ODDS and ENDS
This newsletter is late again, but on purpose this time. We needed to get the 2008 Reunion info included and it was in January before the hotel contract was finalized.
If you now have an email address, or your email address has changed, please notify the Association by email to Ron Seabolt at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone wishing to know their dues status should look at the mailing label of this newsletter, to the right of your name. If it is blank it means you are completely out of date, not just a year behind. NO BACK DUES are necessary. Just rejoin by remitting your $12 per year dues or you might wish to purchase a life membership. We currently have over 270 fully paid life members. Life memberships are based on your age. Some of this scale will soon no longer apply to our vets because it has been between 35 to 41 years since you were with our unit. Therefore there should be no Rattlers and Firebirds under 50 years old now. The scale is as follows: Age 50 and below - $200. Age 51 – 55 - $175. Age 56 – 60 - $150. Age 61 – 65 - $125. Age 66 and up - $100.
A note was received on our web site from a relative of one of our KIAs. Tammy Gordon, the niece of SP/5 Donald “Freddie” Cornell (KIA 23 Nov 68), would like to talk with men who knew or served with her uncle. Tammy can be reached at: email@example.com or P.O. Box 1279, Ellsworth, ME 04605. If you are so inclined, this would be a nice gesture to reach out to someone.
Our “feature” story in this newsletter is a rerun of sorts if you attended our San Antonio Reunion. Because of the efforts of Michael Chauncey (EM 67-69), a DVD was made of the Joe Galloway speech. This speech has been transcribed and used with Joe’s permission in this newsletter. Thank you for preserving this piece of Association history Mike!
This speech is being printed for two solid reasons. One, because of the noise factor encountered during our banquet and two, because everyone in our Association deserves to read the praise of such a noted war correspondent. Paper can only reproduce so much though. The emotion of Joe’s speech was deeply moving with tears flowing at the close. The grammar is not to be criticized because it was a message from his heart and is transcribed verbatim. This will be a tough act to follow!
Concern has been expressed about the possible use of “assigned seating” at the next reunion banquet. Some were thinking it would be a totally random arrangement. This IS NOT how it would work. There would be a seating chart showing tables with spots for 10 names at that table. This chart would be filled in with the persons of your choice. By Saturday afternoon the empty chairs would be filled with unassigned attendees. These unassigned persons would have a very good opportunity of setting with people they are acquainted with, rather than opening the doors and 20 people grab 20 tables and say they “own” that table
The “TAPS” section is pretty loaded this time, including a former company commander.
We still have a limited number of copies of our book, “Rattlers and Firebirds”, and the special purchase offer is still in effect. Buy 10 books for $150 and receive 11 books with free postage and handling.
Finally, please urge your representatives in Washington, D.C. to fully fund and support the Veterans Affairs.
2008 REUNION PLANS
Our Association is now about eighteen months from our next reunion. We are going west this time to the Renaissance Denver Hotel located at 3801 Quebec St. This hotel is just south of I-70 at exit 278, on the eastern side of Denver. Please view the hotel at: www.renaissancedenver.com . Our dates are June 25-29, 2008. The room rate is $89 per night plus taxes. This price includes their buffet breakfast for two each morning. Reservations cannot be made until we get to within one year of the reunion date. Because of this, no reservation information is in this newsletter. Look for this in your next newsletter.
We have “only” 455 room nights blocked for this reunion as opposed to 505 at San Antonio. Our room block was surpassed at San Antonio. For this reason, and to HELP OUR ASSOCIATION, please make your reservations this summer. When the room block is used up any reservation will be made on a space available basis. IMPORTANT: All reservations must be made at least 30 days prior to the reunion to receive the group rate.
Please go on our web site at www.rattler-firebird.org to view the new VA disability rates that went into effect on 1-1-07.
Vietnam veterans have a national tool-free helpline to answer their questions about Agent Orange exposure, health care and benefits. The number is 1-800-749-8387. If you have not been to a VA facility for an Agent Orange screening you should do this for a couple of reasons. It will “get you in the system” if you have never been to a VA facility. There is also the possibility that this screening (physical) may detect an illness in an early stage whereby your life might be saved.
You can also access Agent Orange information online at: www.va.gov/agentorange .
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has provided the following internet website for veterans to submit a request for a copy of their DD-214. This site is at: http://vetrecs.archives.gov
VFW SUPPORTS VETERAN’S SUPREME COURT CASE
WASHINGTON (December 20, 2006) – The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. filed an Amicus, or Friend of the Court brief this afternoon in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of veteran Ellis C. Smith, who is seeking to overturn a lower court decision that allowed the Department of Veterans Affairs to rate tinnitus as a single disability, regardless of whether it affects one or both ears.
“Military service is inherently noisy, especially during wartime, and most especially when roadside bombs are the predominant threat to our troops overseas,” said VFW Commander-in-Chief Gary Kurpius, a Vietnam veteran from Anchorage, Alaska.
“The VFW intervened in this court case to protect the rights of all veterans who were denied similar claims," he said. “It’s an active advocacy role that places the VFW at the forefront of other veterans' organizations, and one that more than 700 VFW-accredited service officers perform daily on behalf of our country’s 24 million veterans, 2.2 million service members, and their families.”
This is believed to be the fourth time in its 107-year history that the VFW has become involved in a case before the nation's highest court.
Smith, an Army veteran, suffers from service-connected tinnitus in both ears. The VA approved his initial claim but as a single disability. Currently, a single tinnitus disability rating is 10 percent, which is compensated at $112 per month. A dual tinnitus disability rating is 20 percent, or $218 per month. Smith appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and won his case on April 5, 2005, on the grounds that the VA’s disability rating schedule did not expressly preclude a separate disability rating for tinnitus in each ear.
The VA appealed this ruling to the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and won its case on June 19, 2006. The Federal Court agreed that the VA’s regulations were ambiguous, but ruled that the VA was entitled to interpret its own regulations.
Prior to that decision, the VA had withheld more than 4,000 VFW-assisted tinnitus claims. Once Smith’s favorable decision was overturned, the VA activated those cases and summarily denied them.
VFW service officers are now helping those affected veterans preserve their appeals, either within the VA or at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. To date, more than 800 have already appealed their denials to the veteran’s court.
Regardless of how the high court rules, the VA has changed the rating schedule so that all new tinnitus claims will be adjudicated as a single — not dual — disability.
“Making a unilateral decision that changes the rules on how you care for the wounded and disabled in the middle of a war is not the issue before the Supreme Court today,” added Kurpius, “but it will definitely be an issue the VFW will take up with the VA when the new 110th Congress convenes in January.”
NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
Soldiers Missing In Action From Vietnam War are Identified.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of three U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
They are Capt. Herbert C. Crosby, of Donalsonville, Ga.; Sgt. 1st Class Wayne C. Allen, of Tewksbury, Mass.; and Sgt. 1st Class Francis G. Graziosi, of Rochester, N.Y.; all U.S. Army. Burial dates and locations are being set by their families.
Representatives from the Army met with the next-of-kin of these men to explain the recovery and identification process, and to coordinate interment with military honors on behalf of the Secretary of the Army.
On Jan. 10, 1970, these men were returning to their base at Chu Lai, South Vietnam aboard a UH-1C Huey helicopter. Due to bad weather, their helicopter went down over Quang Nam Province. A search was initiated for the crew, but no sign of the helicopter or crew was spotted.
In 1989, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) gave to U.S. specialists 25 boxes containing the remains of the U.S. servicemen related to this incident. Later that year, additional remains and Crosby's identification tag were obtained from a Vietnamese refugee.
Between 1993 and 1999, joint U.S./S.R.V. teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted three investigations in Ho Chi Minh City and two investigations in Quang Nam-Da Nang Province (formerly Quang Nam Province).A Vietnamese informant in Ho Chi Minh City told the team he knew where the remains of as many as nine American servicemen were buried. He agreed to lead the team to the burial site. In 1994, the team excavated the site and recovered a metal box and several bags containing human remains, including those of these three soldiers.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.
LETTER RECEIVED CONCERNING THE ITEM ABOVE
December 31, 2006
Dear Rattlers and Firebirds,
I’m the younger sister of Capt. Herbert (Herby) Crosby. I’ve been reading and enjoying your website for days now. I was contacted by Ron Seabolt recently and was so elated by the wealth of information he gave me. I have since been referring the website to everyone I talk with from media to friends and family. It’s truly a great site, with huge significance to me and our family.
Ron put me in touch with a couple people who knew and/or flew with Herby while in Vietnam. I had a wonderful conversation with Col. Broome (Whiz) recently and was so happy to talk with someone who knew Herby then. Col. Broome agreed to officiate the services at Arlington National Cemetery in May for us. We feel so honored to have him do this…means so much to us and I know Herby would have wanted him also. Thank you Whiz.
The specific date has not been set yet, and we may not get official word until March 2007. We have requested Friday, May 25th, then, if that’s not available, Friday, May 18th, and third choice May 11th. As soon as I receive word of the date and verify times I’ll notify Ron Seabolt in order to spread the news. Our family will be very honored to have any and all of you attend. It is so very touching to know that you all care. What a family of friends you are! We have family and friends who are also coming which will be a great tribute to Herby and I’m sure they will also be delighted to me with you.
We chose May for a couple reasons. Herby was born on traditional Memorial Day (May 30, 1947) and when a young boy always thought that the flags and parades were for him on his birthday. My father died on observed Memorial Day in 1991 (May 27th). Our family has always been patriotic, with having my father a World War II vet, and with Herby an Army pilot. We’d like to honor him as close to Memorial Day as possible. Our mother is 88 so traveling in the warmer months would be better for her also. She lives with me and my husband in Titusville.
We never gave up hope, and you didn’t either. We also will never give up hope for the remaining families awaiting word about their loved one.
We have been contacted by people who wore one of the POW/MIA bracelets with his name on it who want to return it to us. There are so many out-reach things going on which is wonderful.
We’re in the process of starting a scholarship fund (The Capt. Herbert C. Crosby Scholarship) at Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University in Daytona Beach, Florida, in his honor. I meet with the scholarship committee next week to set criteria, etc. Will let you all know more about this later.
I am so looking forward to meeting any and all of you who attend at Arlington, or to talk with you on the phone. You are welcome to contact me at (321) 268-5268 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our family has been truly blessed and we would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year. We thank you for your support, your service to our country and our freedom. You are all honored and respected by us. God Bless!
Mary Lou Wade - 3680 Oakhill Drive -Titusville, FL 32780
The Association has been informed of the deaths of the following men since our last newsletter:
- Luis P. Hernandez (EM 70-71) died December 5, 2002 from a stroke.
- Charles R. Grant (OF 65-66) died May 4, 2006 of heart failure.
- Melvin Gray (EM 64-65) died on May 24, 2006 of cancer.
- C.C. Andrews (EM 67-68) died on June 27, 2006 of cancer
- Ronnie King (EM 70-71) died July 17, 2006 from cancer.
- Rick Spradlin (EM 71) died September 10, 2006. Rick was a quadriplegic as the result of an automobile accident. An angel of mercy, Bethany Nugent, took Rick into her home and cared for him over six years.
- Joe K. Bell, another company commander in 1967-68, died October 4, 2006 from Parkinson’s disease.
Joe K. Bell
Printed below are some thoughts about Joe Bell from some of our men. Some were used at Joe’s Memorial Service. Some letters were slightly altered for space purposes only.
Dear Mrs. Bell and Family,
I was very saddened to hear of the passing of a fellow rattler and former Rattler 6. I served as Rattler 3 (the Operations Officer) during Joe's tenure as Commander. Joe served very capably as our leader during an extremely trying period for the Rattlers. As the Company Operations Officer, I worked very closely with him and always felt that he was acting in the best interest of the men of the 71st. During his tenure, he accomplished a great deal to improve the daily living conditions of our people, particularly in providing facilities for and insisting that our flight crews received hot nourishing meals before and after each day's flights, regardless of the hour. Previously, this had not been the case. Though it may seem like a small thing, given the circumstances at the time, it was extremely difficult to achieve and was very much appreciated by those ofus who benefited from it.
I will also never forget Joe's response to our company tragedy which occurred on the night of 5 January 1968. Late that night, one of our Firebird aircraft (a gunship) was shot down while supporting an infantry company under siege by the enemy. Upon hearing of the disaster, Joe immediately flew to the area to take personal command of massive efforts to rescue the four missing crew members. In spite of very heroic efforts by all involved, theattempts were not successful and three of those crewmembers endured over 5 years as POWS. From subsequent discussions with Joe,I know that he suffered a great deal of mental anguish over the plight ofthose fellow rattlers. I think the entire company really appreciated and respected his efforts on that night.
Again, my deepest condolences on your loss. May God bless you and comfort you.
Signed Harold L. Bowen– Rattler 16 & 3, 1967-68
I think that given the circumstances he had to deal with he did as well as can be expected.
I do remember a few things that showed him to be much better than his reputation. I still can hear the agony in his voice when he ordered us to leave fire base Goblin on the morning of the6th of Jan., 1968. He understood the disaster that had just struck the Firebirds and Rattlers on the night of the5th. Back in Chu Lai he took the time to thank us personallyfor our efforts on the night of the 5th and the morning of the 6th.
On Christmas Eve1967 we returned from flying to enforce the "cease fire" after midnightto find that the mess hall had taken down the Christmas dinner. They were supposed to hold it open all night. They did save us some nut cups. We did protest rather loudly with the appropriate language.He showed up to see what wastaking place. He ordered the meal to be prepared again and held open all night andthroughout the next day.
He also applauded us when we dumped Sgt. Hillhouse head first into a trash can filled with water, ice and beer at the Firebird flight line. Healso would not let Hillhouse retaliate after he resurfaced. He also looked the other way when we ignited rocket motors to make our own fire works show.
Signed Jaak Sepp / Firebird EM '67-'68
It's very sad to hear this kind ofnews about any of our comrades. I think that Joe K. would approve of my sharing this with you all, but I certainly won't share it with his family.This is one of those stories that Chuck and Radar didn't have for their books.
I kind of remember the night that ---- me,Gary McCall, Chuck Carlock (I think)and others (whose names I should not mention since they achieved military ranksof distinction) had to stand at attention in the company street while our CO, Major Bell, lectured us on our behavior. Behavior that was so despicable and vial that which social decorumdictates I not reveal details.
As I recall, here's what happened:
A distinguished group of Firebirds were returning to the company area from the MAG 12/13 (Marine) officers club late one night minding our own business. We had been asked to leavejust because we took certainliberties with the Koreangirls in their USO band. The Marines were so grateful that we attended the show that theygave us a case of champagne to enjoy on our trip back to the company.As we were driving down a lonely stretch of perimeter road-- I believe there were only seven of us in the jeep --another jeep approached us with its bright lights on. Imagine that! Driving with bright lights in a combat zone! We flashed our Brights at him tono avail. As the jeep passed us, in unison,we alldropped the "F bomb" just to let them know how we felt about being blinded by their inconsideration. The "them" turned out to be Joe K and the XO. I think this happened before Joe shot and killed Dammit the monkey for rearranging his hooch.
Thanks to Major Joe K.Bell for that memory. It was serious at the time, but has been the subject of many laughs since. May he rest in peace.
Signed Ken Wiegand - Firebird 95 (sometime in 1967 to February 9, 1968)
I served in Vietnam from October, 1966 to October 1967. I was trained as a Huey mechanic and volunteered to be a crew chief. I started flying in late November 1966.
When I got to Vietnam we were stationed at Bien Hoa but the entire company moved to Chu Lai in April '67.
Our mess hall food was just terrible with an alcoholic Mess Sergeant who did not care whether we ate or not. As often as not, we would just eat c-rations to keep from eating this guy's slop.
In August, 1967, we got a new CO, Major Joe K. Bell. After one meal in our mess hall, Major Bell called outthe Mess Sergeant and told him if he served that slop again the next day, he would be an E-6 (the guy was an E-7, Sergeant First Class). If he served it again, he would be an E-5. He told him he would take him down to a Private if he had to.
Overnight, our mess hall became a pretty good place to eat, thanks to Joe Bell.
I had very little contact with Joe but I always remembered him improving our food. In 1995 when I located Joe in Florida, I asked him if that story was true and he confirmed it as being exactly right.
SignedRon Seabolt - SP/5 1966-67
In our last newsletter, credit was erroneously given to Tony Jones for some t-shirts donated for resale. Our attention was brought to this matter by a note from Tony. The shirts were donated by Ron Taylor. When an apology was given to Ron, he did not even want a correction printed because he wanted no credit at all. Our men never cease to amaze us by their generosity!
CAPTAIN PAUL ROGER LUKINS – KIA 13 MAY 1969
CPT Paul Roger Lukins
KIA 13 MAY 1969
I want to set the record completely straight about Captain Lukins. You see, I was 3 feet from Captain Lukens when he was shot. It was during one of the biggest battles in Vietnam and Captain Lukins was a big part of why I am still here and able to write this. I am actually going to start a movement to get Captain Lukins a Silver Star for his heroism that fateful day. Here is the story:
On May 13th, 1969 in Quang Tin Province, Alpha Company, 1st of the 46th was trapped by a Battalion of NVA. We had been fighting all day long and were taking casualties every fifteen minutes. It was close to sundown and we were surrounded and engaged with 200-300 NVA. They were moving in on us for the kill. We were all fighting for our lives and we were running out of ammo fast. I radioed Battalion and told them to get more ammo out to us ASAP. Battalion had anticipated us running out and had the re-supply chopper loaded and running on the chopper pad of LZ Professional. Captain Lukins ran his chopper out to us immediately after my call. He was coming in while we were heavily engaged with enemy as close as 50 meters to us. Capt Lukins called me and told me he was inbound. I told him he would have to drop the ammo on our position because the LZ was way too hot. He countered by asking me how many wounded we had. I told him "a lot" and re-iterated that the LZ was closed. He ignored me and came straight in and flared for a landing. I told him to break off the landing and get up to 500 feet and drop the ammo. He responded with; "Get your wounded ready for evacuation." I ran over to the LZ and stood in the middle of it and told him he was forbidden to land. He landed right on top of me. I ran to his window with my radio in hand and yelled at him to get the bird out of there. By this time the NVA were hammering his Rattler with bullets. There were so many bullets hitting the chopper at this time, that little pieces of chopper cut my face and hands, but I kept ordering him to take off. That is when he got hit in the face with a bullet. I pulled him out and put him in the back so his co-pilot could take off. He did and got the chopper back to L Professional.
Captain Lukins risked his own life to get the wounded out and to the hospital, which he did. He not only saved the lives of those seven wounded, but he saved the rest of our lives by giving us the precious ammo we needed to fend off the NVA, which we did.
Captain Lukins saved 65 lives that day: The seven wounded he got out went on to the States where they lived the rest of their natural lives. They owe Capt Lukins their lives. The other 58 of us had enough ammo to continue to fight. Mr. Lukens is a true hero and deserves a medal for his sacrifice.
This is true and an accurate summary of how Captain Lukins was killed in Vietnam.
Spec 4th Class, RTO, Alpha Company, 1st of 46th Infantry
(Editor’s note: Tom Martiniano is attempting to get a Silver Star for Captain Lukins posthumously and would very much like to know who ANY of the other crew members were that day. Can you help?)
COINCIDENCE OR FATE?
(Editor’s note: The following correspondence was mailed to Angleton, Texas to the parents of one of our men, Charles Michael Cotton who was killed in action on 19 June 1968)
Dear Dorothy and Gary,
You don’t know me, I’m sure, but I’m a pharmacist and I worked for John Fuchs at the City Drug from January, 1961, until September, 1965. I met Mike when he came to work for John that first year and quickly grew very fond of him. He was an outstanding young man and he always wore that unforgettable smile. Mike and I just hit it off right from the beginning. As our fondness for each other grew he began, more and more, to follow me around and ask if there was anything he could help me with. I don’t know how I missed meeting you two during this time. Mike had a great way with people. Kids too, like my two boys, Jamie, 7 and Ray, 4. my wife, Barbara, sometimes helped him behind the soda fountain when there was a rush. We took him out to supper with us a couple of times and he had supper with us at our home two or three times. My boys thought he was great, not only because their Dad said so, but because Mike would get right down on the floor and play games or roughhouse with them. They loved it when he was there because he would turn around and become their age. They both looked up to him.
I was living in San Marcos in 1968, running Miller Drug, when I heard from John Fuchs that Mike had been killed in Viet Nam. I was nearly overcome with grief. It really hit me hard. All of us, Barbara and the boys, mourned with you and for you and our hearts and prayers were with you even though we were not. I knew what you must have been going through with such a terrible loss. Years later when the Viet Nam Memorial was built in D.C. we talked about going to visit the Wall but were never made it. We were still paying off college loans.
Barbara and I have been divorced since 1971. I lived alone for quite a while then married the absolute Love of my life, my soul mate, Judy, on January 1, 2002. We had 3 years and 9 months and 22 days of the most happiness I’d ever known before she died very suddenly of a heart attack 12 days after her 61st birthday, last September 22, 2005. I mention this because we were watching the History Channel one cold, rainy night around Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and it was actual camera footage of the Viet Nam war, some shot by news correspondents and some by the military. During a commercial Judy told me she’d visited the Wall in 1996 and she said it was one of the most moving experiences she’d ever had. That triggered my memory and I thought of Mike. We turned off the TV and she went on to tell me how touched she was as she watched the friends and relatives, some on crutches, some in wheelchairs, young and old, people from all walks of life, who came bringing gifts and personal things of all descriptions…besides flowers, they brought pictures, teddy bears, a favorite cup, a coffee cup, pipes, some kind of significant personal items to leave there. We sat there in front of the fireplace, the only light coming from the dying embers, both of us with tears rolling down our cheeks. It was one of those very rare times in your life when you know you’re completely in tune with the person you’re with and you just know, almost like mental telepathy, you’re feeling exactly the same feelings to the same depth. We were sitting on the sofa and she pulled me over with my head in her lap and said, “Honey, I want you to tell me all about Mike. The whole story from the beginning.” And I did! Haltingly and through many tearful pauses I told her about this boy who had come to work for John while I was going to pharmacy school and how I’d become so fond of him. I told her he was the kind of young man I hoped both my sons would become as they grew older. I told her I knew as we became closer friends that Mike and I would most probably be lifetime friends in spite of the difference in our ages. I rambled tearfully on and on and even managed to think of a couple of humorous things that happened like the night Mr. Shipp accidentally kicked and broke a full gallon of Donnatal Elixir and it went all over the floor in the pharmacy area. Donnatal has the same sugary consistency as syrup. Mike and I and old Walter, John’s clean-up, con artist janitor with the one upper tooth in the front of his mouth, whom everyone loved, took turns mopping the floor daily for about a month. Well, Mike and I did. Walter was notoriously successful at being able to ease around, look pitiful, and manipulate someone else into doing the job at hand while he stood and supervised. However, as hard as we tried we never got all the sticky stuff to come up and for 6 months it was like walking on fly paper. Our feet would stick to the floor and squeak when we walked. It just had to wear down by itself. Judy laughed and laughed over that and even got me to laugh a little but then I told her how deeply the news of Mike’s death had affected me. We talked until daylight. I was exhausted from the experience but for the first time I could feel some closure. She was such a great listener, compassionate, caring, and loving. Judy had worked for American Airlines and had a lifetime pass to fly stand-by anywhere American flew so she said we could go to the Wall whenever I wanted to. We planned to go this year in September when the leaves began to change for fall.
This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the Dignity Corporation that owns and manages the cemetery where Judy is Buried had the three-quarter-size Memorial that is hauled all over the country in its own special 18 wheeler brought in and displayed for those who haven’t been or were not able to go to D.C. It was here in 1999 but I was in the hospital and didn’t get to see it then. Dignity went to great expense and work to make the display a great success. I went Saturday and I knew it would be, as Judy had said, a very moving experience. I looked in the memorial book and went to panel 56 and searched until I found Mike’s name, Charles M. Cotton, but it was not on line 32 as it was carried on their roster of names. I found it on line 29. I have to tell you I cried as so many other visitors were doing. Anyway, I walked over and looked at the display of pictures, some of them actual photos taken by the very men who flew those “helos”, as the pilots called them. Judy’s father, Jim, went with me. He’s lived with me since May, ’05, when her step mom, Evalyn, died. Jim’s an 80 year-old retired Methodist minister with a small social security check each month and a ‘next to-nothing-retirement’ from the Methodist Church. I promised Judy I’d always look out for him and he’s really a lot of company since she’s gone. We kind of look out for each other. Anyway he got tired and I had to bring him home earlier than I’d intended. Sunday was the last day. The Memorial display would end at 6:00 pm and they’d load it up and send it on the way to its next destination early Monday morning.
After we got home I studied my pictures and was really disappointed because (1) the afternoon sun was in the wrong place for ideal camera shots, (2) the flash on my camera was on and I didn’t know it (I’m not a good photographer). The sunlight-flash combo thing was all wrong and it had bleached on Mike’s name on the shinny black background. Four or five of the photos were no good at all and (3) Mike’s name etched in pencil was not really clear. So Sunday morning I left Jim asleep and I went back to the Memorial. The first thing I did was get Mike’s name etched on 2 slips, one for each of you. The weather was beautiful and the sun was just right so I took more pictures. There was a “helo” on a trailer on display so I walked over and shot more pictures of it then I sat down in one of several chairs under an awning behind it to study my photos.
I’d been there maybe 5 minutes when a pickup drove up behind me and a man and woman got out. She walked over and sat down beside me with a “good morning and how are you today?” I started to stand up and said, “I’m sorry. Am I in your place?” She put her hand on my arm and told me to stay right were I was. About that time he came over and sat down beside her and they both began chatting as if we were old friends. He asked if I had a relative or friend whose name was on the ‘Wall?” I told them I had come out of respect for a young man with whom I had worked in a drug store in Angleton, Texas. I paused for a moment to think then told them “in fact it was roughly 45 years ago but this young man, Mike Cotton, made a lasting impression on me and I’m here…” I began to choke up, my eyes filled with tears, and I got hoarse and had to stop. They just sat there until I regained my composure. Finally, I looked up and said, “I’m sorry but…” He had a strange look on his face as he interrupted and said, “Wait a minute, you said his name was Cotton” I nodded. He went on, “He flew helos and he was from down in…” he looked off, thinking. I said “Angleton, Texas. Mike was….” He interrupted again and said, “If he’s who I’m….I always called him “Charlie’ but his best friends, Mark Leopold and Benny Goodman called him “Mike.” I know who you talking about.” He began to get excited, “Heck, yes, he was in…we were in the same outfit, the ‘Rattlers,’ just a minute,” he jumped up, very animated now, and started for his pickup. “Let me get my roster, I know exactly who you’re talking about. We went through flight training out in ‘Miserable Wells’ (actually Mineral Wells but anyone who doesn’t live there calls it miserable). “He was in the class a month ahead of me.” His wife was grinning as he started ransacking the pickup and finally came out with this book with the yellow cover which you now have. By the time he sat down again he was wound up tight as a guitar string. “Charles M. Cotton”, he glanced up at me, “Charlie! Great guy! Handsome guy! Everybody liked him! Yeah, I remember him very well. Oh, by the way, I’m Chuck Carlock and this is my wife, Kathy,” then he proceeded to tell me all about Mike. I sat there, absolutely and totally enthralled, for the next two and a half hours as he described, in detail, stories about Mike, and his pals, Mark “Buddy” Leopold, who Chuck said was Mike’s best friend, and Benny Goodman, also a very close friend who flew ‘peter pilot’ for Mike on many missions. Chuck has written this book, “Firebirds,” which he handed me but I handed it back and asked him to autograph it to you because I was going to send it to you with everything else I could gather up because it was you who’d suffered the greatest loss. He graciously complied and then handed me his card to send to you, as well, in case you should ever feel the need to call or write him in the future. Chuck and Kathy are ‘salt of the earth’ people. You meet them and 15 minutes later they’re old friends.
Chuck is the managing CPA for the Bass family, three of the richest, most influential men in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but, lest you think he’s upper crust let me assure you right now, there’s nothing remotely snobbish about him and Kathy. In his book he pokes fun at himself a lot, talking about one day being a John Wayne type macho man and the next a chicken-livered coward. And every so often he can’t help but flavor it with some pretty raunchy language. You’ll have to excuse that, though, because his heart is big as For Worth and it’s in just the right place. I left there feeling like they were old friends and I’ll guarantee you he has the greatest respect for your son. When you read his book you’ll understand he’s just an old farm boy from Joshua, Texas. Joshua is so big if you sneeze as you hit the city limits you’ll pass through it and miss it and never know it. As we were saying our goodbyes I told Chuck and Kathy that I felt our meeting was by Divine Intervention. It had to be. How could anyone explain why, or how I wound up sitting there in the little sun shade area behind his display at just the right time to run into the very person that knew Mike and had served with him in Nam? Oh yes, I failed to mention that the two helicopters on display both belonged to Chuck’s helicopter Association. He searches the Internet and finds old ‘helos,’ then negotiates and buys them and cannibalizes them for parts. He does this as sort of a hobby and he’s given 4 of them to, I believe he said Texas Tech. He keeps them around to haul to different events like this one. He doesn’t fly anymore. He said he got enough flying in ‘Nam to last him the rest of his days. He spreads his arms wide and says, “Nope! No More! Not me! Been there, done that, wrote a book about it! Got tee shirts and caps with logos! Don’t need anymore, thank ya very much!” And all the time he’s going through this little theatrical speech Kathy’s sitting there, hands clasped contentedly, smiling at him with pure unashamed adoration in her eyes. I know she’s heard and seen him tell the same stories with the same gestures probably a hundred times but she watches and listens like it’s the first time. They’re a great couple. He says he would love to meet you both and me in Denver in 2008 at their next reunion. They just had their last one in San Antonio earlier this year. You’d get to meet Mark Leopold and Benny Goodman, Mike’s best pals, and the other guys from ‘the Rattlers.’ I plan to go if it’s at all possible. Hope you decide to go as well. It might help.
So, Dorothy and Gary, this is the story of my visit to the Viet Nam Memorial Wall to show respect for Mike Cotton, your son and my friend, a wonderfully sweet boy I knew once upon a time a long time ago and a brave man and comrade-in-arms to those who flew with him in a war on the other side of the world among a people I’ll never know or understand.
I sincerely hope what I’m sending helps you as much as it does for me to do it. As I said at the beginning you don’t know me but I had a great fondness for your son. You can take well deserved pride in the fact that you raised a fine young man who was intelligent, mannerly, caring, compassionate, and, above all brave. I’ll always respect his memory. My best regards to you and your family.
The following letter was received by the author of the above letter. It is from Cotton’s brother, Gary.
Thank you for remembering my brother Mike. Our family has received rubbings from the wall in the past but never have they come with so much history. You said you believed in divine intervention, well, so do I. For you to be at the Wall at the same time as someone who knew and flew with Mike had to be more than coincidence. Then on top of that to have the roster of their company and be the author of the book and give both of these to you to give to us is really something. We thank you again.
Mike was quite a guy! He was my hero. Being five years his junior I experienced the world through him. Everyone seemed to like him. A lot of doors were opened up for me because of Mike.
……..If nothing changes we plan to go to the reunion in Denver. I have a couple of years to prepare. We will see you there if not before.
Joe Galloway Speech
“ I don’t know whether I ought to speak or do a little conjunto dancing here.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you. And you owe it all to Ron Seabolt there who has been on my ass for two years. He wasn’t going to quit, so here I am.
I’m always nervous when I gather with this large a group of helicopter pilots as this. First of all it might constitute an unlawful assembly, and second of all we might be violating someone’s parole.
You know I flew in from Washington D.C. and there was a couple of stories up there that you might not have heard that I wanted to tell them to you. Not long ago after dark there was a tall distinguished silver haired gentlemen in a $4000.00 Italian suit was walking around Capitol Hill and a fellow jumps out of the alley and stuck a pistol in his ribs and says, “Give me your money”. The guy got all indignant and says, “You can’t do this to me, I’m a Congressman.” The guy says, “Aw, in that case give me MY money.” (Applause) And the other story was that the Supreme Court, newly constituted, has voted nine to nothing to ban Washington, D.C. from having a Nativity scene this Christmas and it was not a matter of separating Church and State, it was because they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin in that town. (Applause)
You know I was reluctant to come to as large a gathering of helicopter folks as this because a year ago in January I was in Denver for a dining in of an Army National Guard Chinook outfit and I got there, they starting drinking at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s sort of a pre warm up. And then they had a tail gate in the parking lot, and then they had a cocktail party for an hour, and then at 7:00 o’clock sharp they opened the punch bowl. And I didn’t get to go on until 11:30 that night. And I mean they were in the aisles. And I got up and looked at them and I said, “Ain’t it like a bunch of damn Army aviators, half of you are so drunk that you can’t understand what I’m saying and the other half are so deaf you can’t hear me, I’m just going to talk to the women. (Applause)
I’ve got to tell you that in various Capitols of the world and in the seamier sides when I’ve been acting a bad boy, the only thing I’ve ever been mistook for besides a reporter was an Army Aviator.
Now you know I tell all these jokes because I love you. You know that. I’ve always looked at everything from the point of view of a grunt, because that’s who I spent my time with. First the Marines for about seven months, then the Cav for a while and every outfit that was in Viet Nam. And I probably rode with some of you guys at one time or another.
The grunts eye view of helicopter pilots is like this….its a love-hate relationship. We hated it when you took us into those hot LZ’s and dropped us off and we loved you when you came back for us. And we loved you when you came for our wounded and when you brought us ammo and water so we could continue fighting. And that’s the truth. Mostly we loved you. Just that 15 or 20 minutes there at the beginning was the bad part. But looking at it from the grunt’s eye view, I don’t know if you know this, but boy, we thought you had humongous cajones you slick pilots. You sit down there in that clearing and there’s lead flying everywhere. And you’re sitting up, way up high behind that Plexiglas which don’t stop nothing, waiting patiently for folks to get off, and folks to get in, and folks to throw stuff off, and put other things in. And at least we could get down and dig a hole or get behind a tree or something, and you just sat there……with all the balls in the world, doing your job, and we were impressed.
And for all you Firebird guys with your rockets and stuff, well, I was impressed by them too. They kept us warm (alive) on some bad nights.
But you know, I got to tell you, I got the grunts eye view of it, and the years hanging with the infantry, and it was okay you know. Things happened close enough I could see ‘em. And they happened slow enough where even I could understand what I was seeing. There was no drawback, except that hanging with the infantry for as long as I did, I have been personally bombed, rocketed, sprayed, and napalmed by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines, and yes, Firebirds, by the U.S. Army. (Applause) And a couple of independent nations I didn’t catch the tail numbers on. You know, here I am, able to talk. Nothing hurt but my dignity.
It’s such a pleasure to see so many from one company of aviators. Most company’s would be happy to see maybe 30 or 40 turn up, but it looks to me like 200 or 300 here, and that’s one hell of a job and one hell of a testament to guys like Ron Seabolt and Vic here for bringing it all together.
I know from my own point of view, from running some reunions for the Cav Ia Drang boys, that it’s a tough job and that getting everyone together is the best possible medicine in the world. There’s nothing better than to see guys that haven’t seen each other in 35 years to walk up and hug each other and pick up a conversation like it was 15 minutes ago that they last talked. And it’s only among the brothers, from this brotherhood, the combat brotherhood, where that happens. And it’s a miraculous thing. It also brings people together under one roof, some people that understand what you’re talking about better than anyone else. And there’s warmth from the heart, there’s healing, there’s laughter, there’s tears.
I shed some this morning at the Memorial Service. Hell, I’m Irish, we cry at beer commercials! Things like that they get me….they get me deep. Because my brothers are not just those that I marched with, although that’s a lot of them, and it’s not just particularly those I recall flying with. It’s everyone that went to Viet Nam, who turned up when they got that draft notice or volunteered to go do it. When they got that draft notice, they didn’t take a train to Canada or a boat to Oxford, England. (Applause) And they damn sure didn’t turn up for the physical wearing a pair of pantyhose.
So, all of them turned up…three million of them. It’s an interesting thing you know, the last census they had a question on there…who had served in war time and which war? Okay, there were three million who served in Indochina, so maybe there were two and half million of us left. You know how many checked that box for service in Vietnam on that census report? What if I told you nine million. Where in the Hell were they? All they had to do was walk in and say, “Hi, here I am and ready to go.” Then they could wear a real medal or two or three. Or maybe some scars.
So what does that tell us? Most came back from Vietnam at certain points of the war and they were disrespected. The Country had split. They didn’t know our war had been orphaned in the middle of it. They mistook something. They hated the war and they hated the warriors. That’s a big No, No. You don’t do that. It’s not happening now.
The soldiers come back from Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are treated with respect and honor as they should be. (Applause)
And I know that a lot of you came back and felt the sting of that. Felt the pain of it, but I don’t know anybody that leaves our Country as a consequence of that, nobody is even bitter about that, because you all are bigger than that. And when they talk about the greatest generation, and I love them, my dad and six of his brothers wore the uniform in WWII and four of my mother’s brothers, and I have nothing but respect for that generation. By God you Viet Nam veterans may not be the greatest generation, but you are the greatest of your generation. And that’s the truth. (Applause) And I love you and I’m not ashamed to say that. You’re the best friends of my life.
I owe my life to guys who died on the battlefield. I walked off that field at Landing Zone X-ray on November 16, 1965 knowing that 80 young Americans, most of ‘em were younger than me at 1 day past my 24th birthday, had laid down their lives so that I might live. And another 121 had been wounded, some of them horribly for that same thing.
If any man had not done his duty, we would have all died. But every man did, and there were men who died on that battlefield that should have been on their way to Saigon to get on that freedom bird because their enlistment term was up. And they did not falter and they did not hide. They fought and died like tigers.
And I left there feeling a heavy burden. A heavy debt that I owed them…to tell their story. To tell the story of all soldiers, Marines, Sailors, even Airmen…the ones that bombed me. And I’m trying to live up to that.
You know I just came back from Iraq….end of January. Forty one years I’ve been going to war, and I’m going to tell you one little story and get out of here.
But on that tour in early January, I’m on a patrol with three Striker vehicles, a platoon, a little lieutenant, who looked like a baby. Man don’t they get younger every year? Even the damn generals look younger to me.
So three Striker vehicles, a fine vehicle I might add, goes 60 miles an hour. And that’s good when there’s some gentlemen with a towel on his head trying to figure out which button to push on that IED (improvised explosive devise, i.e.-homemade bomb) over there, trying to get it just right, and you’re gone….I like that. Soldiers like it too.
We’d been out for three hours all over Mosul, good parts, bad parts, and I’m standing in one of the back hatches and the sergeant is standing beside me. And I got the ears on and we’re talking, and he says, “Man if you brought all this peace, you ought to stay for the next seven months with us.
And he’d no more said that than the AK’s went off and the machine guns. And it was close enough we could get a feel for where it was, and the lieutenant peeled those three vehicles off charging into a neighborhood going straight into the sounds of those guns as we could. And we had gone two blocks and the radio started crackling and crackling “chopper down, chopper down.”
We had two Kiowa warrior helicopters overhead. One of ‘em was down, and very quickly we got the coordinates and they were plugged in and we were there in two minutes.
And that bird had crashed in an excavation, on a quarter block size probably twenty feet deep. And I don’t know how much control he had at the time, but he crashed against the back wall of that excavation. Had he been elevated, there was a shanty town back there full of women and little kids and little shacks, and he would have wiped a lot of them out.
We slid down in that muddy pit. And like any pit in an Iraqi city, they throw trash and junk in, and it was hard to recognize what was a helicopter there. We had to look real hard, and then we spotted it. And we piled on it and we ripped the wreckage apart with our hands, and we pulled out one of the pilots, and he was dead. And we ripped in further, and we got the second man. It took longer….and there was a pulse. The medic felt it, and they ran him over to one of the Strikers, and started him to the hospital.
He didn’t make it to the hospital. He was dead too. And I stood there in that muddy pit and it was just like Viet Nam. It was just like the Gulf. It was just like any war. The difference was that I knew that six hours from now there would be sedans pulling up at two homes. Five children between ‘em…two wives...mothers...fathers…brothers…sisters, and devastation would come into their lives. And I stood there in that muddy pit and I cried like a baby for ‘em. I didn’t know them…didn’t matter. They were ours. They are ours.
So the war goes on, and young men die…young women now too. It don’t get any easier friends…it don’t get any easier.
Thank you all for listening. Thank you and God bless you, and God bless our country. And God bless our soldiers”. (Applause)