ODDS and ENDS (or oops and ends)
In the last issue, an item written about concerned the advantages of the Association going “green”, i.e. emailing the newsletter to anyone who wished to receive it in that manner. Quite a number of you have subscribed to that idea. Having said that, an unforeseen problem has arisen. If you are not a Life Member, by emailing you the newsletter we would have no way to inform you of your dues status (which is on your mailing label if you pay dues) without emailing every newsletter separately. One object of the whole idea was to reduce labor, not increase it. Because of this, only those who are Life Members and wish to have an emailed newsletter will receive it. All others will be mailed. If you wish to be on this Life Member email list, please let us know.
Another cost saving suggestion is for everyone who is going to be temporarily away from home to please let the Association know this. Either give us a new address or let us know to not mail to the regular address. At every mailing the Association gets back from 5 to 10 newsletters marked “temporarily away” and we are charged $1.00 each to find that out.
Once again, if you want to be placed on the “green” list, email the Association at email@example.com and let us know. And please inform us if the address we have on you is not going to work. That way you can receive the newsletter by another manner and save us some money too!
One other small thing. If you happen to email the Association, please sign your name. Do not assume we know who is who with nearly 300 email addresses in our address directory of the computer.
Tip 2 – Rich Harrison has advised the Association of his visit to Disneyland, where he intended to buy a one day pass for two for $147. He was advised to go to customer service and show them his Blue Card (military retiree), whereby he received a three day pass for two for $94. He was told that this also works at Disney World.
As with every May newsletter, you are reminded that our address directory will be mailed by July 1st to all members who are current with their dues. On the address label of this newsletter, to the right of your name, your dues status will appear. Only persons with Life, C Life or the year 2010 (or higher) will receive the directory. Dues are $12 per year. The dues payment will also give you voting rights at our reunion business meeting. The address directory will be mailed by 1 July to all current members. Please submit any dues no later than 20 June.
If you have any changes in your personal info, like address, or phone area code, please inform the Association.
RATTLER-FIREBIRD REUNION 2010
In just about one year, we will have our ninth Rattler-Firebird Reunion in Nashville (Music City), TN. The dates are Wednesday, May 12th to Sunday, May 16th. The Saturday will be Armed Forces Day, a very good day to have a Memorial Service and Banquet. Speaking of the Banquet, we have secured Michael Durant as our guest speaker.
Durant, a retired CW4, wrote a best selling book, In The Company of Heroes. This book tells the story that was depicted in the movie, Blackhawk Down. Durant was the command pilot of the MH-60 Blackhawk that was shot down on October 3, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia. He sustained very serious injuries in the crash and was captured and held as a POW for 11 days. You can obtain more info on his web site: www.mikedurant.com.
The Sheraton Music City Hotel is the reunion site, located just north of I- 40, and just across I-40 from Nashville International Airport. There is a free shuttle service from this airport to the hotel.
This Sheraton has 410 rooms, but is only four stories tall. It has a beautiful setting on about 20 acres. Our hospitality room is accessible directly from the front of the hotel and our two display Hueys will be right there also.
Room reservations can be made right now by calling 615-885-2200. Tell them you are with the Rattler-Firebird Reunion. The room rate is $109 plus tax. Jim Baragona has the distinction of having made the first reservation for Nashville 2010!
Once again, Military Reunion Planners will be handling banquet meal, tour tickets and reunion registration. This is separate from your room reservation.
We are not yet set up for tour reservations yet. Expect complete information on this and other reunion related topics in your November newsletter. Hopefully, a Friday night tour offering will be for The Grand Ole Opry (about 10 minutes from the hotel).
Definition 1 - Bureaucracy – a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation.
Definition 2 - Bureaucrat – a government official who follows a narrow rigid formal routine.
Definition 3 - Veterans Administration – see above!
This is a repeat reminder of a VA program called The Special Pension for Veterans’ Aid and Attendance. This program pays up to $1,644 a month ($19,736 annually) toward assisted living, nursing homes or in-home care for veterans 65 and older who served at least 90 days and one day during wartime – stateside or overseas. Veterans and their spouses can receive up to $23,396 annually and spouses of deceased veterans, $12,681. If you think this may apply to you, by all means contact a veteran’s service officer (at the DAV or VFW or any other organization which has VSO).
An estimated $22 billion a year goes unclaimed for this program. In 2007, only 134,000 seniors nationwide received this benefit.
The Association has learned of the following deaths since our last newsletter was printed:
- Roger H. Doyea (EM 69-70) died on 18 March 2001 of Agent Orange related cancer.
- Joseph R. Gagne (WO 67-68) died on 10 February 2007 of unknown causes.
- Roger Hall (EM 67-68) died on 26 November 2008 of complications from a stroke.
- Everett Kilpatrick (EM 66-67) died on 26 January 2008 of lung cancer.
- Larry J. Pithan (OF 70-71) died on 21 October 2002 possibly from cancer.
- Jim Wilson (EM 71) died on 5 March 2007 of a heart attack.
NOTE RECEIVED FROM BOB MANGUM (OF 66-67) CONCERNING THE DEATH OF EVERETT KILPATRICK
Another sad day for all of us. You may not have known, but after our Rattler experience, Everett worked for me again during our second tours in Vietnam and, though we were not in the same organization or working together, we were bothin and out of Ft. Eustis at the same times after Vietnam . Thus, I saw a lot ofhimover about a 10 year period and watched him progress thru the ranks. Itake some credit and a heluva a lot of pride for his success He was a great American, a fine soldier and a good friend. Over the years we stayed in touch by phone, talking a couple of times per year...so I knew that he had a bout with the"big C" at some point. Indeed, it occurred to me recently that it had been quiteawhile since we had talked, so I considered calling himonly to discoverI had lost his contact info when my hard drive crashed last year. Thanks again. Stay in touch. Hopefully we can share some good news some time.
On another note, I wish to brag that my son Kevin has made Brigadier General. Most of his Army Aviator career has been in special ops. He is now the DCG (Deputy Commanding General) of the 10th Mountain Division.
TEXAS AGGIE – tu GAME 1967 From Jim Collins (WO 67-68)
Your notice of Roger Hall's passing comes with sadness, reminding us all of when we were young. Some memories are fuzzy, but some are vivid. Thanksgiving 1967, we did a lift of a couple of companies into the valley SE of Ross. All hell broke loose. The NVA were giving thanks for all the targets dropped in their laps. The intensity of the situation prevented supply of the troops with hot chow that day. Thanksgiving was postponed a day, just like the delayed broadcast of the Aggie - Longhorn football game on AFN. Having been invited by the dean to take a sabbatical from A&M less than two years prior, my Aggie roots were and are still deep. I had the game tuned up on the ADF while we worked resupply. I was Peter pilot, and it was the AC's turn to fly. While in one company logger, the Grunts started waving us out of there. At that very moment it was fourth and four, and the Aggies were going for it. The incoming fire paled in importance. My focus was on the game. The Ag's got the first down. (They beat Texas and went on to beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.) We went to refuel and get some C's. As I exited the bird, closing the door I saw a hole that wasn't there when I got in. Following the spalling (the bend of the metal), I found the slug in my seat. I hope that today's game is not as exciting, but I hope for the same final result. Editor’s note: Not even close. Texas beat Texas A&M 49-9.
A NOTE RECEIVED FROM CW5 GARY ARNE (WO 70-71)
Hey Ron and the rest of you Rattler/Firebirds, just sitting here in Iraq and believe it or not listening to in-coming rockets, most of you would remember the sound. Thought I would give an update on how the war is going from the cockpit of a helicopter. As you all know this is quite a different perspective than what the rest of the military has. It may be hard to believe but the same things that were shooting us down in Vietnam are what is shooting us down over here. Small arms and heavy machine guns, not giving away any big secrets here.
When I fly over the cities and farms all I see is people going about their day to day business, and that is a good thing. Sorry I missed the last reunion, but I was a little tied up. Plan on making the next one and should have plenty of stories to relate. Take care and stay safe.
MINI-REUNION PLANNED FOR RATTLER / FIREBIRD MEMBERS IN PHILLY, 2-5 JULY 2009
Greetings unit members!Here is a quick note to let you know that Doug Womack (Rattler 28) and Jim Fulbrook (Snakebite Charlie) are organizing a Mini-reunion for unit members at this year’s Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association (VHPA) reunion, in Philadelphia over the 4th of July period.The VHPA reunion goes from Wednesday, 1 July through Saturday, 4 July.Charlie will schedule a meeting room at the convention hotel (The Philadelphia Marriot in Center City).Rattler/Firebird crew members and unit personnel are invited from any era.
There will be no cost to attend our get together, but we may ask for donations for food and drink if a bunch of you show up.At this time, we are flexible about the day and time during this reunion for our mini-reunion.Right now, we suggest a Sunday morning meeting that goes from say 11:00 – 5:00 pm.Other options are for the afternoon on Wednesday, 2 July, or Thursday evening, 3 July (say from 4:00 pm until ?).For those pilots who are VHPA members, we will also reserve a table at the banquet and set up a formal mini-reunion on Wed afternoon.
For information on the VHPA reunion, go to VHPA.org and then link to the reunion pages.If you wanted to register (not required) for the VHPA reunion, I would be glad to add you as a guest, as some events may be of interest to you.You could contact the Marriott for room reservations and likely get a VHPA rate if you mention it.Note that the VHPA is much pricier than our reunions.
We think this might be a great opportunity to reconnect in conjunction with another event and this is the off year between our reunions, which we hope everyone attends in Nashville, 12-16 May 2010.Please RSVP soon after you read this to let us know if you intend to come and when you might prefer (Sunday hopefully).This mini-reunion is only tentative until we hear from some of you.Questions?Please call Jim (703.385.2999) or Doug (410.827.8720) or email Jim with your questions or response (firstname.lastname@example.org).
OK, maybe these circumstances may not be favorable to you, but if you think a mini-reunion in the off year is a good idea if done with more lead time and maybe two days to meet, let us know and we’ll see if maybe we could do this in future years.Doug and I live near DC, so a mini-reunion in that area would be easy to set up and host in an off year.We could include an Arlington Cemetery and Vietnam wall visits with this as well.Of course, someone else might be interested in setting one up elsewhere as a regional thing.It’s just a thought.Any opinions out there?
A NOTE RECEIVED FROM BOB HOLLY (WO 67-68) IN GERMANY
I understand the high price of postage. From now on I would be happy to receive the Newsletter via my Email address.
The newsletter is always a good read. Have I missed something and not found it on the web site? [webmaster note: The newsletters are available at http://rattler-firebird.org/association/newsletter/] It would be interesting to go back and read over the old copies. I am sure there are well organized people that keep each copy all in a neat file. Mine are read and left in a crew room or someplace. The same as paperback books. Where they are finished they are deposited for someone to find and enjoy.
Perhaps one of these days I’ll get to the Dallas - Fort Worth area. My son is working for an oil industry company named Schulemberger, in Houston.
During the early 90’s when we were living in Fort Myers, FL, I had a phone call from Chuck Carlock.
I still remembering him asking, “Is this Bob Holly, from Darien, CT?Did you serve with the 71st Rattlers and Firebirds?”To all of the above I replied, “Yes!”
Chuck replied, “I have been looking for you for 10 years, and want to say thank you for saving my life.”
My reply was, “I don’t remember, but if I did, buy me a beer someday and we’ll be even.”
I am still flying helicopters in Nigeria . There is one year to go and then Ill have to stop flying because of the age restriction. Presently at 65 you are not allowed to fly commercially. Above 60 one is limited to a two person crew. Everything for the oil industry is twin crew so no problem.
I look at the pictures of us in 1967 - 1968, and wonder howwe survived.
I arrived in Vietnam nine days after finishing flight school. What did we
have 200-220 flight hours? Then another few hundred hours and we were the commander.
Perhaps I am getting old with my thinking as Iraq , Afghanistan are crewed
with the same level of pilots.
The end of October I finished my yearly Simulator training in Marseille, France . We do 12 hoursincluding acheck ride.This was the Dauphin 365N2 simulator, lots to relearn and practice.
We are now getting new Nationalpilots right out of flight school with about200 hoursand it is a long road to Captain. Most of the oil companies require 3,500 helicopter hours. Crews fly 400-600 hours yearly.
Todaywith over 21 thousand helicopter flight hoursI still learn something
new or how to do things better every flight.
I plan to get a note and a check into the mail in the next few days to order several copies of "Firebirds" and "Rattlers and Firebirds" I’ll get a set for my two children.Please autograph these for me.
Our home has been here in Bavaria, South of Munich for many years, so this is where we will stay when I retire.
REQUEST FOR INFORMATION - BLACK MONDAY from Wally Honda (WO 69-70)
The story of “Black Monday” is only a one day history of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company. But, it is an important history. I was not there for other memorable conflicts involving the Rattlers and Firebirds, such as “Million Dollar Hill and Lam Son 719”. I “grew up” with vivid stories of Million Dollar Hill every time I flew between LZ West and LZ Siberia with an Aircraft Commander who wanted to stress to the new peter pilot what combat was all about. It was also a way for him to pass on the legacy of the Rattlers and Firebirds. I learned decades later about Lam Son 719, when I was able to connect with others at our reunions. I felt fortunate that I had ETSed out of the Army before engaging in that battle, but was also very proud to have been associated with the Rattlers and Firebirds who were there.
I need to thank Doug Womack, who spent 20 hours with me at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., going through more than 40 document boxes of papers, most printed on both sides. There was no easy way of getting information. It was one box at a time, one sheet of paper at a time; looking for names, dates, and units. After awhile, the eyes glaze over and the fingers start to ache. I am sure that some documents were missed.
In documenting “Black Monday”, I also had the opportunity to correspond with a lot of people that I had not contacted in almost 40 years. Everyone I talked to that was on the company roster knew where they were during that day. It was like asking where they were when they heard about the assassination of JFK or where they were during 9-11.
September 22, 1969 had a profound impact on us:
For me, it was my first Combat Assault as an Aircraft Commander. I had just been appointed an AC two days earlier and had a total of 4 hours flight time as an AC. I had several hours to think about going into a “Hot LZ”, knowing that people would be counting on me for their lives.
For Robert Combs, it was returning from R&R in Hawaii and learning “the devastating news of Barry’s death”.
For Jim Adams, it was “The only time he cried over there because he assigned Barry Alexander, a short timer, to fly in what he thought was going to be a milk run”.
For Whiz Broome, it was telling me of his story of years later, “going to the Wall on a September 22nd, which happened to fall on a Monday. He left an original Rattler patch with Barry’s name and the date of this death at the Wall”.
Former Company Commander Bill Price, at 72, is still ready to lead another combat assault. He went on to say, “The Rattlers performed magnificently and no ‘6’ could have been more proud than he to have been there”. “He started in the Army as a Green Beret even before Green Berets were authorized and was very proud of what he learned there. But, not as proud as he is of saying that he was Rattler 6 and served with some hard charging young pilots who were as brave as they come.”
For Gene Waldrip, “It was more meaningful than for most. His home town buddy that he grew up with was with 3/21, Bravo Co. and was killed the first day of the battle. After flying numerous missions over two days with the Firebirds in support of this battle, he was snatched out of Viet Nam and escorted his friend’s body back home to his grieving parents. Seven days later, he was back flying with the Firebirds.”
Others have stories that have not yet been told. I hope that they take the opportunity to tell them.
I asked the Association to post my draft document of “Black Monday” on the Association web site at www.rattler-firebird.org in hopes of getting names of crew members that so far are not included. If you were part of the Combat Assault on September 22, 1969 or know someone that was and is not in this draft document, please contact me at: email@example.com or by calling 603-887-8781. [Webmaster's note: you can read the draft here.]
TWO REUNIONS IN ONE TRIP from Doug Womack “Rattler 28” (WO 70-71)
Prior to meeting in Denver for the 2008 Rattler-Firebird Reunion, I tracked down UH-1H 68-16383. I found a reference on the internet in the minutes from an Atlanta City Council meeting, where they discussed trading 383 and another surplus Huey for some infra-red equipment.
After my Vietnam service, I was as a police helicopter pilot in Baltimore for over 17 years. Ironically, after the Army gave 383 away as surplus, she served as a police helicopter for the Atlanta Police Department, and was given registration number N383PD.
Once I knew she was in the civilian world, I checked the FAA registry and found N383PD, now owned and operated by the J&R Flying Service in Alicia, Arkansas. At the invitation of the owner, John Smith, I stopped in Alicia, on the way to Denver, to visit my old ship.
If there was a Huey in the world that I would want to see again, it would be 383. I was flying resupply with Randy Colton in July of 1970, running bullets and beans to field sites out of LZ Mary Ann, when I lost my “Cherry” in 383.
When I became an Aircraft Commander, 383 was the ship assigned to me. I guess taking my first hits in 383 was prophetic, because I was shot down in her on 3 March 1971, during the initial insertion into LZ Lolo in Laos . I was able to make it back to the perimeter of Khe Sanh before the Main Rotor Transmission Pressure dropped to zero.
It was a tough day, with every lift ship in the flight either shot up or shot down. With 383 no longer flyable, we cannibalized her intake screens to keep 826 flying. Ed Albrick and I went back out in 826, and the rest of the flight was hooked back or cleared for a one time flight back to Quang Tri for repairs and replacement aircraft.
After the transmission and a main rotor blade were replaced, and some holes were patched, she was put back in service. Unfortunately, the full extent of the combat damage was not revealed until a major inspection, when deflection was found in an “I” beam, sending her home for rebuild.
Now I was going to see her again, and I cannot describe the range of emotion that I felt just at the thought of it. She had been a lift ship for the Army, a police helicopter, and was now in her third incarnation as an Ag ship. I went around, touching everything within reach, until it struck me that all that white and blue was covering up the Olive Drab that I remembered.
I went to the back of the cabin area and opened one of the inspection panels, and there it was, the same OD and primer that I had touched so many years before. My host took note of my wonderment, and halfway through my account of where all the bullet holes used to be, he asked me, “Well…, do you want to fly it?” I couldn’t say “Hell yes!” fast enough.
We took her out, he gave me the controls, we did some “S” turns, shot an approach, and did a little low level work. He showed me his smoke generator to test the winds for dispersion of the chemicals he sprays. He has a high tech GPS system that directs his spray passes, and I shared with him that it wasn’t the first time that 383 had a spray rig in her.
When it was over, I tried giving him some money for Jet A, but he wouldn’t take a dime. It turns out that John Smith has a personal interest in paying his respect to veterans of the Vietnam War, because his father did a tour with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He wouldn’t accept money, but I am sending him something he will accept, a shadow box with the service medals and unit citations his father earned in Vietnam .
It is small recompense for the gift that he gave me.
Editor’s note: Talking to Womack about this incident, he mentioned the ingenious invention the owner had came up with for towing the aircraft. He took a small front-wheel drive car, sawed off the rear end and enclosed that back part, then welded the body onto two I beams extending from the front of his ground handling apparatus. It works perfect. See the photo in this issue.
THE DAY OUR CHOW CHANGED IN THE 71st
by Neal Lang (WO 69-70
I arrived in country early June 1969 and one of the things I remembered most about our chow was that we had roast beef day after day, anyone remember that period? No ground beef, i.e. no SOS.
About a month later I took on an additional duty as Supply Officer and later Property Book Officer. While in supply I was asked/volunteered to be a Customs Inspector. On one of my down flight days I attended a Navy class on the duties and responsibilities as a Customs Inspector. I think during my year I was only scheduled 3 or 4 days to be at the Navy facility and I experienced some unusual events there, another story, another time. The interesting part of my additional duty was a call now and then to see if I was available to go inspect something.
If you will recall the summer of 1969, President Nixon announced the first units stand downs in Viet Nam . In Chu Lai two units were named; one of the Marine Air Groups (either MAG 12 or 13, I can’t remember which) and a Hawk Missile Battalion the 6th Battalion 56th Arty ADA. I don’t think the Hawk unit ever fired anything but a practice missile out on the South China Sea, but they were protecting us from any air threat. Anyway it was one of the Marine Air Groups units who contacted me. A Marine Gunny told me where they were located and I drove up there. I think they lived on the beach north of the 71st area, across the road from Chu Lai East. My inspection task was to inspect and seal CONEX containers to be shipped back to Camp Pendleton California. The detail of young Marines pulled out anything I wanted to see in the CONEX’s I chose and reloaded them after seeing the contents. Toward the end of my visit the gunny said they needed a little help with one container and that they had lots of stuff they need to get rid of. I said, “Like what?” and he mentioned food stuffs and some air conditioners.
I was ushered over to an area where two of our hooch style buildings served as their storage area for their dry and canned food items. Now remember where we drew our unit rations from – yes, through the Army Supply system. The Marines on the other hand are part of the Navy and that’s where they got all their stuff. I was amazed at what was there. Cases and cases of every kind of dried beans I have ever heard of, canned hams, dehydrated shrimp, canned fruit, and much more. I also looked over the air conditioners. I think there were twelve and they had used them in their hooches. They said they couldn’t take this stuff with them. Somewhere in the process the gunny and I struck up a deal and we took ownership of truck loads of food stuffs.
My next call was to SSG Brown, my Supply Sergeant, who was also a new arrival to the 71st. I called and said we needed all six Deuce-and-a-half trucks the company owned and a detail of soldiers to haul lots on stuff back to the 71st. I wonder what he thought at the time, here I was a WOJG (whose total creditability was about to be tested). SSG Brown followed my direction, brought the trucks and we hauled everything we could get our hands on. I think we made more than one sortie hauling stuff. First Sergeant Pine (Top) was not overjoyed with what I had done but SFC Anderson, our mess Sergeant, was beside himself. From that day on we had trading material that didn’t quit, I had proven myself, and that is when we started having 24-hour chow and food that other units didn’t. Sergeants Brown and Anderson became the best of buddies and the unit found a new sense of esprit d’corps in the way we lived and who we were.
WILL LATIMER…..By Bob Parsons (dated 3 August 1996)
It has been 27 years since I last saw Will, but during that span, a week has never passed without him being in my thoughts. I can still remember his sandy-haired head with its permanent “cow-licked-crown”. Kind eyes with lids that always appeared as though he had just awakened from a very deep sleep. Will was the proverbial even-tempered, never rattled type. It is impossible to recall a time when he was ever angered about anything. If I close my eyes…I can still visualize him walking away from me. Hands deep in his pockets, head slightly downcast, and an unmistakable shuffling-gait that was uniquely his. If you can imagine a Norman Rockwell painting of a schoolboy heading home, intently focused on kicking a can along his route, Will would have been the perfect model.
I met Will in October of 1967 when I was assigned to the “Firebirds”. He was one of my mentors, and I flew frequently with him as his co-pilot. Later, after I had gained experience and was moved to a position as aircraft commander of my own ship, Will would always ask me to be his wingman. Our relationship grew from a basic foundation of mutual respect, to a real friendship.
On March 3, 1968, I was shot down by a North Vietnamese .50 caliber anti-aircraft crew while flying as Will’s wingman. We were on a medical evacuation support mission in the Que Son Mountains, southwest of DaNang. An infantry unit had taken heavy casualties during the previous night’s action and we were to be the first on the scene (delayed due to rain and low ceilings during the night). After we successfully escorted the first medivac ship in, we were taken under fire by the enemy. My ship was hit severely. Losing the engine, we had to make a forced landing within range of the enemy’s anti-aircraft guns. Will stayed right with me, providing return fire against the enemy that was intent on capturing me and my crewmembers. Preparing to jettison his weapon systems, Will was determined to come in and pick us up. Fortunately, one of our company’s lift ships, piloted by another friend, Mike Kretchmer, was in the immediate area and had responded to our emergency radio transmissions. Will covered the extraction ship and our crew on the ground with withering, close support by firing the 2.75” rockets around the clearing where we had crash landed. His gunner and crew chief aided in the effort with hundreds of rounds fired from their M-60 machine guns. You could always count on Will to doggedly stand by your side in even the most difficult of situations. There is no way to begin to count the number of times that Will’s efforts saved the lives of the infantrymen by providing close firepower support.
Will and I corresponded by mail while I was hospitalized in Japan after my shoot-down. I still have the letters and cherish his kind words and support. My wife and I had the chance to see Will again in 1969 at Fort Rucker, AL. Will and I were both preparing for return assignments for second tours in Vietnam . Thankfully, the visit gave me a chance to thank Will in person for the help he always gave.
It was only two years ago that I found out that Will had been killed during his second tour of duty in Vietnam . I had been looking forward all these years to the opportunity of getting to see Will again. My friend is gone…but his fond memory is not just locked forever in my memory, it is etched deeply in my heart.
Editor’s note: Bob Parsons died of a massive heart attack on 19 April 1999. Bob had written the above account to Will Latimer’s home town newspaper.
COMING HOME from R.J. Williams, (November 1968)
I came home unannounced, but I had trouble getting out of the restaurant at the airport. I took one look at that menu and grabbed a bar stool. I got a waitress, who made me show her my money first, because I ordered just about one of everything on the menu. First I ordered real milk, wow was that good. Then I ordered a Philadelphia cheese steak with mushrooms, and onions (you get the drift). I order a real hamburger, a milkshake, coffee without bugs floating on top, a hot dog, pie, (well of course I didn’t eat everything but I did get to taste everything).
Most people at the airport were nasty or gave me nasty looks, but no one said anything. I guess that was good because under my shirt I had a loaded 45 with 8 rounds and a loaded 38 (souvenirs), just in case I got ambushed. My other stuff was already home!!!
I knocked on the front door of my house about 4 or 5 AM, and really shook up my parents. We all did a lot of crying after 26 months in Nam . My Mom tried to feed me but I told them about the airport and asked my Dad for a beer. I sat on the front step and watched the sun come up drinking beer, while my Dad got ready for work and Mom called all the relatives.
One at a time the guys I grew up with came out and we had an early beer party, no one went to work. I told the guys I had some really neat things to show them. We lived on a street with large factories at either end of the street and one behind our row houses. I didn’t know what the sun was until I was 6 years old and had to walk to school, saw it for my first time.
I got four smoke grenades from my meager supplies and we all walked down to the corner factory. (I pulled the pin on the first one and threw it towards the factory, it was pretty, but with all the factories around us there was no wind to carry the smoke away. I threw a different colored one towards the closest intersection, and then launched two more down our street. It was pretty as hell but the smoke lasted forever).
On the way back down our yellow and purple smoke clogged street, I heard two old neighbor ladies say; “Of all the good young men that are getting killed, wouldn’t you know that son-of-a-b*^%$, made it home”.
The Police and Fire Company did respond to all the smoke, (they got a lot of calls, but the grenades had gone out by the time they got there) and it looked really cool with all those red lights bouncing off the colored smoke. The police had to close a few intersections for a few minutes. My Dad was one of the firemen who responded with his ladder truck and Engine Company. I thought my ass would be grass, but when he came home that night, he told my mom (who was clueless) that it was the prettiest fire he had ever responded to. With a gleam in his eye he turned to me and said, “You better knock that s--- off buddy-boy, you’re home now.
COMING HOME from Mike Rogers (EM 67-68)
When I rotated back to the United States at the end of February 1968, I wanted be able to knock on the door of my parent’s home and surprise them as they were not sure of when I was coming home. So this is my story.
There were a number of us that rotated the same day from the 71st. We caught an Air Force C123 on the Air Force side of the Chu Lai air base and had a stop along the way to Cam Ranh Bay in order to pick up a large number of casualties that were to be transported home. As the C123 did not have any seats we shared the floor with those hero soldiers that are now honored at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.
When we arrived in Cam Ranh Bay, all of us were assigned to the causal company that processed and assigned returning personnel transportation back to the United States . This was an interesting place as they had several formations each day that we were to participate in where they assigned everyone to do useless tasks such as moving and painting rocks that edged the walkways along with great KP duty along with assigning personnel slots to go home. We learned very quickly that if you were in the back of the formation and your name was not called, you could slip away before being assigned some sort of a useless task. It took 2-4 days to get processed and be assigned a slot to go home.
Once I was assigned a slot, I flew back on a Boeing 707 commercial airliner, much better than the Air Force C141 that brought me to Vietnam . It had flight attendants and good food with a couple of short stops before arriving back in the US .
We were bused to Ft. Lewis from the plane and continued the processing that started in Vietnam . I was issued a new green winter wool uniform, I still have it, and once that was completed, we were given the option of having a steak dinner in a mess hall or going to the Seattle airport to try to find flights to go home. I chose to leave Ft. Lewis and not partake in a mess hall steak diner. I left Ft. Lewis mid afternoon to try to buy a ticket and get home as fast as I could.
I will never forget the 3 to 4 business travelers in line in front of me at the Western Airlines ticket counter, allowing me to go to the front of line to buy a ticket to take me from Seattle to Phoenix, the last flight out of Seattle that day for Phoenix. I purchased my ticket and rushed to the gate and boarded the plane as they were starting to close the door. Without that kindness and a lot of luck, I would have stayed in the airport that night. Better than an airfield waiting area in Vietnam where I spent a couple of nights sleeping on the floor before catching a flight back to the 71st.
I had no idea how to get to Tucson from Phoenix once I arrived in Phoenix. However, I was lucky and did find a 9:30 pm flight on another airline, I think it was AirWest, in another terminal area and was able to get to Tucson that evening.
Once I had purchased this ticket, I realized that I needed to get from Tucson to Sierra Vista (the town outside of Ft. Huachuca) about 70 miles outside of Tucson and did not have any idea how to do this as I did not have a valid drivers license and back then no rental car company would rent to anyone under 25 and I did not have enough money for a cab ride. So much for the idea of knocking on my parent’s door and surprising them that I was home safely.
I called my parents collect just before I left Phoenix, woke them up, and told them that I was going to be in the Tucson airport later in the evening and would they please come and pick me up and not let me spend another night in an airport. When my parents and sister got to the airport, I was sound asleep on a bench in front of the ticket counters. Needless to say emotions ran very high that evening at the airport and at home and the next day. Not much sleep for anyone the rest of the night and next day.
COMING HOME – FINALLY From Jim Pfister (EM 67-73)
While in Plantation Gardens in early 1973, the demeanor of the Viet Cong was changing as we found out that we would be releasedin February 1973. They separated about 32 of us from the rest of the prisoners for some reason at that time. Laterduring our stay they let us out inthe sort ofcourtyard and to my surprise I saw 2 prisoners there who really looked familiar. It was two German nurse prisoners that were in my camp. I was so happy to see they survived their experiences. February rolled around and the release still did not happen. We were told at that time the so-called treaty (cease fire) was violated and we would not be released until March of 1973. We lost heart a bit and wondered if we would ever be released.
The closer we got to March I became really sick and could hardly pick myself up from the wood pallets we slept on. Right before we were taken to the bus that was taking us to the airport; we heard that the Viet Cong doctor was making a visit to make sure no one was released that was sick. Two fellow POWs propped me up in bed and when the Dr. came in and asked me how I felt, I muttered great. There was no way I was going to spend one more day there than I had to.
March 3, 1973 came and we were bussed to the airport from the Hanoi Hilton and placed in line according to our names. As the North Vietnamese officer read off our names, we were escorted by American Officers to the C-141aircraft awaiting us. On my walk to the plane my escort informed me that I was now a Staff Sergeant. Boy! That's one hell of a way to get promoted. I went from a Private to a Staff Sergeant in5 years.
After we boarded the plane a nurse asked if anyone was sick. Without hesitation many fingers pointed to me. I had viral pneumonia. Before being airborne I wanted so much to give the Vietnamese the finger but thought I best not since the guards did not like me being a non-progressive prisoner and I felt the same about them. I got put in solitary confinement for just whistling while taking a shower. The second time I was put in leg irons for five days. We landed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and as soon as I was put in bed they asked me what I would like to eat. I asked for what I dreamed about often in captivity, a hamburger, French fries, coke, and pizza.
I could or would not sleep much in the hospital because I had craved music in captivity and listened day and night to it. A few days later I was flownto Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. As I exited the plane I saw a crowd of people there to greet us and bent down and kissed the ground. I was so thrilled to be home. Ididn't stay long at Kelly as I and two other prisoners were whisked off to Louisville, Kentucky. They were trying to get the POWs tothemilitary facility closest to their homes. It was a little dark when we arrived and again there was a crowd of people there to greet us. I guess reality had not fully sunk in and I didn't quite know how to act yet. It was like all of me was not there.
As I exited the plane a soldier approached me in military uniform and saidthat he would be my escort during my stay at the hospital. He looked directly at me and said "Jim, don't you know who I am?" I said, "I don't think so." I glanced at his name tag and it read SSG Frasier. He said again, "You still don't know me?" My answer again was, "I don't think so." He said, "Jim, I'm Kenny Frasier." I could not believe my eyes! This was the first person I had seen that knew me and he was a lifelong friend from childhood. I now knew I was truly home.
For the next 18 days I was a guest at the hospital and from morning until night they ran every medical test imaginable, from blood work, stool specimens, drinking sugar water, x-rays, psychological profiles, and the most tiring was all the debriefing, sometimes lasting 3 or 4 hours each time. It was like reliving my horrible experience just when I wanted to forget it. I gave them the name, rank, hometown, and date of death of my fellow POWs that I helped bury. When they looked at me and said, "Are you sure of this?" I just about blew a gasket. My God, I lived with these men during the worse times of our lives. We clung to each other because each other was all we had!
A visitor came into my room one day during this period. It was (now) Captain Frank Carson, who had been my peter pilot (as a WO-1) the night we were shot down. Frank was able to escape and evade (E&E) the next morning and eventually made it back to an ARVN outpost. Frank told me that a day didn’t go by in which he didn’t wonder what had happened to us.
One day the Doctor came in and said, “Jim, we have found 8 different parasites in you and we need to start you on a medicine.” I asked what side effects I could expect and they said they had no idea because they had never given it out before. To my amazement I passed those parasites and many were over a foot long.
RELEASE FROM HOSPITAL: I was finally being released from the hospital to start a 90 day convalescence leave. One day I wasat Kenny Frasier’s home for dinner and his phone rang, he was talking about his vehicle and lights and stuff and I thought maybe he had a registration problem or something. The next day we were to head to my hometown, Evansville, Indiana and stopped for dinner on the way. I noticed his lights were on when we got ready to leave and just on the other side of Evansville a State Trooper pulled us over. Instead of going to the driver side, came to my side and asked if I was SGT Pfister. I said yes. I thought times had sure changed because I wasn't even driving. He then asked me if I would rather ride in a police care or fire truck. I said police car I guess. As we crossed into Evansville I saw a huge crowd of people lining the streets on both sides. There were friends, family, and complete strangers there to welcome a tired soldier home. I could not believe my eyes but that is the first time I felt the true effect of my freedom since I had been released. For a brief moment, I found peace!
Editor’s note: Frank Anton, Robert Lewis and Jim Pfister had been shot down on January 5, 1968 and were all captured the next day. That makes Pfister’s time as a POW three days short of 62 months.
HELP NEEDED ON A 1970-71 ERA RATTLER and FIREBIRD BOOK
Greetings! This letter is being distributed by Jim Fulbrook (Snakebite Charlie, Rattler 20) and Doug Womack (Rattler 28). We are writing a book together about our Vietnam War experiences. The title of the book is not set yet, but the book will be mostly upbeat and informative with some war stories included to make the book more personal. Our intention is to include your profiles to honor and recognize other unit members and provide an opportunity for you to tell a story or two about your experiences in the May ‘70- Aug ‘71 period with the Rattlers/Firebirds. It would be great if the story you tell had something to do with Snakebite or 28 (if you remember either of us), as that would make the stories knit together better, but that is not required. A lot of focus will be on Lam Son 719 ( Laos ’s incursion). If you have a story on that operation, that would be great.
This sheet provides a set of generic information topics that we would like you to complete, please. This will help us standardize the chapter contents where we include your stories. You may add or ignore items as you wish. There are no requirements to hold back on your opinions and you may submit as much information as you are willing to provide. Of course, the information and story you provide must be accurate and true to the best of your knowledge. Since most mission stories involved a crew and a team effort, please list others by name if you can recall them.
Finally, we would like to have a decent photo of you from Vietnam and a fairly recent one that we may include with your story, please. Faces always add something to a story, especially as they have changed so much for all of us. Any extra photos you are willing to provide, especially that include 20 or 28, let us know and we will figure out a way for you to have them made into electronic files (digital formats) so that we will not need original prints or negatives (we’ll pay for it).
Regardless of how much you have forgotten since ‘ Nam , there is still a story or two that stand out in your mind and that you recall as though it happened recently (the lasting impression stuff). These are the stories we would like to include. Feel free to create your own document or you can fill in the blanks below.
Name: ___________________________ Call sign or nickname: __________________________
Hometown (city/state) entering active duty: __________________________________________
Dates in Vietnam : __________________________ Dates with Rattlers: _______________________
Duty assignment & platoon in 71st: _______________________________________________________
Number of flying hours logged during tour (pilot or crew): _____________________________________
Where you mostly resided after ‘ Nam : ____________________________________________________
Primary profession after ‘ Nam : _________________________________________________________
Years in military service before and after ‘ Nam : ____________________________________________
If you were a pilot after ‘ Nam , number of flying hours, a/c, etc.: ______________________________
Current address (not to be published): __________________________________________________
Phone: __________________________ Email: _____________________________________
Anything notable about yourself you wish us to include? ____________________________________
Please complete the two survey questions below.
I would describe my experience in RVN with the 71st AHC as: positive neutral negative
The Vietnam War experience affected my later family life and career: positively neutral negatively
By all means, you can tell us more about how Vietnam affected your life if you wish. For us, it was positive.
On a separate sheet, please tell us your most memorable mission or story. We’ll get back to you if some clarification is necessary. A rough first draft will do and we’ll complete it later with you. If you wish to pull a story that has already been published somewhere, let us know if there is a copyright restriction or provide permission for us to use the text, please.
Thanks. If you have questions, please use our contact information. Of course, we also would enjoy and invite phone calls or emails so we could reminisce with our previous compatriots if you are compelled, and we will attempt to call you in a month or so to encourage you to complete this for us and the unit and to catch up on the years past. By the way, if you’re not current in the Rattler/Firebirds Association, please consider joining and meeting up with us at a future reunion (joining is not a requirement). It’s a great group and we ain’t getting any younger. The website is: http://www.rattler-firebird.org/. The next reunion will be in Nashville in May 12-16, 2010. We will be there with a video camera in tow to record stories as another means to collect information.
Snakebite Charlie (Jim Fulbrook) and Rattler 28 (Doug Womack)
Doug: 711 Long Point Rd., Grasonville, MD 21638, 410.827.8720, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim: 3478 Barristers Keepe Circle, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.385.2999, email@example.com
OK, this is your chance to include a part of your history when you may not have taken action before this. Please include awards if given, injuries and losses, a/c number if known, and lots of details (approximate dates, times, locations, etc.). It took us over 30 years to get to this effort and we can’t wait that long for you to respond. Please shoot for 30 days from when you get this to respond. Thanks again and best wishes to you. We hope this letter finds you healthy, happy, and prospering, especially through this crappy economy lately…
The commanding officer of a regiment in the U. S. Marine Corps was about to start the morning briefing to his staff, battalion and company commanders.
While waiting for the coffee machine to finish its brewing, the colonel decided to pose a question to all assembled.
He explained that his wife had been a bit frisky the night before and he failed to get his usual amount of sound sleep. He posed the question of just how much of sex was 'work' and how much of it was 'pleasure?'
The regimental executive officer chimed in with 75-25% in favor of work.
A captain said it was 50-50%.
The colonel's aide responded with 25-75% in favor of pleasure, depending on his state of inebriation at the time.
There being no consensus, the colonel turned to the private who was in charge of making the coffee. The colonel asked what HIS opinion was.
Without any hesitation, the young PFC responded, "Sir, it has to be 100% pleasure."
The colonel was surprised and, as you might guess, asked why?
"Well, sir, "if there was any work involved, the officers would have me doing it for them."
The room fell silent.
Peter A Schmidt
Tommy L. Schneider (WO 66)
Willard Krell At Denver 2008