Red Clay Newsletter of the Veterans who served at Khe Sanh Combat Base, Hill 950, Hill 881, Hill 861, Hill 861-A, Hill 558 Khe Sanh Village, Lang-Vei and Surrounding Area

 

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WHY I GO TO REUNIONS

 

By Neil Kenny L Co 3/26

I have been going to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion since 2000 in San Diego. If I am honest I would have to admit that my hope was to reconnect with at least one of the many Marines with whom I had served with in the many hills and rice paddies of the land know as the ‘Nam’.

During my stays with the members of the association at the various locations across the country, I have only met one or two members of Lima Company 3/26. Neither of those folks were people whom I had the pleasure to serve with. At the second reunion that I attended in Dallas, I was able to convince my absolute best friend Phineas to attend. It was indeed grand.

Just prior to this years reunion, I received an email from a fellow who stated that he knew several folks who had served with Lima. I had read the email and marked it to be reread and responded to. I did not however do so prior to the trip to Washington, D.C.

Standing in the hospitality room, I was approached by an unassuming gentleman in the company of an extremely attractive woman. He politely inquired if I was NJ Kenny and did I know or recognize any of the people in the photographs that he flashed in front of me.

Looking at those photos was the opening to a window in my mind and a light upon the darkness of my heart. I knew damm near every name on the sheet. It was a moment of raw, unnerved emotion as my psyche raced back thirty nine years to the playground of my youth and I was immediately overwhelmed.

Andy Bryant. Jesus H. Christ! He and I walked point for the Marines of 3/7 on some shithole hill that Lima company had previously explored and bled on. When we were first dropped in on these guys, someone escorted us up to the senior officer there who first demanded that I receive brand new jungle boots, and then nearly went completely apoplectic when I introduced PFC Bryant who immediately and loudly in his very best Amos & Andy persona waved his right hand across the sky while telling this man, “You can just call me Andy.” I had everything to do to keep myself from not fall down laughing. I know without a shadow of a doubt that Captain Bennet would have responded with an equally humorous retort.

This Colonel, on this day, on this hill, failed to see the humor, or the humanity, or the honesty, or the love, or the ‘Spirit of the Grunt’; in that moment and in that response. Too Bad.

I on the other hand would go to my grave with the memory of the moment and a deep unbinding love for my Brother Marine, PFC Andy Bryant.

I continued seeing PFC, later Cpl. James laughing while surrounded by Mike Hill and Roger Broughman. Wow!

I watched James get killed on December 8th, 1968 during Meade River. I saw clearly Roger writhing in pain as a second round tore through him as they sought to patch up his first serious hit.

I recall with vivid detail that moment when I knew I was going to lead Marines as Mike Hill, shattered by the wounds to his best friend and mentor stated, “Rogers hit. What are we going to do?”

I felt the uncontrolled rage as the new Sergeant who knew nothing about infantry and/or Grunts stated, “Put out your panels.” “Mark your lines I called in Air.” Turning to this moron this lowly L/Cpl told him to call it off as we still had Marines down and in the drop zone. Seeing his pathetic facial expression, I moved forward with several Marines whilst gleefully peppering the area with a sustained rate of fire in short eight to ten round burst. God, I so love the passion and finality of combat.

Glancing at the group shot and seeing Ronnie Morse who carried an M-14, who collected gold teeth and cracked some Air Force dude in the snot locker for taking flicks of ‘Real Marines’ without prior permission are all fond and cherished memories that flooded out of the hidden valleys of my mind and race to the surface of my face while standing in the hospitality room.

Later, back at home I would unfold a hidden thought and then with precise clarification recall Ed Cowfer. Not standing in that group photo, but rather; leisurely strolling down the line during a barrage of incoming back at Khe Sanh and when challenged as to what the ____ he was thinking; his simple response was, “Nice day for a walk.” Someone said, “He is shell shocked.” No one knew or heard of PTSD, it was after all Tet of ‘68.

As quick as these memories overloaded my sensory capacity, someone rattled the doors, shouted out for all to mount the buses and we’d be off to the Museum. This unassuming Gent with the pretty wife grabbed his photos exited the room the doors were shut, and I stood there thinking; ‘Was this some sort of ghost from my past who’d come to stir my emotions and then disappear?’

For the love of me, I could not locate this couple and was confused, dazzled, and bewildered by my emotional controls that now were abounding with every conceivable sensation any human being could experience. All of this, and in nano seconds. Incredible!

Entering the museum, I spotted Lima Six - Captain Dick Camp - my first CO. Then after a few moments located Bill Correia and his lovely bride Pam. These weren’t ghosts at all. These were the affirmations that I was alive. That I did indeed survive and that I would have many more conversations to recover and recall the many parts of my Heart and Soul left behind in the rice paddies and hills of that place we all called the ‘Nam’.
Yeah!

This is why I go to reunions. I am already packed for Reno, How about you?
 


Bandera Honors its Veterans, Reunites Friends
Don Jennings A 1/9

Zeke MacCormack
Bandera Express-News

BANDERA, TX — On a trip from Hillsboro to reunite with Marine buddies from the Vietnam War, Don Jennings chanced upon veterans who may have made his reunion possible.

At Saturday's "Bandera Honors Veterans" event, Jennings saw an exhibit with photographs of helicopters shown flying out of Khe Sanh - where he saw combat with the unit known as "The Walking Dead." "We were looking at their display and realized they probably evacuated some of us during the siege of Khe Sanh," said Jennings, 60, one of about 20 members of the 1st Battalion, Ninth Marines squad gathering here.

The pictures belonged to Charlie Baker, 62, of Medina. As a Marine helicopter crew chief, Baker repeatedly swept in amid heavy enemy fire to take troops out of the military base near the Laos border that came under siege by North Vietnamese troops in 1968. Handshakes ensued as men bonded by battle decades ago and exchanged names. The belated introductions were just one of many touching moments at the commemoration to local military personnel that this small town began in 2005. "I'm glad to see people remember and care," said San Antonio resident Martin Martinez, 58, who served in an Army artillery unit in Vietnam.

County Judge Richard Evans, one of several speakers, implored the crowd to thank the veterans on hand "for my country ... for my freedom ... for my way of life." A middle school choir serenaded an audience of about 100 gathered beside the Bandera County Courthouse. Prayers were heard for those felled in combat long ago, and for those now in harm's way - or headed there. Dennis Sykes, who traveled from Denver to see Jennings and other friends, called the event an unexpected - and pleasant - surprise. "It's such a homey feeling and such a tight community," said Sykes, 60. "This is a microcosm of the best of America."

Vets like Raymond Baker praised organizers of the event for raising awareness about military conflicts that have lapsed from public consciousness. "Most people do not know history. This is history," said Raymond Baker, 59, one of three brothers of Charlie Baker who also served in the military. At a nearby table, Glen Bishop shared photos he took of fellow Army Air Corps paratroopers filling the sky above post-war Germany in the 1950s. "It brings back a lot of memories," said Bishop, 72, of Pipe Creek. "I'm glad to be part of it." Looking over the table laden with documents and keepsakes from a half-century ago, his wife, Laura Bishop, said, "It means everything to him because this is his history."

They learned of the event only Friday from a neighbor, Dawn Mayorga, who's three vibrant children in the Army smiled from dozens of exhibited photos. Her 19-year-old son, Austin Medley, was deployed in September to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division. "He called yesterday, Morale is good. He said 'Send candy and chips,' " said Mayorga, 52. Her 22-year-old son, John Medley, is an infantryman stationed at Fort Hood who will be deployed in 2008 to Iraq. Daughter Jackie Mayorga, 19, is a medic who's deploying from Hawaii to Iraq next month. Despite the obvious hazards facing her kids, Dawn Mayorga said she's at peace because their fates are in God's hands. And, she said, "Every time one of my kids is deployed I know someone else's kid comes home. That's what keeps me going."


INCOMING

ANGELS
By Craig W. Tourte

Fate, destiny or angels, what do you think? I was in the car the other day with my friend Steve Wiese. As most of you know, Steve is one of the few survivors of the Ghost Patrol and participated (make that volunteered) in the revenge patrol a month later. Now Steve is around 6 foot 4 or so, and is a huge target for anyone looking for something big to shoot at. How he survived an 18 month combat tour is beyond me.

As we’re riding along, Steve starts telling me the story of his small squad of 6 to 8 Marines out on patrol. They were heading in a certain direction towards 881 (my best recall), and as Steve and his squad approach a ridge, with the objective of climbing the next hill, Steve stops the patrol and gazes out at the objective. A chill, voice or just his experience as a combat veteran told Steve to avoid the hill and go around. The following week a large combat unit attacked the hill Steve avoided that afternoon. A fierce battle ensued as the Marines attacked the well fortified enemy positions dug into the sides of the hill. If Steve and his small squad of Marines had ventured forward that afternoon, neither he nor his men would have survived. Steve participated in the attack the following week and was lucky, once again, to have survived the brutal assault.

My little fighting position on the line located near the southwest corner of the Khe Sanh Base was nothing more than a few sandbags and some type of overhang cover. Just a small turn or notch in the long trench. I still had a rubber lady, she wasn’t much but she was better than sleeping in the mud. I dug this little position out with my small entrenching tool, filled every sandbag and put what little I possessed inside. It was one of those clear days you could see forever, unfortunately so could the NVA. For some reason, a voice, a feeling or destiny I got up out of this position and walked just a few feet west when I heard the familiar sound of rockets leaving their tubes. I jumped into the trench just a few feet away and buried myself as deep as I could. By this time, I had the experience to be able to determine in just milla-seconds the anticipated trajectory of the rocket which I knew was heading right at us. Rockets are split second things and it was all over very quickly. With a huge explosion of noise, smoke, dirt and whizzing of shrapnel it was over. I got up and looked at the ground just a few feet from me. There was a huge hole in the ground, the sides of which were black and the hole still smoking, and to my amazement, there was not just one hole but three in succession. I climbed out of the trench and glanced over at the next rocket impact only to see that it dove sideways into my fighting position, which I had occupied just seconds before.

As I stumbled in that direction, I observed that sadly my rubber lady did not survive the attack and I knew that my nights of sleeping up out of the mud were over. I remember laughing wilding at the sight and I was soon joined by others who apparently also saw the humor it what was not humorous at all, but I think we were all a little crazy by then. Who knows the reasons for our survival, was it fate, destiny or does each one of us have an angel sitting on our shoulder, whispering in our ear, into our brain. Perhaps we were spared for a reason or we were just lucky. I’d prefer to believe in the Angel theory.
 


A FEW CHRISTMAS STORIES THAT MISSED ISSUE 69

 

Christmas At Khe Sanh

By Lt/Col James B. Wilkinson, USMC (Ret)

In the spring of 1965, units of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade arrived in South Vietnam. As they stormed ashore, ready for battle, lovely young ladies welcomed them with floral bouquets. The Marines were given the mission of protecting the airfield at Da Nang and were soon patrolling the surrounding villages and paddies. Their enemy, clad primarily in black pajama-like garments, supported the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and were called Viet Cong. Armed with single-shot rifles, punji stakes and other rudimentary weapons, they were a formidable foe, blending in with farmers and villagers when not setting up ambushes or planning other actions against the Marines. Identifying Viet Cong was a major challenge. It was reminiscent of a vintage Western with John Wayne as the grizzled, old Indian fighter. When a cavalry officer reports, "We just saw a patrol of  Apaches!" Wayne replies, "Sir, if you saw them, they weren't Apache."

By 1967 American forces in South Vietnam numbered approximately 500,000 troops. Marines included the First and Third Marine divisions plus supporting forces, including a variety of Marine aviation units. The Marines were assigned to I Corps, in the northern portion of South Vietnam. The enemy also had grown from a poorly equipped but effective group of Viet Cong into a far more capable force. Large numbers of well trained and equipped units of the North Vietnamese Army had moved into South Vietnam. Their arsenal included the old reliable AK47 rifle, rocket-propelled grenades, rockets, field artillery and an up-to-date communications and command structure.

Like the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese units proved hard to locate. But in the spring of 1967, friendly patrols detected enemy forces in the extreme northwestern corner of I Corps. The enemy was present in well placed fighting positions and bunkers in the vicinity of Hills 881 South, 881 North and 861. Several Marine infantry battalions were tasked with destroying the enemy units. The ensuing conflicts became known as "hill battles" with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

When the fighting ended, the Marines occupied Hills 881 South, 861, 950 and Khe Sanh Combat Base. Hill 881 North was not occupied. The enemy withdrew, probably across the border into Laos where they could regroup and take on replacements that moved south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

American leaders at very high levels decided to maintain a force at Khe Sanh Combat Base. Their strategy was to lure the North Vietnamese into a set-piece battle, where air and artillery coupled with the courage of the individual American fighting man would prevail.

The enemy viewed a future battle for Khe Sanh as another Dien Bien Phu—the French outpost the North Vietnamese had battered day and night with artillery and ground attacks. The French surrendered Dien Bien Phu in 1954 after suffering extremely heavy casualties. This decisive battle led to the defeat of French forces in Vietnam. Like Khe Sanh, Dien Bien Phu was located close to Laos.

In August 1967, Colonel David E. Lownds assumed command of the 26th Marine Regiment. During most of 1967 he had only one battalion under his command. The 26th Marines were part of the 5thMarDiv. However, when additional forces were needed in Vietnam, the regiment was moved from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and became part of the 3dMarDiv.

For the last half of 1967, up until Christmas, life at Khe Sanh Combat Base was uneventful. The defense of the base, Hills 861, 881 South and 950 remained with 1st Bn, 26th Marines. That battalion also was responsible for security of the bridge over the Rao Quan River. A rifle company was given the mission. Every six or seven weeks, companies would be reshuffled to and from the hills, to the base or to the bridge.

Life on the hills was far more Spartan than life at the base, with C-rations delivered by two ancient UH-34 Seahorse helicopters. The helicopters were so old their Marine passengers joked that the old "birds" suffered from mental fatigue.

When the squad-size patrols left the hills, the triple-canopied jungle, which began a few hundred yards from each hill position, enveloped them. Patrols oftentimes stayed out for several days, even during heavy monsoons or "cratchins." (The French used le crachin to describe light rain, coupled with fog.)


Christmas Best Forgotten

By Craig W. Tourte

OK so I’m not going to post my Christmas at Khe Sanh story this year. You know the one where Ann Margaret shows up on the well lighted stage placed over the ammo dump…yea, that one. Although I still think that story is one of my better BS pieces, I guess because I see such hilarious absurdity in the possibility or probability. I still can’t get over the number of people who believed it could have actually occurred. One even said that he must have been up in the hills because he missed it…….Oh please. Still others demanded that I no longer write fiction, so that was the end of my fiction novel period.

Anyway, I was out driving around this evening in the dark (no not aimlessly) and the rain was really coming down. Now I realize California rain is not the same rain you folks get in other climate locations, I mean I played golf on Tuesday, but please try to follow the story here. Anyway it’s cold and wet and the wind is blowing and I’m trying to remember how miserable I was 40 years ago at about this time. Now because of personal issues I had with my now deceased mother and step-father, Christmas was never much of a thrill, so I can’t look back and remember how wonderful it was sitting around the old living room with the folks and grandma, you know the warm and fuzzy Christmas feeling, but I really envy those who can.

I do have some pretty vivid memories of a number of years ago spending Christmas with a few other lonely and bitter drinking buddies hanging out and complaining about this time of year, seems everyone else was so darn happy and filled with the Christmas spirit, which of course I never had, and to tell you the truth, I’m not so sure to this day I know what it is. Now getting back to my story. I guess for Christmas our mess must have put out a pretty decent meal, because if we didn’t I am confident that Tom Horchler, Paul Turnbull and a few others, who had the privilege of eating in our mess, would even to this day, tell me about it. Tom always relates how good he thought the food was (he even kept a few of the menus) however others were not so complementary.

Anyway you look at it, Christmas at Khe Sanh was lousy, the food was rotten, the weather cold and wet with that damp fog rolling in and staying all night. No heaters, no lights, no blankets, wet clothes, socks and boots, and no radios or televisions or Christmas carols. The red clay mud stuck to your boots making them 5 pounds heavier and you became 3 inches taller. I didn’t think about Christmas at home, I didn’t think about mom because I knew that she was not thinking about me, and I’m sure Christmas was just a little more enjoyable for her knowing that I wouldn’t be hanging around. But worst of all, worst of all about Christmas at Khe Sanh, was that tall, leggy Ann Margaret with the dancing girls from the USO show, who never showed up on the stage that was never built over the ammo dump.


Christmas best forgotten?.....not for me. It was my most memorable

Some time in the 80's our local newspaper sponsored a "Memorable Christmas" contest. I submitted the following and earned a first place award. It has been in Red Clay before (and Leatherneck Magazine) but not for some time, and since the event is approaching 40 years & because Craig called it "best forgotten" I decided to copy it here. It will always be the Christmas that stands out in my memory...even today. S/F

 

CHRISTMAS at KHE SANH

By Dennis Mannion - K Co 3/26

Like weary travelers, who finally get to rest in the comfort of their own homes after a week of constant motion and movement, the members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment spread out into the foxholes and bunkers that made up the company’s perimeter at Khe Sanh.

It was Christmas Eve 1967, and we had just returned from a four-day operation that had taken us west of the combat base into the rugged hills and terrain of the Khe Sanh Plateau. Despite minimal creature comforts at the base, it was a relief to know that we didn’t have to hike those hills for a while. That alone was a legitimate Christmas present.

In terms of the physical setting and the expected sounds and colors, this was sure to be my bleakest holiday ever, but it remains the Christmas that stands apart from all the others, and the one which memory doesn’t confuse, over decades later.

My radioman, Dave Krom, and I headed straight for the position that we had constructed the previous week. Even though it was just two foxholes covered with a tent-like affair of scrounged parachute silk, we felt elated to be home for the holidays. At mid-day, a rumor which had been circulating since the previous morning turned into reality. An arriving helicopter touched down just outside the company area, and mailbag after mailbag began to spill out onto the ground!

The distribution of our Christmas mail, which had been held in storage for nearly two weeks, required the work of scores of Marines as there were thousands of letters and hundreds of “care packages.” More than anything else, it was the sheer volume of these packages that brought a festive, holiday atmosphere to our corner of the war. Denied a chance to be in the real world, it was as if its realities had been sent to us, and each package opened helped to reduce the tensions and the fears accumulated during the previous week. By late afternoon, Kilo Company was almost giddy with child-like happiness and Christmas spirit.

Since Dave and I had not drawn perimeter guard that night (another present), we settled in under our parachute hooch to feast on our collective packages and to recall Christmas memories from earlier years. With our military gear relegated to the sides of the tent, the war almost seemed to have been replaced with plentiful food, laughter, and friendship. Considering how the previous four months had been spent, we had another gift to be thankful for – we were still around for the holiday while a number of our companions were not. Sometime after midnight, wrapped in a poncho-liner and surrounded with gentle memories of home and the holidays, I drifted off to sleep thinking of my family and mostly my mother.

I was jolted out of my sleep on Christmas morning by the sound of “Jingle Bells!” Two Marine Corps helicopters with Santa's painted on their sides were making repeated passes over the combat base, and loudspeakers mounted in the doors were playing one Christmas song after another. It was incredible! Within seconds, people from all over were up, out, and on their feet to cheer and to wave. The show didn’t last more than 10 minutes, but it was enough to get our day off to a magical start.

At noon, a Catholic chaplain celebrated mass out in the open, and as I sauntered over, I was suddenly struck with the thought that 12 noon on Christmas Day in Vietnam corresponded exactly with 12 midnight on Christmas Eve in Connecticut. While I knelt with rifle in hand in the red dust of Khe Sanh, my family was kneeling in the pews of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven for midnight mass. It was the only time in my 13 month tour when I knew exactly what members of my family were doing at a given moment. I used to wonder and guess at their actions and activities from time to time, but in this short period of mass and remembrance, I was linked to them with a bond that stretched over 15,000 miles. In spite of the distance, I never felt closer to any of them as I did at that moment, and the simple act of closing my eyes seemed to move me out of the war and into the comfortable surroundings of family and home.

By nightfall, Christmas morning in Connecticut, I was strapping on the weapons and gear of an infantryman and preparing to move to an ambush position outside our protective barbed wire. Our route out the gate took us directly across the very ground where mass had been said earlier, and where, through the miracle of Christ’s birth, I was permitted to stand for a moment at a window to the world.


A Different Christmas Story

By Michael Preston

Every year around Xmas time I get to thinking about those Christmas's I spent away from home, three in total, what a drag ! C-rats ala-king for Xmas dinner, O-Boy , yum-yum ! I think about all the guys who did it before me to keep this country free, wow! Just think how lucky those guys in Korea were to be there for Xmas, it was really cold and snowy just like it is supposed to be at Christmas, that probably helped to cheer them up, ya think?

And how about those lucky guys in '' Belleau Woods'' in the big war! I think the guys who probably had the most fun at Christmas were those guys who were taking boat rides across the Potomac with that big guy who kept pointing at the icebergs ahead, these guys had the finest equipment that the revolutionist could afford, what fun. Well we ended up sitting in the steaming jungle, 90 degrees or what ever, 90 % humidity or whatever it was, doesn't matter-there wasn't much Christmas atmosphere in the Nam. It would have been nice to have some snow, don't ya think? Well, on second thought maybe not. Anyway, every year at Christmas I offer a message to my fellow veterans whether it be something I have conjured up or something someone else has. This year someone sent me this one and it was good enough to bring tears to my eyes so I figger it is good enough to send to you tough guys .

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEMPER FI ''ANIMAL''

__________

LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regimen

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,


So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.
The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ' Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ' Nam ',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.


Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

PLEASE, Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is due to our U.S.
service men and women for our being able to celebrate these festivities. Make
people stop and think of our heroes, living and dead, who sacrificed themselves for us.


LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One
Al Taqqadum, Iraq


STRESS and PTSD

By Craig Tourte

I’m really pretty new at this PTSD stuff, I didn’t know much about it until I connected with Tom Horchler about four years ago. Of course Tom insisted that I file for PTSD but it was not until I attended my first reunion and talked to Neil and others that I came to realize what all of this really meant. I know that some see it as just a means for others to receive VA benefits and it’s hard to describe its effects and ramification to those not so well informed and in particular to discuss it with those who deny having any form of the disorder themselves. Subsequently, I have read a great deal on the subject and of course I have now gone through the process. As I talk to others who are currently working through the system trying to obtain the assistance and help they need, I find that one of the many issues they face is having to describe what combat action they saw. Questions like, “How many dead did you see, did you kill anyone, did you help anyone who was wounded, what was your MOS, what citations did you receive.” And provide names and letters from associates who can vouch for their experience. I think what they (whoever they are) are really asking, is how much gore (death and injury) did you see and why can’t you just get over it?

Chaplain Ray Stubbe wrote a wonderful letter of support for someone a number of years ago. The letter is quite long as he describes the experience of being at Khe Sanh (and the hills) during the Siege. But I think the most important aspect of this letter reads in part:

“The emotional consequence of all of this involved: a constant awareness of imminent personal danger and death, feelings of abandonment, a deep awareness of vulnerability, and inability to do anything, and the frustrations of helplessness…” Now here is what I feel is the most important issue in his letter.

“I’m sure you are aware of Lt.//Col Dave Grossman’s book on killings where... Swank and Marchand’s much-cited World War II study, determined that after sixty days of continuous combat, 98 percent of all surviving soldiers will have become psychiatric casualties of one kind or another…also found a common trait among 2 percent who were able to endure sustained combat: a predisposition toward “aggressive psychopathic personalities.” Having been in contact with many hundreds of the survivors of the Siege battle at Khe Sanh, I have been made aware that almost all are 100% service-connected for PTSD, as one might conclude from the experience…”

What I get from the information provided in this letter is that PTSD is not about exposure to death and injury, although that is an important aspect, but rather how long and intense was the sustained and continuous stress of the experience. Of the many individuals I have spoken to about this subject, I cannot recall one saying in truthfulness that after their experience at Khe Sanh, life has been a bowl of cherries and everything has been grand. But rather we have spoken about broken marriages, dependent abuse, dreams, anger and you know the rest. For those who don’t have PTSD, or just deny having it, may I suggest they read and learn as much as they can about this disorder and then talk to those who have been diagnosed. You might find a common thread and perhaps then you might understand what this is all about, and who knows, you might even find that you have just a little PTSD yourself.


A REBUTTAL

By Mike Skrekia

All service men and women are heroes in some eyes.

I am an associate member of the Khe Sanh Veterans and have been for several years. I look forward to receiving the Red Clay Magazine.

While I was not there it is extremely interesting reading about the war through a Marines eyes, for some of us that were not there we can only imagine what it was like. To me, every man and women that came home from Viet Nam was a hero. Every one of them has a story to tell of the hell they endured. I had many friends who served in Viet Nam and some that never made it home. They were all heroes in my eyes, and to many who knew them.

In your issue 69 Red Clay there was an article by Mr. Moore and his concern on how loosely the term hero is used. In all honesty I do not feel that many of the American people would agree with him. There are many men and women in Iraq, Afghanistan and many other parts of the world that are risking all for their country and the American people. While some of those military personnel will not see battle, a large majority will and have. My nephew has just recently returned from Iraq. While injured in battle he is one of the lucky ones that came home alive. He was injured while trying to help three wounded soldiers that were taking heavy fire; I would call him a hero. Listening to his stories of the war in Iraq was the same as listening to the Khe Sanh veteran's talk of their experiences in Viet Nam.

I truly do not know the statistics of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan and the brave men and women there defending our country, but I am sure that more than- 1% of them have shouldered a rifle to defend them selves or one of their comrades. As Mr. Moore pointed out, the dictionary defines hero as: A person noted for feats of courage or notability of purpose, unless we are there we can not know how many times one of these brave people have fired a gun, Flew a Jet, guided a tank or any other form of putting themselves in harms way. A military (hero) might be one of these people.

The other term of hero that Mr. Moore alluded to was, one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. Unless you know or knew someone who is serving or has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, you can not possibly know how many times one has risked his or her life. They might also be a hero. My nephew is a Captain in the rangers and had seen his share of battle. He said when you are with a platoon of men and women and you are the responsible one, you do not think of your well being or safety, you think of theirs. He explained to me that his entire platoon felt the same way, think of the person next to you in battle and doing what you can to keep them safe. These types of people may be heroes.

While Mr. Moore gave many fine examples of a hero in his opinion, which I agree with, there are many other examples that we never will know. We will not know them unless you know someone who has gone through it. Whether it be, Omaha Beach, The Battle of the Bulge, The Bomber crews, Leathernecks, Survivors of the USS Yorktown, 1st. Marine Division, The Viet Nam War, or any other conflict that has seen U.S. military men and women on foreign soil. These people are truly heroes.

But please do not cheapen the meaning of hero by saying that 99% of the young men and women who serve our country today are not heroes because they have not shouldered a rifle in battle, you do not know that as a fact. While some of them may not be or have not been in harms way during their time at war, they are still in someone's eyes a hero, because they did indeed go to war. By Mr. Moore saying they are not heroes is the same slap in the face that the brave young men and women coming home from Viet Nam went through. They were indeed heroes, they came home to a country for the most part that did not appreciate what they did or had gone through. I know that simple attitude has changed in today's society by the support for the military men and women seen all over the United States. While some do not agree on the war it seems that we all agree on the support of the military men and women; well most of us anyways. These men and women may be heroes.

The word hero is not misused in most cases in my opinion. I do not call someone a hero unless they deserve it in my eyes. I belong to an organization called the Patriot Guard Riders. We have buried many, many Heroes; we have done many memorial rides for WW1, WW2, Korea, Viet Nam and Iraq veterans. We do many send off rides for heroes going to battle, and many welcome home rides for those coming home from battle. In every aspect of what we do, the people we deal with think that their loved ones are indeed heroes. Who are we, or who is Webster to say that these people are not heroes. The interpretation of the word is better left to those who use it and not for anyone person to say they are not. Many of the words in today's society have several meanings; this must be one of them because it seems to me that an awful lot of people I talk to see these brave men and women as heroes.

Mike Skrekia


VOICE of THE TIMES
KSV In The News

Forty years ago a handful of United States Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force warriors spent more than 77 days defending a small set of outposts in northwest Vietnam. The place was Khe Sanh and the enemy was led by Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) commander who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. He had three divisions, with an estimated 30,000 troops to attack us at Khe Sanh.

__________

 

Richard Dworsky
I CO 3/26

The mission of India Co., Third Battalion 26th Marines, was to hold a Hill known as 881South and act as a combat outpost for the 26th Marines on the Khe Sanh plateau. When it appeared that the enemy was attempting to close on the hill, India requested and received permission to make a company reconnaissance-in-force north on Jan. 20, 1968. India, with more than 200 Marines and corpsmen, jumped off before dawn and before it had gone 1,000 yards, the 1st Platoon made heavy contact with a sizable NVA unit. There were several casualties, and the platoon consolidated its position, but the first helicopter sent to evacuate the casualties was shot down, crashing about 200 yards down the slope Another assault by the 3d Platoon succeeded in seizing the objective, but at high cost. Its lieutenant and several others were killed, and for a time the platoon held the hill against strong counterattacks, with a lance corporal in command.

At about this time, an NVA lieutenant surrendered to the Marines defending the base. He was immediately interrogated and reported that all outlying positions around the base would be attacked that night. India was consequently ordered to break contact immediately and return to its previous position. It arrived shortly after dark. That night, all outlying positions around the Khe Sanh Combat Base were assaulted except 881S. The force that had been designated to attack 881S had been met and mauled that afternoon and, having been located, was shelled throughout the night. Additionally, 881S provided more than 1,000 rounds of fire support to another hill that was attacked. That evening began the siege that lasted until April.

In addition to standing watch, digging deeper trenches and fighting positions became the daily routine. The title of this column, “home is where you dig it,” became the Khe Sanh motto. In some ways it was like trench warfare in World War 1. Lack of supplies, digging equipment, bunker material, constant battles with rats, rain and mud, cold, fog, and all under constant artillery, mortar and sniper fire and observation of the enemy seemed to be the order of the day. But, we were never outside the range of our own artillery support, air power and  communications. Logistical support by air also became so hazardous that only the plight of the Marines and the president's order to “Hold Khe Sanh” could justify the terrible losses of aircraft encountered in resupply attempts Several C-130s and C-123s were destroyed on Khe Sanh's airstrip while attempting to bring in the supplies, but the enemy siege became so tight that C-130s were finally prevented from landing and were forced to resort to par dropping the supplies. This still did not solve the problem of re-supplying the ever-more-besieged outposts around Khe Sanh, where water and food became secondary to ammunition. Helicopters still had to brave the heavy mortar, artillery, rocket and automatic weapons fire to carry the critical supplies from Khe Sanh to the surrounding hilltop outposts. New delivery methods were designed.

Heroism was routine. The helicopter zones were always "hot." The enemy's weapon of choice to attack them was the 120mm mortar, which was always deadly. Most dangerous were the medical evacuation missions. It took time to carry badly wounded men from cover to the helicopter and then return to cover, and the mortar rounds were often already announced as being "on the way."  Yet there was no occasion when men had to be ordered to carry stretchers. To the contrary, it was often necessary to restrain too many men from lending a hand and exposing themselves unnecessarily. Seven helicopters were shot down, yet we never called for a medevac that didn't come, weather permitting.

There was never a climactic day or event. Rather, from Jan. 21 through April 17, the threat to life and limb remained essentially unchanged. The dangers were greatest during helicopter operations because those offered the most lucrative targets to the enemy's gunners. The potential for catastrophe, however, was greatest at night or during the frequent foggy weather when we could not see to detect the enemy's approach or to bring our massive supporting fires to bear against him. That potential took a psychological as well as a physical toll. To stand in a trench for eight hours on a given night without relief, in total darkness, in a fog so thick that even a magnesium flare could not pierce it, all senses focused on detecting any sound, any smell, any hint of movement to the front. It was trying in the extreme to the Marine required to do it. To require all hands do so nightly for three months was to stretch the limits of resolve.

Forty-two Marines or Corpsmen died on or near the hill and nearly 200 were wounded, not including aviation casualties whose numbers, being reported separately, were unknown to us. Our commanding officer, Bill Dabney, noted that none of these losses occurred in a single pitched battle, but rather in discrete incidents scattered over the course of the siege. Incoming was constant, and although we learned to cope with it to a point, a lucky round in a trench line or active medevac zone was just as deadly in April as in January. Through it all, the troops did their duty. We stood our watches. Others flew their aircraft or serviced helicopter zones, manned outposts, engaged the enemy and raised the flag daily as zealously at the end as at the beginning. We were never asked to stand back-to-back against the flagpole with fixed bayonets, but rather to endure. By enduring, we triumphed.

I didn’t pick the men I fought with but I have an attachment to them that cannot be described — and I have the same attachment to those who carry on today. Never have I given anyone the trust I gave these men. As William Manchester wrote after his fighting service at Okinawa, and after all these years, I also recognize that these men and women, and I mean all who served in Viet Nam from all branches of the services, in the end, didn’t fight for their country, their government’s mission and not even their branch of service but for each other. I salute those warriors of the past and those of today and I am proud to have been one of you.

Richard Dworsky. Ph.D., was a platoon commander with India Company on Hill 881S during the siege until he was wounded and medevaced. He has several decorations for bravery including a Bronze Star and Navy Commendation Medal and 3 purple hearts as a result of his tour in Viet Nam. He has lived and worked in Anchorage for almost 30 years.


KSV Veteran’s In The News

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer
Morning Sentinel

Randy Worthley A Btry 1/13
Ralph Sargent Hq Btry 1/13

Randy Worthley took shrapnel in his neck and upper leg during heavy enemy shelling June 27, 1967, in Khe Sanh, Vietnam, which killed two of five fellow Marines assigned to a 105-millimeter howitzer. Today, some 40 years after the siege of Khe Sanh, Worthley, then a lance corporal, figures he made it out of Vietnam in pretty good shape, considering how many didn't come back alive.

He was treated in an underground hospital on the Marine base at Khe Sanh and returned to duty shortly thereafter. He said he still has nerve damage and lacks feeling in much of his thigh.

"I'd say I came out OK, physically," said Worthley, who received the Purple Heart. "It could have been a lot worse. We lost what, 58,000 there?"

Monday is the 40th anniversary of the start of the siege of Khe Sanh, in which about 6,000 Marines and other service members were cut off from ground support and held off persistent attacks on their base by North Vietnamese forces totaling around 34,000.

Worthley, who left the Marine Corps in October of 1968 and is now a master electrician, also received the Presidential Unit Citation and Combat Action Ribbon for his service in Vietnam. He served at Khe Sanh from June of 1967 until January of 1968, before the "official" 77-day Siege of Khe Sanh occurred between Jan. 21 and April 8, 1968.

But that doesn't mean Khe Sanh was a peaceful place when he was there. "We were some of the first troops sent there to beef it up," Worthley said.

"We fired thousands and thousands of rounds there -- 1,200 in one mission."

When enemy fire came in, rather than hiding out in bunkers, his unit's job was to go out to their howitzers and return fire. Their targets were often enemy troops moving ammunition on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Ralph Sargent, 72, of Augusta, managed to escape injury during his time in Khe Sanh, but just barely. On March 9, 1968, a North Vietnamese rocket struck the headquarters tent where he spent most of his waking hours in Khe Sanh, injuring three Marines and killing a lance corporal who was due to return home in just 13 days. But Sargent, an Augusta resident and Gardiner High School graduate who fought in the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh against an estimated 34,000 North Vietnamese, wasn't there. Instead, he had jumped -- literally -- onto the back of a moving C-130 cargo plane nine days earlier on emergency leave so he could help his family back in Maine deal with the death of his brother-in-law, Guy Robert Bean, who was killed in combat in Vietnam at the age of 21.

Monday, the 40th anniversary of the start of the siege of Khe Sanh, Sargent said he plans to do what he usually does every year on that day. He'll flip through some of his old photo albums and books of mementos and commendations and think about his experiences and lost buddies in the Vietnam War. He figures he's lucky to be around to reflect, and not just because of the rocket that killed his unit's machine gunner, Lance Cpl. Wilbur Stovall, whom Sargent said was like a son to him. Sargent almost didn't make it out for his emergency leave. Due to persistent incoming enemy rocket and mortar fire, the few planes that did land on the crater-marked airstrip at Khe Sanh usually never came to a full stop. Their loads of supplies were attached to parachutes, which pulled the pallets of supplies out the back of the C-130s. Then the planes, after touching down, without stopping, would take back off. So Sargent had to run out onto the airstrip to board a plane out.

"I ran and jumped for the tail, but my pistol belt got held up on the ramp," Sargent said. "It was stuck. I couldn't get in and I couldn't get out."

Another service member saw what was happening, grabbed Sargent and pushed him up into the plane. But in so doing, the man was left hanging from the ramp as the plane began to takeoff and left the ground. The other man fell to the ground.

"The last thing I saw was him landing and rolling on the ground," Sargent said of the other service member. "I don't know if he made it or not. I still see that guy, rolling on the ground, today."

Another close call came when a 152-millimeter artillery shell flew over his foxhole, close enough so he could feel the heat coming off it. Other than a touch of shell shock which caused Sargent, for a time even after he'd left a combat area, to yell "Incoming!" and dive to the ground when he heard loud, explosive-sounding noises, he made it out of Khe Sanh without getting injured.

Both Worthley and Sargent spent most of their time on the base, as most fighting at Khe Sanh consisted of exchanges of artillery fire, not direct, face-to-face combat. Both Marines said the defensive assignment of holding the base while under siege was frustrating for many of their fellow Marines because, they said, Marines are used to being on the offensive.

The steady barrage of enemy shelling led to them spending most of their time underground in bunkers. Worthley said they filled large wooden ammunition boxes with dirt to build up their walls and strengthen their bunkers from attack. Sargent said they used nearly anything they could find, because proper supplies were hard to come by in Khe Sanh, which was surrounded by the enemy and reachable only by aircraft. "We didn't have proper protection for our bunkers," Sargent said. "All of our corrugated steel went to the north, thanks to Robert McNamara (U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1961-1968). We had nothing to stop anything more than an 82 millimeter mortar. They (the North Vietnamese) were using heavier shells than that. They had 152s. We had sandbags, 55-gallon drums and empty ammo boxes so we'd fill them full of dirt for protection. Anything we could find."

Sargent was battery gunnery sergeant and platoon sergeant of a 36-man reactionary platoon. During his service in Vietnam he was awarded a Navy Commendation and the Bronze Star with a Combat V for heroic achievement, for his role in an attack not at Khe Sanh. He said he didn't want the award because he received it for his actions in an attack in which 35 Marines died.

"I did nothing but do my job and get the wounded out of there," he said of the Bronze Star. "I didn't want it. I wear it in memory of the Marines who got killed that night."

Marines made up the bulk of forces at Khe Sanh but all branches were represented. Sargent said sometimes they were short on supplies so weren't allowed to use water to shower, and were limited to two C-ration meals per day., The first wave of what many consider the official siege of Khe Sanh started with a major attack at 5:30 a.m., Jan. 21, 1968. "They hit us with rockets, mortars, everything," Sargent said. "The third round hit our ammo dump. We had all kinds of stuff in there. It was quite a Fourth of July display. It was two or three days before it settled down."

Worthley came into and left Khe Sanh, which is on a plateau surrounded by the Coroc Mountains located near the North Vietnam and Laos borders, by helicopter. Bullets were coming through the bottom of the helicopter when he was flown out.

A native of Mexico, Worthley attended technical school on the GI bill after the Marines and became a master electrician. He and his wife Carol have two adult daughters. Sargent was in Khe Sanh from September of 1967 to April 18, 1968. He was in the Marines until he retired from the Corps, Sept. 30, 1976.

Later he worked for the state and Digital in Augusta, before retiring. He's been married to his wife and high school sweetheart, Onise, 53 years. They have two daughters and five grandchildren. One grandson joined the Marines, though Sargent noted he did not pressure him to do so. The number of casualties suffered by both sides at Khe Sanh has long been disputed. The official count of deaths released by the Marines counts 205 deaths and 1,668 wounded. The Khe Sanh Veterans Association, founded by Vietnam historian Ray W. Stubbe, a Navy Chaplain at Khe Sanh and founder of Khe Sanh Veterans Association, estimates there were 730 Americans killed in action in Khe Sanh. More than 2,500 were injured, according to multiple accounts. Khe Sanh was abandoned by U.S. troops and leveled by July of 1968.

"The powers that be decided it wasn't of important strategic use," Sargent said. "All this waste of blood and human lives, and they turn around and level it."


Sgt/1st Class Chuck Tredinnick
A virtual salute, but the pain still very real

Submitted,
by Mike Fishbaugh

It was Jan. 29, 1968. Sgt. 1st Class Charles “Chuck” Nichol Tredinnick, formerly of Dallas, was serving in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer in the Special Forces in Vietnam. In just one day, Tredinnick and his group were to return to Okinawa, Japan, and then back to the United States. Before their scheduled departure, the soldiers volunteered for one more mission: to recover American bodies and retrieve an MIA/POW from another special forces team on Hill 471 outside of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. That turned out to be a deadly decision. Tredinnick was killed in combat when he was shot in the chest. He was 33.

Like the 50,000-plus Americans who perished in Vietnam, Charles Tredinnick is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. He is also listed on a Web site called the Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial. His widow, Joy, never remarried, and lived in the couple’s North Carolina home until her death in 2005. In 2002, she posted this message on the Virtual Wall:


“They say that time heals all wounds, so why won’t this one heal? It’s been over 34 years now and you are still in my dreams all the time. I still miss you so much. We used to talk about growing old together ... sitting on the front porch in our rockers and watching the rest of the world go by. It’s not much fun sitting there alone.”

While serving in Vietnam, Charles Tredinnick often wrote home to Joy, telling her not to worry because “only the good die young.” Two days before he died, he wrote: “Well darling that’s about it for today. I don’t know when I’ll get the time to write again…. So until then know I love you very much and always will.”

Keeping his memory alive Charles Tredinnick’s older sister, Jean Tredinnick Donnora, 77, of Cocoa, Fla., remembers the day she found out her brother had died. “I worked for the telephone company in Dallas and I got a call from his wife’s uncle and he told me he was missing, and of course I got scared and I started to cry and they let me go home,” Donnora said. Donnora went home and called Joy Tredinnick, who said that Charles Tredinnick’s body was found. “I was just crushed,” Donnora said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. In fact, I still miss him.”

Charles Tredinnick wanted to be a Marine, but they would not accept him because he had flat feet. So he joined the Army. Later, Charles Tredinnick advanced to a ranger and then a member of the Green Beret Special Forces. He served in Germany and did two tours in Vietnam, was awarded the Purple Star, two Bronze Star awards, Silver Star, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, Combat Infantryman Badge, MACV-SOG Presidential Unit Citation Commemorative Coin, and the Army Master Parachutist. He also was given the Ranger Special Forces Airborne and MACV-SOG patches.

Donnora was close to her brother and named her son Charles after him. Sadly, little Charles passed away in 1960 at age 5 after being run over by a school bus in Shavertown. Donnora does not own a computer and has never seen the Virtual Wall, but says she saw the moving wall and has pictures of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington.

Charles Tredinnick’s cousin, Dennis Tredinnick, is the contact for Charles Tredinnick on the Virtual Wall. Dennis Tredinnick, 62, of Glen Gardner, N.J., never met his cousin but feels it is important to honor him because he, as the most decorated Tredinnick, is the family hero. Dennis Tredinnick, also a veteran, stays in touch with about seven men who served with Charles Tridinnick, including Jim Taylor who was with Charles while he died.

“I was interested in what they thought of my cousin and what experiences and things they went through in ‘Nam,” Dennis Tredinnick said. “I guess I was learning more and more about Charles, who I didn’t know.” Charles and Joy Tredinnick are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Charles Tredinnick is listed on Panel 35E Line 063 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

At the end of Joy Tredinnick’s posting on the Virtual Wall, she included a poem she wrote about her husband titled “My Green Beret.” The last stanza reads, “So, as the lonely days and nights pass, And I re-read that letter. … his last, I tell him, “You’re right as always, my darling. … Only the very best die young.”


Navy Pilot Returned to US

Submitted by
Mike Fishbaugh

In the late summer of 2002, a team of Defense Department MIA hunters in Ho Chi Minh City got a call from their counterparts in the Vietnamese government. Some Vietnamese fishermen had discovered human bones and airplane wreckage off an Phu Quoc island in the Gulf of Thailand. They wanted to turn over the remains and believed that it would guarantee them an opportunity to immigrate. The Americans took the remains and wreckage given to them and attempted unsuccessfully to get to the underwater site a few miles offshore. Some months later, the bones were flown to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where they stayed in a laboratory for five years.

On Monday, those remains come home, to a hallowed ground that overlooks the old Naval Air Station in Dallas, where a young Fort Worth man took the naval officer's oath in 1964. That was before Lt/ jg. Frank E. Hand III left for the war in Vietnam, before he and 11 other young men went down trying to find Viet Cong gun-running boats.

Growing up Frank Hand could be found most days in the mid-1950s on the playground of Oakhurst Elementary School, leading a touch football game of neighborhood boys. His parents' house backed up to the school, and it was there and at the Riverside Baptist Church where Frank and his younger brother Bruce spent much of their youth. Frank was born in 1942 in Charleston, S.C., when their father was an instructor pilot for the Navy during World War II. The family had moved to a house on Westbrook Avenue in the summer of '51 when Frank Hand Jr. took a job with the Federal Aviation Administration in Fort Worth.

He was an outgoing boy at Carter-Riverside High School, an Eagle Scout, and an accomplished swimmer. He, and later his brother, worked summers as lifeguards at the Ridglea Country Club. "He made enough money to buy a nice car," his brother said. "He was mechanically inclined, so he could work on it. It was a black, two-door Pontiac Bonneville, a '58, if I remember. Talk about a cool car." After graduation in 1960, Frank started at what was then Arlington State College to study architecture. He did that for three years but decided to take a break and work for an architecture firm to earn money. The draft board noticed the change and reclassified him as eligible.

So Frank Hand, presumably unwilling to chance the Army or the infantry, went to NAS Dallas to compete for a spot in officer candidate school and a shot at naval aviation. Romance in Florida Linda Merriman, a local girl in Pensacola, Fla., thought she had met the most gorgeous man in the world. A Texas boy, a Navy officer candidate and pilot in training. He drove a new Corvette. He was, without a doubt, living the high life. "It was like Officer and a Gentleman," Bruce said of his brother's relationship.

After a year of dating, Linda and Frank Hand wed on a warm August day in 1966 in the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, an arch of crossed swords over their heads when they left the sanctuary. They moved frequently over the next several months, going from flight school to more flight schools. Finally in 1967, he was assigned to Patrol Squadron 26 in Brunswick, Maine, and immediately prepared for deployment to Southeast Asia.

He wrote Linda a letter every day he was gone, beginning in November 1967. "He just wanted me to stay busy and pass the time because I had so much free time on my hands," she said. "He would tell me all was going well and 'I wish I could be with you.' They were great love letters. I kept all of them. "He called me at Christmastime. I believe that's the last time we were able to speak."

The last flight

When Frank Hand, 26, took off on April 1, 1968, with three other officers and eight sailors in a P-3 Orion from an air base in Thailand, the biggest news in Vietnam centered on the military's efforts to break through the siege at Khe Sanh. Hand's crew was on a routine mission, scanning the waters off Vietnam for Viet Cong.

On his airplane he served as the co-pilot -- was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a Cambodian gunboat, according to news accounts. The pilots attempted to fly to land to improve their chances for rescue, but the four-engine aircraft didn't make it. No one survived. Search and rescue crews recovered something from every man on board, so none were ever listed as missing in action. All searchers found of him, according to the Defense Department, was a boot bearing his name.

On April 24, 1968, he was laid to rest in Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, where Linda wanted him buried. The service was held in the First Baptist Church, 20 months after his picture-perfect wedding. Hand's parents went on, of course, though they grieved terribly. His mother, Dottie, was especially close to Frank. His father, Frank Jr., grieved more quietly, choosing to channel his feelings into a years-long search to find out more about his son's last flight. Years later, his son Bruce discovered paperwork indicating that his father had been planning a trip to Vietnam to go to the crash site. "Dad was very quiet," Bruce said. "He was of that generation where you kept your feelings to yourself."

Linda and Frank Hand had planned exactly six children. They would all be boys, they decided jokingly. After a few years, Linda remarried and started a family. She now lives in North Carolina. But Frank has never left her. "I still share his love and will forever," she said. A memory revived thirty-eight years after Hand died. An official with the Department of the Navy called Bruce and requested a blood sample. To say it was a surprise is a wholly inadequate description for what it did to Bruce, who felt as if he had been struck by lightning on a cloudless, sunny day.

"I got excited," Bruce said, Frank's closest living relative. "But then I had to tell myself to sit down, nothing is going to come of this." It did. The Navy followed up a few months later, at the beginning of the summer, to tell Bruce the story of the Vietnamese villagers and the successful DNA match with several bones of Frank's. No other crewman's remains were found. Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, said finding additional remains of servicemen happens more often than people would think. "It amazes me when I hear that Vietnamese villagers or fishermen have gone to the trouble of finding who to give these to," Greer said. "It tells me that they are very much aware of the U.S. commitment to the recovery effort."

Bruce called Linda, other family members, members of the Patrol Squadron Association. He heard from officers on active duty today in Frank's old squadron in Maine, and he learned about the memorial there with an etching of Frank's name from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. For the first time in many years, Frank and his memory had been very much alive. "The Navy wanted to know what I wanted to do, but I needed to take a breath and consider all this," he said. "Well, the summer went by pretty quick, and I decided that the fall would be a nice time for this."

The Department of Veterans Affairs gave Bruce permission to place Frank's remains in a columbarium at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, ordinarily not allowed because he already has a spot at a national cemetery. "While this has presented a unique situation, for reasons of compassion, we decided to honor the Hand family's request," said Ron Pemberton, director of D-FW National Cemetery.

The Navy agreed to provide four F/A-18 Hornets to perform the "missing man" formation over the cemetery on Monday, a particularly special gesture for Bruce. The executive officer of Patrol Squadron 26 is coming to Texas for the service.

"This has all been good," Bruce said. "Everything has just come together beautifully."

Linda Shoemaker will be there, too, with the friend that introduced her to Frank 42 years ago

I'll never, ever dreamed of something like this," she said. "I've shed many tears since we got the information. I am thrilled to bring him home. But it opens up a lot of hurt, and a lot of happiness, too."


MIA/Air Force Captain Brought Home

Submitted by
Mike Fishbaugh

Air Force Captain Stephen Rusch was in his aircraft over Laos in 1972 when he was shot down. Rusch was 28 years old and never heard from again. Bob Heath knew the Captain's late father well and remembers the anguish he endured. "His father was obviously distraught for the loss of his son," Heath said. "And not knowing where he was." They have now found where he was. After years of excavating the wreckage and testing remains that were recovered, two teeth have been positively identified as those of Captain Stephen Rusch.

His daughter Sharon was just 6 years old when his plane was shot down. She is now an Air Force Colonel and is escorting her father's remains home from the pacific. "I've missed my dad," she said. "I miss my dad every day of my life. I think about him all the time. The Colonel can't help but pay tribute to the military teams who made it possible for her dad to buried, properly.

It wouldn't have mattered if it was his whole body or two teeth. The fact of the matter is these people worked very hard to bring him home to us." There is a plaque hanging at Lambertville City hall with Captain Rusch's picture. City Clerk Marie Rossiter sees it all the time.

God gave my Dad the gift of true freedom. Because he is a gracious, loving God he wanted my Dad, and indeed each of us is to know we are accepted, secure and significant. Let me repeat that in case you missed it: Because he is a gracious, loving God he wanted my Dad, and indeed each of us is to know we are accepted, secure and significant. In this we are free to live life fully and experience eternity.

"The family can finally put everything to rest. His daughter will know where he is now," Rossiter said. Jim Conover is a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran. He knew Stephen Rusch when they were kids attending First Presbyterian Church together. "He was just a wonderful kid and just a great guy," Conover said. He too says this is a case of the U.S. military, never forgetting those left behind. I would have had a hard time delivering this message if I didn’t believe it.

"Just the idea that they kept looking and looking and looking and digging and digging," Conover said, this country goes to great expense as they should, because these people are the true heroes of this country, they should not be forgotten." After so many years missing in action, Captain Stephen Rusch will have a final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.


WELCOME HOME


ROBERT ELLISON REMEMBERED

By Kevin Lynch

Young, gifted and white, Robert Jackson Ellison heard the majestic, dreamlike voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King speaking about a better world to young students and thousands of others on the vast National Mall in Washington on that day in August 1963.

Maybe that better world is what Ellison, the child of a military family, started searching for. He would say that King's dream became his, and he promptly dropped out of the University of Florida. And in the best of his photographs, you see the complexities, the situations and the spirit of humanity. Racial injustice was the backdrop, just as the inhumanity of war may have led him to Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

Since childhood Ellison had been fascinated with small reptiles, and he majored in herpetology. Now he would try to capture something larger. The move was, perhaps, rash and demonstrably dangerous. Ellison gave up tuition payments for the daring life of a freelance photographer and paid for it with his life. In March 1968 he died, at 23, in a military incident fraught with miscommunication.

We are left with extraordinarily compelling and beautiful photography that has been collected as "An Instinct for Light: The Photography of Robert J. Ellison," currently showing at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum through June 15.It is an exhibit worth seeing and pondering during this Black History Month and in this dark era of America as a nation at war.

It's easy enough to see that this young man was committed to American ideals. He was inspired, all right, as the photos also show. But that was cold comfort to his mother, Miriam Eaton, and all those who loved him and his potential. Today his mother has built an edifice of pride on her loss. "Many times I wished he could have been my friend instead of my son," she tells a nearly packed lecture hall on a yet another snowbound Madison evening. "We were in sync in so many ways. He didn't want to come back a basket case. If he would have been drafted it would have been a whole different story."

Eaton, now 86, expresses poignant irony while recounting her son's creative willfulness.

"He wasn't an easy child to have, but what an experience he was," she laughs.

She recalls that her son was an instinctive daredevil who had tried to catch poisonous sidewinders in the Mojave Desert. Eaton is a trim, petite, still-practicing artist who has lived in Milwaukee for many of the years since her son's death. She clearly encouraged her son and helped him not to judge others by their skin color. "I know how it was back in my day, the separate bathrooms and water fountains and everything," she says. "I never saw Negroes as different. Bob was the same way. He just cared about people, so much."

Big donation

Eaton recently donated a large amount of her son's prints, contact sheets, diaries and other personal documents to the Veterans Museum. She had contacted museum officials to donate the letters of her first husband, Jack Ellison, a World War II veteran. Then the museum staff learned what her son had accomplished and found out she had more.

The exhibit includes 16 excellent photographs by Ellison, including some stunning color prints from Khe Sanh in Vietnam, superb black and whites from the civil rights movement and political and military upheaval in the Dominican Republic, a touching family scrapbook, and several well-wrought narrative panels with photos of Ellison himself.

Museum exhibition curator Jeffrey Kollath says there's enough for another exhibit, and, indeed, one longs for more of Ellison's civil rights-era photos, shot for Ebony magazine and others. But the ones here are masterful. One views King from right under his podium, in a stylized fish-eye lens shot from below, through a battery of microphones. As King reaches out, his arm becomes a perfectly circular limb, signifying the virtually global reach of this man. King's speech came on the 200-mile "March Against Fear" in Mississippi in June 1966. Ellison is also there later in the dramatic march, close up to clearly angry activist Stokley Carmichael as he exhorts the crowd with his famous "black power" speech, shortly after a sniper shot civil rights activist James Meredith.

A third photograph peeks in on a young African-American boy on the famous Selma, Ala., march in 1965, eyeing the photographer with a wary defiance as his mother's gloved hand tunes in a radio he is holding. Several years later, Ellison found himself in Vietnam, shooting for Newsweek. The Web site Digital Journalist features several of Ellison's war photos from this show in "Requiem," a documentary tribute to fallen photojournalists.

Rockets bursting

Correspondent Peter Arnett, renowned for his Gulf War television reporting, recounts in "Requiem" seeing Ellison lying on top of a bunker "with rockets bursting 30 or 40 feet away. I ran out and yelled, 'What the hell are you doing up there?!' Ellison only shrugged and said, 'How else am I going to get shots of the night fighting?' "

Arnett's story helps explain how Ellison got the amazing photograph at Khe Sanh that ended up on the cover of Newsweek magazine. A bomb hits an ammo dump, and scrambling soldiers freeze reflexively. The scene blazes white hot and hellish red, with fire and debris spewing skyward. The explosion is framed in the foreground with a slashing ridge and back dropped by a hunkering mountain and a cherry sky. Ellison's instinct for finding a perfect cinematic setting is amazing.

Finally, one can see the whole story of Khe Sanh in the exhausted, ravaged face of an American GI. Here, in red tones of muddy facial contours and empty eyes, the young photographer sees his fellow man with extraordinary insight, compassion and courage. "He was there longer than any other journalist, about 14 days," says Ellison's photographer compatriot Jim Caccavo, in an interview at the exhibit opening. Ellison had just delivered the eight color photos that ran in one edition of Newsweek, an unprecedented accomplishment at the time, says Caccavo, who had met Ellison when both men, aged 23, had covered the "spy ship" USS Pueblo in Korea earlier in 1968.

Ellison had decided to deliver beer, cokes and cigars as gifts to men he had met in Khe Sanh. So he hopped onto a two-engine C-123 troop transport plane loaded with 48 reinforcement troops, flying into the heavily embattled region. A small Vietnamese plane mistakenly landed just when the C-123 should have. So the pilot of the American plane circled to re-land. In the brief duration, intense enemy gunfire hit one engine, and the plane spun out of control and crashed. There were no survivors.


GETTING OUT THE NEWS

Submitted by Charlie Taliaferro

By Bobbye C. Jerone.

Yesterday I assisted a Vietnam veteran in filing a claim for an increase in his percent of service connected disability for a medical issue he has had since he was on active duty; and which has become much worse. As we talked he mentioned that he had had prostate cancer several years ago and still had some residual problems. He was shocked to find out that prostate cancer is one of the 11 diseases which are "presumed to be service connected" if a person served in Vietnam — or has been exposed to certain herbicides, most notably one called "Agent Orange."

We filed a claim for the residuals of the cancer and medical problems, which are secondary to the cancer. The sad thing is that this Veteran, who has already suffered so much for our country, had no idea
that he could be compensated for these medical problems. Last week I met a lady who lost her husband to cancer as a result of his exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. He was ill for over a year, and died in November of 2007. He never knew that he was eligible to file a claim for compensation for this 'presumed service connected' medical problem. The VA compensation would have been a godsend to this family when the man became too ill to work.

We are currently helping several young veterans who have been injured, or are ill, from their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most of the time they have no idea what the 'presumed to be service connected' disorders are that pertain to them. And no one seems to be standing in line to get the word out to them.

There are four lists of 'presumed to be service connected' medical conditions which are published by the VA. They are also listed in a VA Benefits Handbook, which is published every year by the government. The VA medical Centers, Regional Office, and Outpatient Centers have made these books available for no fee in the past. Unfortunately these Handbooks are scarce in printed form since the VA made the information available on the internet.

The four lists are, Former POW's, Vietnam Veterans (and those exposed to Herbicides, i.e., Agent Orange); Atomic Veterans (Exposed to ionizing radiation) and Gulf War veterans. Because of the space constraints of this column, we are unable to print them all here. If you, or someone you know, is
a former POW, or has been exposed to Ionizing Radiation please consult the appropriate list for disorders which may affect you.

Following are the two lists which affect the largest number of veterans in our area:

Vietnam Veterans (or any veteran who can prove exposure to herbicides-most notably Agent Orange)

Soft tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma or mesothelioma); Hodgkin's disease; multiple myeloma; respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea); non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; prostate cancer, Type II Diabetes; Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Chloracne or Porphyria Cutanea Tarda and Peripheral neuropathy (other than as secondary to diabetes).(with the last two disorders to be diagnosed within one year of exposure.)

Gulf War veterans: (Anyone who served in the first Gulf War and or the current War on Terrorism)

Medical unexplained or undiagnosed*, chronic multi-system illnesses defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms that have existed for six months or more, such as; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome; any diagnosed or undiagnosed illness that the secretary of VA determines warrants a presumption of service connection; Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

* Symptoms of an 'undiagnosed illness' include: Fatigue, skin symptoms, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, neurological and respiratory symptoms; sleep disturbances, GI symptoms, cardiovascular symptoms, unexplained weight loss and menstrual disorders.

If you or anyone you know, has been diagnosed with any of the above disorders you should get your medical records together and file a claim for compensation immediately!


A Vietnam War nightmare
Purple hearts on Valentine's Ridge

By Steve Luhm
The Salt Lake Tribune

Valentine's Day memories:

George Lindell nearly died on the holiday in 1968 in During his half-completed tour of duty in Vietnam, U.S. Navy corpsman George Lindell had seen enough combat to recognize the "pop" of a mortar being fired and to calculate where the shell would hit. This one was headed directly at him. In the late afternoon of Feb. 14, 1968 - Valentine's Day - Lindell glanced at his squad leader, Corporal Dennis Fleming. They shouted a warning to each other and dug their fingers into the ground, hoping for the impossible, trying to somehow burrow themselves out of harm's way. The explosion sucked the air from Lindell's lungs, and the intense wave of searing heat that accompanied the bursting mortar round made those oppressively humid Midwestern summers that always enveloped his hometown of Wautoma, Wis., seem like an ocean breeze. "It felt like I got smashed in the chest with a sledge hammer," Lindell recalled, 40 years later. "I couldn't catch my breath. I was numb all over. I couldn't move. I just flopped around, like a fish out of water. My ears were ringing." Only a few feet away, Fleming had been killed instantly. As Lindell struggled to regain a sense of his surroundings, a lightening bolt of pain from his shredded left leg raced through his body. "I heard someone screaming - above the ringing in my ears," Lindell said. "Then I realized it was me."

Not wanting to draw unwelcome attention to himself or his location, Lindell forced himself to stop. He didn't want to look at his leg, fearing it might not be there. Another corpsman arrived to help and asked where he had been hit. Lindell welcomed the question: "I figured my leg was still there. Otherwise, he wouldn't have asked." Nearby, Marine Steve Miera tried in vain to conceal his position. Like Lindell, he found himself in the crosshairs of this fierce North Vietnamese army attack - a far cry from his carefree elementary-school days in Ogden. Without warning, a "potato-masher" hand grenade known as a chi com" hit the ground next to him and rolled once, stopping about 18 inches away. "There wasn't anything I could do," Miera said. "I just pulled my helmet down and pulled my shoulders up and waited for the explosion." It never happened. "I waited and waited and waited," Miera said, "but all it did was smoke a lot. It was a dud." For Miera, Valentine's Day was just beginning

Deal with the whatever is out there

For most people, Valentine's Day is flowers and chocolates, cards and special meals with loved ones. For Miera, Valentine's Day is a bloody jungle ridge in a long-ago war. During the Vietnam War, the Ca Lu combat base was spread over low rolling hills, where a narrow dirt road known as Route 9 comes up from the south and bends toward Khe Sanh, a besieged U.S. outpost about eight miles to the west. this was dangerous country, just a few miles from North Vietnam. Thousands of the enemy's best troops thrived in the surrounding mountains and jungles. "Morale is high," Staff Sgt. John Edwards wrote at the time, "partly because we live at the edge of civilization but mostly because of our XO, Major John Oliver. . . . He has our confidence. We feel safe with him. He knows the ropes."

Because North Vietnamese attacks had made Route 9 a treacherous supply route, the U.S. troops at Ca Lu did not have much to eat. Breakfast often consisted of a peach slice or dry cereal bar. In early February, American patrols along Route 9 and in the mountains west of Ca Lu started coming under increasing mortar and small arms fire. A company-sized patrol, about 170 men, was ordered into the area to "deal with the whatever is out there," Edwards wrote. Another Marine, Gene Miller, heard the same thing. "We had been getting incoming from those ridge lines and I guess they wanted to find who was sniping at us," he said. Asked what he remembered about the orders for Kilo Company, Lindell shrugged and said, "Most of us didn't know what we were doing - never did."

As a communications chief, Edwards could have stayed in the relative safety of the combat base. Instead, he asked Major Oliver if he could go on the patrol. "He gives me his blessings," Edwards recalled, who also secured needed permission from Capt. Alexander Ward. "He gives me a warm welcome and said, 'We're just going out to get that mortar.' I think it's optimistic to believe the NVA only have one mortar out there, but I keep that counsel to myself." After dark, Edwards became restless. He rose from a fitful sleep before dawn, stuffed a can of fruit cocktail into his pack, put on a flak jacket and helmet, holstered his .45-caliber pistol and decided to pick up an M-14 rifle. As a non-commissioned officer, Edwards had the option of carrying a rifle into the field. On Valentine's Day, he took one along.

Not alone on the mountain

Kilo Company left the sanctuary of the combat base through the north wire, turned west and inched its way through thick brush alongside Route 9. The pace was maddeningly slow, but one designed to prevent a careless rush into an ambush. Lindell remembers stopping only to fill canteens with rain water that had collected at the bottom of bomb craters. Edwards transferred his .45 from holster to pocket, fearing the thick brush would rip it from his side. By mid afternoon, the patrol reached an unremarkable 200-meter mountain about one mile west of Ca Lu. Kilo Company was standing - uninvited - in the NVA's living room.

The Marines, along with their Navy corpsmen, circled the mountain before starting toward the top. Miera had the unenviable job of "walking point," meaning he led his comrades into the unknown. "He was very good at it, being the outdoors-type," Miller said.

Miera was the first to realize the Marines were not alone on the mountain: "We were coming out of dense jungle - toward a big ravine, and heard a metal clicking sound. Like hitting pipes with a hammer. So I stopped the column and called for a fire team." Instead of receiving support to deal with a possible attack, Miera was pulled off the point and sent "about three guys back" in the column. "The C.O. made up his mind, I guess, that nothing was going to stop us," Miera said. Word of the clicking noise and Miera's request for a fire team trickled back to the other Marines on the patrol. "They told us not to worry about it - to keep going," Miller said. "We didn't like that very much." The young American who replaced Miera as the column's point man inched forward. He didn't get far, Miera said, before "all hell broke loose." This anonymous place in Vietnam had just gotten a name: Valentine's Ridge.

No more jokes

Lindell was wounded just above the ankle - the back of his leg torn open. Fleming, his squad leader, was not as fortunate. The direction of the mortar fire and the slope of the ground at its impact point hurled most of the shrapnel at him.

"Only a short time before, we'd been joking as we hugged the ground, joking to keep the fear from overcoming us," Lindell said.

Another corpsman came to Lindell, tore off his boot and hastily dressed his wound. Lindell heard the screams of others all around him. Suddenly, a wide-eyed lieutenant slid down next to him "like Pete Rose."

He shouted an order to retreat because of the advancing North Vietnamese and ran down the mountain. The corpsman helped Lindell stand and, together, they followed the lieutenant - enemy bullets crackling around them every step of the way. Lindell felt "tremendous guilt" about leaving Fleming's body behind, but there was no choice. In the gathering darkness, getting away from an enemy who did not take prisoners alive was a matter of survival. Crashing through the brush, Lindell lost his .45, which because of its worn condition had always made him think it was World War II vintage. "My hope," he said, "was that some NVA would find it, try to fire it and it would blow up in his face."

Lindell had been wounded by a faceless enemy. Others were not. As soon as the firefight began, Miera "saw a bunch of NVA" and opened fire. "I killed two of them," he said, though he quickly turned and started down the mountain because "there were too many of them. It was total chaos. We were getting hammered from both sides. ... I made it down on my belly." Trading his now-jammed rifle for one off "a guy who'd been killed," Miera moved forward again to search for the Marines who had replaced him at the front of the column after he reported the clicking noise. There no sign of them - just the enemy.

Backing down the ridge on his stomach, Miera ran into a guy from my squad," who started shouting when the NVA began throwing rocks from the top of the ridge. "In hand grenade school, you are taught to holler if you saw one coming in," Miera said. "Maybe the NVA knew this because they started throwing rocks and this guy starts yelling, "May Day, May Day" - like they were real grenades. I told him, 'Shut up, man. If you holler again, they're going to kill us.' In the confusion and under heavy fire, Miera lost track of the panicked Marine. He made it down the mountainside but decided to make a final search of the initial firefight area and moved forward again. "There was nobody there, not even the NVA," Miera said. "I wondered what the hell was going on."

The enemy spotted Miera during his final retreat and opened fire. Miera dropped behind a tree. A burst of bullets passed through the pulpy trunk, just over his head, spraying him with "an acid-like juice. I could feel in burning." On the move again, Miera ran into two more NVA soldiers. The first "saw me and fired but nothing happened. I guess his gun jammed." The second "fired and missed. I returned fire and killed him. But I put another burst into him, just to make sure." Darkness now claimed Valentine's Ridge, and Miera was alone. He felt for one bullet he had put in his pocket. It was still there. He sighed with relief. "They told us - because of how the NVA treated captured Americans - to save the last round for yourself," Miera explained. "So that's what I did." When the firefight began, Miller saw his squad leader, Cpl. David Schneider "got killed right off the bat. I was close to him and went over the checked on him. But" The enemy fire increased. Along with several others, Miller withdrew but stopped to help a Marine who had been wounded. They talked about home. "I didn't know the guy," Miller said. "But he was telling me about his car." Miller wasn't finished giving first aid when word came to continue the retreat.

The Marines in the group started to do so, but Miller screamed for them to wait until he was done with his corpsman-like task. He threatened anyone who thought about leaving. The others waited. Headed down the mountain again, Miller saw "several NVA popping up out of the brush and firing at us. So I fired back. I don't know if I hit any of them, but they were not far away - not at all." Miller's group reached the base of the mountain. "We set up in kind of a defensive perimeter, but we were so far from the rest of the platoon, there was no way to get back," Miller said. "And it was pitch black by then." Edwards was also caught in the chaos, despite his position near the rear of the column. A tear-gas grenade forced him to gasp for breath. Shrapnel from a mortar shell grazed his left temple. Another nearby mortar blast killed Lt. William Reese and wounded Capt. Ward, who later died.

Edwards, who always brought maps and critical communication frequencies into the field with him, found a radio. He contacted Maj. Oliver, who told him to gather everyone he could find and withdraw to Route 9. Edwards happened upon Miera, Miller, Lindell, a communications wireman from his platoon named Wilson and another Marine. (In the confusion, in such complete darkness, Miera, Miller and Lindell didn't know about the other two members of their group until years later.) According to Edwards, "Everyone was wounded to some extend. We took stock of our situation in a gully at the bottom of the ridge." Edwards radioed for an evacuation helicopter. None were available. He told the others and called for a vote on a course of action. Do they spend the night at the base of Valentine's Ridge, or do they try to hack their way through the pitch-dark jungle and reach Route 9?

'Let's get off this hill'

Bleeding from a shrapnel wound near his eye, Miera wasn't sure what he wanted to do, so he asked Edwards if they should try to search out and rejoin the rest of the company still fighting on Valentine's Ridge. Miera didn't like the answer: "John said, 'If we try walking to their perimeter, 100 grenades are going to come our way.' Since he had the highest rank, I said, 'Well, you're in charge.' And he said, 'Let's get off this hill.' " George Lindell recalls "a couple of guys were thinking about trying to reach the road beside the hill." His training took over. "They asked if I wanted to go," Lindell said. "Since one of them was wounded, I figured they may need a corpsman, and I still had my corpsman bag, so I went." It was a terrifying journey.

The group started up the mountain, slipped over the top and dropped down the backside, mostly on their knees and stomachs. Their pace was glacial because of the darkness, the terrain and fear of stumbling upon an enemy that was all around them. We were just trying to find a way out," Miller said. "And in that situation, you are scared sh-less." Miera started as the point man. He used a sheath knife his father had sent him from home in Taos, N.M., to cut a tunnel through the jungle vegetation. Even at such a slow pace, Lindell had a difficult time keeping up. His pants were soaked in blood from ankle to groin and, he was missing one boot, leaving his foot prickled with thorns. "I was falling behind when I heard, very close to me, a large animal breathing," Lindell said. "I assumed it was a tiger or a rock ape. But I wasn't armed and I didn't want to yell out because there was fighting go on all around us. So I kind of whispered to the guys, 'Hey, hey, hey.' They held up until I stumbled up to them."

Edwards replaced Miera as the group's point-man, and Miera dropped behind Lindell, who feared he was becoming a burden. "My leg was cramping and I was exhausted," Lindell said. "I remember telling them, in my best John Wayne voice, to leave me there because I knew I was slowing everybody up. I said they could come back for me. They laughed, quietly of course, and said they'd move as fast as I could. Thank God." Because he still had the radio, Edwards was able to talk to Maj. Oliver and others along Route 9. They kept shooting flares, so any stragglers on Valentine's Ridge would know where to head. "Later," Edwards wrote, "the mortar guys told me they $4,000 on flares." Hours into their journey, Miera "heard someone behind us. So I told John, 'Why don't you guys go about 30 paces and I'll sit here and see what the hell is following us.' Then I thought I'd just rig a grenade with some fishing line my dad had sent. But I thought about that and said, "Sh-, it might be a Marine and I don't want to kill one of our own guys.' "

Edwards was not interested in a confrontation. "We do not fire," he remembered. "They might be Marines and, if they are the enemy, we are in no condition for a fight." Said Miera: "We stopped. They stopped. We stopped. They topped. Then I heard a crack in the brush and a little rock rolled down into the big ravine next to us. That was it."

No love for Valentine's Day

As the pitch darkness at Valentine's Ridge grudgingly surrendered to dawn, the exhausted group inched its way down a stream bed when Edwards heard the voices of Marines patrolling Route 9. Miera's first thought: "I was afraid somebody was going to open up and cut us to pieces." Safely on the road, Miera asked Edwards for his sheath knife - the one they had used to slash their way through the jungle. But it was missing. "Losing that damn buck knife," Edwards wrote, "was the lowest I felt all night." Thirty-five years later, Edwards met up with Miera again.

One of the first things he did was give him a new knife. Edwards, Miera, Miller, Lindell, Wilson and the unidentified sixth Marine were escorted back to Ca Lu for treatment for their wounds and - in Lindell's case - medical evacuation. "Without those guys," said Lindell, who still lives in his Wisconsin hometown, "I would not be here today." A short-timer with only three months left in Vietnam, Miera was "sent to the rear" and served as a military policemen on a bridge in Quang Tri where, he said, "I got shot at more times than I did during that ambush." Miera returned home to New Mexico in July. Miller replaced Cpl. Schneider as a squad leader for a short time before being pulled from his in-country duties to work in "company supply, for some reason." Asked if his experience on Valentine's Ridge still impacts his life, Miller fell silent. After a brief pause, he said, "I never get too happy on any holiday." Tribune reporter Steve Luhm is the first-cousin of George Lindell.


Mapping Khe Sanh Battlefield

 By Mike Archer

Todd Wermager, a senior geography major at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, is working on a Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project with Professor Joe Hupy. Joe is a well known geographer who, along with his wife, specializes in soil and terrain disturbances caused by high-explosive artillery and bombs. A few years ago they studied the WWI battleground at Verdun, France and last year, with the assistance of Glenn Prentice, surveyed the Khe Sanh battlefield.

Hupy is inspired to translate the fighting at Khe Sanh into an atlas of maps depicting the precise location and description of fighting. His hope is to allow people to understand the battle at Khe Sanh not only chronologically, but also spatially. He envisions a time when students can, as an example, move a computer cursor to the map location of Hill 861A and learn (from information provided by those who were there) a first-hand description of what took place.

Professor Hupy has chosen the Khe Sanh battlefield, over the many great battlefields of past wars with which he and his wife are familiar, because, as Joe once told me, "students of today’s generation should be educated on the Vietnam War and it should be remembered to the utmost degree. " He envisions maps with various themes to help students better comprehend the battle conditions. As an example, one map might indicate where the artillery firing from Co Roc was located and show the range of those guns as opposed to the range of our Howitzers (as they say a "picture is worth a thousand words.")

I hope you KSV members will all consider assisting in this worthwhile project. To do so, or to get further information, please contact Mr. Wermager at WERMAGTA@uwec.edu. Should you have concerns that there might be a hidden agenda here, please check with Ray Stubbe or Glenn, both of whom are familiar with Hupy's work.

Incidentally, Joe recently advised me that he is trying to obtain funding from the university to attend the reunion in Reno this year in order to personally provide Khe Sanh vets with more information about
this project.



PUBLISHER NOTE:
I do not know where this article originated or who wrote it. It was sent to me by several members of our organization, who requested it be included in Red Clay.

Nam Vet6 writes:
In a message dated 2/16/2008 5:48:06 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,

As I came out of the supermarket that sunny day, pushing my cart of groceries towards my car, I saw an old man with the hood of his car up and a lady sitting inside the car, with the door open. The old man was looking at the engine. I put my groceries away in my car and continued to watch the old gentleman from about twenty-five feet away, when I saw a young man in his early twenties with a grocery bag in his arm, walking towards the old man. The old gentleman saw him coming too and took a few steps towards him. I saw the old gentleman point to his open hood and say something. The young man put his grocery bag into what looked like a brand new Cadillac Escalade and then turn back to the old man and I heard him yell at the old gentleman saying, "You shouldn't even be allowed to drive a car at your age." And then with a wave of his hand, he got in his car and peeled rubber out of the parking lot.

I saw the old gentleman pull out his handkerchief and mop his brow as he went back to his car and again looked at the engine. He then went to his wife and spoke with her and appeared to tell her it would be okay. I had seen enough and I approached the old man. He saw me coming and stood straight and as I got near him I said, "Looks like you're having a problem." He smiled sheepishly and quietly nodded his head. I looked under the hood myself and knew that whatever the problem was, it was beyond me.

Looking around I saw a gas station up the road and told the old gentleman that I would be right back. I drove to the station and went inside and saw three attendants working on cars. I approached one of them and related the problem the old man had with his car and offered to pay them if they could follow me back down and help him.

The old man had pushed the heavy car under the shade of a tree and appeared to be comforting his wife. When he saw us he straightened up and thanked me for my help. As the mechanics diagnosed the problem (overheated engine) I spoke with the old gentleman. When I shook hands with him earlier he had noticed my Marine Corps ring and had commented about it, telling me that he had been a Marine too. I nodded and asked the usual question, "What outfit did you serve with?" He had mentioned that he served with the first Marine Division at Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. He had hit all the big ones and retired from the Corps after the war was over.

As we talked we heard the car engine come on and saw the mechanics lower the hood. They came over to us as the old man reached for his wallet, but was stopped by me and I told him I would just put the bill on my AAA card. He still reached for the wallet and handed me a card that I assumed had his name and address on it and I stuck it in my pocket.

We all shook hands all around again and I said my goodbye's to his wife. I then told the two mechanics that I would follow them back up to the station. Once at the station I told them it was appreciated that they had interrupted their own jobs to come along with me and help the old man. I said I wanted to pay for the help, but they refused to charge me. One of them pulled out a card from his pocket looking exactly like the card the old man had given to me. Both of the men told me then, that they were Marine Corps Reservist. Once again we shook hands all around and as I was leaving, one of them told me I should look at the card the old man had given to me and I said I would and drove off. For some reason I had gone about two blocks when I pulled over and took the card out of my pocket and looked at it for a long, long, time. The name of the old gentleman was on the card in golden leaf and under his name......... "Congressional Medal of Honor Society."

I sat there motionless looking at the card and reading it over and over. I looked up from the card and smiled to no one but myself and marveled that on this day, four Marines had all come together, because one of us needed help. He was an old man alright, but it felt good to have stood next to greatness and courage and an honor to have been in his presence.

America is not at war. The U.S. Military is at war. America is at the Mall.

Semper Fi
 

   
   

 

   
 
 

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