Walker Jones' Saber Article
May/June 2002


Dear Troopers and Family,

We have great news! Our close family just got larger. And we all have recently, by proxy, received a huge dose of pride to boot. I had the distinct honor (and luck) to be present on 1 May at the White House Rose Garden when President BUSH presented the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to the wife and daughters of CPT Jon Edward SWANSON (B Trp, '70-71). CPT SWANSON and his gunner/observer, SSG Larry G. HARRISON were killed on Feb. 26, 1971 when their OH-6A ("Loach") was shot down in Cambodia. The 1-9th Cambodia incursion in '71 supported "Task Force 333" concurrently with the infamous "Lam Son 719" in Laos - I presume we were there to keep the NVA in Cambodia occupied; well, they kept us quite occupied, as any Trooper from those days can attest! These two men's remains were only recently located and identified. The mission to award Jon with the MOH was apparently quite independent, but coincidental, with the finding and identification of his and HARRISON's remains, which were indistinguishable and thus were buried together on 3 May. CPT SWANSON was B Trp's Scout Plt Ldr (Sabre White) while HARRISON was the Scout Plt Sgt (White Mike); the top Scout leadership in the Troop died together.


I was already in D.C. on business that week and had earlier received a heads-up from Al DeFLERON of the Bullwhip Squadron Assn about the MOH plans and Arlington interment. After a mad series of cell phone exchanges, I met up with 3 other former 1-9th pilots (Vietnam) to witness the President's presentation of the MOH in the Rose Garden on May 1. At the White House gates, I joined Jack SHIELDS (B Trp XO, CO, '70-71), and James "Jim" KURTZ (A, C Trp Cobra pilot, '70-71, 5235 Nottinghill Lane, Fairfax, VA 22032 <JKurtz@ida.org>), then met Jack MORRISSEY (A Trp pilot, '68 <JMorris284@aol.com>). Jim KURTZ pulled some strings to get us in at the last minute, but due to the short notice, "the word" couldn't get out in time to get others "vetted" by White House staff. Mike SLONIKER <mike.e.sloniker@lmco.com>, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots' Assn (VHPA) Historian, with lots of Pentagon and Arlington experience, and who is a champion of Vietnam helicopter crews, told me that this lack of notice is typical. Too bad, as I believe many dozens would have made the trip. Amy COLEMAN with the Office of Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army did a wonderful job of herding us around to the multitude of additional events. A photo of the presentation is at <http://www.defenselink.mil/news/May2002/200205023a_hr.jpg>.

Jon's wife, Sandee SWANSON, and their beautiful daughters, Holly Christine WALKER and Brigid Eileen Swanson-JONES seemed to be knocked out to find us there among the crowd of dignitaries and families, us sporting our Stetsons. They were hungry to know what type of war their hero husband/dad had fought and sacrificed. I'm sure each of us felt like me - so surprised and so honored just to be there and be so … welcomed. That was not what I was expecting. Jack SHIELDS, Jon's XO at the time he was killed, had traveled from Arkansas, and found himself the only person present who had been there that day in 1971 and knew Jon when he was killed (both had also served their first tours together with D/3-5 Cav, 9th Inf Div). Jack was inundated with questions. Jack also attended Thursday's activities with Jon's family, which included CPT SWANSON's induction into the Hall of Heros at the Pentagon: see <http://www.defenselink.mil/news/May2002/200205023c.jpg>. He also kept telling me that B Trp's CO, MAJ LOTT - who put Jon in for the MOH - should be sharing in this tremendous event, but he couldn't be located in time.

It was a perfect spring day in the Rose Garden. Dogwoods and azaleas in full bloom (I left s. Texas at 100 degrees). Jon would have been 60 years old on this day. About 60 of Jon SWANSON's family were present and I think we must have been introduced to all of them - they are all such wonderful people. This family was already "together" before they ever gathered for this event. Great family - now OUR family, or rather we are now THEIR family. There were also lots of heavy duty dignitaries present, including Army Chief of Staff GEN SHINSECKI who is also a Vietnam Vet - rare among General Officers these days - and SGT Major of the Army (SMA) Jack TILLEY (both pictured with Sandee SWANSON at the website above). Nick BACON, president of the Medal of Honor Society, was there along with 3 three other MOH winners. They are fine folks, as one would expect.

I should mention that the MOH ceremony was for two men - CPT (Dr.) Ben L. SALOMON was honored for his bravery on Saipan in WW2. Sadly, no living relatives could be located, but several of his college classmates and their families made it their business to attend. SALOMAN's classmate and champion, Dr. Robert WEST, accepted the MOH from President BUSH.

The MOH citation for CPT Jon E. SWANSON states: "On February 26, 1971, Captain Jon E. SWANSON was flying an OH-6A aircraft on a close support reconnaissance mission in support of Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Task Force 333 in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Two well equipped enemy regiments were known to be in the area, and Captain SWANSON's mission was to pinpoint precise enemy positions. To accomplish this mission, he was required to fly at treetop level at a slow airspeed, thus making his aircraft a very vulnerable target. The advancing ARVN unit came under heavy automatic weapons fire from the enemy bunkers in a treeline approximately 100 meters to their front. Captain SWANSON, completely exposing himself to enemy anti-aircraft fire, immediately engaged the enemy bunkers with SSG HARRISON's concussion grenades and machine gun fire."

"After the crew destroyed five bunkers and successfully evaded ground-to-air fire, Swanson, he discovered a .51 caliber machine gun position. He had expended his heavy ordnance on the bunkers and did not have sufficient explosives to destroy the positions. Consequently, he directed SSG HARRISON mark the position with a smoke grenade and directed a Cobra gunship attack on the position. Upon completion of the attack, he again returned to the area to assess the battle damage. Captain SWANSON found the weapon still intact and an enemy soldier crawling over to man it. He immediately directed HARRISON to engage the individual and killing him. His aircraft was then taken under fire by a second .51 caliber machine gun position."

"Although his aircraft had sustained several hits, Captain SWANSON engaged the position with his aircraft weapons, marked the target, and directed a second Cobra gunship attack. He volunteered to continue the mission despite the fact that he was critically low on ammunition and his aircraft was crippled from the hits it sustained. While approaching the target area, Captain SWANSON was taken under fire by yet another .51 caliber position. In an effort to mark the position with smoke, he again flew into the objective area. Although his aircraft was taking heavy fire, he continued to fly to the .51 caliber position. It was at this point that his aircraft exploded in the air and crashed to the ground. Captain SWANSON's courageous actions resulted in at least eight enemy killed and the destruction of three enemy anti-aircraft positions, which would have been responsible for the destruction of many more helicopters and crews."

"Many attempts were made to recover the crew. Another helicopter landed near the site, but was forced to take off when it came under heavy enemy fire. Repeated attempts by both ARVN ground troops and U.S. helicopters to reach the downed helicopter were thwarted by enemy fire. On February 27, U.S. helicopters returned to the area and saw what they believed to be two remains near the crash site. As late as March 7, the remains were observed near the crash site, but could not be recovered due to enemy fire."

President Bush's statement can be found at the White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/05/print/20020501-11.html.

On Friday, May 3, Mark "Babysan" HILTON (C Trp Lift pilot, '70-71) piloted his UT-1 Camry to PZ Falls Church to load up Bill MOELLER (C Trp, avionics, '70-71, Rockville, MD <moeller18212@earthlink.net>), Jesse JAMES (C Trp, HHT engine mechanic, '69-70, Prince George, VA <JAMESAIRBOSS@aol.com>) and myself, for transport to LZ Ft. Myer for the memorial service for SWANSON and HARRISON. The chapel service was punctuated by Jon's daughter Brigid's courageous statement that ended with a "Welcome Home" to us all. I lost it then. Like I said, we have a great new family addition with whom we should establish and sustain contact.

The service was followed by a procession to the interment site led by military band and color guard and the horse-drawn caisson carrying the flag-draped casket. They were fittingly buried together with full military honors. Quite something to witness. There were lots of Cav Hats there, but I cannot possibly know who they all were. Some folks represented Jon's first tour Unit. 1-9th guys I knew included Bob TREDWAY (C Trp CO '69-70, 409 N. Street SW, Washington, DC 20024-3701, <Bobtredway@aol.com>) and John POWELL (C Trp Scout and Cobra pilot, '69-71, Stafford, VA <jpowell@amvets.org>). Mike "Loadhacker" SLONIKER (VHPA historian and former CAV pilot) led a few of us to pay homage at the gravesite of our hero, Ron TIMBERLAKE). Also there was my bud, former President of the Vietnam Helicopter Crewmembers' Assn. <http://www.blu.org/vhcma/>, Chris WHITE <n3tef@home.com>, who drove down from Baltimore. Former VHPA president and SWANSON's flight school classmate, Tom PAYNE (<bandit32@gorilla.net>, was there and has produced a great website tribute to Jon at <http://www.gorilla.net/~118ahc/JonESwanson.htm>. And Joe GALLOWAY, co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once … And Young" was also there with his own Cav Hat!

I was also very proud to see that the present day 9th Cavalry continues to recognize their legacy. Attending all events last week were the following 1-9th soldiers from Ft. Hood: Btn CO, LTC Roger MCDONALD, CSM Walter SMITH, B Co CO, CPT Jack CRABTREE, and B Co 1SG Everett CLARK. LTC MCDONALD led the incredible welcome we received at the 9th Cav luncheon during last year's First Cav. Div. Assn. reunion in Killeen/Ft. Hood.

CPT SWANSON became the third 1-9th Cav Trooper to be awarded the MOH. The other two are SGT Donald S. SKIDGEL, Trp D, 14 Sept '69, and 1LT Robert L. POXON, Trp B, 2 June 1969. Each died as a result of their heroism.

Unfortunately, the 1st Cav Assn. scheduled this year's annual reunion in Colorado during the same week that the 1-9th Cavalry, Vietnam era, had planned their reunion in conjunction with the annual reunion of the VHPA in Las Vegas. Sorry for the conflicts. Nevertheless, there will be a lot of Cav Hats in Vegas on the 4th. Look out!

I'll address unanswered correspondence in the next issue. Until then, We Can - We Will!