The following articles were written by Mark Woods
for the Florida Times-Union newspaper, Jacksonville, Florida
and is used with permission. It was in three installments:
April 27, 2005, April 29, 2005 and May 1, 2005
We thank Mr.Woods for keeping the sacrifices
of our brothers-in-arms alive.
His goal: To fly in combat over Vietnam
The night before her oldest son left for Vietnam, Irene Frye went to the doorway of his bedroom.
She peeked into a boy's room decorated not with posters of footballplayers and pinups, but with pictures of F-4 Phantom jets and modelaircraft carriers, and saw Kevin Frye, a couple of months past his 20thbirthday, sitting at his desk, intently writing something.
"What are you doing, Kevin?" she asked.
"Just tying up some loose ends, Mom," he said.
She didn't know it, but he was writing a letter, addressing it to "Mom and Dad." It was never meant to be mailed. Instead, when he finished writing, he put it in an envelope, sealed it and gave it to his father with instructions: Open this if I don't come home.
Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War. That's the reason for taking this week to tell you the story of the Fryes and a letter written March 7, 1970.
To understand what Vietnam meant to Kevin Frye on the eve of his deployment is like trying to understand the war itself. It's complicated and, in some ways, conflicted. Frye called it a "stupid war." Yet he did everything possible not just to be in the middle of it, but to be flying an attack helicopter with a unit on the forefront of it.
Kevin always wanted to fly. His college roommate, Clarence Walker, said "wanted" isn't a strong enough word, that Kevin "had" to fly.
It isn't hard to figure out where he got this from. His mother flew as a hobby. His father was in the Navy, stationed at Cecil Field. And when Warren Frye took his son to the base, the Navy pilots sort of adopted Kevin as an unofficial mascot, teasing him, playing with him, teaching him about planes.
At age 13, he joined the Civil Air Patrol cadet program. One month after his 16th birthday, he flew solo in a Cessna 150. And the summer after he turned 17, he went to Orlando for a camp and made a lasting impression on one of the junior cadets.
"He had a leader persona," Skip Pfeiffer wrote years later. "His uniform and appearance were impeccable. He was strict but fair as a disciplinarian. I remember walking past his room on a number of occasions and he would be sitting at his desk writing. He said he kept a journal. He said his ambition was to become a Naval aviator and fly jets off an aircraft carrier."
The one glitch in his plan: math.
He was struggling to meet math requirements needed to have a shot at the Naval Academy. In hopes of changing that he transferred from Bishop Kenny, which was teaching math the old fashioned way, to Forrest High School, which was teaching "new math."
Old or new, it wasn't enough. So after graduating from Forrest, he accepted a Naval ROTC scholarship and headed to the University of South Carolina.
He quickly got impatient.
He wanted to go to Vietnam. Not in four years. The sooner the better. He switched branches of the service, from Navy to Army, from faraway dreams of an F-4 to immediate visions of an AH-1 Cobra, the first helicopter designed from its inception to fight wars.
Up until this point, he had been using planes the way some kids used cars. He'd go out for flights with his mother. He'd fly to Gainesville to pick up his girlfriend, Carla. Now he was going to war.
He said he wasn't afraid. Not of dying, anyway. Not after what happened when he left college and headed for basic training.
He was told to report to the orderly room one day. He had a call. It was Carla's father. She had been thrown from a horse and hit her head. She was in a coma, but the doctors had done X-rays and believed she would come out of it in a day or two.
"When she did," Kevin told Randy Zahn, his roommate in Vietnam, "he would call me back so I could talk to her."
Two days later, her father called back. Carla had died.
That was Jan. 21, 1969. Less than 14 months later, on March 8, 1970, Kevin left for Vietnam.
The day before, he went to the playground near their house in Hyde Park, strapped on a parachute and had the neighborhood kids line up. As the wind filled the chute, he took them, one by one, scooping them up in his arms and giving them a little ride.
A few days later there was a knock on their door. Irene Frye opened it and found the 6-year-old boy from across the street standing there, looking up.
"Can Kevin come out to play?" he said.
She explained that Kevin was overseas. But she promised to write him and tell him that he had some little friends back home, waiting for him to come back and play.
She was 42 years old. And in her mind, the oldest of her three children still was a boy. A mature boy, but still a boy.
She had gone to the airport with him. It was raining. He was wearing his uniform. She grabbed his hand. He let her hold it for a moment, then wriggled it free. She grabbed it again.
"He was a little embarrassed to have his mother holding his hand," she said, smiling. "But I couldn't let go. I was scared to death. I felt I was never going to see him again."
He told her the things that I'm sure sons have been telling mothers throughout history.
He told her not to worry.
He promised he would write.
He didn't tell her about the letter he had already written.