"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Their Selfless Gift

This article comes from the teenage son of a very good friend. When his mother told him about this blog and who it was for, this memory was offered freely. No one had to coax him. I'm proud to introduce Ryan Streck:

Their Selfless Gift
by Ryan Streck


When I was in the eighth grade, I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a school trip to Washington D.C. during my spring break. Several of my classmates and I were on our way to tour the various monuments and historical sites of D.C. Many parts of this trip were uneventful, and there was a lot of standing in line, but there was one memorial that I will remember for the rest of my life.

On the third day of our trip, we had the privilege of visiting the Constitution Gardens. A memorial located there, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, was without a doubt, the highlight of my whole trip. The Wall was some 246 feet wide, and around 10 feet tall, and something that I will never forget.

For those of you who don’t know, and have never been there, the wall is covered with the names of 58,000 soldiers killed in Vietnam. Never before had I witnessed such a monument of pure selflessness. These men and women gave their lives to protect our natural freedoms, and those who were lucky enough to make it home still had a long war left to fight. They were not given the respect that they deserved. People often treated them like criminals and low-lifes. People were ignorant of the horrors that these men and women had witnessed at war.

Many of the veterans who experienced these awful things still cannot talk about their experiences. The things they had seen were unspeakable and already buried deep within themselves. Then as they returned home, they were treated as if it were all for naught, leaving an even greater scar than from anything they saw in South East Asia.

Here I was, a 14-year-old young man, brought to D.C. to witness such a monument of pure self-giving. These were all soldiers who never survived to know that someone, someday, years later would say, “I’m proud of those men and women”.

Gazing upon the wall, I realized standing there, that of all the horrors in this world, humanity can perhaps be the worst. How can we treat someone so giving in such a horrible way? I had a sudden impulse to reach out and touch all of the names, as if I could shake the hand of every soldier whose name was etched before me, engraved into the black marble.

It was at that moment that I knew I could never undo the wrongdoings and treachery of the past. But I also knew that there would now be a future to look forward to because of them, and that future is now much brighter for our present soldiers and veterans. Right then, I knew I wanted to devote my life to educating young adults someday about America’s past and why this mistreatment should never and will never happen again.

Ryan Streck

Thank you, Ryan, for sharing your story.
Hugs to you,

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Richard Schwartz: Thoughts and Memories

"Per correr migliori acque alza le vele ormai la navicella del mio ingegno che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele."  [Opening lines of Dante's Il Purgatorio]

"For better waters that are heading with the wind, my ship of genius now shakes out her sail, and leaves the ocean of despair behind."  [Dorothy L. Sayers Translation]

Richard Schwartz
Thoughts and Memories
by Richard Schwartz
Co D, 2/327 Battalion
2nd Bde
101st Airborne Division
Phu Bai, RVN

On 10 July 1970, I was a legal clerk in an office at the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division in Phu Bai, RVN. I had been in combat for 6 months and then the Army discovered I could type.

I was helicoptered out of the jungle and transitioned from being a dirt covered grunt to a legal clerk in a brigade HQ office where I got a clean uniform to wear every day and, best of all, I could take a shower every day. The water for the showers was unheated but after 6 months hiking around in the jungle and getting shot at occasionally this was a huge improvement.

Part of our job at that office was forwarding notices of those who were killed in action. I remember that July date as the day that we received the notice that Daniel Hively had been killed. He was in my platoon while I was in combat. It struck me as I read the notice, there was a family in Danville, Ohio, that didn't know that their son was coming home in a box. But I knew... and the sorrow of what they were going to experience overwhelmed me. I didn't let my emotions show when I was in combat, but I could afford that luxury now because I was in a secure area.

Daniel Richard Hivley was a tall gangly guy with an infectious smile. He was liked by everyone in our platoon. When a new guy arrived, Dan was the first guy out to enthusiastically meet him and introduce him around. We even had a standing joke about him. We said that the first thing he would tell anyone is, “Hello – I'm Dan Hivley... and I know everything!”.

As I was a science kind of guy who also loved politics, Dan and I spent many a jungle hike debating those topics. I gave the name Daniel as the middle name to one of my boys so that Dan's name and memory would carry on for at least one more generation in my family. I've tried to find his family in Ohio to let them know that I gave Dan's name to one of my sons but couldn't find anyone. I know he has a sister who's name is Shirli Anne Rickert, but I can't seem to locate her.

Our platoon had been hiking around the humid jungle in 100 degree+ heat for a number of weeks and we really hadn't had a chance to wash during this time. I mentioned to our lieutenant that we should find a place to wash up as we were smelling so bad even the mosquitoes weren't landing on us. We found a 20 foot wide stream that was about a foot deep. After posting sentries I decided to just lay down fully clothed in a small pool of the stream.

As I luxuriated in the cool water I noticed that the clear water cascading over my left sleeve was actually turning grey as it headed downstream. Thats how dirty I had become. I remember digging a bar of soap out of my pack and soaping up my entire uniform while I was still wearing it as I thought that would be the best way to clean it. I rinsed the clothing and put it on some rocks to dry. I remember that I had to wash my (short!!) hair a number of times to get all the sand and dirt off my scalp. A few hours later we were back to hiking and I thought that I must have gotten clean as the #%&! mosquitoes were landing on me again.

During my 2nd week in Vietnam, we were taking a break from our seemingly never ending hikes near a bridge over the Troi river. An old Vietnamese lady slowly walked past us. One of the Vietnamese children (who followed us everywhere when we were were near towns) told me she was “more than 90.” She had a thoroughly wrinkled face. Her shoulders were bent forward and her spine was curved as if she had spent many years carrying heavy loads on her back.

She held a walking stick in gnarled arthritic hands and walked with a slow gait as if each step was painful. I walked next to her for a few steps and asked her if she thought the Americans would make things better for the Vietnamese. Her gaze shifted from straight in front of her to glance up at me. Without slowing her measured gait she smiled briefly at me and told me, “A young Frenchman asked me the same thing 20 years ago.“

We had been hacking our way through some heavy jungle growth. We cut a trail up to the top of a small rise and set up for the night. I was pulling guard duty on the trail in the middle of the night. I sat with my legs folded and my M16 across my lap. There was lots of moonlight so I didn't think anyone could come up the trail we had cut without me being able to easily spot them.

Half way through my one hour shift I heard a noise coming from a few feet in front of me. “Oh, God”, I thought, “Someone got in front of me.” I immediately rolled onto my side, expecting to see the flashes of my enemy's rifle firing at me, and fired a burst from my M16 at the foe.

The moonlight then revealed the terrified and now screaming face of a small monkey who noisily tore his way into the jungle. I didn't hit the monkey, but my platoon mates teased me mercilessly the next few days as the “Mighty Monkey Shooter”.

I didn't fear being killed as much as the thought of being captured and tortured to death. My fear of being killed really had more to do with what my family would go through if I was killed.

We had been ferried from our usual jungle area of operations to the highlands for a mission. We were in large grassy open areas and had stopped for a break. Suddenly we had some elephants coming into view. They were some distance away but would occasionally look in our direction and raise their trunks high into the air as if checking the air for our scent. I remember a guy from Kentucky, who loved hunting, whispering to the rest of us, “Don't shoot at 'em. These little M16 rounds will probably just piss 'em off!”

One of my platoon mates received a wound that opened up the top of his thigh like a plow opens a furrow of dirt. I had run out of thread to close wounds so I gathered safety pins - a trick I learned from reading a book about infantry soldiers in WWII. I laid across his stomach so he couldn't see what I was doing and closed the wound with the safety pins. He was cursing me mightily from all the pain I was causing him while I closed his wound. He didn't pass out however until I got off his stomach and he saw the row of safety pins holding his thigh together.

During my year in Vietnam my mother watched in horror as a car with Army markings slowly cruised our neighborhood as if looking for an address. That's how relatives were informed that their sons/daughters had been killed. The car drove on and wasn't seen again but my Mom told me she was in such shock that she couldn't get anything done until she had received a letter from me dated after the date that the Army car had come by our home.

I had a brief correspondence with a girl from New Jersey. After exchanging a few letters with her she wrote how she spent a day decorating a gym for an upcoming dance. It wasn't fair of me but I felt angry that she had spent an entire day making and placing decorations while my friends were still being shot at. I didn't write to her again.

During the 1st Iraq war my Dad called me to proudly let me know that, “Your buddies from the 101st did one hell of a job over there.” I realized then that the 101st would always be a part of me. As I was talking to some friends at a Tea Party Rally last month it came out that I was a 101st vet. One of the younger people in the crowd immediately held out his hand and thanked me for my service to the country. Wow! That was really appreciated.

When ever I see someone in uniform or wearing some item that lets me know they were in the military I always take the time to shake their hand and thank them for serving. I don't want anyone to feel that their service is not appreciated as many of the Vietnam era vets were made to feel when they came home.

My Uncle Mike and I had never been close until I came home from Vietnam. He was also a combat vet of the 101st and was at Bastogne (“Battle of the Bulge”) among other WWII actions. One entire evening he and I swapped war stories. It turns out I was the only person in the family that he had talked to about his WWII experiences. He thought I was the only one who would understand the mental and physical challenges an infantryman goes through.

My father in law died before I met and married his daughter. Although we never met, we would have been close because he was a fellow combat soldier and there was and is a brotherhood of those that have been in combat.

The good Lord watched over me that year in Vietnam and I came home healthy both mentally and physically -- unlike many of my fellow Vietnam Vets who suffer to this day.

Many thanks to CJ for putting this website together.

Richard A. Schwartz
Digital Anvil Technology
27708 246th Ave SE
Maple Valley, Wa. 98038

Thank you, Richard, for sharing. "Welcome Home".

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Few More Years

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

A Few More Years ...

A group of 40-year-old war buddies discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally, it was agreed upon that they would meet at the Ocean View Restaurant, because the waitresses all had low-cut blouses, were sexy and voluptuous, and they were also very young.

Ten years later, at 50 years of age, the group of vets once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally, it was agreed upon that they would meet at the Ocean View Restaurant, because the food there was excellent and the wine selection was very good, too.

Ten years later, at 60 years of age, the group of vets once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally, it was agreed upon that they would meet at the Ocean View Restaurant, because they could eat there in peace and quiet and the restaurant had a beautiful view of the ocean through its huge picture windows.

Ten years later, at 70 years of age, the group of veterans once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally, it was agreed upon that they would meet at the Ocean View Restaurant, because the restaurant was wheelchair-accessible, had room for battery-powered scooters at the tables, and they even had an elevator.

Ten years later, at 80 years of age, the group of friends once again discussed where they should meet for dinner. Finally it was agreed upon that they would meet at the Ocean View Restaurant, because they had never been there before ...


Welcome Home. God Bless America

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Craig Latham: Men Do Cry

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Men Do Cry

August 28, 1970

Forty years ago today, I left the United States for Vietnam. Hopefully, only a year and I'd be back home. But this trip started a couple of days before.

I was home from AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for two weeks. Most of the days were spent sleeping in and partying all night. But the last day at home was spent with my family. We went to dinner at the "French Village" the night before I left. I had a steak, potato and salad. This was my Dad's favorite restaurant. It was right across the street from where he worked at Shaw-Barton (which is long gone now). My whole family worked there at one time or another. My girlfriend, Mom and Dad, sisters Murph and Bonnie, Aunts and Uncles were there. It was a quiet dinner. Had to get up early the next morning and make the trip to Columbus for my flight to Seattle.

Aunt, Uncle, Mom, Dad, girlfriend and sisters went to the airport. I always liked going to Columbus Airport because you could stand outside on the roof over the passenger gates and watch the planes load, land and take-off. My gate was the very last one. You had to walk outside and up the roll-away stairs to board planes at that time.

We all walked down to the gate. No security checks, as there are now. The entire family could go with you to the gate. About a hour before my plane left, we all were standing at my departure gate chatting. There were a couple of other soldiers there with their families getting ready to leave also.

When it was time to board, Dad asked everyone to go up on top and he would be up in a few minutes. Everyone hugged me good-bye, and wished me good luck. Jeanne, Mom and Murph cried, but I knew they would. I smiled and said not to worry, "I'll be home before you know it."

They left and went upstairs, leaving me and Dad to say our good-byes. My Dad was the strong one in the family. He and I were so much alike, and we didn't get along a lot of the time. I was the teenager who thought he knew everything, and my Dad, he did know everything. We talked for a few minutes and that's when it happened. I looked and saw tears forming in the corners of his eyes. I had never seen my Dad cry. I had seen my Mom, sisters, and fiancee cry before, but never my Dad. I think it embarrassed him a little, but I told him it was ok. I made him a promise. I'd meet him there one year later. We shook hands, he saluted me and then he went to join the rest of the family up top. I made it to my seat on the plane before my tears started.

Every day I was gone, Dad would go to work early or stay late and write me a little about what he did that day and send it to me once a week. He always called me 'Sir' when he started my letters. He is part of the reason I enlisted in the Army. He was in WW2. It was the least I could do for him.

The year went by, and I got back to Columbus exactly 1 year later on Aug. 28, 1971. He picked me up at Columbus Airport and, out of all the passenger gates, I got off the plane at the same gate I got on a plane a year earlier. Dad saluted, as I knew he would, and there was another tear in his eye, but this time it had a different meaning.

'Men Do Cry'

Craig Latham
101st Airborne Division (Ambl)
Combat writer and combat photographer
Phu Bai, S. Vietnam

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Tanya Rachel Sigman: JERRY HESKETT

A few days ago, I posted something here about a soldier from my hometown of Coshocton, Ohio, Jerry Heskett. A friend read the blog and sent me a note in Facebook about Jerry. She thanked me "for listening". What follows first is our exchange of messages. Please welcome Tanya Rachel Sigman:

Hello Tanya,
Thanks for listening? Hey, my friend, all I can say is, you wrote this about Jerry with so much feeling and a passion for life through your eyes. I would like your permission to put what you wrote on the Memoirs From Nam blog for the memory of Jerry. Would you please allow me the honor?
A hug to you,

That would be fine. Better check my spelling.

Hello Cathy,

While we were in high school, I knew Jerry through Linda Olinger, Mary Zink, Diane Hougendobler, and Connie Totsch, just to name a few. They had classes with him and, maybe, belonged to some of the same school clubs or the yearbook staff even.

Back then, I used to sit on Main Street in the early hours and watch the young men get on those busses heading to Columbus from what I guess was the draft board office and the recruiters. When he died in Vietnam, I remember feeling so guilty that he gave his life for me.

I didn't know Jerry's family, but I imagined that he had a life that was quiet, peaceful and loving like he was. My life was more rugged and upheaved, my parents' divorce scandel didn't help -- I felt I would have been a better selection to 'go fight a battle'.

Jerry enjoyed talking to the girls named above. He opened up with them and always smiled. That's how I remember him -- smiling and laughing with the girls, and putting his shyness away momentarily.

Thanks for listening.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Creation of Vietnam Vets

When the Lord was creating Vietnam veterans, He was into His sixth day of overtime when an angel appeared.

"You're certainly doing a lot of fiddling around on this one."

And God replied, "Have you seen the specs on this order? A Nam vet has to be able to run five miles through the bush with a full pack on, endure with barely any sleep for days, enter tunnels his higher ups wouldn't consider doing, and keep his weapons clean and operable. He has to be able to sit in his hole all night during an attack, hold his buddies as they die, walk point in unfamiliar territory known to be VC infested, and somehow keep his senses alert for danger. He has to be in top physical condition existing on c-rats and very little rest. And he has to have six pairs of hands."

The angel shook his head slowly and said, "Six pairs of hands ... no way."

The Lord says, "It's not the hands that are causing me problems. It's the three pair of eyes a Nam vet has to have."

"That's on the standard model?" asked the angel.

The Lord nodded. "One pair has to see through elephant grass, another pair here in the side of his head for his buddies, and another pair here in front that can look reassuringly at his bleeding, fellow soldier and tell him, 'You'll make it' ... when he knows he won't."

"Lord, rest. Work on this tomorrow."

"I can't," said the Lord. "I already have a model that can carry a wounded soldier 1,000 yards during a firefight, calm the fears of the latest FNG, and feed a family of four on a grunt's paycheck."

"The angel walked around the model and said, "Can it think?"

"You bet," said the Lord. "It can quote much of the UCMJ, recite all his general orders, and engage in a search and destroy mission in less time than it takes his fellow Americans back home to discuss the morality of the War, and still keep his sense of humor. This Nam vet also has phenomenal personal control. He can deal with ambushes from hell, comfort a fallen soldier's family, and then read in his hometown paper how Nam vets are baby killers, psychos, addicts, and killers of innocent civilians."

The Lord gazed sadly into the future, and paused. Quietly, He added, "He will also endure being vilified and spit on when he returns home, rejected, and then crucified by the very ones he fought for over there."

Finally, the angel slowly ran his finger across the vet's cheek, and said, "I see a problem, Lord. It's developed a leak ... I told you, you are trying to put too much into this model."

"That's not a leak", said the Lord. "That's a tear."

"What's the tear for?" asked the angel.

"It's for bottled up emotions, for holding fallen soldiers as they die, for commitment to that funny piece of cloth called the American Flag, for the terror of living with PTSD for decades after the war, alone with it's demons, with no one to care or help."

"You're a genius," said the angel, casting another gaze at the tear.

The Lord looked very somber, as if seeing down eternity's distant shores.

"I didn't put it there," God said, "he did"

[Author Unknown]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Monday, August 23, 2010


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

From Coshocton, Ohio
Marine Corps
KIA Vietnam

I still vividly remember the day we saw the Marines arriving at our house with the news that Jerry had been killed in Vietnam. Our family was proud of him when he enlisted. He thought that he could make a difference. He once told our mother that he would rather be over there than to be someone who didn't care. He was unselfish like that.

Being a younger sister, I can remember the many things that Jerry accomplished during his school years. He didn't much like the recognition, as he was on the shy side, but I know he touched many lives from the amount of people who came to his funeral.

I still have the newpaper articles that Coach Bowman and others had written about Jerry, and the note with the marine medals from the Vietnam Memorial on the courtsquare in town.

It doesn't seem like it's been over forty years ago, as I still think of him and what might have been.

Diane (Heskett) Snow

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Craig Latham: We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers
by Craig Latham

Last night, I watched "We Were Soldiers" on TV again. I've seen it many times in the past, and it always leaves me with a hollow feeling at the end, when Colonel Moore reflects about losing his men and yet he is still alive. I cannot fathom ever having to tell someone to put their life on the line like that. I've often felt the same way, 'Why not me, instead of them'?

Anyway, I first saw the movie when it came out in theaters. My ex-wife (my wife at the time) and I went to the theater at the New Philadelphia, Ohio, Mall to see it. There were quite a few people there. I sat spellbound during the whole movie, never glancing around at anyone. Every now and then, my wife would squeeze my hand when something would happen, I guess assuring me that everything would be okay. She was twenty years younger than me, so she would have been two years old when I was in Vietnam. I don't think she really knew the impact the movie would have on me.

After the movie was over, the lights came up. You could hear people around us talking about where they were going to go to get something to eat and then they left -- all but seven people. All were men. Most were with someone, but one was seated by himself. They just sat there, staring at an empty movie screen. Each was lost in his own thought(s). I, too, was one of them. My wife didn't move, she just sat there and rubbed her fingers across my hand. She was also in no hurry to leave, as the others were. I heard a couple of sobs, and then I heard one person say, "Are you ok, Dad?"

I looked around at the men sitting there and I knew. Like me, they were all Vietnam Vets. They might have been there during those days of the Ia Drang Valley or, maybe after that, at some other little known place some 10,000 miles from home. But for a year or so, for us, that place was 'home'.

We probably sat there for fifteen minutes or so and when I got up to leave, I didn't go directly to the back of the theatre to the exit. I went down the isle to the man who was sitting by himself. I walked up to him, shook his hand and said, "Welcome Home." He just smiled through his tears. He didn't need to say a thing. He knew. I knew.

I gave each of the other men a 'Nod' or said "Welcome Home." They smiled back and, for a moment, We Were Soldiers again. There we were in an empty movie theater thinking about a place where we didn't want to be, a place we couldn't completely leave.

Although she is now my ex-wife, I couldn't have made it without her.

Craig Latham
101st Airborne Division (Ambl)
Combat writer and combat photographer
Phu Bai, S. Vietnam

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lessons to Learn From

I received another email from Damon Piletz, this time about another Vietnam Vet. Again, I want to share it with those of you hungry for more information. Thank you sincerely, again, Damon. ~CJ

"RE: Your Blog
From: Damon Piletz
To: CJ Heck

Before I became an elementary teacher, I worked as a licensed private investigator. I worked with a Vietnam Veteran who was tight-lipped about his experiences. After some prodding, he shared them with me when he was over to the house for dinner one night.

He let it all out ... it was hard to swallow it all. I was so proud of him. He had been silent for so long -- and for what reasons? He refuses to write it all down ... I have it now in my memory and I will write it down after he passes on. History is dead if it not passed on!

So many people protested Vietnam and were so passionate about it that it resulted in people not sharing their important, crucial stories of truth. It's a shame. That war has so many lessons for us to learn from.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to email me back. Again, thank you for opening up your blog for others to hear the truth of how it was. We live in a time now where many of the same situations are happening in Iraq . My heart aches for this country and the brave men and women who fight with the great, and misunderstood American Spirit.


Once again, I thank you, Damon, for your honesty and for sharing your thoughts. We have to get the word out there for others.

God Bless America.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lantern: by John Puzzo

John Puzzo
I didn’t even realize until I was doing it. It was just my turn, I guess.  I found myself inspecting the new guys’ rucksacks and weapons load prior to a 3-day mission up to the north and west of Kontum.

By summer, 1970, the NVA were pouring down the Ho Chi Minh trail at the rate of about 22,000 soldiers per month and thousands were crossing the border into South Vietnam from their base sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia.

We were sending some teams up there to pick a few of them off. The weather was bad, so I told everyone to pack rations for 7 days. I think we were there longer than that.

When we got there, the weather on the mountain closed in right away and it stayed that way, so it was a good thing we packed extra rations. We were also at altitude, which affected the weather. It rained a lot and there was thick fog all the time.

We were pulling radio relay for several Hawkeye teams hunting NVA in the valley below. Because of where they were, we had to be in a line of sight to get their radio transmissions, which meant we couldn’t move much. The enemy would know that.

At about day three after nightfall, we heard voices in the darkness and movement coming our way. We thought they had found us.

I got Zero on the net for support and so the good guys could come get us the hell out of there, knowing that finding us at night and in all that soup would be difficult. We were on the outcropping of a ridge line facing the valley below and had nowhere to go but down, or to fight our way out if they hit us, and there were a hell of a lot more of them.

Then they were right on top of us -- and they were noisy. One NVA soldier had a lantern that he shined at us through the thick foliage. He was looking between the rocks and trees right at us but incredibly, he didn’t see us.

Saunders, who was on his second mission with me, I think was on one knee with his M-16 about a foot away from the guy’s face while I whispered in his ear not to shoot unless he came through. I was hoping he wouldn’t smell us.

For what seemed an eternity, the NVA soldier, whose face I could see in the greenish light his lantern reflected off the leaves, peered through the dense foliage right into Saunders’ and my face, and the rest of the team behind us.

The other NVA were talking behind him and poking around everywhere. One of them gave a shout and they started to move away. The guy with the lantern just backed off.

I had Grau and Gomez with me on that mission. It was their first mission as Rangers. They were killed later that year while serving on other teams.

A few days later the weather cleared, the mission was over, and we were alerted that the choppers were coming to get us out. The Black Jack slicks and Gambler gunship escorts of the 4th Aviation Battalion were in the air.

We didn’t just think they were the best chopper pilots and gunship crews in Vietnam -- we believed they ate at God’s mess hall ...

John J. Puzzo
K Company (Ranger)
75th Infantry (Airborne)
United States Army 1968 - 1971

[Excerpt from the book, "The Highlanders In the Vietnam War", which was written by my good friend, John J. Puzzo. If you haven't read John's book yet, I suggest that you do.].

Other Articles by John Puzzo:

Poem, "Waves"
Humor in Vietnam

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Feel free to comment on this post. You are also invited to write about anything you feel comfortable sharing. Memoirs From Nam is YOUR blog. You are writing America's history, sharing the truth about the Vietnam veteran, and what it was like in Our War.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Untold Stories

I would like to share a thoughtful email I received. It has to do with a Blog I posted not too long ago (Memoir of Douglas S. Kempf, 8-02-10) about my first husband, Doug Kempf. This email is filled with insight about the Vietnam War. How unfortunate that a whole generation of Americans has been, for the most part, kept in the dark ...

Your Blog
From: Damon Piletz (email withheld)
To: CJ Heck

Thank you so much for posting the story about your first husband. It was awesome! We have a local medic, who fought in Vietnam, and he is a Medal of Honor winner. He talks about how he tried everyday to make things good during bad times.

It's stories like Doug’s that are of true American heroes. These stories are what children should be learning. Not sports stars. Doug deserves more accolades than any number of people in today’s textbooks.

My parents' generation fought in Vietnam and I have found too many, way too many, stories of Vietnam that remain untold. Not good at all. I don’t even remember how I got on your blog, but thank God I did. His story must live on and thank goodness for Lt James McCraney. You made my day, many times over….

Damon Piletz
Project ADEPT
Monroe 2 BOCES

My most sincere thanks to you, Damon. You made my day many times over, as well ...
My very warmest regards,

God Bless America

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Craig Latham: My Time at the Wall

This memory comes to us from someone who has become my friend. We grew up in the same home town, yet only got to know each other recently through the pages of Facebook. He's helped me realize something very important today -- I began this blog wanting to reach out with my heart to Vietnam Veterans, and what I've discovered is, you've reached out with yours and touched mine. Please welcome a personal memory from my friend, Craig Latham:

My Time At The Wall
by Craig Latham

It had been twenty-five years since I left Vietnam. My brother-in-law and I had just finished a weekend at Bristol, Tennesee, where we watched our first Nascar race in person. We still had to go to Virginia Beach for a couple of days and then on to Washington D.C.

We arrived at the wall just about 6am as the sun was coming up. It was gonna be another hot day in August. This is when I realized it had been exactly twenty-five years to the day that I left the hot sun of Vietnam and boarded the "Freedom Bird" home. The heat in the United States was nothing, compared to the humid heat of the jungle. Sometimes you would sit in the sun to cool off because you were constantly hot and wet in the jungle.

Anyway, back to D.C. We got to the wall just as the sun was coming up and only one other couple was there. They had been there many times before. He had made this pilgrimage there every year for the past ten years. He told us it was part of his healing process. I asked him what he did in Vietnam and he said he had been a "grunt". We chatted for a few minutes, "Welcomed" each other home, and then he told us how to find what we were looking for.

My brother-in-law, Bob, had been in Vietnam about two years before me. I looked down the shiny black wall and noticed Bob was down on one knee. I didn't know if he was praying, crying, or a little bit of both. I didn't ask. This was his private time with someone he knew a long time ago.

I had a list of names of people I wanted to look up, too. Most were people from my home county (Coshocton, Ohio). I found them all, and made etchings of each. They had all been in Vietnam before me. Some were "Grunts", "Medic", "Crew Chief", "Door Gunner", and "Pilots".

The last one I looked for was my friend Andy B. He had been a "Door Gunner" for the 2nd Brigade Hq. in the 101St Airborne Division (Ambl) in Phu Bai, S. Vietnam. Andy was short, (not in stature, but in time left in Vietnam). He and his pilot were on their way back to Phu Bai when they heard a unit in trouble and went to see if they could be of any help. They were shot down. Both killed. Andy and I were gonna have a couple of beers that evening when he got back, but I drank alone that night. The next day, I had to go out with an infantry unit and wouldn't get back to Phu Bai for a week. I missed his "Memorial Service". I felt bad.

I had my own "Memorial Service" for Andy that day at the wall. Something happened that day. I found Andy's name on the wall and as I reached out to touch his name, all I could see was a hand (actually my reflection) coming at me from the blackness. As I touched the "Wall" and the hand, it felt as if something was stripped from my body. A weight of twenty-five years was gone. It was as if the hand belonged to Andy and he was saying, "It's over now. It's time to let go." That day, something happened. From that day forward, the night sweats slowly subsided. The waking up in the middle of the night screaming, stopped.

"The Wall" has healing powers and no one can tell me any different.

The ride home from D.C. with my brother-in-law was a quiet one. Each of us was reflecting on our past, present and probably our future.

Welcome home, all "Vietnam Veterans".

Craig Latham
Combat Writer/Photographer
34th Public Information Detachment (34th PID)
2nd Brigade/101st Airborne Division (Ambl)
Phu Bai, S. Vietnam

Proud to be an American

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bananas & Milk Duds

Below is an article written by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated ... he details his experiences when given the opportunity to fly in an F-14 Tomcat.. If you aren't laughing out loud by the time you get to 'Milk Duds,' your sense of humor is seriously broken.

This message is for America's most famous athletes: someday you may be invited to fly in the back-seat of one of your country's most powerful fighter jets. Many of you already have. John Elway, John Stockton, Tiger Woods to name a few. If you get this opportunity, let me urge you, with the greatest sincerity ... move to Guam.

Change your name.

Fake your own death!

Whatever you do,

Do Not Go!!!

I know.

The U.S. Navy invited me to try it. I was thrilled. I was pumped. I was toast! I should've known when they told me my pilot would be Chip (Biff) King of Fighter Squadron 213 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach ... now, whatever you're thinking a Top Gun named Chip (Biff) King looks like, triple it. He's about six-foot, tan, ice-blue eyes, wavy surfer hair, finger-crippling handshake -- the kind of man who wrestles dyspeptic alligators in his leisure time. If you see this man, run the other way. Fast.

Biff King was born to fly. His father, Jack King, was for years the voice of NASA missions. ('T-minus 15 seconds and counting'. Remember?) Chip would charge neighborhood kids a quarter each to hear his dad. Jack would wake up from naps surrounded by nine-year-olds waiting for him to say, 'We have liftoff'.

Biff was to fly me in an F-14D Tomcat, a ridiculously powerful $60 million weapon with nearly as much thrust as weight, not unlike Colin Montgomerie.  I was worried about getting airsick, so the night before the flight, I asked Biff if there was something I should eat the next morning.  'Bananas,' he said.

'For the potassium?' I asked.

'No,' Biff said, 'because they taste about the same coming up as they do going down.'

The next morning, out on the tarmac, I had on my flight suit with my name sewn over the left breast. (No call sign -- like Crash or Sticky or Leadfoot, but, still, very cool.) I carried my helmet in the crook of my arm, as Biff had instructed. If ever in my life I had a chance to nail Nicole Kidman, this was it.

A fighter pilot named Psycho gave me a safety briefing and then fastened me into my ejection seat, which, when employed, would 'egress' me out of the plane at such a velocity that I would be immediately knocked unconscious.  Just as I was thinking about aborting the flight, the canopy closed over me, and Biff gave the ground crew a thumbs-up. In minutes we were firing nose up at 600 mph. We leveled out and then canopy-rolled over another F-14.

Those 20 minutes were the rush of my life. Unfortunately, the ride lasted 80.  It was like being on the roller coaster at Six Flags Over Hell -- only without rails. We did barrel rolls, snap rolls, loops, yanks and banks. We dived, rose and dived again, sometimes with a vertical velocity of 10,000 feet per minute. We chased another F-14, and it chased us. We broke the speed of sound. Sea was sky and sky was sea. Flying at 200 feet, we did 90-degree turns at 550 mph, creating a G force of 6.5, which is to say, I felt as if 6.5 times my body weight was smashing against me, thereby approximating life as Mrs.Colin Montgomerie.

And I egressed the bananas.

And I egressed the pizza from the night before.

And the lunch before that.

I egressed a box of Milk Duds from the sixth grade.

I made Linda Blair look polite. Because of the G's, I was egressing stuff that I never thought would be egressed.  I went through not one airsick bag, but two.

Biff said I passed out. Twice. I was coated in sweat. At one point, as we were coming in upside down in a banked curve on a mock bombing target and the G's were flattening me like a tortilla and I was in and out of consciousness, I realized I was the first person in history to throw down.

I used to know 'cool'. Cool was Elway throwing a touchdown pass, or Norman making a five-iron bite.. But now I really know 'cool'. Cool is guys like Biff, men with cast-iron stomachs and freon nerves. I wouldn't go up there again for Derek Jeter's black book, but I'm glad Biff does every day, and for less a year than a rookie reliever makes in a home stand.

A week later, when the spins finally stopped, Biff called. He said  he and the fighters had the perfect call sign for me. Said he'd send it on a patch for my flight suit.

What is it? I asked.

'Two Bags.'

God Bless America.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Dealing With Pain

Robert Cosmar (Magic Man) is an astrologer, blogger, writer, poet, and teacher.  I've invited him to be a guest writer several times with the three blogs that I write for.  Please welcome his thoughts on dealing with pain.  I know I did:

When we don't know ourselves, it's hard to face hidden pain. Pain seems to overwhelm us. It feels like it could kill or devour us. Pain that's surfacing is often avoided by drugs, alcohol and other forms of addiction. It's like a merry-go-round and we think there's no escape. To cope, some will do almost anything and this is often worse than the pain itself.

Psychology, Religion and Mysticism have all evolved as ways to identify, face and cope with pain but mostly on an intellectual level. The hope that's offered is one that may or may not come. While they can help us come to grips with pain, they don't stop it or make it go away. This is something we have to realize within ourselves. Pain will only leave, once we realize that an internal conflict is unwarranted or unnecessary. Pain comes when our actions and beliefs come into conflict -- when what we do or did isn't in harmony with what we were taught to believe. Pain exists because we've been taught to believe a right and wrong exists.

If we examine right and wrong, we find that over centuries, laws and religious commandments have been passed down without much scrutiny. We've all been led to believe that an unknown, invisible force, called God, is somewhere up there pulling our strings and he'll punish us for commandments we've broken. These commandments conflict with the reality of life's experiences and cause deep pain. Life is a conflict because our minds and hearts are at odds.

To kill someone is not wrong because God said it is wrong. It hurts when someone dies, because a part of us dies, too.  We are all connected. Our minds may tell us we come from a different culture or country, but our hearts and experience reveal that we're all the same and we want the same things. It's the realization that you and your enemy are similar that causes the guilt. Again, he was no different then you, felt as you did, and believed what you did.  However, the label "enemy" stood in the way. God doesn't need to tell you this, your heart does.

There is no true forgiveness from the idea of a God that created hell and who sets levels of acceptance to get to heaven. Only our heart and an infinite universe that accepts and allows all things can solve the mystery of why things happen and how to deal with them. The answer to tragedy in a person's life must come from beyond the mind and be realized in the heart with the help of a loving universe. Don't pray for forgiveness or look to make amends. Accept who you are.  Accept what happened.  Learn to accept the pain as a doorway to a greater understanding of life and your self.   This experience can make a breakthrough to something more real and lasting, something that will go beyond ideologies, commandments, and God. You come to the steps of reality and, in the end, you realize it does not matter, except in your mind.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Keeping Your Anonymity

To Vietnam Veterans, their Families and Friends:

Would you feel more comfortable sending a story, a memory, or your thoughts to me for the blog, if you could remain anonymous?  Someone suggested this to me yesterday morning and I don't know why I didn't think of it, but I didn't, and for that I apologize.  If you want to send something in and you choose to be anonymous, please tell me.  I will understand completely. 

Once again, here are some ideas for you to think about. These are all examples of what I am looking for.  If you have other ideas for things that aren't listed below, feel free!

Did you form friendship bonds that have lasted since Nam?

Do you write poetry about those years that you would like to share?

Did you have a commanding officer you respected above all others?

Do you have a comical memory to share? 

Did you receive a medal? Would you like to share how you earned it?

Did you have any profound or unusual experiences of a spiritual or psychic nature while you were in Nam, or after you returned home?

Do you have a memorable story about the Vietnamese people or, specifically, the children?

Have you visited the Vietnam Wall Memorial in D.C.? Would you share your experience?

Do you have a friend or a family member who was in Vietnam? Is there a special memory you would like to share about them?

Please send whatever you would like to share to me here: poeticlady99@yahoo.com and please tell me if you wish to stay anonymous and I will abide by your wishes.

Thank you.

God Bless America!

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

A mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. "What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed a warning to all of his animal friends: "There is a mousetrap in the house! Do you hear me? There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched at the ground, and then she raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and exclaimed again, "There is a mousetrap in the house! Beware! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized with the mouse, but he said, "I am so very sorry, mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray..

be assured, dear mouse, you are in my prayers."

The mouse then turned to the cow and warned, "There is a mousetrap in the house! Listen to me! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, mouse. I feel very sorry for you, but it's certainly no skin off my nose."

So the mouse returned to the farmhouse with his head down and, feeling totally dejected, he faced the farmer's mousetrap . . . alone.

That very night, a loud sound was heard throughout the farmhouse. It was the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she could not see. It was a venomous snake whose tail was caught in the trap. The snake bit the farmer's wife on the ankle. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, where she was treated for the snakebite.

When she returned home, she still had a fever. Well, everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup. So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient, chicken. But his wife's sickness continued. Since all of their friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock, the farmer butchered the pig so he could feed them.

Alas, the farmer's wife did not get well and, after two weeks, she died. So many people came for her funeral that the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them for the funeral luncheon. The mouse looked upon it all from his tiny crack in the wall with great sadness.

The next time you hear someone is facing a problem and you think it doesn't concern you, remember --- when one of us is threatened, we're all at risk. We're all involved in this journey called life. We have to keep an eye out for each other and make an extra effort to encourage each other so we'll all know how important we are.

We're all a vital thread in each other's tapestry. Our lives are woven together for a reason. One of the best things to hold onto in this world is a friend.

God Bless America!

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For The Fallen

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

Hey Vets, (and the families and friends of Vets)  I'm still waiting to hear from you with your memories and stories.  I will be patient.  Until then, I will post what I feel you might enjoy or learn from.

This was a blog I wrote to honor Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day. These poems are dedicated to the brave soldiers, both men and women, who died serving in the American military, and the reason why there is a Memorial Day.

In 1915, John McCrae was inspired to write the following poem:

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Also in 1915, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Fields," Moina Michael replied with her own:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Remember, our freedom rests on all of their shoulders ... please write down those stories and send them to share with others.  Thank you!

God Bless the USA

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Some Ideas for You:

Here are some ideas for you to think about. These are all examples of what I am looking for, for Memoirs From Nam:

Vets, did you form friendship bonds that have lasted since Nam?

Did you have a commanding officer you respected above all others?

Did you receive a medal? Would you like to share how you earned it?

Did you have any profound or unusual experiences of a spiritual or psychic nature while you were in Nam, or after you returned home?

Do you have a memorable story about the Vietnamese people or, specifically, the children?

Have you visited the Vietnam Wall Memorial in D.C.? Would you share your experience?

Do you have a friend or a family member who was in Vietnam? Is there a special memory you would like to share about them?

Please send whatever you would like to share to me here:   poeticlady99@yahoo.com

Thank you.
God Bless America

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Something Good ...

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale (and me, too)

Hello to everyone, today. I still haven't received any more memories or a story to share from you guys. That's okay, I'll wait you out. I still believe in you. I'll believe in you until you believe in yourselves again. Take note, for a new blog, we're starting to get a good following on Memoirs! The number of followers is going up almost daily and so are the people who receive the blog by a feed.

Until I do start to hear from you, you'll have to be satisfied with my ramblings, my poetry, my thoughts and feelings. I hope I don't bore you to tears. When I was trying to decide what to write for today, I thought about this poem. I wrote it several years ago, but it's timely -- and it makes me think of you vets:

When I Finally Close My Eyes
by CJ Heck

When I close
my eyes
for the last time,
I want to have lived,
really lived.
I want to know
I've tasted
the smorgasbord
of life
relishing the good
and spitting
the bad back out,
knowing at least
I tried it.
When I'm done
here on earth,
I won't have to
wonder if
someone caught
the kiss I threw,
I'll know.
I don't want
to leave here
with my heart
as empty
as my pockets
have been
so I've opened
my heart
to love
and I live
each day
as though it
were my last.
I want to know,
without a doubt,
that I've left
something of me
that's good,
not regret
for never making
a difference.
When I close
my eyes
for the very
last time,
I would like
to remember
I was here.

This poem is my wish. You men have already made a difference. You will be remembered for something so big and so good -- change. It's something that will be in history books and learned from, forever. Controversial, yes, but that's how change happens. You can be proud. You did nothing wrong. You did what Americans are expected to do -- protect and serve and honor their country by doing what's right. The Vietnam Era changed how vets are now treated. You did that ...

God Bless You and God Bless America.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Importance of a Quote

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And, by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

When I first read the above quote the other day, it touched me somewhere down inside on a soul level. I don't know the story behind it -- I don't know what Mr. Hale wrote the quote for, or why, only that it was a quote one of the coaches for Ohio State liked to use to pump up the guys in the locker room before their games.

I thought to myself, damn, if I were to highlight the words I find important in each sentence, that quote is talking to ME. "I AM only one, but I AM ONE. I CAN'T do EVERYthing, but I CAN do SOMEthing. The SOMEthing I OUGHT to do, I CAN do. And, by the grace of God, I WILL."

There was something else the quote reminded me of when I found it. It reminded me of all of you vets out there. This was like a motto you guys lived by, even if you never heard the quote before. You invisibly took it along with you to Vietnam (or Cambodia or Afghanistan or Iraq) -- wherever the hell our country sent you. You never complained. You did what you had to do. You did what you were trained to do. You did what you were told to do.  You did what you thought was right.

There are several reasons why I started this blog. Believe it or not, NONE of the reasons included wanting to cause anyone undue anguish by digging and poking around where you've buried pain for nearly fifty years.

I started Memoirs From Nam a week ago now -- and with all of the best of intentions. I have nothing but love and a sense of honor and respect for every one of you, but I'm dying here, guys. No one seems to want to meet me halfway by sharing anything.

I shared my frustrations with my spirit guide, Dinahh, and wrote a blog about it the other day on my spiritual awareness blog, Knowing Whispers. I want to close today with an excerpt from that blog:

" ... It was Dinahh who suggested to me that part of my healing and spiritual growth was to help others who also still carried the pain around with them. He felt I should invite them to share their memories, to embrace the past with them so they, too, could heal.

I guess the purpose of this blog today is to share my overwhelming frustration. Things are going very slow with Memoirs From Nam. I told Dinahh a while ago that I'm meeting with so much resistance from Vets. They don't want to face the hurt. Some even refuse to go to the blog and read what others have written. I can feel their pain as though it were my own and I do understand.

Dinahh said, "Catherine, I've told you before, you must be patient. Open your heart and share your feelings. Let your blog be a place for gathering; a place for peace; a place for sharing; be satisfied to know you are doing what your heart feels is loving. It will be. With us, here, everything is as it should be. There is no time here, only infinity. Don't be always in such a hurry! Do what you can and it will be."

Do what I can ... now THAT is exactly what the quote reminded me of. I'm doing what I can, because I can do no less ...

Knowing Whispers Blog

God Bless America

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Memoir of Douglas S. Kempf

As most of you know, my husband, Doug Kempf, was an army medic and KIA in Vietnam on September 5, 1969. Through all of those years, I had never heard from anyone who knew him during that time in Nam, other than the many form letters all family members received from the military and the government with their condolences. I certainly hadn't heard from anyone who knew or served with Doug personally ... that is, until very recently. I would like to share a letter with you, a thoughtful and healing gift, that I received from Lt. James McCraney.

After forty-one years, this is the first letter I received from someone who not only knew and served with Doug in Vietnam, but who was with him when he was killed. I know you can understand how very deeply the letter touched me and I would like to share it with you. I would also like to invite anyone else who might have known Doug during that time to contact me.

From: James McCraney
Subject: Via The Virtual Wall Memorial for Douglas Kempf
To: cjheck@barkingspiderspoetry.com

Dear Ms. Heck,

A friend of mine sent me the above website for The Virtual Wall and I was honored to be able to find Doug. In August of 1969, I was a new 2nd Lt. assigned to D Company, 4/12 Infantry.

One of the first people that I met was "Doc" (Doug) Kempf. He was our medic and I liked him immediately. I could see the heart that he had for the men as well as the villagers that he would treat. On Sept 5, I was in that firefight when Doug gave his life. If I remember right, we thought that everything was over and the enemy had fled the area. There were wounded needing attention and Doug did not hesitate to move forward. Unfortunately, a couple of the enemy had not left.

He always talked about you and I think a niece. I remember him showing me pictures of you, and one of a little girl in a pretty blue dress. If I am wrong, please forgive me, it has been so long ago. I just know how proud he was.

I just wanted you to know what an impression he made on me. I think of him often. God bless you and your family,

James McCraney
Jackson, Miss.

After I read his letter, I called and spoke with Lt. McCraney on the phone for nearly an hour. We talked, we cried. He shared many things about "Doc Kempf", their friendship and, finally, Doug's death. He told me about how he and Doug would go into the villages and Doug would treat the wounds of the children there.

He said Doug never hesitated that fateful day, when several of the men were shot by snipers and called out "Medic!" Doug went out into the firefight with no thought to his own safety to offer aid to his men. Lt. McCraney said Doug was shot many times doing what he was trained for, what was expected of him, before ultimately succumbing to his wounds. That day earned Doug seven medals, which were presented to me after his death.

Thank you, Lt. James McCraney. You have made a profound difference in my life. I feel that our contact has helped both of us on our long road to healing.

With peace and appreciation and much respect,
CJ Parrish (Kempf) Heck

God Bless America

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Soldier's Story

An airline captain writes:

My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an H.R. on this flight." (H.R. stands for human remains)

"Are they military?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Is there an escort?" I asked.
"Yes, I've already assigned him a seat".

"Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck. You can board him early," I said.

A short while later, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck. He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier. He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier. (The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us).

"My soldier is on his way back to Virginia," he said. He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words of his own.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no. I told him he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers. The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand, and then he left the flight deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure. About thirty minutes into our flight, I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.

"I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is on board," she said.

She proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and two-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home. The family was upset because they had been unable to see the coffin the soldier was in before we left. We were on our way to a major hub where the family was going to have to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia.

The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him had been difficult for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch their soldier being taken off the airplane.

I could hear the desperation in the flight attendant's voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do. "I'm on it," I said, and I told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of text messages. I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio. There's a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the phone of the dispatcher, so I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what it was the family had asked. He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update. I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:

"Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is a policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival, a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft. The team will escort the family to the ramp and planeside. A van will be used to load the remains, with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be viewed on the ramp. It is a private area for the family only. When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and planeside to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks."

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job. I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father. The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, "You have no idea how much this will mean to them."

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing. After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with fifteen gates on either side of the alleyway. It's always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

"There is a team in place to meet the aircraft," we were told.

It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, "Take your time."

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake. I pushed the public address button and said, "Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking. I've stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His Name is Private Benjamin Smith, a soldier who recently lost his life. Private Smith is under your feet in the cargo hold. Also on board, are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Escorting him today is Army Sergeant Will Jones. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you."

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures. A couple of minutes later, I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seat, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later, more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of "God Bless You, I'm sorry, thank you, be proud," and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made. I told them, "They were just words. I could say them over and over again, but nothing I could say will bring back that brave soldier."

I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the sacrifices that millions of our men and women have made to ensure our freedom and safety in these United States of America.

Most sincerely yours,
Captain Jeffery Stanton

Foot note:
As a Vietnam widow, I think of the soldiers, especially the ones that ride below the decks of planes, since that had also been my Doug, on their way home. When I read things like this, I'm proud our country is not turning its back on our soldiers returning from the various war zones. I pray we will always give them the respect they so deserve.

I don't know who actually received this account from the airline captain. Someone thoughtfully sent it to me in an email and it touched me deeply -- it was so powerful that I had to share it.

Vietnam vets, I'm still waiting for your memories, your stories, your feelings. Please share. I'm not asking you to do anything that I am not doing, myself. I'm sharing parts of me, parts of Doug, with you because I respect you and what you did for all of us ...

God Bless America! God bless you ...

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