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This page is for those who would like to share stories, experiences,
memories or any other information that is directly connected to their time in Vietnam.
Mark Allyn Smith
Name: Mark Allyn Smith
Rank/Branch: O3/US Army Unit: Advisor, Advisory Team 70, MACV
Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Lima OH (family in CA)
Date of Loss: 07 April 1972 Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 114338N 1063502E (XU731081)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category: Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Howard B. Lull, Richard S. Schott (both missing); Albert E. Carlson; Kenneth Wallingford; (POWs held in Cambodia and released in 1973)
REMARKS: RELEASED BY PRG 730212 Source: Compiled by HOMECOMING II and the P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
SYNOPSIS: On April 5, 1972, the 5th North Vietnamese Division suddenly smashed against the Loc Ninh district capitol before dawn, attacking as no enemy had yet attacked in that war. The Communist troops had Russian T-54 and PT-76 tanks, artillery and a conventional battle plan.
American forces in the area battled for two days before being overrun. On April 7, 1972, Maj. Albert E. Carlson; MSgt. Howard B. Lull; LtCol. Richard Schott; Capt. Mark A. Smith; and SFC Kenneth Wallingford were five advisors on Advisory Team 70, MACV, at Loc Ninh when the city was completely overrun. Radio contact was maintained until approximately 0800 hours, when the tactical operations center began burning. Later in the day, one of the advisors radioed that they were going into hiding, taking their radios with them.
After the incident, South Vietnamese Army personnel reported intercepting an enemy radio broadcast which stated that three United States advisors had been captured. Subsequent information received through intelligence sources reported that five Americans were taken prisoner. This report indicated that four of the prisoners had been taken to a temporary PW camp and one to an enemy hospital.
The Vietnamese captured Smith, Wallingford and Carlson whom they held in Cambodia for the remaining 10 months. On June 28, 1972, the U.S. Casualty division changed their status from missing to captured. The three were released at Loc Ninh in the general POW release in 1973.
Although most details of this incident are still classified, Capt. Smith indicated in his debriefing that he, Lull and Schott had been together in a bunker shortly before he was captured. Lull left the bunker to evade capture, while the severely wounded Schott knew he would not survive, and lifted his own weapon to his head and shot himself to give the others a chance to escape.
Lull, if captured, was not taken to the same prison camps as were Smith, Carlson and Wallingford. Some reports say that he was killed by the North Vietnamese, but the U.S. continued his status as Missing In Action pending verification of death. Schott was carried as Missing until Capt. Smith's debrief, at which time his status was changed to Killed in Action.
Since his return, Mark Smith has had a growing concern about Americans left behind in Southeast Asia. Smith remained in the Army Special Forces, and ultimately was promoted to the rank of major. In 1985, Smith and SFC Melvin McIntyre brought suit against the U.S. Government for failing to comply with U.S. law in securing the freedom of American POWs in Southeast Asia. The two had been on a special assignment in Thailand, and had gathered substantial evidence that American POWs were still being held. Further, Smith and McIntyre claimed that this information, passed on to higher authority, had been "deep-sixed" and there had been no attempt or intent to act upon it.
Mark Smith, like many close to the POW/MIA issue, feels that his government has let the men down who proudly served their country. A patriot still, Smith has spent the years since filing the lawsuit in Thailand, in further attempts to secure the freedom of men who were left behind.
Mark Smith retired from the United States Army as a Major. When not overseas with his humanitarian aid missions and live POW advocacy, he lives in Florida.
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This story was recieved a few days ago from Mike Whitaker. He is a true friend of Charlie Company and is welcome amongst us. By the way Mike, it's Buckwhite, buckwheat is for pancakes. Welcome home Mike and come back and see us often, your always welcome!
(TEXT AS RECIEVED)
Buckwheat: Welcome home Bro. My name is Mike Whitaker. I was assigned to HHC as a cook. I spent my first seven months volunteering to serve on hills with the line companies. Zippo gave me my nickname "Spoon". I served with Charlie Company making coffee, hot choc, and soup on many of the hills. I received a broz star with a V device on Fire Base Katheryn. I served on Rockason, Granit Ripcord, Bastogn,Jack, Moony and NDP Jean. As crazy as it may seem I always felt Zippo was the Man and always looked foreward to being with C company. Zippo gave me my cerimonial drink of Conyak(?) in that club. I would really be proud to be listed on Charlie Companies roster. I'm sure some of the guys Like Spud, Chief, or Winkie would remember me. I remember watching Zippo come off the freedom bird after his release. I cried like a babby because I didn't know he had been a Pow at the time. I served from Nov 69 to Nov 70. Im sure if you wanted to verify any of this somebody would remember "Spoon" I would love to hear from anyone from C Co. that remembered me.
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THE NVA FENDER ORNAMENT
It's a strange life. You carry questions, you ponder answers until you
resolve yourself to the fact that you're just not supposed to know. Then out
of the clear blue. Bingo, Shazam, Hokey Smokes Bullwinkle the door slams
open, just the right combination of good luck and bad occurs. You're in
deep conversation with the Zipster.
"Hey Zip, when you left us we heard your papers were held up at
Division. Did that silly son of a bitch of a division commander really do
Well, not exactly, let me tell ya what did happen. What he did was
write me a reprimand. He said it wouldn't hurt my career, and that I should
just sign it and be on my way. ( Won't hurt my career? Bull Shit I ain't
taken no reprimand!) You see, the General had heard that I had tied a naked
dead NVA on the fender of a truck and drove thru Hue......Now just hold on a
minute there General, that ain't at all the way it happened.
My company was put into an area were your division hadn't made contact
in four months. As soon as we had time to send out our first patrol, we got
one. When I reported this the answer was no way, impossible, didn't happen,
no one has even found a sign there in months....Look here hot shot, you got a
dink, you bring him in. Well, I did just that. Problem was, no one would
take responsibility for him, I tried to turn him over to those who had called
me a liar. They just refused to have anything to do with me, my company, or
the dead NVA. Well, there I was, on Birmingham, my company's gotta take an
immediate truck ride up to Jack, and no one will take this package off my
hands. By now, he's starting to smell. Now if you think I'm gonna make my
men ride in the back of a
truck with a stinking dead NVA you are wrong, but I couldn't just leave him
there either. Yes, we did tie him on the fender of the truck, but he was
wrapped up in a poncho. We took him up to FSB Jack and buried him ourselves.
I got a whole company of men up at Evans that will swear to that!
Now one other thing General, that warrant outside your door (the
Generals aid was a warrant
officer) was insubordinate to me when I came in here. I'm a Captain in the
United States Army, and
will be treated with the appropriate respect. When I leave here, I'm going
straight to the JAGs office, gonna put your boy in Leavenworth Federal Pen
for ten years. Now, I'll tell ya what, I'll trade you
your aid for that paper.
ZIPPO RIDES AGAIN!
At the end of the story, I asked, "Do you remember just who it was that
you had tie that dink to the
truck?" Zips answer was, No. I said, "That would have been me Zippo."
There was a short pause, then came the reply, that was you, huh.........Our
conversation seemed to be on the brink of dying. I chose not to relate
exactly what I told the Zipster, but will tell you that he is now comfortable
in the knowledge that I have long since forgiven him for making me waste that
perfectly good, O D green, light weight nylon poncho.
Chuck "Double Deuce Doc" Kerr
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A Near Death Experience
I don't know what prompted Zippo to move out ahead of the company that morning of April 6th, 1970. He may have done this sort of thing before, but it was the first time I had seen a CO take the main CP out ahead of the Company, walking point to boot! I was a little nervous that morning. We had lately often been running into small groups of NVA and VC. I always felt a “comfort in numbers” traveling with a fully equipped rifle company. The trail we followed was quite wide. We were deep in the mountains, walking along a ridgeline just a few clicks south of Firebase Granite.
Zippo was going by the book this particular morning. He was taking short, cautious steps, and pausing to look and listen before proceeding on. We followed with a minimum five-yard separation. Suddenly a voice inside my head started telling me “we're going to get hit, put your 16 on auto”. It was an incredibly strong premonition, one which I'd truly never had before. I often thought there were dinks around, but this was an entirely different feeling. WE WERE GOING TO GET HIT AND I KNEW IT. The voice kept saying “put the 16 on auto, put the 16 on auto.” I went over the logic of it in my head but kept coming back to the book, which said, paraphrasing, “do not switch your weapon off safety unless engaging or preparing to engage the enemy.” I'm not sure how long I fought the urge to break this rule, but it couldn't have been more than a minute or so.
I was still fighting the urge to put my 16 on auto when my CO, who had done TO good a job walking point, silently walked past a couple of NVA trail watchers just off the trail to our right. I was the fourth man back and directly in front of them when they realized we were upon them. They must have been sleeping or playing cards when we happened by because we had surprised them completely. I heard a clicking sound and all Hell broke loose. I felt a warm feeling in my right leg and knew I had been hit, but felt no pain-it had gone right through.
They had aimed low at me and swept forward, spraying the guys in front as their rounds rose higher. Fortunately their aim was not calculated as their rounds hit only radios and back packs on the guys in front of me. I was fortunately the only one actually wounded. Zippo's AR-15 took three rounds through the middle as it shattered apart and was ripped from his hands. He told me recently that he also found three bullet holes through his shirt.
THE WHITE LIGHT
We all dived to the left of the trail, looking for cover. The image I saw of the guys ahead of me flying through the air with bullet-strewn vegetation following after them is one I can still picture today. My progress was impeded by a thicket of small spindly trees that kept me from getting further than four or five feet from where I had been hit. My M16 was torn from my grasp and left behind on the trail.
I was caught in the open directly in front of them, unable to reach cover. Expecting to be hit again at any second, I lost consciousness. Everything turned into bright white light and it became completely quiet and peaceful. Immediately my whole life flashed before me. In an instant I relived every second of every day of my life. It was an amazing thing to behold. A kind of complete down-load if you will.
Then suddenly I was transported back home. It seemed as though I flew there in an instant. I was having a text book out-of-body experience. I saw my parents standing in the doorway of my home, with a man in uniform on the front porch talking to them. He was telling them that I had been killed in Vietnam. My mother was crying. It was incredibly vivid. Then, faintly, I heard Zippo screaming repeatedly: "kill the mf'ers, kill the mf'ers-- fire, fire, fire, fire, fire”. He was in a rage and was firing back with a pistol in each hand. The AK's had stopped firing.
After regaining consciousness I relocated my rifle and began firing wildly all 18 clips I carried to ward away the demons, but they had made their escape. Zippo came crawling down the line looking for a working radio and made his way to me. He said “that the was the closest I have ever come.” I know that did not hold true for him through the next two years he spent in Vietnam and the time he spent in a Cambodian POW camp after in his heroic stand at the battle of Loc Ninh, but it certainly was a close one.
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Fox Holes and Zippo & Other Memories
I do have a couple of stories to relate. I remember when we
stole a couple of regular shovels from the rear and were using
them to dig our fox holes. Of course you could dig them ten time faster
with them. We were on the same trail as Zippo but he was about a click
ahead of us and we had stopped for the evening. With those shovels it
only took us about fifteen minutes to dig in. Zippo was always on me
about having great fox holes that you could actually get in and he asked
me if we were digging them. I accidently told him that they were done. He
didn't believe me because he knew from the time we stopped until our
conversation was only about fifteen minutes. So he came back with a
patrol to inspect our position. Of course by the time he got there we had
hide the shovels. Even though the fox holes met his satisfaction, he
still knew sometime smelled, but he couldn't figure it out. He was just
too smart to be fooled.
I also remember how if the guy in the rear area who was suppose to put
the meal (THE HOT MEAL) together for us for resupply screwed it up he
would end up in the field with us because Zippo wouldn't let anyone in
the rear screw us over. I think at one time we had three of those
individuals in 1st platoon. I always remember how much Zippo stuck up for
the men in the field. I have used the principle often in life for the
people that work for me. He taught us all some great lessons in life.
One more item I also remember how we would get C-4 to blow an LZ and
would always split it up and use it to heat water for hot Chocolate and
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NVA MOVING AT NIGHT
It was in the spring of 1970. We had abandoned FSB Granite in the night. The
next morning we got a new C.O. The night before someone told me we were
getting Zippo as our new C.O. As fate would have it we did. There had been
a lot of activity in our A.O. We would all be grateful that Zippo was there.
One of the first things we learned to do was to dig in. Zippo insisted on it.
Well, this was our lucky night. We found an NDP site just of the trail. I
guess Sgt. Lockett thought it was a good place to spend the night. We liked
it because there was no digging involved. It was on that long trail where
there were to LZs. One abut a third of the way up and another about two-thirds of the way up.
It was getting late, so we were settling in. Considering everything, it was
a pretty nice evening.
It was a funny time in Charlie Co. the 1st and 2nd platoons were humping
together. Even with that we had 20 men. Including 2 LTs. Not long after
dark someone got my attention. We had movement on the trail. I pushed the safety
forward on my 79. Got into a good position. We were being told to hold our
fire! Be cool was the word. Here they were. Flash lights shinning and a lot
of conversation. And they just kept coming. Now I knew why we were told to
hold our fire. It was at least an entire company of NVA moving at night. I
put my finger on the trigger guard just to make sure. I had never seen
anything like this.
I was afraid that one of us would get too nervous and start shooting. I
guess we shouldn't have been, or maybe it was just me, but we sure were
nervous. Right about then, something, a rat or what ever decided to test me. It ran right
across me digging its' nails in. That took me to another level.
Not long after that, they were gone and we were asking each other what they
were thinking. No one blew it and we were all glad of that. It was one of
those strange things that happens once in a while. One that I still remember.
Not long ago I asked Zippo if he remember that. He did. I asked him why we
didn't call in artillery on them after they passed us. He said, "You know
that we didn't believe in letting anyone get away." I said, "Yes sir."
Apparently they were some ARVNs in the area. Zippo found out later that they
were about 8 clicks away.
Dan "Crazy" Pierce
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Sumitted by - Jerry Lazore
I was at an Indian Arts Festival in Tulsa, OK on February 24, 1996 when I ran into an author named Edward Ramon. He was in full uniform, medals included, and hawking his book, "Scars and Stripes Forever". I stopped to talk with him. When I told him I was a Vietnam Vet, he stopped what he was doing, looked me in the eye, and with tears welling up in his eyes, said "Welcome Home Jerry". It was a full 26 years since I served in the Republic of South Vietnam and no one, including my family, had ever looked me in the eye and said that. I was stunned. I had put the war out of my mind, but, in saying that, he evoked in me emotions and feelings I had never felt before. I bought his book and left. He made me remember my brothers in combat--especially the one who did not return. Thank you Ramon. I had that same feeling when I surfed across your web site last night. Thanks Mark. Oh Yes, we did not serve together. You arrived in April of 1970 just after I left on March 1st of 1970 ( and that's another story)Well, anyway, I'd like to leave you with a poem from the book "Scars and Stripes Forever" by Edward Ramon.
"The Point Man"
"What will happen tonight?" he wondered
as he rubbed his weary eyes.
The monsoon rolled and thundered
across the fading Asian skies
"I must make ready," he shuddered,
as he checked his rifle's bore.
The last dim rays now fluttered
across the steaming jungle floor.
"You take the point," the sergeant gestured
and he nodded at this command.
"Lead us past that ancient graveyard
into that thickest bamboo stand."
That is where we'll ambush Charlie," he whispered
pointing to the distant site.
"Move quickly now and quietly," he uttered.
The pointman slipped into the coming night.
Alone, out front, he trudged ahead,
pausing briefly at a crumbling tomb.
He pondered the orders his segeant had read
and crept silently into the gloom.
Then suddenly, he froze in motion
and listened with all his might.
Had he heard a brief comotion?
Had he seen a flicker of light?
"Surely it is this wretched darkness
that has awakened my deepest fears.
I'll calm down, maintain my alertness,
and quiet this pounding in my ears."
But again he heard the muted sound.
This time there was no doubt!
Hundreds of men on higher ground,
were quickly moving about.
"What about those that follow me?
I must warn them with a cry!
I'll promt my platoon to turn and flee,
then certainly, I shall die."
Keenly, he remembered a distant place
and family that he loved so well.
He felt the tears roll on his gritty face
as he stood and began to yell.
The angels came in a flurry
to gather up his soul.
They were in no apparent hurry,
all brilliant, calm and bold.
"A pointman's chances are slim," they said,
"but they all must take the test.
Like Jesus, the blood that this one has shed,
has given life to all the rest."
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I was that which others refused to be.
I went where others feared to go,
and did what others failed to do
I asked nothing of those who gave nothing
and reluctantly accepted the thoughts of eternal
loneliness-Should I fail
I have seen the face of terror,
felt the stinging of fear
and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment's love.
I have cried, pained and hoped-
but most of all, I have lived-
in times others say are best forgotten.
But at least today, I am able to say
I am proud of what I was.
I WAS A SOLDIER
by George L. Skypeck
with minor changes by C. Kerr
and my apologies to the poet
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Under the scorching sun of Vietnam
Under the scorching sun of Vietnam, a boy becomes a man.
A dustoff carries him from the valley where this story all began.
He was my right arm, my buddy, my brother, my friend. I feel a wetness
on my cheek and wonder if it will end.
As I listen to the rotor blades fade into the cloudless sky, I look down at my worn fatigues.....wondering why? Why you my friend? What will your last thoughts be? I know they are coming soon.
Will they be of loved ones, home and comfort, or the pain of your terrible wound?
I have been told the war is over and to forget the mistakes you say, we made! What about our missing in action and prisoners of war, still in Vietnam today! Do you think their war is over and that their memories fade?
It is so hard to explain to those who just cannot understand! What it is like to see a friend die, in a far and distant land! Or feel the sweat, fear, and anger that turns a boy into a man!
Forget you say.........
There are thousands of names .. Engraved into a monument of polished marble black, and for each of those names, are memories of those who did'nt make it back!
That's easy for you to say.....
You were not with them, when they met hell face to face and died that day.
Forget you say! Forget the fear, pain, and death.
We'll forget! Oh yes, we'll forget! ................................. When we take our final breath.
Mike Miller 1984
Vietnam Veteran `69-70'
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A PASSING OF THE SWORD
In late March, 1970 I was preparing to go back out to the field after a short stand down. I was to join Zippo's CP as one of his RTO's.
My friend, Mark Rebovich, whose tour was ending shortly, came to me and said "I have this knife here that I want you to carry in the field with you, but you have to promise to bring it back to me when you get home. Since we lived within 10 miles of each other back in `the world', that would not be a problem.
The problem was that this thing was no ordinary knife. It made Rambo's look like something from Cub Scouts. It had in a large leather sheath, a serrated edge, and was at least eighteen inches long weighing probably a couple of pounds. It had leather tie-downs at the top and bottom securing it to his calf
I told him I wasn't interested in humping the thing up and down mountains with me and that I had enough to carry being an RTO and all, but he would not relent. He said I would need it. He said “I can't say how, or when, but YOU WILL NEED IT. He had killed a gook his first day in the field and I always respected what he had to say. He convinced me into taking it along with me. It seemed his offer had a certain significance to it, like the proverbial `passing of the sword.'. At that point I was thinking that if I didn't take it, some kind of bad Karma might ensue. Being somewhat superstitious, I strapped it on and it actually felt ok. I didn't give it another thought-that is until the day arrived that I needed it.
As referred to in my other story posted here, `A Near Death Experience', on April 6th, 1970, the Charlie Company CP, (with Zippo at point) walked into a couple of NVA crossing the trail we were on. As they opened fire, we all dove away from the fire, as I hit the ground I tried to roll out of my pack but I became entangled in a bunch of small trees that edged the trail. I was bound tight by my partially disengaged pack and ammo bandoleers which were twisted into and around the small saplings. It was a mess.
Already wounded, unable to move and expecting more bullets to strike me as I lay in the open only 10 feet or so from the NVA blasting away at us, I momentarily lost consciousness. After coming to, the enemy had stopped firing. I tried to reach my rifle (which had been wrenched from my grasp by the small tress) to return fire but again realized that I literally could not move. Immediately, I thought of the knife. I reached down, pulled it out, cut away my bandoleers, got my ammo clips and crawled forward to get to my rifle. 1,2,3--it was instantaneous..
After things settled down, the thought came to me: “Damn, I can't believe it. He was right. I did need that ridiculous knife.” Suffice to say a feeling of chagrin overtook me as I again heard his words again. Up to that point I hadn't touched the knife
As I made my way through the hospital system, I always kept the knife under my pillow or locked up if the ward had such facilities Upon arriving home in late May, I called Mark. I told him I had been wounded and was home for awhile on medical leave. He asked how bad I had been hit and such and then said: “Do you still have my knife?” I said “of course I do.” As I walked into his parents home the next day and handed him the knife, he asked me, ”did you get a chance to use it?” I said, “Let me tell you all about it……”
Doug "Moni" Moniaci
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A FRIEND REMEMBERED
I saw his name on the Wall in Washington DC, “Steven Michael Kenoffel.” I immediately pictured his laughing and smiling face. He had one of those unusual laughs you never forget. An awkward cackle that creaked out at the least prodding and forced you to laugh along with him. He was my friend and we served together in the 1st of the 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, in Vietnam, 1969-70. He was a tall, thin, freckle-faced 20-year old with a quick wit and an infectious personality. He was what most would define as the proverbial All-American boy. He was one of those people whom upon meeting, you immediately liked. Steve's death affected me as no other had.
He hailed from Glendale, California and like me, had volunteered for the draft in 1969 after an uninspired college stint. As the end of his one-year tour of duty approached, Steve was imbued with the elated feeling one experienced knowing their tour was almost at end; knowing you had survived in one piece. He had spent six months in the field as an infantryman, earning a Bronze Star Medal for valor in the process and had been given a non-combat job in the rear as a radio operator, out of harms way.
That's where I first met him, working in an underground bunker known as the Battalion TOC, (Tactical Operations Center) set up to run field operations for the 1st of the 506th Infantry Battalion, 101st Airborne Division at Camp Evans, a large rear-support camp just south of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone: a thin strip of neutral land separating North Vietnam and South Vietnam). We worked the radios, linking the infantry in the field with support from the rear. We called in fire support, supplies, replacements, whatever was needed for the line troops. We were their lifeline in times of need. It was an exciting and important job and Steve was very good at it.
I had begun my tour a few months earlier at Division Headquarters for the 101st, working in a massive underground bunker in communications and intelligence. I was trained in communications, but I had grown restless. I disliked the spit and polish and yearned for a different adventure. So, after a few months there I put in for a transfer to an infantry unit to get closer to the action and ended up at the TOC.
After a couple of months there, I again grew restless and decided to volunteer go out to the field with an infantry platoon as a field Radio Operator. I had decided (against Steve's advise) to expand my horizons and see what combat was like. I joined B Company and was slightly wounded after only a week or so and after recovering in the rear, on the advise of a friend, I decided to join C Company and went out to the field with them.
After a few months with them, I decided to go on R&R. The day I got back I ran into Steve and he told me he had just been ordered to report to the helicopter pad to be flown out to a small mountaintop-firebase called Granite. Apparently they needed radio operators to replace some friends of ours from the TOC they had previously been called out to the firebase and had been wounded when it had overrun the night before. Being a `short timer', Steve was worried about having to go back into the field. I understood his concern as my platoon had just suffered 100% casualties in the attack on the firebase. The only reason I was not a casualty in the attack was that I was on R&R when it happened. I did my best to try to assuage his fears, but he was very apprehensive.
I walked with Steve to the helicopter pad to see him off, all the while trying to calm his fears. After bidding him farewell and good luck, he boarded the large double-bladed Chinook helicopter along with twelve or so others. The crew chief then proceeded to direct the loading of huge amounts of ammunition and supplies into the ship. Finally, after deciding it was near maximum load, the pilot revved the engine and the ship slowly lifted off. As it struggled to lift off, another soldier standing nearby expressed his concern that the helicopter was overloaded, and I had feared the same.
As we watched it gain altitude and advance, we saw fire coming from the engine cowling. Having flown only a few hundred yards downfield, we started running towards it, knowing it would be coming down.
The pilot, after realizing there was a problem, began to bring it down. After descending, the chopper hit the tarmac nose-first, splitting across it's middle, spilling its full fuel load from the two fuel tanks that run along the bottom sides of the craft. Fire soon started roiling up around it. While we ran to close the distance to the crash site, we could see people jumping and running from front and open rear tailgate. Within seconds, fire completely engulfed the crash site, spreading perhaps fifty feet outward in a solid towering, huge wall of flame, perhaps 50 feet high.
When we reached the scene, we came across someone lying on his back on the tarmac, just outside the ring of fire. He was severely burned and semi-conscious. I did not recognize him. The hair on his head and face had been burned away and his glasses were missing. He had suffered terrible third degree burns on this legs and torso. We wrapped him in a blanket and shielded his body as best we could from the debris coming from the nearby wreckage as ammunition began exploding. Soon, an ambulance arrived and we carried him to it. He neither spoke nor acknowledged our presence. Smoke was still coming from what was left of his clothing as we put him in the ambulance.
The thought never crossed my mind that this was my friend Steve, but my heart sank when I arrived back at the company area and was told he was the one who had been so badly burned. Thankfully, all others had managed to escape without major injury. Someone nearby who witnessed the crash told me that he had seen Steve peering out a window through the flames. I can't imagine the tortured thoughts that must have gone through his mind. He knew if he stayed with the ship he could not possibly survive, so he ran through the wall of flames in a desperate attempt for survival.
I immediately ran to the nearby battalion aid station where he was taken but was told he had already been airlifted to a critical-care ship known as the `Hope', anchored in the South China Sea. The medic who tended to him told me that Steven was conscious when he was brought in and had answered all of the questions asked of him regarding his name, unit, and next of kin, and that that was a good sign. It gave me some hope for his survival.
Shortly thereafter, my unit was called out to the field again. Before I left I got word that Steve was still alive and being flown to a hospital in Japan, a much shorter flight than the US, which his condition would not allow. Ten days later, I myself was wounded and sent to the very same hospital in Japan. Shortly after arriving, I asked a visiting Red Cross nurse if she could inquire of Steve's condition for me.
A few days later she informed me she was sorry to have to tell me that Steven in fact died a few days before I had arrived. I was overcome with grief and set out to write his parents (Steve and I had exchanged addresses as I had planned to visit him in California after leaving the service) a long letter explaining as best I could the circumstances of Steve's injury, what good friends we had become, and about how they must have been great patents to have raised such a terrific person and son. It was a tear-stained letter.
Weeks later after arriving home, I found a letter awaiting me from Steve's Parents. The envelope held two letters, one from each of Steve's parents. His father wrote:
"First of all I want to thank you so very much for taking the time to write us. We appreciate knowing of the circumstances surrounding Steven's injury.
Steve lived for about two weeks after he was burned. We were in constant contact with the doctors after he was evacuated to Japan. We were told that he had burns over 78% of his entire body surface and the chances of his recovery were very slim indeed. However on April 1, we flew to Japan and arrived there about 5:30 PM on April 2, Japan time. We were met at the airport by the Army and taken by car to the 106th General Hospital where Steven was being cared for. The traffic was terrible and it took us two hours to get there. After being prepared for what we were about to see by the doctor, we saw our dear son. He was semi-comatose, but after a few minutes he saw us and we believe, as does the doctor, that he recognized us. Although he could not speak due to his condition we did get to see him alive.
Within the hour he died and subsequently we returned and his body was sent home. On Sunday, April 12th, we buried our dear son with the Army providing full military honors, which included reading of the citations he received for saving a man's life in combat, a feat that earned him the Bronze Star with V for Valor.
We are honored to know that you and your friends had such a high opinion of our son. This is something we have always had naturally, but it is nice to know that his wonderful qualities were recognized by others as well.
If you are ever in California please look us up. We have read and re-read your letter many times and it does mean so very much to us. God bless you Douglas and all the other fine young men that were there with Steve and got to be so close. If you care to write again we would appreciate hearing from you. Any reflections or memories of Steve are very precious to us and we shall cherish your kind letter always."
His mother's note:
"Just a few lines to add to my husband's letter. First of all, I hope your leg injury is not too severe. This war as all wars are, is pretty miserable. Too many of our brave young men have been killed or crippled by it.
We will be forever grateful to you for writing to us. Needless to say, we are heart-broken over losing Steven. It's hard to believe that we'll never see his smile again or hear him laugh. Yes, he was a pretty fine guy, and we are so proud of him, I just wish he would be coming home alive. I hope you have some pictures of Steve to send us, please send us one of yourself. Our home is always open to you. Do you have a family? Take care of yourself, and I pray that this miserable situation will end soon. We will keep your letter always. I'm afraid we're not half as good as Steve was, but we sure loved him. God bless you Douglas."
After reading these letters it struck me that after being told by his doctors that his parents were coming to Japan to see him, Steve obviously held on long enough to see them one last time. I never wrote Steve's parents again, although I now wish I had. At the time I did not know what more could be said.
Many years later I remembered something Steve had said to me when we were at the Headquarters Company office a few days before he was wounded. He said it reminded him of the day he had signed into the company many months prior. He said “of the twelve people who reported to the company with him that day, he was the only one who would be going home alive. I wish it were true. His words haunt me.
Hardly a day goes by I don't think of Steve. When I first met him in Vietnam I asked my self, “what is this guy doing here, and in the infantry yet?” He should be on some college campus somewhere carrying books, not a rifle. That is the way it was with a lot of guys I met in Vietnam. They did not go to Canada or hide behind endless student deferments or faked disabilities. They took a chance and ended up on the wrong side of fate.
I have read and reread the letters Steve's parents sent me, as they have mine. Every time I read them I cry, as I imagine they did.
The world is a much lesser place without him.
In 1970 I was a Police Officer
In 1970 I was a Police Officer and was called out of the jail (I had jail duty) one night and assigned to a black and white patrol car. At approximately 2200 hours I bagged a DUI who was not just DUI, but incredibly drunk. The arrestee was a 1st LT. who was wearing his class A's, replete with a CIB, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and his West Point Class Ring, Class of 1968.
He explained that he was home on compassionate leave because his dad had suffered a heart attack. He said he was going to recover and leave the hospital soon and that he had purposely gotten drunk as hell so that he would get arrested, jailed, prosecuted, and convicted. As a result he could hope to be discharged from the Army or at least get a reprieve from Vietnam and the Infantry.
I told him that maybe things might not seem so bad in the morning after he sobered up and that this could be a decision he might regret. The night's action was slow so I handcuffed him and drove him around until 0700 the next morning. The young officer was very drunk and talked incessantly about firefights, "DD 1300s casualty reports," "canned letters" to wives and parents saying things like "George was one of the finest soldiers that I have ever known etc. If would be of help please feel free to write to me, etc. Then the Captain would sign the mf'ers!" The things this guy was saying and talking about, the stories he had to tell, were pure horror. He had a very wounded soul.
At the end the shift I had him shower and clean up as best he could at the sheriff's station and I bought him breakfast at a nearby restaurant. I drove him back to his car, wished him well and he thanked me at length for my understanding and how I had helped him through a difficult night. The young Lieutenant finished his time in the Army and retired as a Brigadier General. He has been a life long friend of mine since that night I picked him up so many years ago.
Honoring His Fallen Brother and His Flag
From Larry McDevitt.. 5/27/2002
EAGLE BASE, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Army News Service, May 22, 2002) --
It was spring 1999 at Ft. Campbell, KY and raining "cats and dogs". I was late for physical training, and traffic was backed up and moving way too slowly. I was probably going to be late and I was growing more and more impatient. The pace slowed almost to a standstill as I passed Memorial Grove, the site built to honor the soldiers who died in the Gander airplane crash, the worst redeployment accident in the history of the 101st Airborne Division. Because it was close to Memorial Day, a small American flag had
been placed in the ground next to each soldier's memorial plaque.
My concern at the time, however, was getting past the bottleneck, getting out of the rain and getting to PT on time. All of a sudden, infuriatingly, just as the traffic was getting started again, the car in front of me stopped. A soldier, a private of course, jumped out in the pouring rain and ran over toward the grove. I couldn't believe it! This knucklehead was holding up everyone for who knows what kind of prank. Horns were honking. I waited to see the butt-chewing that I wanted him to get for making me late.
He was getting soaked to the skin and his uniform was plastered to his frame. I watched-as he ran up to one of the memorial plaques, picked up the small American flag that had fallen to the ground in the wind and the rain, and set it upright again. Slowly, he came to attention, saluted, then ran back to his car, and drove off.
I'll never forget that incident. That young soldier, whose name I will never know, taught me more about duty, honor, and respect than a hundred books or a thousand lectures. That simple salute -- that single act of honoring his fallen brother and his flag -- encapsulated all the Army values in one gesture for me. It said, "I will never forget, I will keep the faith, I will finish the mission. I am an American soldier." I thank God for examples like that. On this Memorial Day, I will remember all those who paid the ultimate price for my freedom, and one private, soaked to the skin, who honored them.
I hope you will too.
(The officer that wrote this is Capt. John Rasmussen, now a chaplain with
Multinational Division North in Bosnia.)