We are proud to share that the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall will be part of a permanent memorial to Vietnam Veterans at the National Infantry Museum starting Spring 2014. Click here for details about the Vietnam Memorial Plaza and the dedication ceremony on March 21, 2014.
Will you help us bring the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to the National Infantry Museum?
We urge you to make a donation which will go toward the creation of the Vietnam Memorial Plaza, featuring the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall. Please donate and please share this campaign with your family and friends. Together, we will never forget the 58,000 Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. Click the Donate button at the top of this blog and make a secure payment via PayPal.
May 31: HEROES AMONG US
2,709,928 American men and women fought in the Vietnam War.
58,148 Americans died in the Vietnam War.
More than 150,000 Americans were seriously wounded.
1,655 Americans are still listed as POW/MIA.
They fought in a country on the other side of the world. Some of them had never heard of Vietnam. It was a controversial war. They were criticized, spit on and called unimaginable names. But they went because their country asked them to do so, and 58,148 of them gave the supreme sacrifice. They paid this price with courage, selflessness and integrity.
They all have a story.
This is what Honor looks like.
May 30: A PLACE TO HEAL
“No one remembered the names of the people killed in the war. I wanted a memorial engraved with all the names. The nation would see the names and would remember the men and women who went to Vietnam, and who died there.”
That’s how Jan Scruggs explained his idea of the Vietnam Wall. A decorated Vietnam War veteran who was wounded during his service, Scruggs believed that a memorial would be a way for the country, and especially the veterans, to heal from a controversial war.
Scruggs made the first donation – $2,800 – and with other veterans lobbied Congress to find a space to build the memorial among the other memorials in Washington, D.C. In 1980 President Carter signed the legislation and a fundraising campaign began. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. raised almost $9 million through private donations. No Federal funds were used.
The committee decided four criteria were needed for the memorials design:
- It should be reflective and contemplative.
- It should harmonize with the surroundings.
- It should contain the names of those who died or were still classified as missing.
- It should make no political statement about the war.
A national contest was held, and the winner was Maya Ying Lin from Ohio. She was a Yale student at the time. Her concept was a low wall to recount the day-by-day death toll of the war. Instead of the names being listed alphabetically, they are listed by in order of dates, with the earliest and the last coming together in the middle symbolizing a wound that is closing and healing.
The Vietnam Wall was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1982. Today, it is one of the most visited memorials in Washington. When the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall comes to the National Infantry Museum, it will become another healing place for Vietnam veterans and all citizens in our country who care about our troops.
Jan Scruggs – he envisioned a place to heal …this is what Honor looks like.
May 29: HEROES HONOR HEROES
When it comes to courage, these guys have it all over most us. But four Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War took time May 6 to present the Citizen Service Before Self Medal posthumously to the six teachers who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, trying to protect school children from the gunman who shot and killed 20 children and eight adults.
Paul Bucha, Bruce Crandall, Jack Jacobs and Thomas Kelley all received the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest tribute for the valor and courage they showed “above and beyond the call of duty” during the Vietnam War. The Citizen Service Before Self Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States and is presented by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the organization that represents our country’s Medal of Honor recipients.
The award goes to civilians “who showed extraordinary courage, perseverance and fortitude either by saving a life in a single act of bravery or with ongoing remarkable selfless service of a lifetime to others,” Captain Bucha explained. Bucha served in the Army during Vietnam.
The Medal went to Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rosseau, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto. Family members accepted the awards on their behalf.
Harold Fritz, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, likened their actions to Medal of Honor vets. He said their “courage, sacrifice and selflessness are the very same traits identified with the Medal of Honor, only they were demonstrated at a critical moment in hometown USA, not on a battlefield far from home.”
And Thomas Kelley, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, said “in an instant, they made a choice to put themselves between danger and their students.”
Vietnam heroes taking the time to pay tribute to civilian heroes …this is what Honor looks like.
May 28: THEY WORE THE GREEN BERET
They are the stuff legends are made of. The United States Army Special Forces Unit played a large role in Vietnam. Special Forces members were there as early as 1957, and the last one did not leave until 1973. They were trained for guerrilla warfare, unconventional warfare and other special operations, They also were given the mission of training South Vietnamese Soldiers.
When Oscar Tuff was drafted, he had no idea he would eventually serve with the elite Green Beret. But after basic training and Airborne School at Fort Benning, he went through Special Forces training. It’s a demanding testing and training process.
“I had no idea what I was putting myself into,” Tuff said. “But I hung in there by the skin of my teeth.”
Tuff was in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970. He said the intense Special Forces training back home made the Green Berets more prepared to be there than anyone. In 1970, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
Now a volunteer docent at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, Tuff often takes school children on tours through the Cold War Gallery, which includes the Vietnam War. He patiently answers all their questions about a war they’ve only heard about in history books.
Lora Warren, who runs the education and volunteer departments at the museum, appreciates volunteers like Tuff, who also helps with the museum’s summer day camp for children.
“He helps bring the static display to life for the kids,” she said.
Oscar Tuff – a Vietnam Vet teaching a younger generation …this is what Honor looks like.
May 27: THEY STAND FOR THOSE WHO STOOD FOR US
They stand silently in a church yard or a cemetery. They hold American flags. Tears glisten behind their dark glasses. And then their motorcycles rumble along the road, leading a fallen hero to a final resting place.
The Patriot Guard Riders make up a group of American citizens – men, women and sometimes even children – who have made it their mission to attend the funerals of American Soldiers when invited by the families. They post flag lines, and then they are available to escort the funeral processions.
“It’s all about honor and respect,” said Will Duke, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders of Georgia. “It’s way to say thank you.”
Duke is a veteran himself. He spent 20 years in the military and served in Desert Storm. Then he spent 15 years working as a civilian at Fort Benning. He said the Patriot Guard Riders are a diverse group. You don’t have to be a veteran to ride with the Patriot Guard. You just have to be someone who appreciates and respects our military.
The riders come if they can, depending on their schedules. All the work is volunteer. Duke said they have had as few as eight or ten lead a funeral processional and as many as 400. They frequently escort units deploying or coming home from deployment. Additionally, they visit veterans in hospitals. And they also offer their escort services to funerals for first responders.
The group was formed in Kansas is 2005 to protect a deceased Soldier’s family from protestors. Since that time, it has grown to include more than 220,000 riders with the mission of recognizing and honoring the sacrifices of fallen heroes. John Cunningham, owner of Chattahoochee Harley-Davidson in Columbus, GA, and Big-Swamp Harley-Davidson in Opelika, AL, says bikers have a patriotic reputation. He is a former Ranger and served in Vietnam in 1969-70.
“Many of us returned from seeing our friends killed to protests at the airports and in our home town. . . I think that those who experienced that who are now Harley riders don’t want to ever see that again. That’s why so many have joined organizations like the Patriot Guard, so they can stand by their fallen comrades and allow them to be put to rest with dignity and honor.”
Today, Patriot Guard Riders are standing with American Flags at the National Infantry Museum’s paver dedication ceremony. The riders’ motto is “standing for those who stood for us.”
And they are.
Patriot Guard Riders – standing for those who stood for us …this is what Honor looks like.
May 26: ROLLING THUNDER
More than 900,000 motorcycle riders and spectators are in Washington, D.C. this Memorial Day weekend for Rolling Thunder, an annual rally in support of the government’s recognition and protection of POWs and MIAs. It is a tribute to our country’s military heroes, and it was Rolling Thunder that proposed and lobbied for the Missing Service Personnel Act which was signed into legislation by Congress in 1993.
The idea for Rolling Thunder came about when a former Marine named Ray Manzo visited the Vietnam Wall in 1987. After talking with fellow veterans he decided he wanted to bring public attention to the belief there might still be American POWs in Vietnam.
Manzo found some other interested Vietnam vets and plans began to grow. About 2,500 bikers attended the first rally, and although it was planned to be a one-time event, it quickly became obvious Rolling Thunder was on its way to becoming a much-loved annual rally in support of our military.
Bikers this weekend will hold candlelight vigils at the Vietnam Wall Memorial and at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery. The actual ride is today. Tomorrow, on Memorial Day, they will take part in a Memorial Day parade and stand together in a moment of silence for those who have died in service to our country. Many of them are Vietnam Veterans, and they will swap stories, reminiscence, laugh together and shed a few tears.
Because of Ray Manzo’s vision in 1987, the riders’ original mission of greater POW/MIA awareness has been achieved, and Vietnam Veterans are finally getting the welcome home they deserve. The ride has evolved into a patriotic tribute to all those who serve our country.
More than 900,000 are saying thank you to all who serve …this is what Honor looks like.
May 25: A FATHER AND A HERO
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Air Force pilot Michael Novosel Sr. wanted to serve again in Vietnam. At age 41, he enlisted in the Army as a chief warrant officer with the Special Forces Aviation Section where he flew medevac helicopters.
Novosel flew 2,543 missions during his two tours of duty in Vietnam. He brought out 5,589 wounded personnel. One of them was his son, Michael Novosel Jr. The next week, his helicopter was shot down and his son, Mike, extracted his Dad from the battlefield.
But it was Oc. 2, 1969 that Novosel’s years of experience paid off. A contingent of South Vietnamese soldiers was surrounded by the North Vietnamese without radios and ammunition. Brining his medevac helicopter in at a low level and under fire, he attempted to rescue the surrounded troops. Seeing him in the air, the South Vietnamese soldiers felt their morale lift. It took 15 trips into the area through enemy fire, but Novosel got 29 soldiers off the battlefield. At one point, he got a man aboard by hovering the helicopter backward. As the soldier was pulled aboard, the enemy opened fire at close range. The helicopter was damaged and Novosel was wounded. Yet, he still managed to fly the aircraft up and away from fire.
For “selfless conduct” and “extraordinary heroism,” CWO Novosel received the Medal of Honor.
When he retired in 1985, he had served as a military aviator of 42 years. He left service with 12,400 flying hours, and 2,038 of those were in combat. He was the last WWII aviator to remain on active flying duty.
Michael Novosel Sr. died in 2006. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Michael Novosel – he never stopped serving his his country …this is what Honor looks like.
At 18 years old, Jimmy Wayne Phipps gave his life for his country in Vietnam and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Jimmy said he wanted to do something with his life and that meant serving his country. He convinced his parents to sign the papers for him to drop out of high school and join the Marines when he was only 17. After his basic training, he went through combat training and then attended the Marine Corps Engineer School. After being promoted to private first class, he was sent to Vietnam where he was a combat engineer with the Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
Combat engineers don’t have an easy job. Phipps’ assignment was to locate and destroy enemy artillery ordinance and concealed firing devices. On May 27, 1969, Phipps was on his usual mission when he discovered a 175mm high explosive artillery round. Here is how his Medal of Honor citation explains what happened next:
“Suspecting the enemy had attached the artillery round to a secondary explosive device, he warned other Marines in the area to move to covered position and prepared to destroy the round with a hand grenade. As he was attaching the hand grenade to a stake beside the artillery round, the fuse of the enemy’s secondary explosive device ignited.
Realizing that his assistant and the platoon commander were both within a few meters of him and that the imminent explosion could kill all three men, PFC Phipps grasped the hand grenade to his chest and dived forward to cover the enemy’s explosive and the artillery round with his body, thereby shielding his companions from the detonation while absorbing the full and tremendous impact with his body.”
Phipps died instantly and saved the lives of two Marines. He is buried in California, and his name is inscribed on Panel 23W, Line 2 on the Vietnam Wall.
Jimmy Wayne Phipps – 18 years old …this is what Honor looks like.
May 23: 19-YEAR-OLD SOLDIER RECEIVES MEDAL OF HONOR
Michael Crescenz was a member of the varsity baseball team at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia. After graduation, he learned welding at a truck distributor company and planned to go into that field after Army life. He trained at Fort Bragg and left for Vietnam in September 1968. Michael’s older brother, Charles, returned from Vietnam the same month, where he served for 13 months as a Marine.
Michael was a rifleman with the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Brigade. As the young Soldier slowly moved up a trail on Nui Chom Mountain in November 1968, the North Vietnamese, entrenched in bunkers, began firing with automatic weapons, killing two point men. Alpha Company’s progression stopped, as enemy fire sprayed through the air.
Immediately PFC Crescenz grabbed the nearest machine gun and began running up the hill toward the NVA bunkers. With enemy fire all around him, he shot and killed the enemy soldiers in the first two bunkers. As he moved toward a third one, an enemy shot hit his right leg. He still kept going, killing two more of the enemy, which cleared the path for Alpha Company to go forward.
Suddenly, however, the NVA started firing from a camouflaged bunker. Once more, Crescenz moved forward to attack, when he was hit and killed by machine gun fire. But his actions allowed Alpha Company to freely maneuver and defeat the enemy unit. He had not only killed six North Vietnamese soldiers, but he also saved the lives of his comrades on the mountain that day. He was only 19 years old.
Doc Stafford, a platoon medic, still remembers his buddy.
“Crescenz had saved our lives at the cost of his own . . .I was there when Michael died. No one person in my life has affected me as had Michael . . I am proud to be mentioned in connection such a hero.”
LTG (Ret) Sam Wetzel (then LTC Wetzel) was Crescenz’s battalion commander. He submitted a recommendation for Crescenz to receive the Medal of Honor. Michael was posthumously promoted to Corporal. On April 7, 1970, his family was presented with his Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony.
Michael Joseph Crescenz – an American hero while still in his teens …this is what Honor looks like.
May 22: OPERATION HOMECOMING
It was called Operation Homecoming – the culmination of diplomatic negotiations referred to as the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. This document provided for North Vietnam to release American prisoners of war in several contingents throughout February and March and into early April of 1973. The POWs who had been held the longest came home first.
They had been subjected to physical and mental torture, some for years. They had little medical and dental treatment. They came close to starving. Many had been in solitary confinement. But through it all, they managed to hold onto their sanity and their hope.
The first 40 prisoners quietly climbed aboard a U.S. Air Force jet that was later dubbed the “Hanoi Taxi.” It was painted white and marked with a huge red cross. They POWs wore clean clothing, given to them by the North Vietnamese so it would appear they were well treated. They showed absolutely no expression on their faces; it was a silent agreement among them not to give any indication to the enemy as to what they were feeling. But once the plane was in the air, the celebration began with cheers, laughter and many tears.
The plane flew to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where the former POWs were greeted with cheering crowds. They received medical treatment, new uniforms and, for the first time in years, American food. For their first meal, they had steak, chicken, corn, strawberry shortcake and ice cream. One former POW said that the men in his group ate 40 gallons of ice cream that first night.
Another said “I can’t describe the ecstasy of that first shower.” He added, “we didn’t sleep for about three days . . . sleeping in a bed with a mattress and sheets was going to take a little getting used to.”
The first stop back home in the United States was Hawaii and then California. Operation Homecoming had several facets to help the men adjust to their former life. They had time to spend with family, long talks with mental health professionals and much needed medical attention. They also participated in thorough debriefings, as some of them had critical intelligence knowledge.
By April 4, 1973, 591 POWs had returned home, ranging from privates first class to colonels. The Air Force had the most, with 325 POWs serving in that branch. The Navy had 138, the Army 77 and the Marine Corps 26. Twenty-five were civilians who had been working for the government and captured also returned.
Americans saw many of the POWs first moments back home, as the television networks carried their arrival home live. The broadcasts had no commercial interruptions because – as one network put it – “we think it’s important.”
American POWs – they walked through hell and came home to talk about it, all the while never letting their country down …this is what Honor looks like.
May 21: TUNNEL RATS VOLUNTEERED DESPITE DANGER
The North Vietnamese, experts at guerilla warfare, literally went underground. By building a network of tunnels which extended from Saigon in Southern Vietnam to the Cambodian border, they were able to actually live underground for several months. The tunnels included scores of trap doors, kitchens, training areas, weapons factories and even hospitals. They actually began building the tunnels in the late 1940s during war with France, and the tunnels were usually dug by hand.
It took a special breed of Infantrymen to carry out search and destroy missions focused on the tunnels. The NVA filled the tunnels with booby traps and enemy soldiers waiting to ambush Soldiers on search and destroy missions. Members of the North Vietnamese often sat in hidden areas throughout the tunnel prepared to ram spears through the invaders. If that wasn’t already enough, the tunnels included snakes, bats and spiders as well.
The tunnel rats, composed of Soldiers from the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Throughout the war years, about 700 men served on this dangerous mission. They were all volunteers. They were usually armed with only a pistol and a flashlight. Sometimes the tunnels were so small a Soldier had to crawl on his stomach, dragging his body forward with his elbows. This was coupled with the certain fear that he could be killed at any moment.
One tunnel only nine miles from Saigon was extremely sophisticated. It led to a room that was 300 feet long with an eight foot ceiling. It was completely empty at the time it was discovered, but totally equipped as an enemy hospital with beds and operating rooms. The NVA hospital was lit by candles and a ventilation system was in place.
Another time, a Soldier and his German Shepherd, Willy, were walking point, when the dog suddenly stopped and sat, as he was trained to do if he sniffed out the enemy. Suddenly, the top of a well-hidden tunnel flew open and a Viet Cong soldier jumped out holding grenades. He was immediately shot and killed. A tunnel rat went down in the tunnel and captured a high ranking Communist official.
Most of the infantryman tunnel rats were small and short. They had to be in order to fit into the tunnels. Being a “rat” took a special kind of bravery and courage, as the tunnels were completely dark and claustrophobic. American Soldiers never knew what might await them inside. Being a tunnel rat was a volunteer job, but Infantrymen knew it had to be done.
Tunnel rats – they never knew what they might encounter, but they volunteered anyway … this is what Honor looks like.
May 20: VIETNAM VET REMEMBERS
Doug Magruder not only talks the talk of honoring our Soldiers; he walks it, too. If you ask him about his time in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, he will tell you he had the honor of serving with five young men who did not return. They are all heroes to him.
Don Stoltz, Chuck Williams and Willie Jones were on patrol Dec. 4, 1968. They were ambushed, and all three were killed instantly.
Jon Kmit was walking point on Feb. 5, 1969. The point man was the “tip of the spear,” a dangerous position. He also was killed instantly.
“If any of these five men had returned home alive, I think none of them would have claimed they did anything heroic,” the Atlanta resident said. “They would have told you that they were just doing their job.”
Whenever he is in Washington, D.C., Doug goes by the Vietnam Memorial Wall to touch his buddies’ names. He dedicated pavers to his friends on the National Infantry Museum’s Heritage Walk. Each time he visits the museum, he goes by section 6B, stoops and touches their names. When the Dignity Vietnam Memorial Wall comes to the museum, he will take time again to touch their names.
Here’s a secret about Doug, although he will argue this with you. Doug Magruder is a hero, too.
Recently, through a friend, he heard about the death of a young soldier, CPL B.J. Luxmore from Illinois. He was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 10, 2012. Doug never met B.J. In fact, he had never even heard of B.J. Luxmore, but he felt an immediate connection with this young man and his family, and he once more remembered his five Soldiers from Vietnam. He thinks about them every day.
So Doug got in touch with B.J.’s family. They corresponded by email several times, and as Doug got to know B.J. better through family and friends, he decided to honor this Soldier who gave his life for his country. He arranged for a Founders Circle Paver to be laid at the foot of the Illinois flag at the National Infantry Museum. The large paver will be dedicated this Memorial Day, and Doug is bringing B.J.’s wife, young son and parents to the ceremony. More than 50 of B.J.’s fellow Soldiers from B.J.’s regiment will also attend.
Calvin Coolidge said “no person was ever honored for what he received, but for what he gave.” Doug Magruder is a Vietnam Vet still giving …this is what Honor looks like.
May 19: HE LED THE WAY
When SSG Patrick Tadina arrived in Vietnam, he didn’t look tough enough to be a member of the elite United States Army Rangers. The paratrooper from Honolulu, Hawaii was quiet and soft-spoken and stood at five foot five. He only weighed 130 pounds. But both he and his exploits are legends in the Ranger world, where the motto is “Rangers Lead the Way.”
For more than five years, frequently dressed as a North Vietnamese soldier in either black pajamas or NVA khakis, with a floppy hat and sandals, Tadina led long-range patrols deep into North Vietnamese territory on raids and reconnaissance. These patrols were small and able to stay undetected for long periods of time. He also carried a 60 pound rucksack and a communist rifle. Because he was able to pull off the look of a North Vietnamese soldier, enemy troops relaxed when they saw him. He would quickly get off a round, killing enemy troops.
His service made him the longest continuously serving Ranger in Vietnam. While a team leader in Vietnam, he never lost a man.
Tadina had served the in the Dominican Republic before going to Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, he stayed in the military and went on to serve in Desert Storm. He retired as a Command Sergeant Major, the Army’s highest enlisted rank, and in 1995, he was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame. During his years of service he received two Silver Stars, 10 Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.
Rangers lead the way – and Patrick Tadina lived up to that motto … this is what Honor looks like.
May 18: SERVING AND STUDYING
Nothing was easy about Vietnam and few people expected a Soldier to work toward his college degree while fighting through the jungles of Vietnam. But Eddie Roberts always did more than was expected. It was the way he lived his entire life.
When Eddie was growing up in a Florida housing project, there was no money to send him to college. Instead, his father encouraged him to join the Army, and he did just that in 1965, He soon discovered Army life was his path to education. He knew it was also his path to Vietnam.
He enrolled in criminal justice classes and completed two years of college while becoming an E-7 at the same time. Roberts had two tours in Vietnam, but he didn’t let that stop his from studying. He looked for ways during his two deployments to further his schooling, and he used “movie night” as a chance to study undisturbed, since everyone else was enjoying the movie.
Roberts was wounded on each Vietnam deployment. During his second tour, he was shot six times, including an injury to his head.
Home from Vietnam, he kept taking college classes and rose to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the highest rank possible for an enlisted Soldier. By the time he retired from the Army after 30 years of service, he had earned three college degrees – two Bachelor of Science degrees in Education and business administration and a Masters degree in criminal justice.
But even though he left the Army, Roberts never stopped loving Soldiers. He found a way to combine his military background with his business degrees. Through his new civilian job as a bank vice-president specializing in service to the military, he became an active volunteer in Columbus, GA, the home of Fort Benning. He was a founding member of a nonprofit organization, the Controllers Civic and Social Club, that to date has given away more than 20,000 pairs of new Easter shoes to low-income children.
When he unexpectedly passed away in 2011 from cardiac arrest, the Fort Benning and Columbus, GA communities spoke of his passion for the military..
“He never stopped loving Soldiers,” one said. Another added, “He loved his country, loved Columbus and was full of energy at all times.
After his death, the Fort Benning Sergeant Majors Association set up a scholarship fund in his memory, with the hope that Roberts’ passion for education would live on through many students in the years to come.
Eddie Roberts – he used his Vietnam tours to complete his education and then translated that to love for the military and the community … this is what Honor looks like.
May 17: CHARACTER AND LEADERSHIP
They called it Operation Abilene. The Battle of Xa Cam My was fought over a two day period April 11-12, 1966, and when it was over Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division had suffered 80 percent casualties.
The plan was for Charlie Company to act as bait to lure out a powerful Viet Cong unit, and then other companies would attack the Viet Cong. It was a plan that didn’t work. The enemy surrounded the isolated Charlie Company, but American relief couldn’t get there as quickly as planned because of the dense jungle. The Soldiers of Charlie Company did everything they could to fight off enemy troops. One of those Soldiers was Sergeant James Robinson Jr.
At age 12, Jim Robinson began his own physical fitness program. He ran a mile each day. He practiced weight lifting and deep-breathing. He ate health foods. Jim was a football player in high school, playing both offense and defense. He was an average student, but worked hard, and by the time he was grown he planned to become a writer.
Jim joined the Marines at age 18, and then later enlisted in the Army. He requested a transfer to Vietnam, and that eventually took him to the Battle of Xa Cam My. His division’s motto was “No mission to difficult, No sacrifice too great. Duty First.”
As Robinson moved through his fire team that day, he saw a medic hit who was giving first aid to another Soldier. Concern for the two wounded Soldiers sent Robinson through a wave of bullets to drag the two men to safety. As the fight went on, Sgt. Robinson continued to reposition his men to keep the Viet Cong at bay. When he saw another wounded Soldier in plain sight of the enemy, he once more rushed forward to drag the Soldier to safety. In doing so, he was shot in the shoulder and leg. But he got the Soldier and gave him first aid. He then saw a Viet Cong machine gun headed straight toward his men.
He stood straight up, grabbed two grenades and ran toward the Viet Cong machine gun. He was hit once more, a fierce round that set fire to his uniform. He never stopped. Robinson tore the burning uniform from his body and kept marching toward the enemy. Another two shots hit him in his chest, but as he fell dead to the ground he threw the two grenade and destroyed Viet Cong gun position.
James Robinson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation reads that “his magnificent display of leadership and bravery saved several lives.” One of his men later said, “I have never witnessed a thing more powerful, and I will take it with me to my grave.”
Sgt. James Robinson Jr – character and leadership …This is what Honor looks like.
May 16: THEY COULDN’T BREAK HIS WILL
His last words were the lyrics to “God Bless America,” which he sang loudly from his isolation box in a POW camp deep in the Vietnamese jungles. Captain Humbert Roque Versace, known to his friends as Rocky, volunteered for a six month extension of his tour of duty in Vietnam, and less than two weeks before he was scheduled to leave, he was wounded and taken prisoner by Viet Cong forces.
Rocky, following in his father’s footsteps, graduated from West Point in 1959. Trained as an intelligence advisor, he went to Vietnam in 1962. He planned to attend seminary after his service ended and become a Catholic priest. He wanted to return to Vietnam and work with orphans as a missionary.
Being a prisoner of war didn’t stop Rocky from doing everything he could to keep up the morale of his fellow prisoners. His wounds went untreated, yet he attempted escape four times. He was constantly interrogated by his captors, but they never broke his will. He left messages for other Soldiers in the latrine. He protested harsh treatment of American prisoners by using his Vietnamese language skills. And, he kept singing.
Rocky Versace was executed by the Viet Cong in September, 1965, and his remains have never been recovered. Almost 40 years later, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. It was the first time an Army POW was awarded our country’s highest honor for actions while in captivity.
The name Humbert Verace is inscribed on Panel 1E, Line 33, on the Vietnam Wall.
Captain Rocky Versace – Vietnam POW and Medal of Honor Recipient …this is what Honor looks like.
May 15: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, BOB
For more than half a century, Bob Hope was the military’s best friend. He combined hislove of our service men and women with his humor while at the same time managing to stay above politics.
Born in England in 1903, his family came to the United States in 1908, passing through Ellis Island. His career began early, and he worked in vaudeville, radio, television and movies, including the “Road” movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. He also was the master of ceremonies for 14 Academy Awards shows.
But he is probably most loved for his support of the military. From 1942 until 1988, he made 57 USO tours to whatever part of the world U.S. service men and women were stationed.
Every Christmas from 1964 until 1972, Hope, his band and a bevy of beautiful women traveled to Vietnam and put on shows for the troops. Other personalities often joined him, including the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.
Clad in combat gear and always holding a golf club, Hope headed onto makeshift stages to his signature song – “Thanks for the Memories.” Without fail, he delivered his corny and oddball humor and relieved some of the tension and uneasiness among the troops. He also poked some docile fun at politicians and military leaders, always to the delight of his audience. Each performance ended with an inspiring rendition of “Silent Night,” and it was not uncommon to see tears rolling down the faces of hardened warriors.
Hope also took time out in Vietnam to visit sick and wounded Americans in military hospitals. Occasionally, his show experienced enemy fire or soaking rainstorms. He sometimes had to have a fighter escort to get into combat areas.
Back home, an NBC television special put together clips from each trip. The show was broadcast each January and always received a high rating. Americans at home glued themselves to their set to see if they could catch a glimpse of a loved one in Vietnam.
Through the years, Hope received the Medal of Merit, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Arts. Congress declared Hope an “Honorary Veteran” in 1997. In July 2003, Bob Hope died, two months after his 100th birthday, ending a career of support for his country’s military. Bob Hope – he gave our troops plenty of memories ...this is what Honor looks like.
May 14: HE TURNED ON THE LIGHTS
Clyde Everett Lassen was only 26 when his actions in Vietnam made him the first Naval aviator to receive the Medal of Honor for gallantry in Vietnam. As part of a search and rescue mission, he took his UH-2 Seasprite, a ship-based helicopter that was developed in the late 1950s for the Navy, to look for two other aviators, whose plane had been shot down by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile.
The mission took place shortly after midnight June 19, 1968. Lassen launched the aircraft from a frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin to attempt a rescue of the two aviators hiding in a steep, tree-covered area. One of the two had a broken leg, and the North Vietnamese soldiers searching for them were so close they could hear them talking.
Lassen landed the helicopter in one location, but the two downed aviators couldn’t reach it because of the extremely dense undergrowth. An attempt to land in a second area resulted in a collision with a tree when flare illumination failed. A third attempt failed as well. By this time, Lassen was also dealing with some enemy weapons fire.
But he didn’t give up, although his is fuel was running low, his aircraft was getting enemy fire and the helicopter was damaged. Darkness was his best friend in trying to evade the North Vietnamese, but Lassen courageously made the decision to turn on the landing lights, making the aircraft perfectly visible to the enemy. The landing lights also served as a welcoming beacon for the downed pilots. Dodging fire, he successfully made the landing and picked up the two aviators who were being chased by the North Vietnamese.
One of the pilots said they were “probably within 10 seconds of being grabbed” by the enemy.
Still being chased by anti-aircraft fire and running dangerously low on fuel, Lassen began flying the helicopter back to a guided missile destroyer and landed safely. When he put the helicopter down, it had only five minutes of fuel left.
For “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as pilot and aircraft commander of a search and rescue helicopter” Lassen received the Medal of Honor.
Clyde Everett Lassen – willing to risk it all for two American lives …this is what Honor looks like.
May 13: VIETNAM POW/MIA BRACELETS
Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, not everyone in our country was anti-military during the Vietnam War. There were plenty of patriotic Americans who cared deeply about our Soldiers fighting on the other side of the world. And, many of those people wore Vietnam POW-MIA bracelets.
The bracelet idea was created by two college students in California, Carol Bates and Kay Hunter. Because of the vocal anti-military feeling on some college campuses, they decided to look for positive ways college students could support our Soldiers. Calling their small group Voices in Vital America (VIVA), the bracelet idea took off. They found someone to donate enough brass and copper for the first bracelets and another person to engrave the bracelets with the name, rank and date of loss for all prisoners of war and American Soldiers missing in action. The students were able to get some big name support, with Bob Hope and Martha Raye serving as honorary co-chairmen.
With an official kickoff on Veterans Day in 1970, the bracelets were in more demand thanthe students ever expected. They sold for $2.50 for the nickel-plated one and $3 for the copper one. With the money, the students printed bumper stickers, brochures and buttons to publicize and bring the POW-MIA situation to public attention. By the end of the Vietnam War almost 5 million bracelets were being worn by U.S. citizens. The patriots who wore them pledged to keep the bracelets on until the POW-MIA or his body was returned. When the POWs were released, people wearing the bracelets with the name of a missing-in-action Soldier combed the lists printed in newspapers to see if “their name” was there. Some people still wear their bracelet today.
One woman remembers wearing a POW-MIA bracelet, along with many of her friends in school.
“When the POWs were released, I grabbed the newspaper every afternoon and went through the list that was always printed on the front page. I never found my bracelet’s name. I’m almost 60 now, but I still have that bracelet. I just couldn’t get rid of it.”
College students who cared enough to do something and believed positive is always better than negative …this is what Honor looks like.
May 12: MAN’S BEST FRIEND
They had four legs, fur, a wagging tail and an incredible sense of smell and hearing. More than 4,000 dogs served the military during the Vietnam War, working side by side with more than 10,000 handlers.
Scout dogs were always German Shepherds. Along with their handler, the scout dog led combat patrols to alert Soldiers of traps, mines and enemy movement. German Shepherds were also use as sentry dogs and were considered the first line of defense guarding American camps. They were also trained to find enemy tunnels so that “tunnel rats,” the name given to their handlers, could crawl through and search the tunnels.
Labrador Retrievers were tracker dogs. Their job was to find and follow the enemy’s scent. Carl Fedde was a Staff Sergeant when he started working with Charlie Brown, a German Shepherd. Charlie was two-years-old when he “joined” the Army. He and Carl trained together for three months at Fort Benning in 1966.
“I learned how to read the dog, and he learned how to read me,” Carl explained. “Every dog has a different personality.”
In Vietnam, Carl’s job was to walk point with Charlie for Infantry Soldiers.
“Although the units I supported suffered some casualties in combat, none could be attributed to me or my dog’s failure to detect the enemy first.”
The first time Charlie Brown gave an enemy alert was also the most amazing.
“The grass was about knee hi. He came to a dead halt, his front feet came off the ground and his nose curved to the left.”
Carl and Charlie Brown didn’t have any doubts about what was going on, but the platoon leader did and ordered them to keep walking. About 10 feet later, a Viet Cong soldier shot at them. Fortunately, no one was hit. The two grew extremely close. Carl ate with Charlie and slept with Charlie.
“And when it rained, we huddled under one poncho together,” he said.
Today, dogs return home with their Soldier, but it was different in Vietnam. When Carl’s tour was up, a different handler took over with Charlie. Saying goodbye was difficult. It’s even more difficult for Carl to talk about that day.
“Other than my wife, I was closer to that dog than any human being.”
Carl believes the Army dogs saved thousands of American lives, and there will always be a special place in his heart for Charlie Brown. Recently, he learned Charlie was killed in action in 1969. Together Carl Fedde and Charlie Brown saved American lives … this is what Honor looks like.
May 11: THEY NEEDED A FRIENDLY SMILE
Dorner Carmichael was looking for travel and adventure when she graduated from college, so she didn’t hesitate to sign on with the Red Cross for a one year tour of duty in Vietnam as a Donut Dollie. Donut Dollies weren’t Soldiers, but they served in Vietnam combat zones and were the first women officially allowed in combat zones. Dollies had to be single and at least 21, as well as having a college degree. The American Red Cross had recruited volunteers during WWII and Korea to be hostesses to Soldiers. In those two wars, their job was to serve coffee and donuts to American Soldiers.
In Vietnam, their role expanded. They set up recreational centers and planned parties. They helped with USO shows and played cards with the troops. They visited hospitals and celebrated birthdays. Their job was to deliver moral support with a friendly smile. Throughout the war, about 280,000 Servicemen took part in Donut Dollie recreational programs.
“We flew out in helicopters to fire bases with programs, which were games we created from poster board and whatever we had,” Dorner explained. “We divided the guys into groups and had them answer trivia questions about sports, cars, whatever. Occasionally we would throw in something for the guys who couldn’t answer questions, like putting together a carburetor or making paper airplanes to race”
When Dorner arrived in Vietnam in 1971, she met another Donut Dollie named Pam, who was a great favorite with the Soldiers and who would become a major influence on her own life. Pam was outgoing, bubbly and wore her dark hair in pigtails with ribbons. Dorner remembers one particular firebase they visited.
“The grunts there had taken fire and lost some men. You could tell something was wrong the minute we touched down. There were guys standing in clumps, smoking, not looking at anything, with those terrible dead eyes that many of them had after too much time in country.”
Dorner said Pam immediately knew what to do.
“She hopped out of the chopper and with a big smile and a soft hello went right over to a group of five guys.”
Dorner said Pam asked if anybody was from Georgia, her home state. When no one spoke, she kept going.
“She said ‘Oh, I bet y’all are Yankees – probably have those funny accents.’”
One Soldier finally said he was from Kansas, and Pam rattled on about corn, farmland and the Wizard of Oz. Then another said he was from New Jersey, and the talk went back to accents.
“I timed it,” Dorner said. “In a minute and a half everyone was talking and pulling out pictures of their girls back home, the motorcycles they were going to buy and pictures of their Moms.”
After that Dorner said she “learned to talk nonsense and lose my fear of guys with the terrible dead eyes.”
She and Pam began working together and became a good team,and their friendly smiles and “nonsense” lifted morale.
When Dorner returned to the U.S., she back to school became a Physician’s Assistant. She found her Vietnam training helped immensely.
“I worked in inner cities and indigent clinics – places where people who had been fighting and losing their own private wars ended up. When I opened the door they would be sitting there starring at the floor with those same dead eyes I had seen in Vietnam. It never took me long to get them to talk. Pam had taught me well.”
Dorner, Pam and hundreds of other Donut Dollies – when they had no more strength for a friendly smile they smiled anyway …this is what Honor looks like.
May 10: A LEADER AMONG MILITARY SPOUSES
She may not have been a Soldier, but Julie Moore is buried in the midst of them. An Army daughter, wife and mother, she worked tirelessly to change the way the Army notified families of war fatalities.
Julie’s husband, LTC Hal Moore (later LTG Moore), commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, in the battle of the la Drang Valley in Vietnam. It was the first major battle for American troops in Vietnam, lasted 3 days and saw numerous fatalities. Living at Fort Benning, Julie’s heart stopped when she saw a taxi driver at her front door. She learned he was not handing over a notice of her husband’s death, but was trying to find the address of another wife, whose husband had died in the battle. She followed him to the new widow’s house and took it upon herself to be with and support the women who learned their husbands had been killed in action.
Horrified by the way the Army handled death notifications, she decided to challenge the policy. Within just two weeks, the Army began sending a chaplain and officer to deliver the news, rather than just sending a telegram via taxi driver. This was the beginning of a major reorganization by the Army to provide support for families of Soldiers. Julie not only saw a problem but she found a compassionate and caring solution to the problem.
Julie’s actions are chronicled in the book “We Were Soldiers . . .Once and Young,” co-authored by her husband and news reporter Joe Galloway, and later in the movie “We Were Soldiers.” The Julia Compton Moore Award is given annually to civilian spouses of Soldiers for “Outstanding Contributions to the US Army.”
When she died in 2004, she left behind her husband and five children. She is buried at Fort Benning near her parents and her husband’s Soldiers whose families she consoled during those dark days of November 1965.
Julie Moore – she went the extra mile for military families …this is what Honor looks like.
May 9: BUILDING A PLACE OF HONOR
Shortly after Batson-Cook completed construction of the National Infantry Museum andSoldier Center, one of the company’s employees, Travis Evans, suggested that the company find a way to share the Museum with the Veterans for whom the Museum was constructed to honor. After some brainstorming, Batson-Cook decided to host a Veterans Day Honor Bus event for Veterans. The event, which is modeled after the Honor Flights, gained quick support from Joe Appleton, General Manager of Batson-Cook’s West Point Office, and plans were made to host the inaugural event on November 11, 2009. The first Honor Bus event was a huge success and the subsequent decision to make it an annual event was an easy one.
In the four years since the event’s inception, the company has shared the museum with more than 160 Veterans – many who fought in Vietnam. They are all from different cities in the region including West Point, LaGrange, and Newnan, Georgia and Lanett, Valley, Opelika, Auburn, and Dothan, Alabama. In addition to chartered transportation, Batson-Cook’s guests are treated to an honor guard salute upon arrival, guided tours of the museum exhibits, and a lunch banquet and presentation about the construction of the museum. The event is completely free for Veterans.
Based on the dozens of letters the company has received from their Veteran guests, the event is accomplishing its mission: to honor Veterans. One letter written by a Vietnam Veteran, said, “My Army service was from 1963 to 1969 and I’m sure you know that the Veterans from the Vietnam era were not well received. Well, yesterday made me feel appreciated.” A statement such as this further affirms Batson-Cook’s commitment to the Honor Bus and to sharing the National Infantry Museum with the men and women who have given part of their lives in service to our nation.
Making a corporate statement that says thank you … this is what Honor looks like.
May 8: ANGEL OF SAIGON
She was known as the Angel of Saigon. After meeting Dr. Tom Dooley, a Naval officer recognized for his work caring for children in Southeast Asia, Betty Tisdale knew she had found her mission, as well as what she later called her “destiny.”
Although she had a career working for a senator in Washington D.C., Betty went every year to Vietnam during her vacation to where she worked at the An Lac Orphanage, teaching English and caring for the more than 400 children and babies living there. The orphanage was filled with undernourished children. Shoeboxes served as coffins for the babies who died. On one of her trips, she met her future husband, Dr. Patrick Tisdale, a widower with five children under the age of 12. The Tisdales were transferred to Fort Benning, where they began raising money for the An Lac Orphanage. They also adopted five Vietnamese girls living at the orphanage. One of them was so malnourished Betty described her as looking like a skeleton covered by a thin layer of skin.
By April 1975, the Viet Cong were about to take over Saigon. Betty was determined to get as many children as possible out of the An Lac Orphanage.
“I had no idea how to do it,” she said later. I had to find planes, a place for them, find parents for them.”
She somehow persuaded the South Vietnamese government, as it was about to fall to the Communists, to let her get 219 children airlifted out of the An Lac Orphanage. The government told her she could only take children out under the age of 10 that had birth certificates. She got a supply of blank birth certificates and made up birth dates. Betty Tisdale didn’t want to hear no from anyone, and her next actions proved how dedicated she was to saving those orphans.
She needed two planes. She checked with Pan Am, but the cost of leasing two jets to go to the other side of the world was prohibitive. That didn’t stop Betty; she just talked the Air Force into loaning her a couple of planes. She needed a place back home in the United States for the children to live until they were adopted. When the Commanding General at Fort Benning didn’t return her call, she tried to get in touch with the Secretary of the Army. He didn’t return her call either, but Betty had an ace up her sleeve. She called his mother, who said, “I’ll do the best I can.”
And the Secretary of the Army’s mother did do her best. A school at Fort Benning became available to Betty and the 219 orphans. All were adopted within a month of arriving in the United States.
Betty Tisdale – 219 hungry and scared children given a new life in America … this is what Honor looks like.
May 7: COURAGE DURING COMBAT
What makes a 25-year-old young man display incredible courage? Was he just born that way? Did his parents instill a sense of courage in him? Was it his Army training or maybe love of country?
On May 26, 1967, Private First Class Leslie Bellrichard was trapped in a foxhole with four other Soldiers. After a 30-minute mortar attack by the enemy, Bellrichard stood up and threw grenades at the charging Viet Cong. The blasts killed several enemy soldiers and pushed back the rest. When they attacked again, Bellrichard resumed throwing grenades. As he was about to throw another one, a mortar round exploded in front of him, knocking him backward into the foxhole where he lost his hold on the armed grenade.
Realizing four of his buddies were still in the foxhole, he immediately threw himself on top of the grenade to absorb the explosion. Incredibly, the grenade didn’t kill him, but he was severely wounded. He managed to standup and continued firing his weapon toward the enemy, even though he was terribly injured. Within a few minutes, he succumbed to his wounds and died, but his actions had saved his fellow Soldiers from almost certain death.
Leslie Bellrichard’s name is inscribed on the Vietnam Wall at Panel 20E, Line 54. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his live above and beyond the call of duty.”
PFC Leslie Allen Bellrichard – he put his fellow Soldiers first … this is what Honor looks like.
May 6: COURAGE, COMPASSION AND CARE
Between 1962 and 1973, thousands of Army nurses served in Vietnam, many of them volunteers. Some had years of training, while others were brand new to the nursing field and had just received their diplomas.
The nurse’s role in Vietnam was different than previous wars. A helicopter could get a wounded Soldier to the medical team quickly, and the medevac system is credited with saving thousands of lives. Nurses had to deal with severely wounded patients and they had to make crucial medical decisions, often in a matter of seconds. They had to be flexible, accept on-the-job-training and nurse in any specialty area where they were needed. They had just one day off each week, working 12 hour shifts on the other six days. During emergencies, everyone worked as long as needed.
The nurses lived in tents, trailers and huts. Living conditions were not the best because of bugs, leaks and the never-ending hot and humid weather. One nurse said the best recreation she could think of was sleep.
Despite the long working hours, many of the nurses volunteered with village clinics and orphanages. They also led classes in baby and child care for the South Vietnamese mothers.
But their main role was the care for injured American Soldiers, and they did it with valor and grace. Not only did they provide medical care, but they also served as friends and morale boosters. They played card games, they told jokes, they encouraged laughter and they never let a wounded Soldier die alone. They dealt with less than perfect conditions, and they had to be creative when they needed medical equipment that just wasn’t available. Because of their medical skills, about 98 percent of the Soldiers who were injured in combat and made it to the hospital survived.
May 6-12 is National Nurses Week. Say thank you to an Army Nurse.
Army Nurses – caring, compassionate and courageous … this is what Honor looks like.
May 5: WHAT IS LEADERSHIP? JUST ASK A KID.
Summer Camp Benning for children happens every year at the National Infantry Museum. The campers learn about military history, including the Vietnam War. Here at the museum, we are fortunate enough to have several Vietnam Veterans to help with the camp. Because of their experiences they can really make history come to life for these kids who view the Vietnam War as something in the somewhat distant past and only in a textbook.
Although focusing on that time period can be difficult for the Veterans, they are always up to the task. Besides leading the kids through the Cold War gallery which includes the Vietnam War, they’ve also thought up some ideas to make the lessons truly real. The vets recreate a jungle reconnaissance mission in the woods behind the museum. Then they take the campers in search of the enemy. Here’s just one example of the impact the heroes have on the children who attend.
The kids were asked on the first day of camp to write their definition of leadership on an index card. Most wrote phrases such as “being in charge” or “being respected.” After spending the week surrounded by Veterans, they were asked to repeat the exercise on the other side of the card. The answers were vastly different. “It means helping everyone and being an example,” one child wrote. Another said, “Leadership doesn’t mean to be in charge; it means to help people.”
Wow! Vietnam Vets paying it forward … This is what Honor looks like.
May 4: CLASSIC CAR COMES IN SECOND FOR VIETNAM VETERAN
People who love classic cars are devoted to their own. Jim Lee, a dedicated volunteer at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, was no exception to the rule – or at least he thought. A retired Sergeant Major, Jim fought in both Korea and Vietnam, serving two tours in Vietnam. During his first tour of duty, Jim had the job of identifying KIA Soldiers and preparing follow-up letters. It was a responsibility that brought home the grim realities of war.
As foot Soldiers, Jim and his men learned the importance of socks. Their boots were constantly dripping wet from walking through the jungle, and there were never enough clean, dry socks available. But one day, a supply truck arrived with dozens of boxes filled with socks. One of Jim’s Soldiers had sent a letter to President Lyndon Johnson explaining about the need for more socks.
“Evidently if the President did not receive the letter, someone with power did,” Jim said. He added that the story illustrates how Soldiers not only had to deal with the enemy, but also put up with daily problems encountered in such a climate.
Jim has served on the annual Gala committee for the National Infantry Museum for three years. When the talk in 2011 turned to potential silent auction items, Jim thought – and then went home and thought some more. The next day, he walked up to the Foundation offices and handed over the key to his snazzy red 1968 perfectly restored Fort convertible. “I love this car,” he said simply, “but I love the museum and the Soldiers who come here more.” The car went to Carl Gregory Enterprises, bringing in $25,000. Carl Gregory, a longtime museum supporter, was thrilled to get the car for his dealership and produce the Hollywood ending for this story!
A Soldier still serving and a patriotic civilian … this is what Honor looks like.
May 3: I WILL NEVER LEAVE A FALLEN COMRADE – The Soldier’s Creed
It was Major Bruce Crandall, a helicopter pilot, who Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore depended on to get Soldiers to LZ X-Ray in Vietnam’s la Drang Valley. This battle in November 1965 would turn out to be the most horrific battle to date in the Vietnam War. But Crandall didn’t just get people in – he got them out, too.
The landing zone was the scene of a fierce attack by the enemy, and the remaining helicopters bringing in Soldiers were told to turn around and return to base. When Crandall got there, he discovered that medevac help going in had also been stopped. Medical evacuation was not his mission, but he wasn’t about to leave those wounded men behind. He also knew that the Soldiers still fighting were about to run out of ammunition. So, without asking anyone, he quickly recruited his buddy, Major Ed Freeman. They began to fly back and forth to the battle in unarmed helicopters.
Hours later, he had flown 22 times into what Soldiers later called the “Valley of Death.” He flew three different helicopters during 14 hours because two were so damaged they couldn’t stay in the air. Crandall and his volunteers rescued 70 of the 78 wounded men, as well as providing ammunition and much needed water.
Crandall served a second tour in Vietnam and retired as a Colonel. But his extraordinary actions that day in November 1965 weren’t forgotten. He, and his buddy Major Ed Freeman, were both awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award, although Crandall’s didn’t come until 2007. He’ll always be a hero to the Soldiers who fought in the la Drang Valley. One said, “Major Crandall’s actions were without questions the most valorous I’ve observed of any helicopter pilot in Vietnam,” and another said, “I will always be in awe of Major Bruce Crandall.”
Crandall merely said, “They were my people down there, and they trusted in me to come and get them.”
Bruce P. Crandall – he believes in the Soldier’s Creed and he never left a fallen comrade … this is what Honor looks like.
May 2: JUST DOING HIS DUTY
It was in 1967 that U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ben Purcell volunteered to leave his job as professor of military science for a tour of duty in Vietnam. Around midnight on Jan. 30, 1968, his helicopter was shot down, and Purcell and five other Soldiers found themselves looking into the guns of the North Vietnamese. One Soldier was executed immediately because he was seriously injured. The others were ordered to remove their boots and then were forced to walk all night, barefoot and with their hands tied, to a prison camp.
The highest ranking Army POW during the Vietnam War, Purcell spent 62 months– more than five years – in Viet Cong prison camps, much of it in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. For 58 of those 62 months, he was in solitary confinement in a cell measuring only 3 feet by 7 feet. He was listed as missing-in-action the entire time, so it wasn’t until the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973 that his family even knew that he was still alive.
During his time as a POW, Purcell dealt with hunger, beatings and solitary confinement. He escaped twice, only to be recaptured. When the POWs were released, it was Colonel Purcell who made a statement to the press on behalf of all the POWs. “Man’s most precious possession,” he said, “second only to life itself, is freedom.”
Ben Purcell died recently at the age of 85. In 1993, accompanied by his daughter, he traveled back to Vietnam. Joy Purcell said her father felt no resentment, and that seeing him shake hands with one of his captors was an incredibly moving moment.
“He said his captors were just soldiers doing their duty, just like he was.”
Benjamin Harrison Purcell Jr. – A Soldier who did his duty … this is what Honor looks like.
May 1: SHE SAW THEIR FACES
Zema Laird was a young military wife when she was told her husband, Major Jerry Laird, was missing in action in Vietnam. Four days later, an Army Chaplain came early in the morning to tell her that his body had been found. Zema then had to explain to their four-year-old daughter, Lisa, that her Daddy wasn’t coming home from the war.
This was 1969, when war protests were raging across our country, and Soldiers cominghome were not always welcomed as heroes. But Zema believes a valuable lesson was learned in the chaos of the Vietnam era.
“Today’s Soldiers are appreciated and welcome home,” she said. “That is due in part to Vietnam Veterans. A Vietnam Vet will never stand by and watch a Soldier be treated the way he was when returned from Vietnam.”
When Zema visited the Vietnam Wall in Washington for the first time, she didn’t know what to expect. It turned into an overwhelming moment.
“As I got closer, all of a sudden 58,000 names became 58,000 Soldiers in their fatigues and combat boots walking toward me. Just like my Jerry, they weren’t names – they were Soldiers with faces. They were people who had died for our country.”
Zema is part of the team striving to bring the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. Her husband’s name is found on Panel W34, Line 59.
Zema Laird – working hard to keep those 58,000 faces alive … this is what Honor looks like.
For 23 years, the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall has traveled throughout our country to make the Wall experience real for those who had not had the opportunity to see the original Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. Now the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center plans to build a facility on the museum grounds to feature this Wall for an extended multi-year stay of at least five years. It stands 240 feet long and 8 feet high. And like the Wall in Washington, more than 58,000 names of patriots who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country are etched on it.
Please make a donation today to help bring the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall to the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.