Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vietnam From A Hero's Perspective
There are a lot of us who where there.  A cook who saved a soldier from bleeding to death.  A clerk who worked from 6 am to 10 pm seven days a week making sure the unit ran smoothly without complaining. A Huey crew chief who jumped into the line of fire to save two grunts after the two were shot up so bad they couldn't make it to the Huey.
These things did happen. Many never did get recognized for their heroic actions. But for many of us who lived on beyond Vietnam and are now ready to retire, we know what we did had to happen and also know that despite the lack of awards for gallantry or recognition for going beyond the call of duty -- we realize that we did what we did because no one else could have done it as well as we did.
April, 1970
I was given the task of polishing a White Phosphorous round. I knew that turning the round 230 times in one direction would arm it, So, I turned it half way in one direction and then half way in the opposite direction. 
After three days of polishing, the very shinny round was ready for the 200,000 template painting.
Pleased with my handy work, I was just about to put the round into its cardboard casing when a familiar voice -- SFC Valentine -- remarked about how nice it looked but wanted to know how many times I turned it.
"I stopped counting after 230 times," I remarked, then turned to watch a pastey colored senior NCO walk slowly backwards out of the place where I had polished it. That moment still makes me smile.
I put the round in the back of the hanger and made sure everyone knew what it was and what it was for. 
Captain Denny Cramp, Lieutenant Craig Guess and SFC Valentine are discussing the fate of their careers over the fact that a certain part known as Push/Pull (split cone) bearings for the tail rotor blade of the Cobra could not be found in Vietnam.
They were of course, correct. What happened was the Army had issued a order to convert these bearings to a solid version. Unfortunately, these began to fail miserably. So, the older ones were once again required.
You couldn't use the ones pulled off the Cobras because they adjust to the "squeeze" of the casing they are housed in.
Because of this, there really was a shortage of the original sets of bearings and since the helicopters can't fly without them, our unit would be forced to stand down and we would be deemed not Combat Ready.
It just so happened that a friend of mine over at A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion who was a Huey mechanic carried a set of Cobra tail rotor bearings in his pocket.
So, after going back and forth with these three, I finally convinced the three that I could find a pair of these bearings. They gave me a jeep and Guess to me not to come back if I didn't return with a pair.
I would have loved an image of the jaw dropping faces when I returned with them.
I had no idea that this would set the stage for a much bigger job.
May 1
Roughly every five months, you could take a week break from the madness and go on R&R. While most guys go to various locations to get laid, I went to Japan to see the EXPO 70 in Osaka.  As it turns out, on the morning of May 1st, the trains stopped running and I had to call the Navy Military Police who came over picked me up and called the Army Military Police who picked me up and proceeded to get lost.
May 2
Instead of flying into DaNang, I'm flown into Saigon and then catch a C-130 to DaNang.  It was 3:00 in the afternoon. Another C-130 would be headed to Phu Bai would leave at 3:30.
I wasn't on that C-130. I stayed up all night over at the 24 hour Air Force Mess Hall drinking coffee and wondering why the hairs on the back of my neck stood up just thinking about being there that evening.
May 3
Before boarding the C-130, we had to wait while some black body bags were removed from the plane. A sobering reminder that you could die here passed us by.
We then boarded and less than 30 minutes later we were doing final over Camp Eagle. And, at that point I was wishing I was in one of those body bags. The scene below was horrifying. The hanger was gone. Cobras looked like the hand of god came down and twisted them into pretzels, there was smoke coming from the TOC and hundreds of people were all over our pad taking pictures and cleaning up the after math.
My first thought, my round blew up and destroyed our unit. But after realizing the extent of damage, I calmed down and came to the conclusion the enemy was most likely to blame.
Hitched a ride in the back of a dump truck.  Two other Infantry soldiers also hitch a ride.  They looked like death was at their door step.
"You guys look really beat,"  I said. And they told me their story about being over at Firebase bastogne and how Charlie was lobbing in lots of mortar rounds and keeping them up all night ever since we invaded Laos and Cambodia.
But my remark about Cobra support revived them from the dead.  After that, I knew why the hairs on the back of my neck had stood up.
I placed my stash of Expo 70 memories away and inspected the hooch.  Ours was the farthest away from ground zero.  Luckily, there was no damage. The kid from Pittsburgh who had been on a 30 day leave one gets after volunteering for another year in hell, looked like he needed another one.  He asked me to come over to his hooch.
"Do you see that hole," he asked while pointing to it." 
"That is where one of our rockets came in, past my nose. Dropped down into the middle of the floor and started spinning around. I had to kick it out of the hooch!"
"Anyway, SFC Valentine is looking for you. Him and Lt. Guess. They have a new job for you."
As he said this, he looked at me with that look of knowing already what they want.
So, I worked my way up to the flight line,  talked to the Battery Commander who was glad to see me and it didn't take long for Lieutenant Craig Guess to find me and tell me what my job would be for the next 90 days.
"Your job is to get us back to fully operational status.  I am assigning you a jeep, we'll put a radio on it, you will be wearing a CEOI and you will be reporting directly to me. You are to be borrow and steal anything and everything you can to get us back up.  If you get caught stealing, I will bail you out of jail.  I'm that serious."
So, I did. The Sea Bees did the physical job of rebuilding the hanger and our other buildings that were destroyed. I did the job of making sure the parts, the paperwork and the rest of the items necessary to assure 12 Cobras were fully functional and the maintenance support as at the point where it was before the attack occurred.
10 weeks after the May 3rd rocket attack, our unit was at 100%, able and proud to support our soldiers during the evacuation of Firebase Ripcord.

I worked 14 hours per day, 7 days per week. Put pilots in a Cobra I never saw again.  I moved our Cobras twice.  Once behind  A Company, 5th Trans hangers and once at A Troop, 2/17th Cav.

I created a hydraulic line that was need to get a Cobra on CCN at Quang Tri.
No one to this day has ever written a thank you. And only Lieutenant Craig Guess can vouch that this ever happened.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Author's Notes: Okay, while this isn't exactly about the 4/77th in Vietnam, it is about the 4/77th in Germany during REFORGER 76. It is also about me, the images I took and the changes in the 4/77th's mission and purpose.

Also, my apologies.  I posted this a bit prematurely. the part below from my perspective. The actual story about the 4/77th is located here:

Click on the link to: AVN_DIG_1976_12.pdf.  You will need a PDF reader. The cover, inside cover images and many of the images inside this issue were taken by me. Although I didn't get credit for them, after reading the story below, I think you will agree no one else could have taken them.

If you don't want to read all the great things the 4/77th did that year, please read: Vietnam To Europe, The 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Lives On! article.

During REFORGER 76 we kicked ***

Sometimes, what appears to be a bad turn in one's military career actually turns out to be the one thing needed to make the rest of the chain events the formula for success.
January, 1976:
The 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion(3rd CAB) is my new home.  I have been here for three months and I am faced with the very real fact that because of my vision problems, I can no longer hold the MOS of 67Y20 -- Cobra Crew chief. That the military could issue me an MOS of a cook and I would have to live with that for the next four years was an unbearable reality.
Totally unacceptable. 
My options were to either accept fate or leave the military under a breach of contract.
I decided that I wanted to let the cards fall where they would and requested command sponsorship.
I also received an Army Accommodation Medal and a Commander's Certificate from the 101st Airborne Division(Air Assault) for my work as a writer and photographer.
Around January 10, 1976, my wife shows up. One day later, her brother dies.
We fly from Frankfurt to McGuire AFB.  Because we're too late for the funeral and because her family told us not to come all the way down to Louisiana, we staid at my mothers home at 250 S. Church Street in Moorestown, NJ and for 30 days we staid there.
Some images were taken of the Bi-Centennial area over in Philadelphia, PA.
The walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge was interesting. 
Having my wife come down with the Legionnaires' Disease was not.
February, 1976:
By the way, if you've never been on a long flight via one of the Air Force hops, there are no bathrooms. If you have to pee or poop, you do it in a bag.
They also supply you with disposable ear plugs that look more like two pieces of cheap round chewing gum. At first, being larger than the ear, it appeared impossible to use until one of the Air Force crew members showed us how to use them and they worked just fine.
After flying back the way we came, we stay over night on the military side of the Frankfurt Airport. Wife bunked with the ladies.  I bunked with the guys. 
Once back at Harvey Barracks, Kitzingen, Germany, my focus was on getting the Battalion's Public Information System on line and working as it should for an IG Inspection. The wife went to work on finding us a place to live on the economy. The Hotel Garni worked as a staging area.
This is where the world from my perspective turned cold and cruel. Or that's what it appeared.
March, 1976:
According to the IG Inspection, my MOS 67Y20, was mission critical and the job I was doing at Battalion level was not needed. Also, my TA 50 gear that was supposed to come with me over to Germany was stolen. I had documents to prove it.
Despite my explanations on this matter, my CO did not care and served me with two Article 15s.
The second one came with a new job assignment: work at the front gate as NCO of Front Gate Guards.
As it so happens, that the Aid De Camp for the 1 Star General residing at the Harvey Barracks Kaserne saw me, wanted to know what I was doing in my new lofty position. I told him and he responded with:  "That's going to change."
And it did....but not exactly the way I thought it would.
April, 1976:
I am handed the keys to the Harvey Barracks Special Services Photo-lab. Handing me keys to a photo-lab is like handing a kid with a sweet tooth the keys to a candy store.
For the next three months, I would go from knowing how to develop Black and White film, color slides and black and white prints to teaching other photo-lab instructors on how to create cyber chrome prints using a Beseler 23C with a Dichroic Head.
I worked with Leica Focomat enlargers, Omega D11, and a Beseler 45.
I worked with Dectol and Selectol for print developers.
I worked HC110, Agfa Rodinal, D-76, Microdol X, Microfine and Diafine.
I learned how to flatten contrast in a negative and then add additional contrast using various grades of paper.
I also opened up the photo-lab so that many more photographers could use the photo-lab. Sales went from $90/month to $400/month. And I was buying about $100 of that myself.
I encouraged creativity.  One solarized image was used by EURARMY Magazine on the back cover and netted the creative photographer with a $25 savings bond.
The film I started using religiously was Ilford Pan F Plus. Used plenty of Hypo clearing agent, too.
I fell in love with Afga Brovira paper. Single weight.
August 1976:
The advanced party of the 101st Airborne Division(Air Assault) begins to show up at Harvey Barracks. At the same the folks running special services thought it would be a good idea to hire a civilian to work with me.
I also found out that the Division Public Affairs Officer LTC John AG Klose had taken command of the 158th Aviation Battalion. Want to guess who was going to sponsor the 158th Aviation Battalion?
So, I told this to our battalion XO and he threw me out of the Library. He got thrown out of the battalion two months later. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After working with my civilian counterpart, and convincing the local head of the Special Services that he was able to handle the lab by himself, my attention was turned to taking spectacular images.
Armed with a new set of photography skills I took images of AH-1S Cobras, UH-1H Hueys, OH-58's and CH-47 Chinooks and hundreds of 101st Airborne Division soldiers, and sent the images back to Division Public Affairs, 101st Airborne Division(Air Assault) via the local Bundespost(Post Office).
During the second week of August, LTC John AG Klose arrives and we meet.
"Hello Dick, what are you doing?"
"I'm running a photo-lab, Sir"
"No, no , no, that's not going to happen.  Whose your boss?"
"LTC Gerald E Lethcoe, Sir."
"I'll go talk to him. That is, if it is okay, with you."
Last time I looked, an E-5 generally doesn't have a say so in such things."
"That will be fine, Sir."
"Also have a message for you from Division Public Affairs.  They want to know how you're getting your images to them so quickly, they aren't getting any images from the official photographers and could you include cut lines on your images.
Are you available to work with me, too?"
"Yes, Sir, my photo-lab is here, just below the flight tower."
"Very good."
I saluted and left.
A few weeks later, I was asked to come out with him and some of his pilots who were part of the Air Assault In Action demonstration for all the various country leaders in Europe. That day was basically the last dress rehearsal before the big day and all the invited press was there.
So, as far as I was concerned, my focus was on finding out what my "Enemy" knew about what was supposed to happen.
I was not paying any attention to the man in the middle of the field.
About the time I figure out they were clueless, I hear this "Dick Edwards get over here."
I knew immediately, who that person was in the middle of the field. It was my old boss from the 2/17th Cavalry.  It was LTC Gary E. Luck.
I went to salute him, he offered me a handshake instead.
"Dick, what are you doing out here?"
"I'm here to take pictures."
He got a bit upset with me on that so I told him the truth.  I was running a photo-lab and I was given permission to take images.
He was much happier with that and asked me where my photo-lab was and I told him.
I then saluted him and went back to where the press was located. I then explained to them what was about to happen and then excused myself and placed myself in a position where I would get the best images of the demonstration and waited for the events to take place.
Once back at the lab, I had to take 12 rolls of film, develop them the way I knew would give me what I needed and then printed what I thought were the best of the best.
As I'm drying the prints, a knock on the door occurred three times.  The last being the loudest. There was a sign on the door that said closed. So, I opened it on the third knock. I was looking at a Full Bird Colonel.
"At ease", he said, "are you SGT Edwards?"
"Yes, Sir."
"I'm here to pick up pictures. Gary E. Luck sent me."
I'm sure you can imagine my bit of surprise.  One that an LTC would have a Colonel pick up images for him.  Two,  that Gary E. Luck had enough confidence in me to know I would do exactly what I said I would do and have done exactly what I did.
So, I welcomed him in, gave him the images that had been dried and he helped me finish the last 25. I never saw that Colonel, Gary E. Luck or got confirmation that those images even got to Gary E. Luck.
I created another batch of the exact images, put the cut lines on them and sent them back to Division Public Affairs.
I also contacted USAREUR and 7th Army Audio/Video Department and sent over to them proofs of the negatives along with the negatives. From that a batch of 12 images were created and sent out as part of the press releases.
When it was time to say goodbye to LTC John AG Klose once again, he said, "You did a wonderful job for us. I talked to your boss. You need to talk to him. Dick, thank you."
"My pleasure, Sir."
I saluted, we shook hands. That was the last time I saw him.
By all rights, what I did for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was more than a page in the history of that division.  It was as far as I was concerned something I was destined to do. I had seen the AH-1G Cobra go from an Aerial Rocket Artillery platform to a formidable anti-armor TOW Missile platform.
That I could be proud of and that, by all measure should have been enough.  So, talking to LTC Gerald E Lethcoe was like closing a chapter filled with Vietnam memories and proud accomplishments and starting a new chapter filled with blank pages.
So, I did talk to LTC Gerald E Lethcoe and he agreed to let me work with him and for the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion.