Rattler/Firebird Association


CO. A/501 AVIATION BN., 71st ASSAULT HELICOPTER COMPANY NEWSLETTER

VOL. XXVIII NUMBER 2 ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2022

A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

“Like the book said, we may be through with the past but the past is not through with us!”

“Veteran” It’s not that I can and others can’t. It’s that I did and others didn’t!

REMBMBER THIS

I, ________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the Unites States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God.

ODDS and ENDS

An 8.7% increase in both our social security and VA compensation for 2023 is nice, but still leaves us in the hole on buying power.

An organization named American Honor Foundation, located in Ocala, Florida, has Rattler aircraſt 67-17364. It has been brought back to life fully painted as a Rattler (with minor differences) with gun mounts and demilled M-60s. This is a flyable aircraſt and really brings back memories. Please notify Phil Thomas at: [email protected] ahfwarbirds.com if you flew on this ship or would like to go out and give it a once over in person.

Because of health problems our webmaster Gary White is having, Vic Bandini in training to take over those duties. We have the best website a unit could ever have thanks to Gary’s tireless work.

Almost all of you are life members. However if your mailing label has a 2022 on it, your $12 yearly dues are overdue.

The Association Board of Directors has unanimously agreed that at future reunions, when our Memorial Service is scheduled to begin, usually at 8:30 on Saturday morning, the doors will be closed at that time and there will be no further admittance to the room. The purpose of this service is to honor our fallen brothers by showing all the respect they are due. It is a very solemn event.M.

This notice will appear in every newsletter going forward and, at the reunions, there will be prominently placed signs to this effect, as well as announcements.

SAN ANTONIO REUNION 2023

The 2023 Reunion will be held at the Doubletree by Hilton, 611 NW Loop 410, San Antonio, Texas from Wednesday, May 10th to Sunday, May 14th. More reunion info is in this newsletter.

Our initial room block is filled and the block has been expanded. Please make reservations ASAP. Contact Gloria at 210-377-4612 for reservations. The room rate is $127 per night but with all the tax add ons it will be about $150 per night.

TAPS

*Honoring the life of John Wiklanski, August 25, 2022 Eulogy given by Kelly McHugh, CW2

My last day in Vietnam was August 16, 1969, flying a combat gunship with Ski, as one of two door gunners. I was shot in my left lower leg shin bone by a 50-caliber bullet, and with each heart beat I was hemorrhaging. I had only seconds to live. Ski, from behind, dropping his machine gun, jumped up, lowered the back of my seat, climbing over me, used his own belt to tie a tourniquet around my thigh. He saved my life. The co-pilot landed. The medivacs haul me off to the Mash unit. I didn’t see Ski again for 29 years.

We reconnected in 1998, at the Vietnam reunion in Orlando, Fl. It’s hard to find the words to describe the flooding of overwhelming feelings of a long time passed, yet when talking and reflecting it seemed like yesterday! That day in the hotel room, we introduced our wives to each other, forging between them the beginning of a new friendship. How could I say thank you to Ski for having saved my life so long ago? Full of anticipation, I handed him the only gift I thought fitting, a brand-new leather belt, a step up replacing the military issue of the army green belt he used for the tourniquet that traumatic day 29 years previous. I thanked Ski for his heroism that day. Our wives could hardly hold back their tears!

When I got to Vietnam in 1968 as a newbie, Ski was already a hero. When on the ground He was the number one Crew Chief in the gunship Platoon. When in the air, Ski, the Crew Chief, doubled as the door gunner!

I would bet that most of you know John as “the quiet unassuming guy”. Well, unassuming he is. Ski didn’t walk with a swagger, possessing an air of bravado, or exhibited an overt pretense of bravery! Instead, Ski had an unassuming quiet confidence expressing his ability, expertise, and regard for self and others. Knowing Ski as I did, I imagine it would be hard for you here today visualizing Ski hanging out of the helicopter with his machine gun under arm, diving toward the enemy, while dropping to the ground at 500 feet a minute, with a forward speed of 130 miles per hour, with only a small strap anchoring him in the gunship. At 19 and 20, Ski was totally fearless!

As luck would have it, I learned how fortunate I was to serve alongside him. When I became a Fire Team Leader, flying gunships into battle, I asked Ski if he would fly with me, he hesitated not and said, “Yes Mac.”

Back on the Fire Support Base in Baldy, we Firebirds were on call 24/7. When on the ground the Crew Chief owns the ship. It was there that Ski meticulously inspected the ship post battle and doing repairs to ensure the integrity of the craft, for it could mean life or death.

Because of his quintessential mechanical skills, and I imagine his own sense for self-preservation, I felt safe going into battle in any gunship Ski worked on and repaired. Nevertheless, for me, it was a crazy 9 ½ months we served together. We were shot down 4 times, two of those times while on fire. I recall one unforgettable event between us …let me begin by saying; Ski and I were good friends—as good as friends as any two straight guys can be. Going down in flames that second time, Ski’s arms were burnt, and both my hands sustained second degree burns. We both were flown to the flight surgeon, treated, and then sent back to our company area.

Later, Mother Nature called me, sending the message that I best take care of business, or I would be swimming in a yellow river soon! My hands, fingers and thumbs were completely covered in bandages-wrapped up like a mummy! Terror struck, I had no access to my trousers’ button and Zipper! I walked over to Ski’s hooch and yelled, “Hey Ski, I need some help, can you come out here?” In his typically low-keyed manner, Ski appeared, he asked me, “what’s up Mac?” I replied, “Ski, I need your help to go to the bathroom.” If a picture tells a thousand words, the look on Ski’s face expressed so much more, shaking his head, and looking around, Ski said, “Mac, I can’t do that.” With urgency, I said, “Ski, I don’t want your greasy hands on me, I just want you to unbutton my pants, drop the zipper I can handle the rest. Ski, like you I am a Firebird, I can’t pee my pants!” Ski, taking a second look around the area, and to my eventual relief, without an utterance of cursing and with a modicum of decency, he helped this fellow Firebird in distress saying to me, “Geez Mac, you can’t tell anybody about this.” I said, “I promise.”

Ski returned to his hooch. …. The feeling of Awe… was short lived followed by a loud “wait Ski, come back”! With restraint, Ski said, “What…Now…MAC?” I said, “Ski, I need some reverse engineering, a zip and button up!” Reliable as he was, he answered the call, stepped up and promptly stepped away! You know the saying, “three times a charm.” I called to Ski for one more favor; this time needing him to retrieve a pair scissors to cut off the bandages at my fingertips so I could relieve myself. With his infectious grin, Ski said, Lima Charlie Mac, GLADLY! Lima Charlie is the military parlance for Loud & Clear!

The next day returning to the flight surgeon for rebandaging, the doc said, “McHugh, these raggedy bandages don’t look like my work.” I said, “it’s not, it’s the work of my Crew Chief Doc…I had to go to the bathroom.” I could see in the doctors’’ eyes the light bulbs flashing! With a bit of dry humor, the doctor said, “I am sorry, before I arrived here in paradise the nurses did all the bandaging.” Ski was there getting his bandages changed too. We exited the treatment rooms at the same time. There we were, face to face, in the hallway, I wiggle my bandaged free fingertips and thumbs at him. Ski, a man of few words, with a head nod, and a wink, Ski gave me the biggest smile you could imagine.

In the 2004 Reunion, I had the privilege of presenting to Ski, without his anticipation, The Legend Award, an award acknowledging him for how truly outstanding Ski was during his time of service in Vietnam. Unbeknownst and a gift to Ski and Ellen too, my wife and I arranged for their daughters, Kate and Beth, to attend this gathering honoring their father and bearing witness to their father’s heroism. When the moment arrived for me to approach the podium I felt my nerves, steadied myself and told the story of this soldier, who was a quiet modest man of great strength, courage, and character.

My last face to face with Ski was in 2019 in the Gulf Shores, Alabama, celebrating the 50th year Anniversary of the summer ’69. The group of guys, with our wives by our sides, fished, drank beer, and lamented our appreciation of just being alive-for in the fall of ’69 was the year our company sustained the worst losses in the number of dead and wounded. So much time has passed, and for some the Vietnam experience changed lives forever. On the other hand, despite Ski’s declining health, he was still just Ski, the quiet unassuming guy with grit. I will remain ever so grateful for the memory of Ski, together with Ellen on the sunny Gulf Shores of Alabama.

Ski left Vietnam as a hero and came home with his humanity, humility, and civility intact. John generously continued his acts of service giving those in need in his community with care and compassion. That, in my book, is the real American Hero. Ski created a new life with his beloved Ellen raising two wonderful daughters and is blessed with the joy spending time with his precious grandson Max. I feel so privileged for having shared slices of life with John, Ellen their family and friends, sharing adventures, attending weddings, celebrations of life, embracing the life of our grandbabies and more.

There is so much more I can say about John, and I wish to close with this quote, by Helen Keller, engrave on the framed of the picture, I received from Ski, of he and I standing in front of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC. It reads: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the Heart.” I will forever hold the memory of Ski in my Heart.

NEW BASE NAMES

These five forts have been recommended new names to honor Vietnam service members. This will be presented to Congress before October 1, 2022 for a final decision.

Fort Benning, Georgia – Fort Moore in honor of Lt. Gen. Harold (Hal) Moore and his wife Julia. General Moore became famous as LTC Moore commanding the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang. His wife persuaded the Pentagon to deliver casualty notices in a more compassionate manner.

Fort Hood, Texas – Fort Cavazos in honor of General Richard E. Cavazos, the first Hispanic American four-star general.

Fort Lee, Virginia – Fort Greg-Adams in honor of Lt. Gen Arthur J. Gregg, a Korea and Vietnam Veteran and LTC Charity Adams of WWII. Both worked in supply and support services. Gregg was one of the first Black officers in a desegregated Army. Adams commanded the first unit of Black women overseas, the 6888th Central Postal Directory in England in 1944.

Fort Pickett, Virginia – Fort Barfoot in tribute to Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Choctaw Indian, of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. In WWII he received the Medal of Honor for taking out three German machine gun nests and a tank in one day. In Vietnam he flew Army helicopter missions.

Fort Polk, Louisiana – Fort Johnson in honor of Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a black Medal of Honor recipient during WWI.

LETTER HOME by Ron Seabolt

Tuesday, May 23, 1967 – 8:30pm

Dear Folks,

I haven’t got a letter off to y’all in quite a few days. I got a letter from y’all yesterday and two today. Both were over a week old. I got the candy from y’all yesterday and the cake from Aunt Rena.

I had flare stand-by last night and we ate the cake then. I’ve had flare stand-by many times since I’ve been crewing but last night, or rather this morning was the first time I had ever thrown the flares. The way it is, you have a light fire team (two gunships) and a flare ship on stand-by at the ship on alert for a scramble. This morning at 4am we had one. Some infantry men at a small outpost about ten miles down the beach came under attack by a company of VC. They were completely overrun. When we got over the area, the Americans had 50% wounded or dead. They were back to back trying to hold them off. In about 30 more minutes and everyone would have been dead.

We started dropping flares from 3000 feet and our light fire team rolled in. We were monitoring the troops on the ground. You never heard such joy in anyone’s voice as that RTO (radio operator) when our gunships started firing. We threw 44 flares (each has 2 million candlepower).

By daylight the firing had ceased and American reinforcements had reached the guys. We went in for medivacs. Those guys were crying when they tried to thank us. It really makes you feel good to know you helped save those guys. A lot were beyond help, and a lot more were hit. Very few made the night without a wound of some type.

I’m sending some clippings home I would like to save. The one about the med-team in the minefield was my ship. Mr. Shirley was flying. Dubose from Mt Pleasant was my gunner.* The one about Junction City is important. I’ll never forget February 22nd.

Well, I better go. I love y’all. Please thank Aunt Rena for the cake. I’ll try to get a card off to her. Thank you also. Love, Ronnie

*I have no idea who the co-pilot was. Maybe he will read this and remember the mission.

HUMOR

Two little boys were at a wedding when one leaned over and asked, “How many wives can a man have?” His friend answered, “Sixteen…..four better, four worse, four richer and four poorer!”

Why do eggs come in flimsy Styrofoam cartons and batteries come in a package only a chainsaw can open?

Did you know that “Dammit I’m mad” spelled backward is, “Dammit I’m Mad”!

A young executive was leaving the office late one evening when he found the CEO standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand. “Listen,” said the CEO, “this is a very sensitive and important document here, and my secretary has gone for the night. Can you make this thing work?”
“Certainly,” said the young executive. He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.
“Excellent, excellent!” said the CEO as his paper disappeared inside the machine. “I just need one copy.”

A lady pulls her car into the mechanic’s shop because her car is running poorly. A little while later, the mechanic comes out and she asks him, “What’s the story with my car?” the mechanic replies, “Just crap in the carburetor.” “Oh,” she says. “How often do I need to do that?””

A mandate is not a law. It’s when two men go to dinner.

I got this envelope that said, “This is not a bill!” When I opened it the item inside said, “This is the bill!”

I think the proper term for “senior” women should be: Queenagers! Carry on.

Local ad: Looking for a married woman, recently cheated on, mad and scorned, who is willing to sell her husband’s tools for cheap!

Ring your own doorbell on your way to bed. This will clear the dogs off the bed.

According to Jeff Foxworthy, “If your checks have pictures of ‘dogs fighting’ on them, you might be a redneck!”