ODDS and ENDS
This newsletter contains an abundance of information about Captain Herbert C. Crosby, one of our MIAs who was laid to rest on May 25th at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and SFC Francis G. Graziosi who was laid to rest on May 19th in Rochester, NY with full military honors. These men disappeared over 37 years ago along with two others, Wayne C. Allen and Andy Howes. Allen had been previously interred in Lowell, MA. Howes remains an MIA. See the Crosby website at www.firebird91.org.
Recently the Association received a donation from Edd DeHart (EM 66-67). It was a cloth replica of the round Firebird patch, measuring about 22 inches across. It had been sewn for him in Bien Hoa. Edd had intended to put the patch on the firewall soundproofing of his brand new Charlie model. However, this aircraft struck an ant hill (consistency of concrete) on takeoff at Tay Ninh in December 1966, flipped upside down, and never flew again with our unit.
This item will be displayed at future reunions. Do you have something of this nature gathering dust that would be interesting for members of our unit to see? Please consider donating any item to the Association.
Our TAPS section of this newsletter seems to be getting larger. The Association tries to keep records of our deceased and cause of death. You can help with this if you will urge your spouse to contact us if you pass away. A good reminder might just be a memo outside your will to please inform the Rattler-Firebird Association. This might seem morbid, but it will cut down on us learning of the death a year or two later if at all. Sometimes the newsletter is returned as “unable to deliver” and we can only assume one has moved.
At present, we have 276 Lifetime Members in our Association. Only dues paying members receive our address directory to be mailed in July. On the address label of the newsletter, to the right of your name, is your dues status. To receive our directory this status MUST say either: C Life, Life, or 2008 (or higher). The “C” denotes charter members. Our dues year runs from July 1st to June 30th. Dues are $12 per year. Life member rates are on a sliding scale based on age. Age 50 and below - $200, 51 to 55 - $175, 56 to 60 - $150, 61 to 65 - $125, 66 and up - $100. Please notify the Association of any address, phone or email change you may have.
2008 DENVER REUNION
We are one year out from our next reunion to be held at the Renaissance Denver Hotel. This hotel is located at 3801 Quebec St. This location is between Denver International Airport and downtown Denver. Take exit 278 off I-70 (Quebec St.) and go south. IMMEDIATELY go to the far right lane and get on the service road. The hotel is about two blocks down on the right in an “A” frame shape. You can view the hotel at: www.renaissancedenver.com. This hotel is undergoing a complete renovation to be completed this fall.
The reunion dates are Wednesday, June 25th thru Sunday, June 29th 2008. The room rate for a single or double will be $89 per night plus tax (suites are $225 per night plus tax). The group rate is valid 3 days before and 3 days after the official reunion dates. A huge plus is that this price includes two full adult breakfast buffets in the restaurant for each nights stay. This is a $28 value. Reservations will not be accepted until after June 28th. The reservation number is: 1-888-238-6762 or 303-399-7500. As always, be sure and tell them you are with the Rattler-Firebird Reunion. Much more info about tours will be in the November newsletter.
We will be using a different reunion service this time, Military Reunion Planners. Our previous service, Armed Forces Reunions, could not locate a hotel which would provide our requirements. This new service requires a $10 flat fee per person registration fee. This is double our previous fee, but think about the free breakfast each day this time with the $89 daily rate!
A Great Quote... Nothing more needs to be added!!!! (unknown author)
"I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep. Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted at their best; men who suffered and sacrificed, who were stripped of their humanity. I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the military. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation, the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made, the reason we were so willing to die for one another. As long as I have memory, I will think of them all, every day. I am sure that when I leave this world, my last thought will be of my family and my comrades... Such good men."
8 February 2007 – The Supreme Court of the United States has denied the petition for a writ of certioran in the case of Smith v. Nicholson, 451F.3d 1344 (Fed Cir 2006). The denial renders the Federal Circuit’s decision in the Smith case final. Therefore, no veteran is entitled to more than ten-percent disability rating for tinnitus, regardless of whether the tinnitus exists in one or both ears. Veterans whose claims are pending should be informed accordingly.
The Judicial Appeals Office is sending letters to all claimants who have cases pending before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Signed Edward R. Reese, Jr., National Service Director, Disabled American Veterans.
Awards for PTSD are becoming harder to receive. The VA is not only looking close at some previous awards, they are not adhering to past criteria for awarding disability ratings. As stated many times, with over 1,000 men from our unit on our mailing list, we need to be mutually supportive of each other by letters or just relating your experiences to someone whose memory may have become hazy over the years about the same action they experienced. It is important that on any statement you submit for any VA claim that you tell the truth. Do not knowingly support any fraudulent claim.
Info below is from the May/June issue of The Texas Federal Retiree. This benefit is called: Non-Service Connected Pension with Aid and Assistance. This is a VA program, not a state program.
Recently our Association learned of this little-known VA benefit that can help pay for long term care, including in-home assistance, while the eligible recipient is still solvent but dipping into savings each month to pay for long term care.
Who can apply? To qualify, veterans must (a) have served in wartime, though they didn’t have to see combat. (b) have no more than $80,000 in assets, (there is slight flexibility in this figure) not counting the family home, car and personal possessions, (c) prove financial need, usually by demonstrating expenses exceed their income, (d) show they need someone to help them with basic activities of living, such as bathing, grooming or eating.
The monthly benefit pays up to (a) $1470 to a veteran, (b) $945 to a surviving spouse, or (c) $1743 to a couple. Anyone needing help applying for these benefits should contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000.
Veterans or next-of-kin may access military discharge documents at www.vetrecs.archives.gov
On the VA website at www.va.gov under benefits, then under compensation and pension, one can access the 2007 booklet, A Summary of VA Benefits to keep abreast of the latest changes.
The Association has been informed of the following deaths since our last newsletter printing:
- Paul Cook (EM 66-67) died on 15 July 2005 of respiratory failure.
- Eugene Martin (WO 66-67) died on 20 June 2006 from leukemia.
- Willard J. (Bill) Buck (EM 66-67) died on 31 July 2006 due to complications from pneumonia.
- William E. Brousseau (EM 66-67) died on 20 October 2006 from multiple myeloma.
- George Freeburg (WO 64-65) age 74, died on 10 January 2007 from unknown causes.
- Charles E. Sparks (EM 69-70) died on 5 February 2007 from a heart attack.
- Ann Taylor, the wife of R.P. Taylor (WO 67-68) died on 18 February 2007 from heart problems.
- David A. Friske (EM 70) died on 7 May 2007 from cancer.
- Steven M. Plotkin (EM 70-71) died on 27 May 2007 from heart problems.
MURPHY FUNERAL HOME – ARLINGTON, VA
On Thursday, May 24th, the friends, family and military comrades of Captain Herbert C. Crosby were at an informal Memorial Service at Murphy’s Funeral Home in Arlington, VA. The first thing that jumped out at those in attendance was the Patriot Guards outside, lining the parking lot, wearing their full “biker” outfits while holding large American flags on staffs. Most of these men had rode in from Georgia on their bikes.
The service was led by Col. Whiz Broome, who shared many things with us about “Herbie”. Excerpts of this are below this section.
Ron Seabolt made a presentation to the Crosby family of a wooden POW/MIA emblem carving and nameplate and thanked the family for allowing us the privilege to honor their loved one.
Paul Bartlett shared a story of how he came by a Crosby POW/MIA bracelet. It was an amazing set of coincidences that led him through the internet to the exact right person to ask about buying a bracelet. This person was wearing a Crosby bracelet, which she immediately donated to Paul. Paul used this bracelet in a unique plaque that he himself makes that incorporates a slice of a Huey main rotor blade, a dog tag and nameplate along with the bracelet to make a beautiful tribute. This plaque was also presented to the Crosby’s.
Vic Bandini came on to regal everyone with Firebird stories of bravery, the brotherhood of camaraderie and the spirit that remains today in the hearts of our unit members. Vic presented the family with a wooden firebird head, signed by the Firebirds in attendance.
Memorial Service For Captain Herbert C. Crosby (excerpts)
24 May 2007
Ch (COL) William Broome
As we begin our Memorial service this evening for Captain Herbert C. Crosby, Herby to all of us, I would like to begin with some fond memories from family and friends. It has been a long time since any of us has seen or spoken to Herby and I feel this will bring back some of the good times.
From Luke Spooner, a close friend: Herby was truly the All American boy the way I remember him. When he first moved here (Donaldsonville, GA) we met and I noticed how very well mannered, polite, and respectful he was, and it very evident early on what he thought about his country and flag. He took being a Boy Scout and becoming an Eagle Scout very seriously. He was very respectful of his elders and loved his family. When something serious would come up he depended on his dad. He always had his family at the top of the list.
When we played football our senior year I kicked extra points, Herby was Center, and Mike Bowen played on the team; we were great friends.
Herby was very a positive person. He had a plan to work thru any situation. You never saw the bad side of him.
The last time I saw Herby was in the fall of 1968, after flight school. He and a friend came to spend a football weekend with me at the University of Georgia. We really had a good time and did it right. They were in uniform when they got there. Back then everyone wore sport coats and ties to the games, so they went downtown and bought sport coats and ties so they’d fit in. We had a great time. About three or four months later he went to Vietnam. I got a stack of letters from Herby.
He loved the Beach Boys, they were his favorite group.
When we got out of school I wanted to make him a farmer. But I knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do. He was glad to be in the Army, he wanted to be there because he truly loved his country and flag. I think he would have made a career of it and would have excelled. It never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t be back. We just thought he would come home.
From Mary Lou Wade, Herby’s Younger Sister: I was 8 years younger than Herby and I looked up to him as a hero. I started a scrapbook when he left for the Army in 1966, never realizing that it would take 40 years to finish it. The most important thing in my life about Herby is that he saved my life when I was about 5 years old. My parents were building our new home next to Lake Jane in Donaldsonville. I was playing with my doll beside the edge of the water and fell in. I have vivid memories of being under water, bobbing up and down and then mostly down. A hand reached down and pulled me up, it was Herby.
From Whiz Broome, fellow 71st Aviator and Friend: I have some good memories of Herby that have always stood out clearly in my mind. In fact, I can see him as clearly today as I did almost 38 years ago. Herby would come over to visit with Eric Kilmer and me at our hooch across from the Firebird hooches. I think he liked coming over to talk to the Warrant Officers because he could let his military guard down with us, as we were definitely not RLOs (Real Live Officers). He would walk over, get a beer and stand in the door way talking and laughing with us on a fairly regular basis. He will always be remembered warmly in my thoughts as a friend, as a fellow pilot and as a soldier who was not afraid to do his duty for the country and the people he loved.
One of the best accounts of the day Herby and his crew were lost comes from Gene Waldrip, Firebird Gunner, 1969-70. It reads as follows:
Much of my memory of the 18 months I spent as a door gunner in the 71st AHC is blurred by years of not really wanting to remember. It doesn't take long sitting in the door of a gunship, almost everyday, for war to become very routine, even mundane. Certainly, getting shot at was not notable or worthy of remembering beyond the next gun run. But Jan. 10, 1970, was different. It was one of those memorable times in Viet Nam that I was convinced that I was not going to survive to see another day of war.
My memory of the details is not good, but the circumstances are as vivid in my mind as the day it happened. One of the birds was experiencing some minor mechanical difficulties, so we landed at a special force’s camp, Tien Phouc, to check it out. Capt. Crosby changed ships, with his pilot, and decided to fly the ailing bird back to Chu Lai. There are lots of variations of who was there and such, but I believe there were 3 firebird ships. The day was miserable, with low clouds and rain. We were deep in the mountains, and the weather continued to worsen by the minute. We were essentially flying blind.
I only got vertigo one time in Viet Nam, and it was on this day. I had it so bad that I was convinced that both myself and all my gear were going to slide right out the door. I was desperate to convince the pilots to straighten the ship, but thankfully, they relied on their training in horrible flying conditions, and disregarded my potentially fatal input. One frightful moment a hole appeared out my door in the thick clouds, and I saw the jungle just outside. I seemed as if I could reach out and grab a handful of leaves. Just as quickly it was gone again and there was no visible indication of the earth, only thick gray clouds that were eerily encompassing the cabin of the aircraft. It scarred the hell out of me.
There was a lot of chatter on the radio, but I don't recall any of the conversations, only that they were focused on trying to find a hole in the clouds, so we could try to figure out where we were. At some point fuel started becoming a concern. In my mind the options were not good. I was braced for the instant that we flew into an unseen mountain, or, inverted the aircraft because the pilots were trusting in faulty instruments. At least for me, just sitting in the door with no control over what was happening was the worst part. You start to concentrate on the conversation you are having with yourself, instead of the events occurring around you. That probably partly explains why I remember few details about this day, or for that matter, most others in Viet Nam.
At some point, our pilot found a hole in the clouds and took us down thru it and started low leveling. We were able to find our bearings and make our way back to Chu Lai, with not much fuel to spare. I remember the radio attempts to raise Capt. Crosby, but with no success. I was convinced that they would not be far behind us and would soon be touching down at Chu Lai.
Eventually, we knew that they could not have had any more fuel and that something was dreadfully wrong. The feeling of relief that you are safe mixed with the numbing reality that your fellow soldiers are not, is one of the most confusing emotions that a person can experience and one that you are unlikely to forget.
Capt. Crosby and his crew were doing their job that day, just like the rest of us. Their circumstances were no different than ours, but for them the outcome was destined to be tragic. We survived, they perished. For me, it is as simple as that. Nothing else needs to be said or known about that day, other than; they served their country honorably and died doing it.
I am thankful for their families that after so many years they can place their loved ones peacefully to rest. It has been a long time coming for Firebird 91 and his crew, but now they are home. God Bless them all.
Col. Broome continues:
It is very apparent that Herby was well loved by both friends and family alike. He valued relationships and felt that his duty was to serve others by serving his country and his flag. He saved a life, if not lives, he became an Eagle Scout and an officer in the United States Army. Any of these alone are worthy of a life accomplishment and yet Herby wanted to be sure his life meant something fighting for right in Viet Nam. It is obvious that Herby had a sense of duty, honor and country and that his service was more than just a job. He took command of the situation as he saw it and tried to bring his ailing bird back home. We will never know what caused the death of the crew of Firebird 91, was it weather, was it enemy fire, or was it a malfunction of the aircraft? It was no ones fault and nothing could have prevented it, it is just an ugly part of war. This is a question only God knows the answer to. To tell you the truth, these questions are not really important in the course of a life lived in service to others. What matters is what we did with our lives while time was on our side and the relationships we forged while living.
I think all of us feel this way; we all want to know that we will be remembered for something good, something worthwhile in our lives.
Do you remember the opening scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan? An old man is standing in front of the grave of one of his officers in WWII and begins to weep and to remember and the movie goes back in time. Then he stands up and asks his wife if he lead a good life because so many died to save him. It was very moving and very human because all of us look back over our own lives and wonder if we ever made a difference.
I want to read you a Bible text found in the book of John, chapter 15, verse 13 as spoken by our Lord, Jesus Christ to his disciples just before he died, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Today we are gathered to witness the Memorial Celebration for Captain Herbert Crosby because he gave his life for his friends, his family, and his country. The circumstances of his death are not really that important. What is imperative for us to remember is that the day Herby raised his right hand and swore to support and defend the constitution of the United States he chose to give his life for others. He did this freely and openly without hesitation as all of us do who join the military. Do we think about the ultimate fulfillment of that oath with our lives, not usually and not often?
Herby was afforded the very best equipment and support that his nation had at the time. He had every piece of gear needed to protect and sustain his life and give his mission success. However, equipment was not going to protect Herby and the crew of Firebird 91 in this situation. You see, war is the result of the fallen nature of human beings, God never intended for there to be war and violence in the world. Sin came as a result of yielding to temptation and things have been getting worse as time goes on. But we need not despair because God has given us heavenly armor to protest us for eternity.
Our country and much of the world are involved today in a Global War on Terrorism and it looks to go on for some time to come. As we see everyday on the news, many will die to make this world a better place, with liberty and justice for all. But that is not the end. There is more to life. Therefore, let us prepare now for the one who is coming, who has already won the victory, who has already written our names in the book of life if we believe on Him. We thank Herby that he gave his life for his country and we count it as important, now I ask you to give your life to Christ and count it as eternal. Thank you for joining us for this Memorial and remembrance.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Twenty-six former Rattler and Firebirds were privileged to attend the full military honor services at Arlington National Cemetery for Captain Herbert C. Crosby, the aircraft commander of the Firebird aircraft that disappeared on 10 January 1970. Six days earlier 4 of our men attended the full military honor services for SFC Francis G. Graziosi at Rochester, NY. Three men attended both services. From accounts received and first hand knowledge, both services were magnificent. Both services included a three ship UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter flyby.
The pageantry and respect shown a soldier at a full military honor funeral must be witnessed to be fully appreciated. Our own Chaplain (Colonel) Whiz Broome officiated at the Ft. Meyer Old Post Chapel service. How fitting to have serving at the Pentagon, a chaplain who actually knew the deceased and can speak of him on very personal terms.
The Patriot Guards were out in force and bolstered by members of “Rolling Thunder”, the bikers who come to D.C. every Memorial Day weekend. There were no protests of any kind at this service, especially since it was held inside a military base. However, protests do occur at some military funerals. The protesters are accorded a certain section in which they may stay. The Patriot Guards ALWAYS place themselves between the protesters and the funeral, using their large American flags and staffs to “hide” this despicable act from the grieving family.
Your National Director, Ron Seabolt, was given the honor of escorting Captain Crosby’s mother, Mrs. Jane Wesley, at the services. Mrs. Wesley uses a wheelchair to get around these days. Near the grave, two former Firebirds, Doug Starkey and Greg Arndt, were enlisted to help carry the wheelchair with Mrs. Wesley in it to the family seating area. How fitting to have these Firebirds assist in this and they were honored to do so. At the close of the service, a final salute was rendered by our men who had surrounded the casket. Many mementos were left atop the casket.
EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY ARMY ROTC ENDOWED SCHOLARSHIP FUND
The family and friends of Captain Herbert C. Crosby have established the “Crosby Army ROTC Fund” at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, FL. To date over $3,000 has been pledged by Association members to go to this fund (Association funds are not used for this purpose). On August 1st, all funds collected for this scholarship by the Association will be forwarded to the school. If you would like to donate to this fund, you can send the donation to the Association address on this mailing or directly to the university. Either way, please note on your check, “Crosby Army ROTC Scholarship”. The school address is: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Office of Development, 600 S. Clyde Morris Blvd, Daytona Beach, FL 32114.
Francisco (Chico) Marcano writes (excerpts) of the Francis Graziois Service
Mis Hermanos, (My Brothers)
On May 18th & 19th Doug Starkey, Paul Bartlett and I were uniquely honored to be present at the viewing/visitation and burial of our brother Francis George Graziosi. We were joined by Dana Thurston on Saturday, the 19th. We met Francis’ family; they were very friendly and truly glad that some Rattlers and Firebirds had come so far to welcome Francis home. We were greeted by Mrs. Julia Ross before we could park our vehicle (she wore his POW/MIA bracelet for 37 years). The Americal Division was represented by R. Gary Befus who presented an Americal banner to the family. There were many Viet Nam veterans that came and served as honor guards. The Honor Riders motorcycle Vets headed the procession from the church to the cemetery.
The tears could not be contained as the bugler played TAPS and the Blackhawks flew above us. We were interviewed by TV and newspaper reporters after the burial.
On the drive home I was reflecting on the fact that this was the first funeral we had been able to attend for one of our brothers. It is very difficult to drive at 70 mph for about 30 miles with your eyes full of tears as they stream down your face.
The LORD bless you all.
John Mateyko Writes of Attending A Twenty-Four Hour Vigil For Fallen Comrades
Sunday, May 27, Janet and I drove to Knox, Indiana. This is a small town in physical size, a large town in American spirit and heart. We arrived at the VFW post about 6PM and saw several military trucks. Between the street and the post's building were about forty American flags, knee high and waving in the breeze. A concrete area held the flag poles for an American flag and the five service flags. Two members were at Parade Rest, standing their 1/2 hour Guard Duty tour during the 24 hour vigil for fallen comrades, including CWO Andy Howes. Upon entering the hall, we stopped for ten minutes to admire the models of aircraft, ground vehicles, and naval vessels on display. Also some WW II and Vietnam era memorabilia were seen. I had on my Rattler ball cap and Janet wore her patriotic red, white and blue vest with Rattler/Firebird Reunion pins. The VFW Indiana State Commander was there, a pleasant gentleman to talk to and we exchanged pleasantries while ridding the dust of the trail. We chatted with other guys about everything from flying in Vietnam to model railroading. One member said the Rattler emblem looked familiar, but he couldn't place it. When I told him it was also Andy's unit, he wanted to know all about the unit as well as the gunship weapons systems. We also showed those who were interested the attendance pin from the San Antonio Reunion. In the VFW Members only area were two photographs of CWO Howes, one of him in the left seat of a gunship in flight and another taken on the ground in the 'Hero Stance' with two belts of ammo across his torso and an M-60 in his hands. In the banquet area, the Missing Man table held the narration in left frame and the dedication to Andy in the right frame. It was very well done.
At 8:30PM, the Candle Light Vigil began. About 50 people in attendance, five people at the podium and two support personnel. The 8:30 changing of the guard occurred and the program began. The Master of Ceremonies was a past post commander. After an introduction at which he said that he could not imagine the grief and uncertainty felt by a parent when told that their son was MISSING, the program began. It was about a 20 minute narrative with other voices adding dimension; first person accounts from the soldier and his mother. Covered was the initial contact with the enemy, the deafening noise followed by the eerie silence. Positive thinking overnight, knowing that in the morning an American unit would come for him, and the disappointment the next morning when he was captured. The journey northward in a cage was accented when two post members somberly walked in front of the gathering carrying a 3x3x3 bamboo cage with a POW/MIA flag. The mother's letter to her son saying she had received a telegram from DA stating that he was missing. She could not fathom how an Army unit could have a soldier missing, asking her son to explain what that meant. Months later the POW tells of the rotten living conditions and rancid food, the beatings and attitude of his captors.
Another letter from Mom shares her feelings and the grief the family is suffering. Finally, there were no more letters from Mom.
The program was somber, moving and first class; honoring those who were KIAs and POWs, are POWs and our Missing In Action. Knox, Indiana with its small town USA, cornfield heritage honored all veterans and especially their POWs and MIAs by reading their names which included Firebird Pilot Andy Howes. Individual candles were lighted. As we exited the area our candles were placed on a stand where they would burn throughout the evening
(as received by Janet Choate, Sgt. Buck’s daughter)
SFC Bill Buck (66-67) and daughter Janet
We had two crews, one that worked days until approximately 5:00pm and one that went to work at that time and worked until everything was finished. There were advantages to working the night deal because the only thing we did was work on helicopters. The day crew, on the other hand, had to do things like filling sand bags, cleaning the hangar or area. All sorts of silly stuff because the helicopters were all out flying missions.
The disadvantage to working nights was you had to work until all the helicopters were in a flying condition and ready for the next days missions. There were some nights the night crew worked until the day crew came in somewhere around 7:00am but some nights you were finished and back at the tent by 10:00pm.
There were numerous repair jobs we did that would require the helicopters engine be started and revved up when the work was completed. One that comes to mind was when we replaced or did something to one of the rotor blades. It would have to be pulled up to a certain RPM for us to check the blades to learn if they were together or if one was higher or lower than the other.
Normally a pilot would do this but when it was done at night, we had to wait until morning. One of the pilots would have to come in early to do this in order to have the helicopter ready for flight on time.
Someone decided that Sgt. Buck could do this since he was the maintenance NCO. He knew how to do it, had gotten the training in school, and was smart enough and so they told him to do it when it was needed. Some nights he would do several during the night and they all worked fine and he seemed to enjoy his added duties. Like I said before, your Dad was a soldier and would follow orders, most of the time anyway (laugh).
Sgt. Buck was only supposed to pull the engines up to a certain RPM and never leave the ground. One night, about 2:00 or 3:00 am, we had worked on one for hours and finally had it ready. He got in the pilots seat and started the engine and for some unknown reason I walked over and got in the co-pilots seat. The task that night required not only a run up but it also would have to go on a test flight.
When his part of the test was complete and it was time to shut the engines down, Sgt. Buck looked at me with a half smile and said, “I think I can fly this thing.” “Do you think I can?” I thought Sgt. Buck could do anything he said he could do so I said he could fly it. I will never forget this because he then said, “How would you like to ride out over the river?” And I said, “Let’s go check it out and see if anybody is fishing.” And away we went.
The remainder of the maintenance men was standing on the ground with looks of total disbelief and shock on their faces. Some pointed at us as they grew smaller down there on the ground while Sgt. Buck and I went higher and higher. We were going toward the river but then he said some fool might shoot us and we would never be able to explain why we were joy riding in a helicopter in the middle of the night so we made a turn and headed back to the compound.
All of the people from maintenance were outside staring at the sky as we made our approach. Everyone that has ever been around any kind of aircraft knows it is not the take off but the landing that is the trick. When Sgt. Buck flew into the area they all ran for cover, they thought he would crash it for sure but he moved right into position and sat it down perfectly in the same spot it was in when we lifted off.
Once the engine was dead and the rotors had stopped, everyone came out. They all thought we were nuts. From that day until I left there, some would talk about Sgt. Buck and me stealing a helicopter.
He had his own way of getting his message across and so it was that night when he told everyone, “Now when those pilots come in I want every man here to tell them to test that ship (pointing to the one we had flown) because it has not been off the ground.” All got the message and it was never reported.
What a soldier!! What a man!!!
Janet, it has been a joyful couple of days since contacting you. I only wish that it would have happened while he was still here.
by Dick Parcher (OF 69)
June 10, 1969, will always be programmed into my memory. I arrived in country on March 23rd and got settled in as a member of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company. I did get past the FNG (F------ New Guy) stage and made it about two thirds of the way through the Peter Pilot stage. I was looking forward to becoming an Aircraft Commander.
I scheduled myself to fly with Rocky Cassano that June 10th because Rocky had been an A/C for a while and I had been a Peter Pilot for a while. I thought we could handle the missions for the day in good style and not get into too much trouble.
I cannot remember which unit we were supporting for the day but I do recall being west or southwest of Chu Lai with our mission. We did some ash & trash work in the morning and the crew chief and gunner both thought we had been fired at. We did not think too much about it.
At noon time we set down for something to eat and wait for our next assignment. I recall the cook where we were made me a scrambled egg sandwich. It was a good one because it reminded me of the scrambled egg sandwiches my wife and mom made back home. I was a happy camper.
About the middle of the afternoon, we got a mission to take some grunts and supplies to a unit. We identified the smoke and made our approach to a small clearing. Rocky was at the controls because of the small area and the winds around the clearing. We were trying to come down but we started to trim some trees and Rocky decided to make a go-around and try a different approach. As Rocky made the decent, I sat in the right seat in the ready position (like a good Peter Pilot) just in case something happened.
All of a sudden, my left arm shot up over my head for some reason. Then the pain set in and I knew I had been hit high up in the arm. When is the next round going to hit was an instant thought that went through my mind. I started to dangle between conscious and unconscious but I tried to look at Rocky and tell him that I had been hit. My mouth could not say anything and I could not remember to reach for the mike switch or the floor mike. Rocky had his hands full because I was about as useful as a bag of used camel dung to him. I think he did some maneuvers not approved in Ft. Wolters or Ft. Rucker flight training. What really mattered was the simple fact he got all of us out of there and saved the aircraft. Thank you, Rocky!
After Rocky got us out of there, I do recall my seat going backwards and someone always talking to me to keep me from going into shock and someone else trying to wrap my arm to stop the bleeding. If I said anything I don’t know if it made any sense. I had no idea what was going on.
I do remember how the front edge of my seat was cutting into the back of my legs behind the knees. My legs started to go numb and for some reason I was able to get my feet to rest on the top of my door window which helped relieve the pain. I’m sure when Rocky got us to LZ Baldy, some people probably wondered what kind of a clown act was going on in the right seat. I didn’t care because I was safe and medical attention was at hand.
Rocky did write to me that a single sniper shot hit our aircraft and the only round fired came through the radio compartment cover, through the instrument panel, through my arm, hit the armor plate of the seat and fell to the floor. He and the crew chief mailed the armor piercing AK-47 round to me and I still have it today plus the flight gloves I was wearing on that day.
I know that Rocky is no longer with us, (died in an aircraft crash in February 1979) but I still have to thank him and the crew of June 10th for getting me out of harms way.
From a letter received by Dick Parcher from Rocky Cassano while in the hospital dated June 27, 1969:
I got your letter about a week ago and this has been my first opportunity to write. I was real glad to hear you’re doing well. I hope therapy will help you to move your wrist and fingers normally again. I guess you were lucky that none of the bones were hit.
I was happy you wrote. I felt really bad having you get hit like that. After I made my first approach and saw the chopper wasn’t going to fit in that way, I decided to make a go-around and land on the long axis of the LZ. On the second approach we just came to a hover and that’s when we took a hit. I kept thinking that maybe if I hadn’t made that go-around you might not have been hit. But then again, maybe if I had landed one of us might have been hit like Lucas was (reference to KIA 13 May 69, Paul Roger Lukins). I’m just glad to hear you’re alright.
When I heard the bullet come in I turned to look at you and I saw you were hit immediately. At first I thought it was real bad. You had your arm close to your side and when I saw the blood running, I thought you had taken it in the side. I had the chief Nichols – to pull your seat back and he did a good job putting the pressure bandage on to stop your bleeding. I don’t know if you remember or not but you were really cussing him out because he was putting them on tight. You sort of took him by surprise because you’re usually quiet.
The bullet came in through the nose of the aircraft and through the instrument panel where the N1 hover check card is. It went through your arm and bounced off the armor plating on the left side of the seat. The crew chief later found the bullet on the floor in the cockpit. It was armor piercing and he found both the casing and the hard center part. After I got your letter I asked him for the bullet to send to you and so far he says he can’t find it. When he does come up with it, I’ll be sure to send it if you’d like.
You kept your cool real well when you were hit. You said you hit the collective one time with your foot, but I didn’t even notice it, I had so much on my mind at the time. It seemed from the time you were hit ‘til I got you to Baldy, everybody in the world wanted to know everything about it. The radios were really going! I’m glad you explained why you didn’t hit your floor mike when you were hit. But even if you were on intercom, I know I saw you were hit before you could get your foot to it. The sniper couldn’t have been too far off. All that was fired was that one round. He was definitely aiming for a pilot too, the way the bullet came in. if you remember, I was having a bit of trouble holding the aircraft steady. The wind around that hill was a bit strong. That could have thrown this aim off a bit too.
Do you think you’ll be going home, Dick? It sounds like you’ll be in a hospital for a while anyway. I know not flying gets old fast but I think you deserve a stateside tour now.
Well Dick, write again when you can. Everyone here wishes you well. We were all sorry to see you go. Take care and if I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you back in the world in a little over 7 months. Sincerely, Flying Squirrel.
LEARNING OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE – 30 YEARS LATER
By Dennis Moore (EM 70-71)
Bill Merry, Dennis Moore and Ron Markiewicz at the 2006 San Antonio Reunion
The date was 18 August 1971. We were flying wingman in my Firebird gunshipwas on the way back from covering a combat assault south of DaNang. We needed to refuel and rearm. My aircraft commander was Captain Bill Merry and the peter pilot was Captain Ray Sundberg. The lead ship pilots were Captain Buck Hilliard and Captain Ron Markiewicz.
At about 100 feet of altitude we came over a village. Lead said, “We just took fire, we’re going back around!” In hindsight we should have kept going to refuel and rearm.
When we got over the village, all hell broke loose. I was sitting in the left doorway with my “60” just shooting up everything. All of a sudden, the aircraft seemed to come to a complete stop in midair. I almost fell off my seat. I looked around and saw that Captain Merry was hit. He had taken a round right through the knee that had came through the chin bubble. His knee was totally shattered.
Captain Sundberg took over the aircraft, kept us going and we headed to the MASH at DaNang. On the way, I grabbed the red handles on the back of Merry’s seat and pulled him over to see if I could help him. The hole in his knee was the size of a quarter and was gushing blood.
I yelled at my gunner, Russell “Hot Mike” Harris, to give me a compression bandage from the first aid kit. I took the bandage and wrapped the wound and tied the knot right over the hole in his knee.
The MASH unit on China Beach would not allow a gunship to land on its pad, so we were met at Marble Mountain by a slick. Merry was transferred to the slick, then taken to the MASH unit.
About 30 years later, after receiving the address directory from the Association, I noticed Bill Merry listed. I called him and Bill answered the phone. I said, “Is this Bill?” He said, “Yes, it is.” I said, “Bill, well I know you remember me. I’m the man who wrapped your leg the day you got hit in the knee over that village.
There was a silence for at least 30 seconds, nobody spoke. I finally said, “Bill, are you there?” He said, “You know, you saved my life. The doctor told me that if my leg had not been wrapped the way it was with the knot over the bullet hole, I would have bled to death before they could have got you here.”
I had no idea of what I had done other than wrap his leg to get him back. I just assumed everything was alright. When he told me that I saved his life, tears came to my eyes. I really became emotional then, and still do when it comes up.
I got to see Ron Markiewicz at the San Antonio Reunion and we got to talking about that day. Ron said he was going to get ahold of Bill, who lives in Harker Heights, TX near Ft. Hood, and see if he would come down. I was elated that he was going to do this. I even started crying just thinking about it.
Later I was in my room and decided to go mingle with the guys again. I got on the elevator and there was Joe Galloway. We started talking on the way down. I told him I was in on Lom Son 719 and Joe said he was too, and that it was nice to meet me. Welcome home!
When I got off the elevator and was walking through the lobby, I saw Markiewicz standing there with some man and woman. Ron called me over, saying, “”You know who this is?” I looked at him and said no I don’t recognize him. Ron said, “This is Bill!”
Man, hell broke loose then. We hugged and cried and hugged and cried some more. The wife was crying too. I really needed to see him and it was a tremendous healing for me. It remains very hard to talk about. I was very proud to know I had contributed and done something right for a change.
Bill Merry was hospitalized for 13 months, but returned to flight status and flew Cobras and Apache gunships for 20 years before retiring. The knee still bothers him to this day and always will, but Bill will never forget who saved his leg and life that day.