid air by the sling load catching the wire. Painting the picture of that wire stretching out to the limit and then me punching the button to release it making us fly out of control was pure fun. There may have been a few elaborations for the sake of the story, but then again, that is what makes friendship in combat so real. Those poor ARVN soldiers on the ground at the base of the LZ must have run for their lives as that sling load snapped back and headed straight for them. The image of that load bowling over those soldiers still brings a smile to my face. After all, they let Charley (Viet Cong) shoot us up didn’t they? I have no idea what happened to the sling load because once we regained control we just headed back home as quickly as possible. As expected, Barry became the brunt of a thousand jokes and one-liners that night and he took them all quite well because he knew they were given in love and fellowship. The actual danger and very real possibility of death was ignored by all of us. We were young, brave, and bold aviators fighting our country’s wars. That night, time would stand still for this group of men. The black days ahead were just a possibility that we believed we would escape. Those precious memories of laughter, companionship, bravery, and invincibility will always be with me. Once there was a time when we were young and strong. Barry will always be that way for us. It is my habit to toast our fallen brothers on special occasions with this toast, “To us and them like us, Damn few left!” Barry died on Black Monday, 22 September 1969 and I miss him yet.
RICK’S STORY by Bethany Nugent
Editor’s note: The following story concerns Richard Spradlin, an EM from 1971. Bethany Nugent, because of her compassion for this broken down Vietnam Vet, became his caregiver and lifesaver. Some of you that have helped them at the request of our Association are aware of her, but not the entire story.
Rick was injured on May 13, 1994. Everything I know from that point until when I met him is information gathered from Rick, family and friends, medical and police reports, etc. Many things I heard were contradictory so the "true" Rick story may still be out there somewhere! Let me back up and give you a few significant facts.
Rick was married to Mary Jean for 25 years and they have two children, Shelia and Danny, together (Rick's stepdaughter Rhonda died from cancer when she was seven-years-old). Of these years, just over 21 of them were spent in the Army including two tours in Vietnam. Rick was never perfect (this is a confirmed fact!) and everyone but the Army admits that he developed a serious alcohol/drug problem in the years following Vietnam and all signs point to PTSD. When he retired and lost the structure of military life he fell apart. Many problems led to his divorce and Rick was dating a woman named Dru when he had his accident. Rick's version that he tells me most consistently is that he was leaving Dru the night of his accident (when I mention the fact that he was in her truck he just laughs??!). He says he had been at a bar but did not drink (questionable) though he did do some sort of drugs. No mention of intoxication of any sort was made in the police or ER reports so this is believable but not proven. He apparently left the bar after midnight and was driving on a rural road when the truck hit gravel and he lost control. At the scene of the accident he was up and talking (reportedly trying to convince the police that he wasn't driving since he didn't have a license). At some point he collapsed due to a small tear in the covering of his brain that slowly bled until the blood filled up his skull and smushed his brain. He was in a coma for 8-11 days.
From acute care he went to a hospital in Alabama (His accident was in Florida's panhandle) and then to rehab at another facility in Alabama. He was discharged in September 1994 - able to use his right arm/hand, eat, sit in a regular wheelchair, assist with transfers, and speak though not clearly; he was even working on taking steps in the parallel bars with a lot of help, and driving a power chair. In August, before he discharged, he married Dru. She stated that she wanted to keep him out of a nursing home so she married him; and he, not wanting to go to a nursing home, agreed. I don't think Rick could be unbiased anymore if asked if he had truly wanted to marry her. Anyway they moved back to Florida and what happened for the next 14 months is unknown. The only facts are that his tone (the tightness of his muscles) increased dramatically and he lost all function. Why he got as bad as he did before help was sought is a mystery to me. Rick arrived at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehab (FINR) in November 1995, a couple of months after I started working there. Due to Champus rules I was not able to treat him until I got my permanent license so he was my boss's patient. I barely interacted with him for the first four months and was quite intimidated because he would try to talk but I couldn't understand him and it frustrated him, and me. Then in March my boss quit and Rick was put on my caseload. I laugh when I read my notes from back then because I tried every thing I could to get him excused from therapy. I was still scared around him but I also felt very inadequate and constantly wondered if a more experienced therapist would be making more progress. At every meeting I pushed for his discharge because he was not making any gains in any therapy and was thoroughly depressed. In June of 1995 the FDA approved Intrathecal Baclofen for people with brain injury. It is a pump that is implanted in the abdomen with a catheter going into the spine to get drugs directly to the source of his high tone (He was literally as tight as a 3/4" plywood board and took 5 people to bend him into his wheelchair). I knew he was a good candidate and pushed for a trial.
Somewhere during this time I started viewing Rick much differently. I've always been a huge sucker for stray animals mostly because they have needs and desires but can't communicate with people and have no one to care for them. I had never thought I would meet a person like that; but I started to realize that Dru was no longer really there for him and he couldn't communicate with anyone despite his need and desire to. I took a ton of interest (arguably too much) in all my clients but most had someone to fight for them and care for them. Rick had nothing and no one. It still brings me tears to remember Rick back then. He used to cry, I mean wail, when he saw me coming up the path to his cabin at FINR. Everyone kept saying it was only if I was coming and it became obvious that he only did it to grab my attention because I was literally the only person who would sit with him for as long as it took to figure out what he wanted. I was no longer fearful of treating him and interacting with him. I had even learned his personality enough to make him laugh. What I felt was a mixture of pity and empathy I guess. I started checking in on him before I went home every night even if it meant staying an extra hour or two. Meanwhile I struggled with trying to figure Dru out.
In October Rick was accepted for a Baclofen trial and was discharged to Shands Hospital at UF. After surgery he went to a nursing home in Lakeland (an hour north of FINR but several hours from Dru - I still don't remember how that happened) for rehab. I went to visit him one day and was told he was in therapy. I found him sitting outside with two therapists who were talking to each other and ignoring Rick. I was livid that the one chance he had to make improvement was being wasted and I fought to get him back at FINR. He came back the week before Christmas and it was a nightmare almost instantly. Champus kept wavering on coverage and it was nearly impossible to make goals and proceed with treatments not knowing if he'd be there 2 weeks or 2 years. For the next 5 months it was indescribably horrendous. FINR wanted discharge plans constantly due to Champus's threats and when Champus stopped paying in February all hell broke out. Dru was refusing to take him and not cooperating with the case manager to find placement since the only options were nursing homes. I tried not to be suckered in by Dru but I was young and naive and I became her crutch long before I knew it.
FINR wanted to get rid of him so badly that they went way beyond ethics to do so. Some ideas included forcing a surgeon (we were pushing for tendon releases) to keep him for the required 3 days so his Medicare would kick in and put him in a nursing home - we lost at least 3 surgeons because they saw through the plan; they attempted to drop him off at a VA Hospital that specialized in PTSD saying he was suicidal (even though he couldn't move or talk to voice such thoughts) - again they saw what FINR was doing and refused to admit him; they even threatened to bring him to Dru's and when she refused him they would Baker Act him (a law that allows people who are a threat to themselves or others to be committed for up to 72 hours) based on the fact he couldn't feed himself and was, therefore, a "threat" to himself!!! Before this plan was carried out though FINR was "saved."
In May Rick was being fed by a staff person using a plastic spoon. He got mad, bit the spoon and swallowed it. They say he couldn't breathe so they were taking him to the ER. Did they call an ambulance? No. Did they take him to the nearest hospital? No. They loaded him in a company van and drove him 1hour and 15 minutes away to the hospital where our medical director worked and they knew they'd be able to persuade him to admit him. I left 10 minutes after the van did when I heard what happened and I arrived at the hospital 5 minutes before them (keep in mind he was supposedly choking)! I was technically off duty and was there because I knew something was up. Sure enough the staff person who drove told me she had instructions to drop him at the ER and return to FINR without him. So I stayed with him. The hospital threatened to sue FINR for dumping and I told them to go ahead - I was there to help them communicate with Rick, give them the information they'd need, and support him as I knew he was deathly afraid (he had coughed the spoon out in the ER and we still have it) The next day confirmed all when the case manager pulled me aside to tell me the CEO had discharged Rick's bed and had his things packed up - she knew I'd take his things and keep them safe until we knew what would happen.
After 2 weeks in the hospital and getting his parents involved, he was placed in a different nursing home in Lakeland. At the time he stayed in Florida because I had found a surgeon to do the tendon releases and we didn't want to lose that. I told his parents I would check in on him and keep them posted for as long as he was in Lakeland. I had meant that I'd stop in once maybe twice a week. The first night he was there I found bruises on his face. No one could explain so I went back the next night - more bruises. I figured out that he was being rolled into his bedrail and hitting his face. I went back the next night to put pipe foam around his bedrails - I found him absolutely soaked in feces. I ended up going every night - bathing him every other night. I'd go early on Wednesday mornings, since I didn't work until noon that day, and get him out of bed - the only time he did so. Two roommates died right next to him and no one did anything to ease his fears. He ended up in the hospital with pneumonia 3 times in the course of 5 months. The final time was after his surgery. I knew we'd be working with his parents and a lawyer to get them guardianship and move Rick to Alabama. Just as the hospital was getting ready to ship him back to the nursing home Rick started screaming and shaking. They called me at work and without any thought I told them to ask him if he wanted to come stay with me until he went to Alabama. I picked him up that night and with the help of a few dear friends, kept him with me for 6 weeks. I barely remember that time now but I had a great paying job and just hired an agency to come watch him while I was at work. I don't really know who knew or who cared. It was easier on me because I had been getting home after 10 every night from visiting him and now I just went home after work, took care of his needs and then had all night - I didn't know what to do with myself! Oh yeh - while he was in the nursing home Dru filed for divorce stating that her son needed Medicaid and she needed to be single to qualify. She didn't know that sources sent me her wedding announcement only weeks later (Rick still doesn't know this). Anyway, after his parents were granted guardianship we took Rick to Alabama. I stayed for several days and toured numerous nursing homes with his dad until we found one that I thought was great (for a nursing home) and got him on the list. This was Thanksgiving 1997. His parents kept him for about 2 weeks before a bed opened. I cried so hard the day they called to say he was admitted. I flew up that weekend. A couple of weeks after Christmas I flew up again and was shocked beyond my imagination. He had gotten so thin, they shaved his beard and cut off his hair that was his one sense of pride - thank God he was asleep when I got there because I immediately stepped out and cried - again I am crying just remembering this time. For the next 5 months I flew up every three weeks and would spend the weekend with him - I got him out of bed, took him on walks and read the "Firebird" book I was given for him at the Orlando reunion (by the way, some of that really shouldn't be read aloud in front of little old women!). After I'd get home I'd cry myself to sleep for nights picturing Rick stuck in a little room with a roommate who blasted his TV with old movies and used a commode in between their beds - Rick couldn't even turn his head enough or cover his nose - his only decorations were on the wall behind his bed where he couldn't see them, and he NEVER got up or saw the outdoors - this was a man who was an avid outdoorsman all his life. And I could vividly hear his screams as I left each visit. He weighed under 125 pounds at 6" and was hospitalized with pneumonia almost monthly. During a routine procedure in March he became septic and was in a coma on a ventilator. After that he was quickly heading toward death. The nursing home removed the IV but he supposedly wasn't tolerating his tube feeding so he was on 493 calories a day for a month. In June he stopped breathing. A CNA who truly cared for him was there and called 911 - anyone else would have left him. His parents called me and told me he was on a ventilator, they had shocked him but if his heart stopped again they would pull the plug. The call was 9:15 on a Friday morning and I was by his side by 7 pm. It was frustrating because I was rarely allowed to see him since I wasn't family. His kids, who had only come when he was dying, arrived Saturday and were allowed full access (they fought to get me in too).
Somewhere during this weekend I decided to offer to take Rick in. It wasn't a spontaneous thought - it was thought out. I discussed it with my immediate supervisor over the phone. His only comment was "Bethany you're an angel. Let me know if I can help." I left a note for his parents before bed and they discussed it with family. It was a tough time because they knew he'd die if he stayed, but they had resigned him to that fate so much so that they thought if I took him they'd never see him again. His sister was very against it. His parents said they had to make a choice that they could live with and they agreed that even if he died on route, at least he'd be with someone who cared and not in that nursing home. The night before I left I told Rick that if he could get off the ventilator I would make sure he came to live with me. He was off 4 hours later. The doctor had very strong words for me about my cockamamie idea!!!!
Two weeks later, a friend and I drove up and took Rick out of the nursing home. We spent a night with his parents and then returned to Florida. His parents had gotten an old van a few months back and signed it over to me for as long as I had Rick. I couldn't have taken him if I didn't have the van. We drew up some formal papers that are now buried somewhere! My dad was furious that I was doing this - he worried that I'd be sued if Rick died, and he worried for my social life. He didn't speak to me for 2 weeks which nearly killed me. To make matters worse - two weeks after Rick came down my supervisor came to me and said the CEO "found out" and was furious. I had to put Rick back into a nursing home or leave my job. I can't even describe this time of my life. Getting rid of Rick was never an option in my mind - not even for a nanosecond. But I had poured my life into that job and I still take credit for building the therapy program into what it was professionally. I believe I was fired because FINR, a multi-million dollar company, got sued for dumping Rick and now one of it's mere employees was providing him above adequate care. They initially said that if Rick died they didn't want headlines to read "Ex-FINR client dies on FINR employee home" - I still laugh at that because if I, not much above a stranger, am the only option this man has outside of a nursing home, who in the world is even going to care if he dies much less write screaming headlines about it!!! Four weeks later I was unemployed. I went from $60,000/year to $9000. We slowly got associated with the VA and started receiving Aid and Attendant pension which helped. And then there were those nasty credit cards. I had already racked them up by flying to Alabama monthly and the initial expenses were overwhelming. Money became a huge stress yet I never let it surpass the feelings I had for keeping Rick. You know when you do a good deed and you get an almost euphoric feeling for the next day or so? I lived with that feeling consciously for over a year. I loved waking up in the morning, going downstairs and seeing Rick asleep with stuffed animals next to him, his own cat curled up in his legs, and tons of pictures everywhere. Other than an attempt at a bowel training program Rick was not hospitalized for the first 17 months he lived with me (well actually we brought him straight to the hospital when he arrived to get his meds and food correct. I had asked the doctor from FINR to admit him - I was still at FINR then - and he initially hesitated because he thought I might be manipulating him as FINR had months earlier. He tried to get me to bring him in as an outpatient instead but as soon as he saw he said "This man should have been dead two days ago" - I remember that so clearly. So he stayed there for two weeks.) From the day I had Rick he tolerated over 3000 calories a day (from 493 - no creeping up slowly!!) He also started eating a little by mouth. We found a support group at the VA and became very involved. I had aspirations of opening a group home (several actually) that would take in younger people with brain injuries - though I had already decided Rick would stay with me. I met several people who needed help in various ways for loved ones who were brain injured and I started a list - I'd make weekly visits or more to all, help trade equipment, teach families therapies, anything. Unfortunately though I wasn't able to get work except for part-time stuff and I found that there would never be a license in Florida that would allow state funding for adult-injured brain injury survivors. With no work, no foreseeable future and no family network, Florida was looking grim. In July 2000 My parents moved to Atlanta. Rick's parents are 1 1/2 hours away from there by car. There was no question about it and we moved to Atlanta (Woodstock actually) last October.
This month (June 2001) will be three years that Rick has lived with me. In that time he has been to see almost every country music start known (some more than once); we've gone to the lake, parks, Busch Gardens, Sea World many times; we have visited his kids in North Carolina twice - the first time we went for the birth of his granddaughter. Now that we're close to his parents we try to go see them every six weeks or so. We also fought long and hard to get him a communication and environmental control device. He learned it very quickly but is stubborn about using it and since a clip broke in our move we can't mount it at this time. I joke that he doesn't like to use it because he likes to boss me around and make me do things for him instead - if he could turn on/off his own lights and TV and adjust his own bed, he's afraid he'd never see me again!!! He is very lazy though and always says he wants to go out but when offered to go out he refuses. Sometimes we just don't ask! He also seems to love company but resists my ideas to contact veterans groups to see if people would come spend time with him. I don't think Rick is embarrassed or shy about his condition but I think he senses others' discomfort and that makes him uncomfortable, so it has been hard to establish a social network for him. For Christmas I got him a dog to be his companion. Morgan is an 11-year-old Sheltie that we got from a rescue group. She bonded with Rick so quickly and is a constant pal to him. He also still has his cat, Tux, but she is a bit more independent.
Well that is the story of Rick until this point. Hopefully there will be many more chapters to come. I no longer think day to day and having Rick living with me is so natural now that sometimes it takes looking back on how things came to be to realize what a special situation we have. Recently I received a brochure from a doctor claiming to have a "cure" for brain injury. I know that Rick doesn't want to be part of any experiments but I asked him if this was proven and non-invasive would he be interested? He said no - when I asked him why not, he told me that if he got better he was afraid I'd get rid of him!!
One of the girls I used to visit frequently was named Christi. She was 19 when an unlicensed immigrant driver ran a red light and hit her car in 1997. She was very much like Rick - she could move a little more but her cognition was not a sharp. Still she was sweet and funny and I enjoyed seeing her. Her mother cared for her for a year but eventually broke down emotionally. She was placed in a nursing home. I would take her to specialists and the dentist and we'd go out for fun after each appointment. A friend and I took Christi and Rick to see Faith Hill and Tim McGraw in concert just before we moved. Christi was my prime motivation for fighting the system and finding a way to make better living places for people with brain injury. Her mom used to beg me to take her in too but we simply didn't have the space or the transportation for two. Three weeks ago Christi died - the day before her 24th birthday. I can't even describe to you the range of emotions I have felt since then but I am more grateful than ever to the powers beyond me that brought Rick into my life and gave me what I needed to be able to take care of him.
One more point of interest - a couple of years ago I asked Rick "If God came to you right now and said you could walk, talk and be completely healthy for the rest of your life but you just had to go back to Vietnam for one more tour first would you do it?" He said no.