For those of you who have not read one of my “We won’t let you forget” articles, please let me explain why I write them each year just before Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day.
As we were approaching Veteran’s Day 1997, it occurred to me that I was beginning to forget just what this special holiday means to me (and to all of us). It was becoming just another day off for me, and when I realized that, I became a little sad. Here’s why it is so important to me and to many of my friends.
I celebrated my 21st birthday in mid November of 1967 on an Air Force C-141 while flying into Anchorage Alaska on my way to Vietnam. It was an interesting day for me because we were heading west and the time kept ticking back one hour as we passed through a number of time zones on our way to Southeast Asia. I probably celebrated the longest 21st birthday of anyone that I knew. It lasted close to two days. My return trip 51 weeks later would be on Veterans Day, 1968. A lot would happen throughout my 21st. year. Obviously, I have never forgotten any of it.
For this year’s ‘war story’ I want to take you back to March 18, 1968. All of us had already seen too much death, and there was much more to come. We were the tough young paratroopers of the 101st. Airborne Division, the mighty Screaming Eagles. We had some pretty tall boots to fill in living up to the reputation of our many former brothers in combat who served with the 101st. over the years. It would be costly, but we were up to the task.
One of the most visited pages on our corporate website is one that I placed there as a memorial to some friends who gave all for their friends and their country. When you have a minute, please visit and learn a little more about them. [http://www.thetrainingco.com/html/Vietnam.html]
One friend that I mention on the page is a young Captain that took me under his wing when we first arrived in country. He was a sharp West Point graduate and it was comforting (I was still a second lieutenant) to have someone like him as a friend. We were a part of the advanced party and our job was to prepare for the arrival of the division main body. Once they did arrive, he was assigned to command an Infantry Company, and I was assigned to lead a Combat Engineer platoon in support of the battalion that his company was a part of. Our quiet time together as friends would become a luxury as we both became very busy with our new duties. Little did either of us know that less than 100 days later, he would play a major role in an incident for which he would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The rest of my story for this year is about a group of men that every one of us who were in those jungles believe should have also gotten Congressional Medal’s of Honor. These were the helicopter pilots. The most fearless group of men that I have ever had the pleasure of serving with.
I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of relief when we heard the sound of those ‘choppers’ coming to our aid wherever and whenever we called out for help. Being a part of a recon team for about 4 months, I wound up spending a lot of time in just about every type of helicopter over there. (Except for the Cobras – that would have been a great experience.) I was always very happy to get back on the ground again, and many times wondered out loud how those guys worked up the courage to be in them every day. They were such easy targets, and there was no place to hide when you were in the air. If it weren’t for the incredible bravery of those pilots who flew the support and dust-off (medivac) missions of the night of March 18, 1968, there would have been many more names on our memorial web page. I don’t have any idea of how I can begin to thank them, but I can help us to never forget them.
One of those pilots who gave his all for his country is the father of a friend of mine. His name is Robert Moffett Dowling. His son and my friend Bob Dowling wrote a very detailed and touching remembrance of his dad. Reading about his dad’s heroic actions at such a young age should make every one of us proud of this American Hero. At the young age of 27, he was a helicopter pilot who gave his all trying to save some of his comrades in early 1966. As young as he was, he had already been serving his country voluntarily for eight years. During his time over the hostile sky’s in Vietnam, he had flown over 200 combat missions before he flew his last one on that fateful day. His life is such an incredible example of the fearless bravery that I believe symbolizes our American hero’s. We can never let ourselves forget him or our other fallen countrymen.
The behind the scenes story of Robert Moffett Dowling is also something that we cannot ever forget. His battle ended on January 12, 1966, but the grief and sense of loss suffered by his family will never end. He left behind a young wife and children who were 3, 4, 5 and 6 years old at the time. My friend Bob was the 5 year old and his only son. Bob has shared with me some of the few wonderful memories that he has of he and his dad being together. 5 is just about the age where we begin to establish our long term memories and thankfully, Bob was able to have a few great ones to help him remember his dad. Unfortunately, he also has to remember a funeral in early 1966. This is the price that our American hero’s (and their families) pay for this precious freedom that we all enjoy in this wonderful country. On this Memorial Day, let’s all promise to never forget our fallen hero’s and their families.
We won’t let you forget!
Band-of-Brothers Class of 67-68 101st. Airborne Division – Vietnam
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