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Old 07-29-2011, 04:00 PM   #1
mikegc OP
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Duty

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 efforts:










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.

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mikegc screwed with this post 02-13-2014 at 05:36 PM Reason: typo
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Old 07-29-2011, 04:17 PM   #2
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Dear Moderators I humbly implore you to let this trip, thread, report continue to it's logical conclusion .... I would love to see the "Rest of the Story".

Respectfully Riff / Subscribed.
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Old 07-29-2011, 07:30 PM   #3
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I'll second that request...
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Old 07-29-2011, 07:36 PM   #4
maiden.jade
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Me too.

Wonderful story and pictures, by the way.
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Old 07-29-2011, 10:22 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by East Coast Rider View Post
I'll second that request...
...all in favor say AYE!


AYE!!!!
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Old 07-29-2011, 10:26 PM   #6
bretedge
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I'm in, too. Great photos and story.
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Old 07-29-2011, 10:35 PM   #7
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I'm in, ride safe brother. '69/'71. In country '71
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Old 07-29-2011, 11:10 PM   #8
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Aye!
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Old 07-30-2011, 05:06 PM   #9
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Aye... I'm in
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Old 07-30-2011, 08:20 PM   #10
mikegc OP
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Duty

North Carolina has some great roads but I-40 ain’t one of ‘em. It is, however, my road of choice to extricate the “Pig” and me from the heat. I left hearth, home and Airedale around 7:00 AM with my sights set on first on Asheville, NC 28 over to Deal’s Gap, second, with the Cherohala Skyway thrown in for good measure before heading on over to The Music City on some of Tennessee’s finest blacktop. My bride of 42 years snapped this photo as I prepared to launch.



Traffic was pretty light as I headed west and three hours later, I saw the exit for Maggie Valley. Whenever I’m in this part of the state, I thoroughly enjoy stopping at Dale Walksler’s Wheels through Time Museum. I’ve you’ve never been there, it is certainly worth a stop. It isn’t on a scale as the Barber Museum in Leeds, AL but it has a “personality” that is completely its own. I managed to snap a few pictures to whet your appetite.





The above photo is one of the vintage Cannonball Run bikes. Pretty cool!






Do you think there's a story with this bike and the artificial leg?



Some innovative guy built an airplane and powered it with a Harley engine.

I could have stayed for quite a while but, as you know, duty calls. I continued my westward ride and quickly found one of my favorite rides: NC 28 over to the infamous “Dragon.” I only stopped for one Kodak moment close to Fontana Dam.



The heat was around 90 at this point and I wondered about the possibility of afternoon storms. I didn’t have to go too far before I pulled into the parking lot of the old Crossroads in Time, finding a full parking lot. Before grabbing a little lunch, I was asked to photograph four young Ducati pilots who were displaying their recently acquired “high speed riding awards” from Tennessee’s finest. Just before I snapped the photo, I said, “Look innocent!” Sure enough, one guy start saying, “I am. Just ‘cause these guys . . . . . .” I walked away laughing as the wronged biker received a bunch of grief from his buds.I finished up at Deal’s Gap and headed over to the Cherohala Skyway for a very enjoyable putt over to Tellico Plains, TN.




The so-called "Tree of Shame" is well fertilized!






Those clouds were really piling up and, sure enough, I got a little rain for about three miles. Frankly, it felt great and I just kept riding with the mesh jacket. As I crossed the 3000 feet level, I saw the temperature fall to 73. It stayed a little cloudy most of the way to Music City but, as I approached Murfreesboro, the sun came back out and the heat drove the mercury up once again. I found my hotel with no trouble at all. After a 500+ mile day, I’m going to turn in early. Tomorrow is supposed to be pretty warm and I’d like to get an early start.

Thanks for coming along with me. By the way, I’ve been working on what to say to my buddy when I present him with the token of respect. I’ll get it “honed” over the next couple of days as I continue north.


Mike







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Old 07-31-2011, 09:58 AM   #11
Craig McCurdy
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Great ride report, and looking forward to hearing about the rest of your ride!
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Old 07-31-2011, 07:41 PM   #12
mikegc OP
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Duty

Dad:
I asked my father once, back during the mid-1950s, if he was glad he’d served in the Army. He served in the Medical Corps in the South Pacific. I remember he got an odd sort of look on his face, paused and said, “I’m glad I had the experiences but I wouldn’t want to do it again.” I know what he means.


Phillip:
Dreams are a strange phenomenon. Last night, I dreamed about Vietnam and I guess that’s not surprising, considering the current circumstances. The dreams I had were not the frightening type I had for over eighteen years after the landing gear retracted just after lift off at Tan Son Nhut. The dream I had last night was about a war orphan I photographed in ’69. I mentioned the orphanage at An Lac in my original post. Well, forty-two years ago, I walked through the gates of the walled orphanage and was immediately inundated by children just wanting to be held:

Yeah, that's me under there.

I wandered around the compound taking pictures and managed to catch this young fellow who had been scooped up by a friend:


He was a cool little guy who just couldn't seem to get the hang of the crutches someone had given him, so, when we took the kids to the zoo, we carried him right along.


A few weeks after I took these photos, I was transferred and never returned to the orphanage. I thought about those kids for many years after the country fell.

When I reconnected with Betty Tisdale, the lady at the orphanage, I found out that the little boy had been adopted by a couple in St. Louis. I was fortunate enough to meet them last year at the An Lac reunion in Columbus, GA. They named him Phillip and, unfortunately, he died from kidney failure three years ago.

Well, St. Louis was in my path today so I stopped by to visit Russell and Patty for a few minutes. We had a very nice time and made plans for a future get together. As I had many miles to go today, the meeting was brief. I was mounted on my bike, helmet on and waiting for the BMW’s computer to give the okay to blast off. Patty gave me a big hug and said softly, “I feel like I’m touching Phillip when I hug you.” I couldn’t reply as I had a lump in my throat the size of my Arai helmet. I just nodded and slipped away. That hot St. Louis bothered me for several miles as my eyes watered heavily. Damned heat!


As I pushed north, I thought about how astonishing this entire reconnection has been. I recalled my dad’s words, too. While I’m glad I had the experience, I do wish I could do it again but with the wisdom of my 64 years. I would have spent more time with those children. Missed opportunities . . . . .

Oh, in the first post, there was a photo of a little girl sitting on a GI’s knee. Well, that soldier was me and I’ve been in contact with her. Xinh Mai didn’t make it out of Saigon when the country fell. Today, she owns a small clothing store and has two daughers, one a physician and the other is a merchandiser for a department store.

That’s her in the white blouse at the site of the An Lac orphanage. Life can sure be interesting.

Tomorrow, I'll push on to Mike's home. I'll try to update on Tuesday evening. Wish me luck with the presentation!

Mike




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Old 08-01-2011, 06:52 PM   #13
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Thank you for the stories.

Being the son of a 2 tour Nam vet (I was born in 12/69) I am thankful that you are able to articulate these memories. My father is not.

Please continue and good luck with the words for you brother in arms.

Subscribed and enjoying your tour of duty.


Michael
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Old 08-02-2011, 08:15 PM   #14
mikegc OP
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Duty

I got up Monday morning, looked outside and saw fog. It wasn’t too bad so I hit the road around 7:00. Today was the day! I’d get to Mike’s home around 4:00 PM, we’d catch up and, at some point, I would make the presentation when the time was right. The morning was cool as I headed north and what a respite from yesterday’s heat. As I passed through the hilly farm country, I made a brief stop near a soybean field when an old barn caught my eye.








I continued on, the fog finally burned off and the heat returned. I hadn’t gone far when I noticed an all-too-familiar sight: The distant profile of a Huey helicopter. The old war bird had been long retired by the looks of her paint but, even in that faded state, she was the focal point of a local war memorial:





The Louisa County Area Vietnam Veterans did a very nice job with their memorial and still do. The grounds were properly cared for and it was a pleasure to spend a little time there. I couldn’t help but remember when I saw those birds almost every day. Maybe, just maybe, I photographed this very UH-1H as it flew up the Song Be in 1970:





Nah, probably not . . . . nice thought, though.


Pushing north, I stopped at one of the bluffs that overlook the Mississippi:




The clouds where starting to get a little darker so I check the zumo 665’s active weather radar and saw what I was riding toward. It looked like quite a storm system about thirty miles away. As I was in non-waterproof ATGATT, I pulled into a small state park to don the rain gear I knew would need in a few minutes. The place was deserted and I could hear a little rumbling to the north. My rain wear of choice is also armored so I removed my padded jeans just as a car rolled in . . . never fails.


The Garmin was right on the money and I had actually enjoyed a nice rain all of the last 50 miles of the day’s ride. I arrived at Mike’s home about 4:15. As you might guess, we caught up on each other’s families and what we’d been doing lately. Mike, his wife, Sandy and I had a great time grilling burgers and having a few cold ones. We were joined at dinner by Mike’s good friend, Dan, who I had met when we had a reunion in Kalamazoo a few years ago.


When dinner was over, I very casually retrieved the cardboard box where I had packed the presentation case and conversation never lagged. When everyone looked at the box, I started my spiel. I reminisced about how we’d met at a Vietnam LZ over 12,000 miles and 42 years ago. Now, we were sitting around his kitchen table sharing a great meal with friends. Finally, I said in my best military voice, “Colonel, attention to orders! For conspicuous exuberance over and beyond the call of duty in our reconnection after all those years, I extend this token of my deepest respect and admiration for the US Army officer you were and the friend you are today. Thank you, buddy.” I handed the case to him and he gave me a look that said, “What have you done?” but not a word was spoken. Almost reluctantly, he fingered the latch open and slowly lifted the top. After a glimpse of the contents, he closed the lid, looked at me as tears welled but never spilled. He opened the box for all to see:






Very quietly, he said, “Many times during my career and after, I wondered if I had done the right thing staying in the Army. This makes it all worthwhile.”


Last Christmas, Mike wrote a letter to me and said this:


"You and I remember spending our 1969 Christmas in Vietnam. It was OK, because we had good friends and buddies, and we somehow made it work. But those days aren't like how we spend Christmas today. We know, and those who were not there, may not. That's OK. There is a saying, "For those who fought for it, freedom has a meaning most will never understand." That's OK too. They may never have a clue, and they don't have to. That's America. That's what we fought for. "This we'll defend."

“I know you have memories, as I, but you and I will know, understand, and feel what we did for our Country. We will always be a band of brothers. We went through difficult time, we did our jobs and we came home to Sandy, Sally, and our kids. We're lucky. God Bless those who did not. Merry Christmas, my friend. I'm proud to have served with you, in combat.” – Mike


I sent my friend this reply:



"I look back on those times now with senses dulled by over forty years. I didn’t realize it at the time but this former soldier now feels as though we were at our best. As you wrote, “We will always be a band of brothers.” That’s a great paraphrase of one of Mr. Shakespeare’s best."


"Over the years, I’ve certainly met and shared time with many former soldiers who were in World War II, Korea, Bosnia, Panama, Grenada, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. Had I never shared the experience of being part of something far bigger than myself, I could never and would never understand. Now I know why men who have been to war share the desire to reconnect. It isn’t to look at old maps and pictures. It isn’t to tell old war stories, laugh or weep. Old soldiers get together because they want to be with the men who once did their best; men who knew the starvation on Guadalcanal, who suffered at the Chosin Resevoir, were under the cone of fire at Con Thien. We were a mixed group individuals thrown together by the Armed Services and the collective fates of nations. Since those days, I doubt we’ve ever trusted others so deeply. Those soldiers guarded something more precious than our lives. They were the keepers of our reputations and, if we fell, they were the guardians of our memories. That was the unspoken pact we shared and, as long as memory serves, I will think of them. I sincerely hope that when I depart this life, my last thoughts will be of my family, friends and brothers-in-arms."



My duty is done and, as in Vietnam, I look forward to getting home.


Thank you all for coming along with me.


Mike

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Old 08-02-2011, 08:35 PM   #15
mikegc OP
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Post Script to Duty

To Norton(kel): Welcome home, sir. Thank you for your service and you know I really mean that!

To FatherX: I'm certain you know that people deal with events differently. I didn't speak of my experiences for 18 years and, one day, my cup was too full and it spilled. I told my wife about the "demons" that visited occasionally. I know now that I probably had a mild form of PTSD. Once unburdened, I've never been troubled by what I saw and did in Vietnam. War changes you and when you get home, it's almost surreal. The environment of your youth hasn't changed but you aren't a kid anymore. Eventually, I wrote an essay to my daughters detailing my experiences at the orphange at An Lac and a few other "lessons learned" in Vietnam. I told them no stories of combat. Those are locked away in a place where no visitors are permitted. Your dad may talk about it one day . . . or maybe not.

Thank you all for your kind comments about this report. I also thank the moderators for allowing this opportunity.

Mike
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