May 12, 2022 at 11:32 am #23633PelicanParticipant
RECEIVED FROM MY FRIEND JOE GANNON.GOD BLESS THE 19 MARINES OF THAT DAY
The Unknown 19
It was May 10, 1968, and I was flying medevac (UH-34D, HMM-163) out of Quang Tri. I started at dawn getting wounded from 1/26 and 3/26 North of Dong Ha, in or near the DMZ. At around 9 a.m., we finally got to the dead. There were 19 Marines laid out in a row, no body bags. I looked down from the cockpit and the picture burned into my mind and soul.
The overnight battle was still going on. The LZ was being overrun, taking incoming artillery, mortar and rocket fire, air strikes were in progress, and we took fire each time going in and out. Because of our fuel load and crew of five it took three trips to get the KIA out. The aircraft settled into the trees on the first and third trips because we were carrying seven bodies, and we struggled our way into the air.
I had to take evasive maneuvers because of enemy fire and one time, my Corpsman had to throw himself over the bodies to keep them from rolling out the cabin door. We took a lot of hits from small arms fire, but no one was hit and the aircraft got us home after we brought the bodies to Delta Med at Dong Ha to start their long and sad journey home.
At that point in my tour I’d flown about 600 combat missions, mostly medevacs, carrying many hundreds of wounded and dead. But that day, I hit my wall and bounced off it, never to be the same. There were just too many losses, too much pain, and I almost broke.
Back in my hooch I deliberately got blind drunk, hoping to erase that picture from my mind. It was the first time that I’d tried a drink for self-medication instead of pleasure. It didn’t work. From that day, the only direct memory I had was the sight of the long row of dead lying in the morning sun, haunting me all these years. The alcohol had erased memory of everything but what I was trying to forget.
After 33 years passed, my Corpsman, Don “Doc” Proutey and I connected, and he filled me in on all the details that I’d erased. I was still left with a huge sadness and pain. I wondered and tried to search for years to find out who those men were.
In 2019, the Traveling Wall (“The Wall That Heals”) came to my town. I got a search tool from them and was finally able to find who those Marines were, and to “bury them” with prayer and thanks.
I had visited The Wall in Washington, DC many times before and found some peace with finding the names of my friends who’d died, but these 19 unknowns still haunted me. Now I’ve found them, and with that, found some more peace.
For anyone that has avoided visiting The Wall because you know that there’ll be pain, let me say that seeing and touching the names will hurt, yes, but it will also heal. In-country, we never got to say goodbye. Now we can.
Anyone who reads this, please say a prayer for and thank these men. May they be alive in honored memory.
1/26 Operation Kentucky
Thursday, May 9, 1968
LARRY E ADOLF
KURTIS N CHAPMAN
EUGENIO E FERNANDEZ JR
PAUL L FREDERICKSON
EDWARD A GILLASPY
EDWARD J HUGHES JR
SIDNEY B MAC LEOD JR
STEPHEN D MC GEE
JOE L MC GILL
HOMER MITCHELL JR
WINSTON G PARKER
JACK E PORTER
ROBERT P SICKLES
BILLY G STEWART
PHILIP G WIGTON
MELVIN G WINDHAM
Friday, May 10, 1968
FRANK V CALZIA
DAVID L KIRKEBY
ROBERT C ONSLOW
Rest in peace.
"I never met a man I didn't like"...will rogers
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