Once again, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to spend a few days in the company of heroes. My thanks goes out to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, headquarters, and its Florida chapter which did a great job of hosting. I never heard a final count, but in mid-reunion, Ken Fritz told me something like 1900 total attendees. Wow.
More and more, I wonder if my brother David were alive, would he be a "joiner?" Would he be there with the rest of you, or would he be keeping the cover closed on the Vietnam part of his life? I'll never know for sure, but my answer in part comes from the simple fact that I'm drawn to this brotherhood by a force greater than me.
God, how I wish I could take David to a reunion sometime. I can close my eyes tightly and imagine showing him all the "stuff" - the memories, the displays, the patches and pins, the models, the Missing Man table . . . the intangible feelings that are mostly unspoken - I can imagine myself taking my brother around the vendors' room by the arm, showing him Gary Roush's volumes of information, introducing him to Joe Kline and his paintings, and Bruce Carlson and his book, and the rest of the guys who have been looking after me for the past seven years.
I would give anything to be able to sit for 5 minutes in the ARA TOC or the 48th Bluestars room, or a 9th Cav hospitality suite, next to my brother. He would be so *damned* proud of each one of you. I would want to see the look on his face if he got to ride again in a Huey or saw somebody he hadn't seen in 30 years. I want, so badly, to be the one to introduce him to all of you. I mean, in the flesh. Just think of how awesome that would be.
I shouldn't even allow myself to imagine such things as it's starting the tears flowing . . . but . . . as many of you know, the truth is, I have in a way introduced you to my brother, and you have introduced me to him as well. Now you have done the same thing for many, many other families members like me.
My 7th VHPA reunion really started out at the MSP airport. My roommates & travel companions, Jim & Janice Ottman (C/229) and I spotted another Cav hat and met Mike & Janice Syverson (D/3/4 CAV & F/9 CAV) who were headed for their first VHPA reunion. It wasn't until just before the flight back, where my seat was (of course) right in front of the FNG's, that I discovered that Mike Syverson and I had BOTH turned a year older the day before (we share a birthday).
It's a small world.
I got myself registered and pestered Lorraine from HQ enough to help me drag a table next to Gary Roush's database set-up, so I could stake out a place for the Family Contacts Committee. The vendors' room was huge and had a Huey and LOH inside, plus all the vendors' tables around the perimeter and in the center. Our Family Contacts Committee has been represented at every VHPA reunion since the committee was formed in 1997. I take a case list, which now numbers something way over 300, and at each reunion we collect names and contact information from veterans who either knew somebody on our case list, or are willing to be a point of contact should a family of a KIA who was a buddy of their come seeking information and connections.
THANK YOU, all who sat down and offered info. for us. I have several pages of notes to forward to our committee chairman, Gary Thewlis and will be responding to all of you in some way. You might be helping bring some memories back where they belong.
Other members of our committee who attended were Frank Reilly (116 AHC), who did a lot of "time" at the table; Jack Taber (4/77 ARA) and Andy Burleigh (B/3/17 CAV). Thanks, guys.
I found some good buddies that first night. Bob Tredway (C/1/9 CAV), my brother's six and now mine . . . along with John Powell (C/1/9 CAV), my brother's "high bird" and now mine . . . and Jim "Goldie" Goldthorpe (108 ART & A/377 ART), and I took a Mustang Sally cruise up and down and up and down International Drive looking for "Fish Bones," a restaurant that Powell swore he'd seen earlier that evening. After a couple hrs. going up and down the "strip" as we were fainting from hunger, we settled for another restaurant. Due to a retirement that happened during VHPA, Goldie is now the oldest Army aviator or oldest something or other still allowed to touch controls. He was wearing a t-shirt that proclaimed that fact on the back. Still looking good, Goldie.
Weary from spending several days with rambunctious grandkids, Bob Tredway ducked out early that evening for some needed rest and we missed saying goodbyes. I don't like goodbyes, anyway.
I had breakfast the next day with my cousins, Barb & Johnny Fazendin who retired from Stillwater Minn down to Haines City area 4 yrs. ago. We went over all the hometown news.
That was a day of meeting folks. I'm getting older (42 now if you remember!) so I can't remember which day I saw whom. Here are some of the guys I saw whose names might mean something to this group - at the great risk of leaving lots of folks out.
Big Al DeMailo "Smiling Tiger" D/229 AHB & C/1/9 CAV
Byron Sprunger, 128 AHC, B/101 ABN 101 AVN & HCC 101 ABN 101 AVN (Byron was the "200 lb. bald guy walking around in a fog" (WHICH ONE???)
Doc Daugherty 128 AHC
Gary & Susan Roush 242 ASHC
Joe & Donna Kline 101 ABN 101 ABN
Ken Roach B/101 ABN 101 AVN
Barry McAlpine 1/9 CAV
Rick Lester 48 AHC Bluestars
Dave & Becky Fry 48 AHC (flight school classmate of my brother)
Carle Dunn A/228 ASHB
Loren McAnally B/1/9 CAV
Dave Greene B/227 AHB
Jim Messinger, National Vietnam War Museum
~ great project folks, please support it!
Del Belanger 999 SIG CO, 1/28, 1 ID 540 & wife Carolyn, other family
Fred Counter 128 AHC
Rod Barber, 2 BDE 1 CAV (flight school classmate of my brother)
Mal Doremus, 7/17 CAV
Don & Helen Joyce, 1 AVN CO 179 ASHC etc. & FLORIDA CHAPTER VHPA! I hope Don
has his voice back by now.
John Hargleroad C/7/17 CAV - you're lookin' good, too!
Bobby Bateman A/227 CAV
Jim Beach 61 AHC
Don Williams D/229 AHC & F/1/9 CAV
Don & Jon Williams
Ron Burgess F/9 CAV
Steve Harper B/227
Terry Glendy B/227
Lee Westbrook 119 AHC & 57 MED DET
Barry Sipple, C/1/9 CAV & sister Clare
Pat Lindsay, 148 with Barry & Clare
Al Bennett 117 AHC
Steve Reilly 132 ASHC & 138 ASHC
Bruce Carlson C/7/17 CAV
Jose Martinez C/7/17 CAV
Bill Kelbaugh 48 AHC
Rick Freeman 4/77 ARA
Bert Chole HHT 1/9 CAV (life is good, Bert!)
Larry Brown A/1/9 CAV (sat next to Larry at the banquet)
Bob Garthwaite 361 AVN Pink Panthers
Jack Jordan 361 AVN
Roger Patterson B/1/9 CAV
Jim Pratt B/1/9 CAV
Gary Rossomme B/1/9 CAV
Keith Wysong 48 AHC
Bert & Pam Stainton 4/77 ARA (Bert's retired - still has ponytail)
Jay McAlpine 4/77 ARA (grew up in Stillwater, my town)
Wayne "Crash" Coe 187 AHC
Art Cline 187 AHC - Wow, has it really been 6 years since that meeting??
Vietnamese poet Linh Vo
And MANY more. Forgive my memory lapse. I should have been scribbling notes every day.
That evening, Jeannie & Bobby Anderson came to the hotel and met up with me and Jack Schwarz (C/1/9 CAV & webmaster). Also, Rich & Andrea Cahill & kids, Alex & Tyler, came. Jeannie's birth dad, John Anderson (coincidentally she married into the name), was the other pilot killed in my brother David's crash.
She & her husband Bobby live near Orlando and hosted a fantastic BBQ the following day for about a dozen of us C Troopers.Gathered at Jeannie & Bobby's were:
Galen (6) & Ilah Rosher
Tim Hope w/3 dogs, Penny, Jack, Jim
Big Al DeMailo
Rich & Andrea Cahill, nephew of Bill Cahill, C/1/9 CAV KIA
with Alex & Tyler
Jeannie & Bobby's son, Bradley, plus puppies (see photos)!
The most important of the reunion to me is seeing the KIA family members get connected. We were lucky this year to have KIA sis Sherry Leeper (Wally 48 AHC), sis Linda Wilsher Clance ("Whoosh" Everett 116 AHC & 361 AVN), and brother Ken Bigelow (Ralph 198 BDE 23 INF) at the reunion. Ken, thanks for all of your help at the FCC table.
Also, Jim McDerby, brother of Eddie, C/1/9 CAV who died after tour, was there briefly. As a member of the Family Contacts Committee, Frank Reilly has been working with Linda over the past few months to find guys who knew her brother. Frank and Linda were able to meet in person at the reunion. Sis Sherry Leeper is an old hand at this, having been to the Denver and Las Vegas reunions. There were other family members expected but I don't know that they got there.
I listened to an absolutely unforgettable story up in the 48th AHC Bluestars suite one night, as told by Rick Lester, and before I let the cat out of the bag I'll only say it involves returning long lost uniform patches (via the hands of many collectors) to the widow of one of their KIAs, after 30 some years.
Watch for more details.
Other highlights of the reunion included:
Meeting VHPA Founder Larry Clark. I only met him briefly while he was leaning over Gary Roush's database table - but what an honor to introduce myself to the guy who started all this. 12,000+ members later, to see what the organization is doing to advance the memory of that time period and those warriors . . . and for me to be Honorary Life Member Number 3 is more than I can fathom, at times.
Seeing Colleen from VHPA HQ at the ARA TOC after the banquet. It's a labor of love. We have some good folks in charge.
An absolutely exquisite Missing Man toast. The entire verbiage of the toast was printed in the newsletter beforehand, and it was well done at the banquet. At each place was a card with the name of one of our KIAs. My card bears the name of 2LT Robert Louis Ragdale, 114 AHC, KIA June 26, 1964.
The banquet also featured living representations of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial statues, a Vietnamese veteran color guard, and fabulous bag pipers. The original 66 VHPA founders were recognized, as were the first 20 presidents.
I had to walk away from my table for a couple of the songs during the ensuing entertainment show, and stand by myself in the far back of the room, arms folded, just surveying that large mass of folks. I usually have to do that every year at some point.
What a miracle, to be able to stand there in the same room with more than 1000 of my personal heroes - brothers that I NEVER ever thought I would find. What an irony to be in the same room with so many people, and feel so very alone
. . . and also to be able to feel so much peace and belonging. I gave you all a large psychological "hug" while the entertainer was singing "God Bless the USA."
In the Shadow of the Blade film clips and discussion. I saw only part of the clip but guys, it is top rate. I hope everybody gets a chance to see this documentary when it's aired, this November. You should have seen the faces of the guys coming out of that room after the clip ended. Their faces said it all.
Meeting Lori Gaff, our "pet WOC." Members of VHFCN followed Lori's journey through flight school via email sitreps and it was such a pleasure to meet this energetic young lady "in uniform!" You guys can really be proud of her. Bobby Bateman or Don Purser, please pass these comments on to Lori.
The registration packet included the special "reunion edition" of the newsletter which was great - having all the events in something you could carry around. Great idea. Also, as Jack Taber said, the $5 bus ride from and to the airport was much appreciated. The Florida chapter display with painted rocket pods, hootch set-up, panel of the Moving Wall, weapons and other artifacts was fantastic.
Again, my kudos to those responsible for another great reunion and congratulations to those who came for the first time. I hope this is the first of many more. You will ALWAYS be welcomed.
If you want photos, they're at http://www.ofoto.com/I.jsp?m=67074794105.33302663405&n=764727075
You need to sign up to view the album, but it's free and I haven't ever gotten any spam from this source, so appears to be relatively safe and easy. Don't pay attention to the prices at right to purchase prints. It's just a function of having a free photo site. Enjoy!
Sister of WO1 David Kink C Trp 1/9th CAV KIA 8-3-1969
Member of VHFCN Family Contacts Committee