Please make a note of a new area code for our Association. Our phone number is now: 972-226-4252. We are now on the internet at: email@example.com
Our new address directory was mailed on June 24, 1996. If you did not receive one, it is probably because your membership expired on 30 June. Only members who were paid through '97 or more received this directory. If you have joined this Association, your membership status is reflected by the year number to the right of your name on the mailing label of this newsletter. We need all the support we can get. If you have not joined, or renewed, please do so now.
I would like to sincerely thank Eddie Clasby (EM 69-70), Steven Hill (WO 69-70), Steven Johannsen (WO 69-70) and Spencer Nave (EM 65) for the very useful old orders sent to the Association that resulted in our finding about 35 new men. Also, Danny Grigsby (OF 70-71) found information about our last CO, Robert J. Harman (OF 71), on one of his old OERs that enabled us to locate him. Information received has determined that Arnold C. Morris, CO in late '66 and early '67, is believed to be deceased. We have one CO unaccounted for, William M. Price, from the 1969 era. If you served under Major Price, you might have his service number on your old OER and with this info we could locate this last Company Commander. Please help us!
On November 6th, the Association received a royalty check from the publisher of Firebirds in the amount of $24,828 which has been used to purchase a one year CD. We appreciate the hundreds of books that our guys have purchased and wish to remind you that this item would make a great Christmas gift. We sell autographed copies for $18.00 including postage.
One of our Association directors, Ron Taylor (EM 70-71), has decided to enter law school and has resigned as a director in order to focus all his time to this goal. We would like to thank Ron for his service and wish him the best of luck in this endeavor.
Our Association now has obtained the pieces of an "H" model Huey which are going to require a lot of tender loving care to reach a proper display stage for our Orlando reunion. This aircraft suffered a very hard landing with significant damage causing the Army to sell it for scrap. The tailboom had about two barrels of white rock inside it from the "attempted" landing on an unimproved road. We intend to restore it to "Rattler" appearance. If any of you have access to old huey parts, we could really use help putting our aircraft in decent shape. Some of the things we could use are: sound proofing, circuit breakers, instruments, radio panels. We will cover any mailing costs on these items.
In R.J. Williams' report about the mini-reunion, he tells about the fantastic work that Everett Jeffcoat did in his re-creation of the F Troop rock, a large day-glow orange boulder that was in our company area at Chu Lai, right outside the 2nd Platoon's quarters. This rock had the F Troop enlisted men's names painted on it (with a couple of their pilots also) and was a source of pride to these men. Everett used photos of the rock, from different angles, to recreate this remembrance. The rock photos belonged to: Hilmer Aliff (EM 68), Ken Hughes (EM 69) and R.J. Williams (EM 66-68) and Everett asked me to be sure and include this information in the newsletter.
There are several Vietnam books on the market that consist of many individuals submitting stories to someone who will edit and arrange this into a manuscript to be published. Ron Seabolt and R.J. Williams have decided to try this for our unit. This will be an opportunity to get a piece of our history printed and for you to become "printed authors". Any profit from this endeavor would go to our Association. Association funds would not be used in putting this book together, however. All stories submitted would be considered, but there could be no guarantee that every story would be used. If your story was used, you would be given full credit in the book. This project would probably take quite awhile to complete. Please seriously consider submitting your story to us and do not worry about your english skills. Just send us the story and we will do the rest. R.J. Williams' address is: 745 Orchard Rd, Manheim, PA 17545-9275. PH.# 717-664-4087 or submit your story to the Association address.
If you are interested, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade Association has an internet web site at this address: www.americal.org/196
Charlie Rains, executive director of the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association would like our men to be aware that the Crewmembers Memorial in St. Louis will be dedicated in 1998 and if possible, any crewmembers should try to attend this affair.
In an editorial in the August 1996 issue of Vietnam Magazine, Col. Harry Summers mentions that the article his magazine published about the Swift Boats capturing an NVA ship in July 1967 was blasted because the Firebirds role in this action was omitted. Nice to see us get a little national exposure!
The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association has established the Vietnam Helicopter Flight Crew Network on the internet at: VHFCN-L@VHFCN.ORG. This info was sent to our association by Don Lynam (OF 70-71).
We have had some volunteers to head certain recreational activities at our Orlando reunion in '98. Frank Anton has offered to put together a golf outing. Glen Summers (EM 64-66), who is president and CEO of "Fat Boy's Barbecue", has offered to cater a meal for us. Seabolt was wondering if anyone wanted to be responsible for a reunion of the 71st Bowling Team? (for the uninformed, this has nothing to do with rolling a heavy round ball toward upright wooden pins).
The sales of Chuck Carlock's book Firebirds are still strong. This book was featured as a book of the month by the Military Book Club this past summer. Their version of the book was about 85% the size of the original. Nothing was left out, they just used smaller print. The paperback version by Bantam Books is to be marketed next summer. As mentioned before, all royalties from sales of Firebirds goes to our Association, and Carlock has suggested that interest from this income be used to help offset food and beverage costs at our reunions.
Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney put Carlock in touch with Dale Dye who wrote the movie script for the Disney (Touchstone) movie "Firebirds". It dealt with helicopters in the drug war in South America. Tommy Lee Jones' radio call sign was "Rattler" in the movie.
Much to our disappointment, Dale told Carlock the movie was called, "Flight of the Apache" and Jones' call sign was "Rattler" after the Marine Cobra gunships that flew out of An Hoa (north of the 71st AO) in 1969 and 1970.
Dale said at the last minute someone at Touchstone changed the name to "Firebirds". He said it was done without his input.
Dale was a Marine grunt in the area south of Danang and served two tours. He is reviewing Carlock's book to see if it has any potential for a movie. Carlock is unclear if it can ever be politically corrected enough to qualify for the trash that's used for current movies. Carlock says that one of the characters would have to have a love affair with a dink hootchmaid and at least two would have to volunteer to be portrayed in "alternative lifestyles". Carlock says,"It's NOT going to be him!"
The following letter is typical of many letters the Association has
received because of the publicity Carlock's book has generated:
I am a member of the Americal Division Veterans Association and would like to order a copy of your book.
I was with Co. C 1/5, 198th LIB, 1969-70. I also worked with the office of the S-5 during the last part of my tour of duty.
I flew with many of your pilots. I especially remember "Pickles". Do you know anything about him? Did he make it home? I think it was Lt. Pickles.
You guys were great! Mail, chow, resupply and medivacs. We really appreciated the "dust offs". Thank you for all that you and your guys did for us back in '69-'70. It seems like a dream. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I was really there.
I look forward to reading your book. I hope it covers 69-70. I wonder if any of your pilots remember evacuating the wounded and dead from a hill near LZ Stinson back in '69? As I remember it, 3/4ths of our company was either killed or wounded by what may have been a 250 lb. bomb suspended in a tree. It was thought to have been command detonated. No one really knows. We lost our Capt, I think two LTs, some ARVNs and numerous men.
Sincerely, Paul Kelly (Phone # 516-271-3864).
If anyone remembers any of the events of this letter, (Lt. Pickles?) feel free to contact Paul Kelly directly or Ron Seabolt and we will relay the info to this man.
A special thanks goes out to Jim Miller (WO 67-68) for the items he has donated to the Association from his tour with us. Survival kit, survival radio, a calendar, a rubber map of southeast Asia and his OD underwear are among the things Jim has sent. For your information, one pair of underwear should be enough of a representation for our purposes!
Tom Knapp (EM 66-67) has been playing golf in the "Jack Nicklaus, Golden Bear Mini-Tour" in Florida this year. Tom has won over $15,000 in the last three months and recently finished 2nd in one of the stops. This mini-tour is being used by Tom in preparation for attending the PGA Seniors qualifying school. If Tom is successful in this quest, he will be a full member of the Senior PGA Tour in 1997, his first year of eligibility. When Seabolt and Knapp were flying together in the 1st platoon, Tom used to say his goal in life was to make enough money so that he could play golf every day of his life!
Bill Hennigan (OF 66-67) sent the Association an item from Squadron Publications, a softback book called UH-1 Huey In Action. In this book there is a photo of an H model that has been blown to pieces. The caption reads: "The disastrous results of accidentally flying over a demolition area in Vietnam are seen in the wreckage of this UH-1H of the 71st AHC in 1969 - the blades and tail boom were blown off the aircraft." In the photo you can make out the 71 on the pilot's door. Do any of you have any remembrance of this incident? It would be interesting to know who the flight crew were and the extent of injuries suffered by them.
Daniel Garren (EM 69-70) has written us requesting any info you may have about an incident that occurred in early '69. Daniel was on bunker guard duty with two other men when one of the men accidently shot himself and died within minutes. Daniel is pretty sure this man was from our unit and wants to know if anyone remembers the accident or the man's name? Ron Seabolt would also be especially interested in this info if it was one of our men. Please send any info to the Association or to Daniel Garren, 808056, 406 North High St, Anamosa, IA 52205-0010.
In a letter received from E.J. Paschall, the VFW QuarterMaster in Breckenridge, CO, we were informed about a Memorial plaque on a large piece of granite dedicated to Gary McCall (WO 67-68) and a nurse who died in a helicopter crash during a rescue attempt in 1994. This Memorial site is at the junction of several hiking trails, one of which bypasses the crash area. He also stated that two additional bronze plaques would be placed at the helicopter hanger and at the Flight for Life headquarters, both in Frisco, CO.
Bill London (OF 67-68), also known as "Wild Bill", has recently retired from the Border Patrol after serving 21 years. Bill stayed in the Army for 5 years before joining this service. We wish him a happy retirement.
An editors mistake (Seabolt) was made on the cover of our address directory that was mailed in July. At our reunion in Dallas, I was given some copies of some photos from Nam by Bruce Kelly (WO 67-68). One of these was of a Firebird sitting at a revetment at Chu Lai with a crew member standing at the doorway and wearing a flight suit. I wrongly assumed this person was Bruce Kelly. Bruce received one of the first copies of this directory and immediately called me to say he really liked the directory but the person on the cover was not him. At this time, we still do not know who this person is!
Mini-Reunion Report from R.J. Williams
The mini-reunion held last May in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania was attended by 20 Rattlers (6 officers and 14 enlisted men) and 11 wives. The most F-Troopers that have ever assembled since Vietnam (7) were on hand at the unveiling of Everett Jeffcoat's (EM 67-68) reproduction of the F TROOP ROCK. The absolute center of attraction of the entire reunion was the 110% accurate reproduction of the old F Troop Rock by Everett. The reproduction was perfect in every aspect and caused a bunch of nostalgic old men to shed a tear or two at seeing it again. All of us owe Everett a sincere accolade on a job well done, above and beyond reasonable effort for helping to add realism to our memories.
One mission was launched by F Troop and Firebird Al Ruter (EM 67-69) against a Ramada Inn advertising blimp tethered above the hotel. After a short planning session it was decided that we were too old to physically climb to the roof of the hotel to acquire access to the 100 foot high blimp. Common sense prevailed and the only honorable thing was done. Don and Dave Benedict lied to the hotel staff and told them that they had come to affix the labeling to the blimp for the company that rents the blimps. The hotel now has an advertising blimp proudly flying above the Ramada with a RATTLER sticker on the nose and a FIREBIRD emblem on each side. The hotel staff escorted not only the Benedicts up to the roof but also Fred West and others who photographed the event as it occurred.
Benny Goodman (WO 68-69) was looking at one of my photo albums when he asked me the significance of a picture showing a bullet hole in the right pilot's window. This allowed me the opportunity to tell a "THIS IS REALLY THE TRUTH" story. When I finished my elaborate recollection of how we got the bullet hole, Benny looked at me and said, "R.J, this is the sixth picture I have seen in as many photo albums of the same exact hole in the same helicopter and this is the sixth different story I have heard about that BULLet hole." Well, I guess we were all flying together that day and saw it from a different angle. No shit.
A memorial service was held on Saturday morning, May 18 with R.J. Williams reading the same memorial service that had been used at the Memphis and Dallas reunions and Al Ruter reading our known KIA list followed by Doug Womack (WO 70-71) who called the company to attention and ordered present arms for one minute of silence to remember our fallen comrades, then order arms and at ease.
At 20:00 hours, Spencer Nave (EM 65) and his wife Kay entertained our gathering with a reading of "That Old Tattered Flag" followed by a song Spencer had written called "That Black Granite Wall", he usually sings when he accompanies the travelling wall. Our thanks go out to Spencer and his wife for their generosity. Spencer and Kay sold tapes of their song and donated 20% of the proceeds to our Association. Jerry Meader (OF 66), Mike Pottle (EM 67-68), and Fred West (EM 67-68) also made contributions that were appreciated.
In closing this report, special thanks go out to Den Cornibe (EM 66-68) and Fred West for instigating the mini-reunion idea, Everett Jeffcoat for the F Troop Rock, which he will be transporting to Chuck Carlock's Rattler Museum in Texas, Don and Dave Benedict for carrying out the labeling of the Ramada Inn Blimp, Spencer and Kay Nave for sharing their beautiful rendition of "That Black Granite Wall", Al Ruter and Doug Womack for their help with the memorial service and last but not least a special thanks to all of the Rattlers who were able to join us in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania because it is our friends who give us our fondest memories.
The following men were in attendance at this gathering:
Paul E. Bartlett (WO/OF 67-68) Snake Doctor
Dave Benedict (EM 67-68) F Troop
Don Benedict (EM 67-68) F Troop
Den Cornibe (EM 66-68) F Troop
Rick Cronin (EM 70-71) Firebirds
Jim Fullbrook (WO 70-71)
Benny Goodman (WO 68-69) Rattler 21
Greg Heinle (EM 70-71)
Everett Jeffcoat (EM 67-68) F Troop
James Malone (EM 70-71
Chico Marcano (EM 69-70
Jerry Meader (OF 66)
Spencer Nave (EM 64-66)
Mike Pottle (EM 67-68) F Troop
Bill Rhodes (WO 64-65)
Al Ruter (EM 67-69 1st PLT & Firebirds
Charles Sanders (EM 66-67) Firebirds
Fred West (EM 67-68) F Troop
R.J. Williams (EM 66-68) F Troop & 1st PLT
Doug Womack (WO 70-71)
Rod Downie (EM 66-67) ***165th Trans Co.
Seabolt Note: R.J. Williams put in many hours putting this mini-reunion together and deserves our appreciation for all the time he and his family gave to make it a success. He has plans to do it again next year, and we will get the details out ASAP. If any of you WEST COAST men would like to undertake putting on a mini-reunion in 1997, please contact the Association. In a newsletter received from the 145th Battalion Association in October, It was announced that their '97 reunion would be held at the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas next June. In a conversation with Jim Bodkin, the exective director of the 145th, Jim stated that he would be happy to have any of our men attend their reunion. Because our company was originally in the 145th Battalion, all of our men are eligable for membership in this Association. Membership in the 145th is not required to attend the reunion, however. We will keep you as informed of this reunion as possible. Jim Bodkin can be reached at 219-483-5149 or on the internet at: firstname.lastname@example.org
R.J. had told me the following story and I asked him to write it up for our newsletter. Those 2nd Platoon guys were all a little crazy!
Platoon in a Footlocker
We were all pretty excited about moving into our new company area on the beach at Chu Lai. I don't think anyone was going to miss our first company area, next to the active taxi-way. We moved into tents that were pitched on the long white sandy beach but the original sand floor quickly gave way to some plywood nailed to 2 X 4's laying on top of the sand to form a very primitive temporary floor.
We had not been in the Chu Lai AO very long and things were rather dull when we first moved up North. Our platoon sergeant at the time was SSG Rogers, we called him Jolly Rogers. The heat used to bother him more than most because he was heavy set and his face would get scarlet in the heat or when members of his platoon would aggravate him.
This combination of a good natured, easy going platoon sergeant, a temporarily boring AO (that didn't last very long), the lack of any serious sand bag details and the lack of an EM club (at that time), provided F Troop (2nd flight platoon) with all the ingredients for a major AH SHIT!
The original group that made up F Troop were each in their own way the US Army poster boys for the Uncle Sam "WE DON'T WANT YOUSE" ad. There was Kenny Amerson, who shot at a fly in the tent with his carbine because it woke him up. Robert Garcia, who to get even with our little round 1SG Hillhouse, would wait for the laundry to come back and steal all of Hillhouse's clothes until Hillhouse ran out, and his size was not in stock in supply. Freddy West, who threw a tear gas grenade into the CO's hooch one night, after he sandbagged the front door closed, and was also involved (deeply) in the monkey in the old man's hooch, F Troop mission. All four of the above described events were blamed on R.J. Williams, who never really did anything! There was Denny Cornibe, who used to shoot grease all over the little dinks to get them away from his ship, and throw C's into the snake infested swamp to see how fast the kids were. Doc Marley, an ex-medic, would sign all our shot cards so we wouldn't have to get shots (weren't we slick). Duck Winters, who got his nickname for doorgunning a flock of ducks on short final to a very hot LZ, and actually rendered the Firebird Gunships IFR. Richard Gale, nicknamed Crash Moses, an ex-medivac crew chief who moved so slow we actually thought he was dead in a vertical position several times. There were many more, but for the sake of brevity I'll stop here. I think from these descriptions you get the general drift of the makeup of F Troop.
The movie "The Great Escape" with Steve McQueen, must have
captured the creative spirits of F Troop because one night we all found
ourselves carrying sandbags full of sand through the company area, pouring
them out as we walked, so we would not have a large pile of sand near
our tents that would give away the F Troop tunnel that we were digging.
We spent a few weeks creating this monster tunnel under one of our 2nd
platoon tent's plywood floor. We had camouflaged the entrance to the
tunnel by nailing a footlocker over the hole we had cut in the plywood
floor. The footlocker had a removable bottom complete with socks and
underwear folded and nailed to the bottom which, on removing the tray
and looking in, gave the appearance of a normal footlocker and would
pass any impromptu inspections. A fan was hooked to a piece of stove
pipe we had borrowed from the mess hall immersion heater, dining tray
cleaning, garbage can things. We used to store unauthorized weapons,
explosives, booze, and other things we were not supposed to have in the
company area, down there. It made a great place to drink because we were
not supposed to have whiskey. I guess enlisted men couldn't handle that,
like the officers could. Well, we were all going full tilt having a party
down there, and our lookout (we always left one guy upstairs in case
someone came looking for us) began to bang his foot on the floor to warn
us of an unexpected guest. We all quieted down and could hear Sergeant
Rogers asking "Where the hell is everybody? I was just told to get
two crews together for a night mission and nobody is around." Well
I said we were all pretty bored initially with our new AO and we all
wanted a chance at this night mission, so we all took off at the same
time trying to climb out of that footlocker. We pushed the lid up and
started yelling to Rogers to assign our respective ships. I still can
remember Rogers' scarlet face peering at the footlocker, his eyes showing
astonishment, his mouth open letting tiny rivulets of slobber drip onto
his starched fatigue shirt, his stuttering first words, "What the,
How in the, How many, and a final Ah Shit," as he dropped his butt
onto the nearest cot gasping for air and understanding, as no less than
14 F Troop EM emerged from a footlocker in one of his tents.
Aftermath: After inspection by 2nd Platoon Leader, Captain Wolf and other amazed officers and sergeants, the footlocker was condemned and ordered closed. Deny Cornibe decided to use the old tunnel for a beer can disposal system and I understand it took almost two months to fill up the huge cavern with empty cans.
Mini-Mini Reunion in Katy, Texas
Back in the early part of last summer, one of our members, John Clapp (WO 64-65) contacted the Association concerning his desire for us to bring our Firebird gunship to Katy, TX (20 miles west of Houston) in October to be a part of the military display during the dedication of their VFW museum. This would also be a good test run to make sure all of our mobility with this relic was in A-one shape in preparation of the mission to Orlando, FL in 1998. A 600 mile trip would let us know if any changes needed to be made with our set-up.
About 10 days prior to the trip, Seabolt contacted all of our men in the Houston area about this event and made sure they were welcome to attend. We arrived in Katy on October 15th and held an impromptu mini-reunion that consisted of: Jim Baragona (EM 67-69), Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68), John Clapp (WO 64-65), Jack Horn (OF 66-67), Greg Jackson (EM 67-68), Everett Jeffcoat (EM 67-68), Ron Seabolt (EM 66-67), and Jay Wilhelm (WO 66-67).
The services were held on the morning of October 16th. Our display of the helicopter and many other Vietnam era related items was very warmly received by the large crowd that attended. Former President George Bush was the featured speaker at this dedication. The secret service men were relieved to note that the mini-guns and rocket pods were not pointed at the dias! The members of this VFW expressed sincere appreciation of our attendance and really made us feel welcome. There were also no problems in moving the aircraft on this trip.
The following column appeared in the August 13, 1996 Dallas Morning News.
Vet Decides To Accept His Due Honors
By Bob St. John
There was devastating enemy fire as Johnnie Hitt brought the helicopter down and soldiers disembarked on a hill over a North Vietnamese entrenchment, some 50 miles west of Chu Lai. Two soldiers were killed and Johnnie and other crewmen were wounded. Later it would be determined that the copter, which would never be fit to fly again, had been hit 45 times.
Bullets wounded Johnnie's arm and shattered the windshield, sending glass into his face. But somehow, some way he managed to get the helicopter back into the air and land it at a nearby resupply station.
After seeing a medic, he got another helicopter and continued flying missions the rest of the day. He earned the Purple Heart that day - Sept. 22, 1969. It would be almost 27 years before he claimed it.
The other day Johnnie and his wife, Ila, were at the Garland home of his mother, Gladys. Colonel Johnnie Hitt retired earlier this month after 30 years in the military, and he and Ila were in the process of beginning the rest of their lives.
Johnnie, 50, is a personable, somewhat modest man. And he was saying it was easy to remember the date he earned the Purple Heart because it happened on his wedding anniversary. He and Ila had been married Sept. 22, 1967. So why had he waited so long to collect it?
"Soldiers were killed that day, and a lot more were much more seriously wounded than I was," he explained. "I just didn't think it was right at that time to receive the medal in the face of their sacrifices. I wouldn't feel right wearing it on my uniform.
So he held back the paperwork for these many years and finally was awarded the medal Aug. 2, the day he also retired, during ceremonies at Fort Sam Houston. "I'm a civilian now and won't have a uniform to wear it on," he said, smiling.
Johnnie and Ila, who have a grown son, Dustin, were raised in Wills Point (TX) and hope to find employment and settle permanently in the Dallas area. He can draw on a very distinguished military career - a third of it spent in positions of command - and on his expertise in marketing, management and production.
"We loved the military," said Johnnie, who served in seven countries. "We got to see a lot of the world, and it was a good life. I'd probably still be in the military if they hadn't run me off after 30 years. But now I'm ready for another challenge. I don't think I'd last six months without one."
When Johnnie was dating Ila in high school, he never dreamed he'd have a military career. When his draft notice arrived in the summer of 1966, Johnnie was working and going to East Texas State University. But he went ahead and enlisted right away, wanting to join on his own terms.
He took tests, qualified as a typist but quickly impressed his first sergeant, who suggested he go to Officer Candidate School. Another of his superiors later talked him into signing up for flight school. Johnnie was on his way, not only serving in Vietnam but also during Desert Storm.
He obviously picked the right career. He was the aviation brigade commander who directed a helicopter rescue mission to get an American statesman out of Beirut, Lebanon. His group's part was kept quiet, but he was awarded the Legion of Merit for "exceptional meritorious service, including command of an aviation brigade." And he's in the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, GA.
During Johnnie's Purple Heart ceremony, Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Kinzer, commanding general of the Fifth Army, pointed out that not only had Johnnie led soldiers in war and peace but also once was in charge of recruiters in 11 states. "Wherever our command group goes in the Fifth Army you hear, from Army National Guard and Army Reserve commanders alike, just how much Col. Johnnie Hitt has done for them and their soldiers," Lt. Gen. Kinzer said.
So now the military is behind him and he's venturing into a new life, a new career. But I seriously doubt we've heard the last of Johnnie Hitt.
Seabolt note: The above described action occurred about 27 years ago shortly after Hitt arrived at the 71st. At the time, he was the 1st platoon leader, Rattler 16. Johnnie Hitt has plans to write a book about his tour with the 71st AHC and could use some help identifying some of the men who were involved with this mission. He knows that Eric Kilmer (WO 69-70) was the Aircraft Commander with him, Rich Davenport (EM 69-70) was the Crew Chief and he suspects SP/4 David Harris was the Gunner. We do not have David Harris located as yet. Also, Tom Desert (WO 69) was his left wing man, but who was the "red haired" right wingman? Johnnie can be reached at 214-349-4262.
The same day that Johnny Hitt was wounded, our company lost two men KIA, WO Barry Alexander and SP/5 Johnnie Lee Williams. The rest of the crew of this ship was Tom Gates (OF 69) and Tom Brown (EM 69). Tom Brown received a Silver Star for his actions taken saving the seriously wounded Tom Gates. Due to the media exposure received by Tom Gates because of his winning a chance at the Gillette, shoot a three point shot for a million dollars at the final four last spring, Tom was contacted by Barry Alexander's mother. They had a very rewarding visit whereby Mrs. Alexander was able to learn much more about what occurred that day than the Army had told her. If you have anything that might be of interest to Mrs. Alexander concerning her son, she would love to hear from you. This does not have to be about his death, rather about his life with us. An old photograph could mean the world to this family. The address is: Mrs. Evelyn Alexander, 208 7th Ave. North, North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582. Phone # 803-249-5723 or 864-225-5396 (her sister's number).
The Story of an American Hero
William D. Port
Reprinted with the authors permission from the book, "Vietnam Medal of Honor Heros" by Edward F. Murphy.
A divorce sent William D. Port of Petersburg, PA to Vietnam. The draft wouldn't touch you if you were married and had children. As it was, Port's ex-wife got their two children and the Army got Bill Port. He was inducted in March 1967, six months short of his twenty-sixth birthday.
Following basic training at Fort Benning, GA, Port went to Vietnam and Company C, 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division. On January 12, 1968, Port's company battled superior enemy forces in the Que Son Valley of Quang Tin Province. His platoon gave ground under heavy fire. Although wounded in the hand during this movement, Port still helped a more seriously wounded soldier to safety. Later, huddled together with three other casualties, Port saved their lives by covering an enemy grenade with his own body, sustaining severe injuries in the head, chest, arms, and legs.
For two-and-one-half hours the platoon medic worked on Port, but then the VC forced the platoon to retreat. Port, whom the medic reported as dead, was left behind. When the platoon retook the area his body could not be found. The Army carried him as missing in action for four months before changing his status to presumed dead.
But Port was not dead. Grievously wounded but still alive, Port had been taken prisoner by the VC. They treated him at their field hospital for a month before releasing him to a POW camp deep in the jungle.
Never fully recovered from his shattering wounds, Port languished in the primitive camp for ten months before he died on November 27, 1968. In December 1969 the Army listed Port as dead and notified his family for the first time that he had been held prisoner. Not until the POWs came home in 1973 were full details of port's death and burial in the jungle reported to the family.
In the meantime, Port's posthumous Medal of Honor was approved and presented to his son and daughter by President Nixon on August 6, 1970.
As the years passed the family gave up hope that Port's remains would be found. Then, in August 1985, a team of American investigators, working with a more liberal Vietnamese government, was led to a common gravesite holding the remains of nine American POWs. In October of that year Port's remains were positively identified as one of the nine.
Following funeral services in his hometown, William D. Port was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He was the last Medal of Honor hero to come home from Vietnam.
The following narrative was submitted by Jim Pfister, a Firebird gunner, who was in the same POW camp as Bill Port:
Around the first part of 1968, the word was going around camp that they had captured another soldier and were bringing him in. That soldier was Bill Port.
When he entered camp, we couldn't understand how he was able to walk in on his own two feet. He had thrown himself on a hand grenade to save his fellow soldiers.
This act of heroism left him partially blind, his arms and hands were crippled by the shrapnel, his toes were crippled, and he suffered powder burns on his face.
Despite his condition, the VC in their inhumane ways, walked this fine soldier to what ended up being his final resting place; final until we could take him home.
Port was a model soldier. As sick as he was, he resisted the enemy. He was truly a hero.
Bill was a mellow kind of guy. Despite what he had been through, he was not bitter. We tried to get him to eat and exercise but it was not possible because of his injuries. I think he knew he was never going home.
The hardest part was watching Bill suffer. There were no medicines or treatments to ease his sufferings. Only idle talk of people, places, and things from home and time gone by.
When Bill died, as with all the other POWs who died in our camps, we bathed him, put clean clothes on him, and built a bamboo coffin and gave him the best kind of soldier's burial we could under the circumstances. The only thought left to us then was to promise to ourselves to see that these soldiers were eventually brought home.
Seabolt note: Jim Pfister was honored recently by being named "Disabled Veterans Specialist for 1995 of Indiana".
Item received from Dave Shaw, 2nd PLT Crew Chief, '67-'68
All of us have our favorite foods, right? Well, I remember a couple of Bob Laird's (WO 67-68) in 1967. First off a crew chief not only keeps the helicopter running, he keeps the pilot running too! When it came to c-rations, Mr. Laird had first call on the "peaches and poundcake". After carefully folding his flight gloves, Laird would slowly pour the juice from the peaches over the open can of pound cake, never spilling a drop. It was time to dine out, right?
The other vital source of nutrition that kept him flying was a truly southern dish known as green peanuts. One day in 1967 we're "flying the friendly skies" out of Chu Lai when Mr. Laird spotted a patch of peanuts growing near a hedge row in the boonies. In his always calm voice, he informed me and "Doc" Marley (EM 67-68) that I was to jump out and gather up some of those "goobers". He made a quick pass over the crop in question and expertly brought our craft to low hover. I bailed out the left door and ran towards the bushes he'd pointed out. About half way there, it came to my attention that I was now a 67 Bravo not a 67N20.
What the hell was I doing pounding the ground? I'm a crew chief. I volunteered so I would not have to bust brush, right? Well I made it to the plantation and harvested a couple of bushes of peanuts, made the return trip in record time, vowing to never be a farmer again! About 21 years later, while attending training in Clyco, GA, I bought a bag of steamed peanuts. After eating a few and remembering that mission so many years ago, I'd just like to say, "Mr. Laird, What is so damn good about green peanuts?"
The following story is from the manuscript of Chuck Gross' book, Rattler 17. Chuck, an American Airlines Captain, was a warrant officer with us in '70-'71. If you have any photos that would fit with this time frame, Chuck would love to make copies of them for possible use in his book. You can reach Chuck at: 1020 St. Baise Tr., Gallatin, TN 37066, Phone - 615-230-9655.
"Lam Son 719"
Story removed at the request of the author.
Memories of a totally unselfish act of which I was the only witness happened around March of 1968. I had the honor of trying to train a new gunner who had no experience (no fault of his own). My memory of this event starts at Hill 35 heading into the Que Son Valley and then on a more northerly heading into the hills north of the valley. I don't remember the nature of our mission. There were ridges parallel to us on the right side of the aircraft. About this time a 50 caliber cut loose at us and he had plenty of ammo. I was yelling for this new gunner to shoot and he yells back, "Where, where?" Then the pilots yell too! This poor guy had no idea what the hell we were yelling about. Suddenly there was this big BOOM behind me. When we finally cleared the area of fire, we smelled electrical and Latimer asked me, "How bad are we?" Looking back I saw the invertor door was partially open with a basketball sized hole in it where the invertor was blasted through the door. The armor piercing incinerator round came through the right side until it met the invertor on the left side. I told Latimer a 175mm hole was in the electrical compartment door.
Will took us back to Chu Lai and upon landing I told the pilots I was going to find an experienced gunner. I jumped into the truck and drove like hell to the company area! Arriving in a cloud of dust, I was confronted by 1Sgt. Hillhouse, (seems he was upset by the dust). Ignoring the Ass, I ran through the company area looking for a gunner. To say the least I was in the KILL MODE. Roger Hall (EM 67-68) saw me running around and being concerned he stopped me and his words were, "Foley what is wrong with you?" I told him I had to find a gunner and described briefly the situation. He said, "I would go but, I've turned in all my equipment and I'm going home tomorrow." As I turned away to continue searching I said, "I have the new gunner's gear." His response with no hesitation was, "Let's go!" I turned and looked him in the eye and I knew he was with me, no question about it!
I cannot put into words the action we met that day and night. I can tell you we were barraged by 50 caliber, and AK 47 fire everywhere. One RPG zipped by the left windshield and the Peter-Pilot who had never had that experience said, "What in hell was that?" Another RPG round even nicked Roger as it went by. Roger coordinated with me perfectly, and hammered the enemy as they were trying to nail us. It was just one of those things that worked out in our favor. We let one guy shoot us up with an M-16. We passed right over him in the darkness at maybe 20 feet. I recognized the flash suppressor clearly visible as he let go a full clip. I jerked the M-60 around and I had him easy and any of his buddies near him. Then I thought it might be one of the downed crew members we were searching for, trying to signal us, so I held my fire. "Damn!" To this day, I kick myself because I let that bastard shoot up the tail boom.
Going with us was just one of those things that Roger Hall just naturally did without hesitation that tipped the survival scales in our favor. I knew it back then and I haven't forgotten the feeling I had that morning when we dropped Roger off at Chu Lai, that he was, without a doubt, responsible for our survival.
Twenty-eight years had passed when Roger called me recently. I couldn't even remember his name, but it didn't take long for me to realize that this is "the man who was home free," had cleared post, and without hesitation risked it all because a buddy needed a gunner! Among us this man is Firebird Roger Hall!
Seabolt note: When Roger Hall arrived at Cam Rahn Bay to go home, he almost couldn't walk because of the injury he had received during the mission described above. He went to the medics who gave him one crutch, then flew to the states. His knee has cartilage damage from this incident that still bothers him today.
The following was sent to the Association by Norman Anderson (EM 67-68)
Murphy's Military Laws
1. Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you are.
2. No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.
3. Friendly fire ain't.
4. The most dangerous thing in the combat zone is an officer with a map. (or a new peter pilot)
5. The problem with taking the easy way out is that the enemy has already mined it.
6. The buddy system is essential to your survival; it gives the enemy somebody else to shoot at.
7. The further you are in advance of your own positions, the more likely your artillery will shoot short.
8. Incoming fire has the right of way.
9. If your advance is going well, you are walking into an ambush.
10. The quartermaster has only two sizes, too large and too small.
11. If you really need an officer in a hurry, take a nap.
12. The only time suppressive fire works is when it is used on abandoned positions.
13. The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.
14. There is nothing more satisfying than having someone take a shot at you, and miss.
15. Don't be conspicuous. In the combat zone, it draws fire. Out of the combat zone, it draws sergeants.
16. If your sergeant can see you, so can the enemy.
The following is the original text of an accident report by an employee of the U.S. Government in Vietnam: "When I arrived at MACV I, building T-1640 to fix it, I found that the rain had dislodged a large number of tiles from the roof. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of tile. After I fixed the building, there was a lot of tile left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom. Then I went up and filled the barrel with the extra tile. Then I went down to the bottom and cast off the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of tile was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on, and half-way up I met the barrel coming down. I received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom allowing all the tile to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed. Half-way down I met the barrel coming up and received severe injuries by my chin. When I hit the ground, I landed on the tile and got several painful cuts from the sharp edges of the tile. At this point, I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go of the line. The barrel then came down, giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in the hospital. I respectfully request sick leave."