Joined: Sep 2008
Location: High Point, NC
I thought about this a little before deciding to post a ride tale for this story certainly isn’t about the ride but the journey. Yeah, I know, how many times have you heard that!? This is going to be something that may not belong in this forum so I’ll solicit the moderators opinion and will not be offended if the vote is ‘no.’ You see, this journey started at a helicopter landing zone in South Vietnam in 1969 and, yup, that firmly qualifies me to be an old man! Old men telling tales can be quite boring but I will make every effort not to do that you. Always remember, the back arrow is in the top left of your screen and the red X is on the right.
Kindly bear with me as I attempt to tell you how this tale came about. In those long-ago days, I was a combat photographer with The Big Red One, the US Army’s famed First Infantry Division. My job afforded the ability to travel our AO, area of operations, and photograph anything that caught my eye. My Leica M-2R and Nikon F captured combat scenes like these:
In the quiet times, however, I was able to photograph GIs helping bring a little joy to war orphans at An Lac:
I spent as much time as I could at the orphanage. Those children touched my heart and being with them provided a wonderful escape from places like the Iron Triangle, the Michelin Rubber Plantation and War Zone D.
Another of my jobs was to photograph our assistant division commander for maneuvers, BG Herbert E. Wolff. This man entered the US Army in 1943 and fought in the South Pacific, winning a Silver Star and a battlefield commission. Years later, he told me his proudest moment of his 37 years, three-war career was helping to rescue the Bataan Death March survivors at the POW camp at Cabanatuan. I took many photos of this “soldier’s soldier” but this was my favorite and the one that led to a reconnection with our old team, Danger 78, some 37 years later:
Hopefully, I’ve set the stage for what Paul Harvey used to describe as, “the rest of the story. In 2003, my wife gave me instructions to clean out the basement and I did what, I suspect, many of you do under similar circumstances. That’s right, I was moving stuff around but not doing much cleaning . . . much cleaning? . . . I wasn’t doing squat! After some time, I came upon a box labeled “Vietnam” and recalled taping it up back in the ‘70s. I opened it, saw the above photograph and thought, “I’ll bet General Wolff would like to have this picture.” Well, long story shortened significantly, I found the general and sent the photo to him. We talked a few days later and vowed to get together as quickly as possible.
I also managed to find our helicopter pilot, Dale, and another officer, Mike. We even had a little reunion in Kalamazoo, MI about a year after the initial reconnection and it was pretty darned special. Camaraderie was resumed with no effort and friendship bloomed.
That's Dale in his Huey; Mike and me in 1969
Dale, Mike and me at our reunion in Kalamazoo in 2005. Time marches on, huh?
Sadly, not long after our reunion, we lost Dale to cancer. Naturally, Mike and I attended the funeral and made sure our buddy’s widow had everything she needed. Word, apparently, got around that Dale’s army friends were attending so, during the second night’s visitation for the much loved man, one of his friends approached. He said, “You’re ‘the Mikes’ aren’t you?” Replying affirmatively, he continued by saying, “You guys really live your motto, don’t you?” Seeing we were a bit puzzled, he stated, “You know: No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty First!” That was the motto of the First Infantry Division and we were humbled. Old soldiers . . . . . . .
On a bit of a roll from the aforementioned reconnections, I found a lady who used to work in the orphanage, too. You may want to check this You Tube link about Betty Tisdale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODQSRV-zPq8 . That led to a reunion last year at Fort Benning of the 219 orphans who were airlifted out as Saigon fell. I even manage to find the subject of a 1969 photo:
This was Ngoc at An Lac in 1969. In Columbus, this is Ngoc, Amy (another An Lac orphan) and me in 2010.
Now, you’ve got to be asking yourself, “What’s the point of this guy’s rambling?” Well, my old lieutenant, Mike, was a great officer when it counted. Since our reconnection, he has become a friend even though we live half a continent away. For some time, I’ve wanted to recognize my old army buddy, thank him for “taking me under his wing” back then and for being a good friend today. After quite a bit of pondering, I came upon a solution. I purchased a Colt 1911 Government Model .45, the same type weapon we carried 42 years ago. Wanting to personalize the pistol, I found a gentleman who does scrimshaw work and ordered elephant ivory grips from him. He masterfully etched the grips with our First Infantry insignia. Next, I ordered a presentation case from a woodworker in Indiana. Here are the results of my e
I leave in the morning on my GSA for Wisconsin, planning a three day trip up there on mostly back roads. Along the way, I’ll think about what I’m going to say to my friend when I present this token of respect, admiration and appreciation. You all know that some of your best thinking is done on two wheels and that’s what I’ll do. If you haven’t gotten too bored, yet, I invite you to come along as I perform this duty for a fine former officer and good friend.
mikegc screwed with this post 02-13-2014 at 05:36 PM