"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

Friday, December 30, 2011

ZIT 990 Homecoming

By Annette Lawless | annette.lawless@fox8.com
Staff Writer

ASHTABULA, Ohio— Army veteran Nate Shaffer, of Spencerville, returned home from the Vietnam War over forty years ago.  Now, he has a new homecoming to celebrate.

"I started looking for the pilots and crew members back in 1994, and I started looking for 990 also," he said.

In the 1990's, Shaffer started searching for the ZIT 990, a helicopter he flew every day in Vietnam. Shaffer was a gunner, and the unit had a vital life--even beyond his military tour.

"It had like 21 world records for flight," he said. "It flew with the National Guard in Chicago.  Then it flew in the national guard in New York. Then it went with Texas Border Patrol."

Yet this past year, Shaffer heard the government planned to scrap the chopper. He had other plans for it.  "If I could just find the helicopter I flew in, I`d like to acquire it somehow," he said. "That's all that I wanted."

With the help of congressional representatives--and of course his persistence--Shaffer trucked it all the way down to Arizona and then brought it back to Ohio.  "I kept it for 18 days" he said. "We stripped it down, cleaned it, and even sanded and painted it. It looks exactly like it did back in Vietnam. "

When Bruce Campbell saw ZIT 990, he said it was like a step back in time.  "I got goose bumps. I had the biggest goose bumps, and I had them everywhere," said Campbell, Shaffer's pilot during the war. "When I sat down in the seat, looking at the console and stuff, lots of thoughts go rushing through my mind. I mean, so much so that, well, you kind of don't go there."

The helicopter is now on a platform at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio, putting ZIT 990 closer to fellow Vietnam gunner Russ Houser of Youngstown.  "It's hard to explain. You get some real flashbacks," Houser said. "It's very special to all three of us."

Yet, for Shaffer, this isn't the only piece of the war that's resurfaced in recent years.  A fellow soldier once surprised him with the dogs tags he lost in Vietnam.  Another veteran also had a surprise for him.  It was at a reunion.  "He brought back a pair of jump wings that I once had and thought I'd lost. The wings were lodged in a bunk where I slept. He dug them out and kept them for twenty-five years," Shaffer said. "It was unbelievable."

Shaffer said he prizes the bonds of friendship he's built after the war.  Now he, Campbell, and Houser are all reunited with a piece of the war they cherish most -- ZIT 990.  "The slight chance we had of getting it, but I thought about it all the time. I'm going to get, I'm going to get it," Shaffer said. "I was determined to get it. And luckily, it did work out that I basically did get it."

Copyright © 2011, WJW-TV

“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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Saturday, December 17, 2011

What's a Vietnam Vet?

Just before Veterans' Day, a college student named Adam was working on a school assignment in which he was supposed to obtain original narratives from "people old enough to have actually been in Vietnam."

 Having been there, L. Daniel Mouer asked how he could help. Adam asked him to respond to the question "What is a Vietnam Veteran?" This is what Mr. Mouer wrote:

"Vietnam veterans are men and women, dead or alive, whole or maimed, sane or haunted. We grew from our experiences, or were destroyed by them, or we struggle to find some place in between. We lived through hell or we had a pleasant, if scary, adventure. We were Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Red Cross, and civilians of all sorts. Some of us enlisted to fight for God and Country, and some were drafted. Some were gung-ho, and some went kicking and screaming.

Like veterans of all wars, we lived a tad bit--or a great bit--closer to death than most people like to think about. If Vietnam vets differ from other vets, it is primarily because many of us never saw the enemy or recognized him or her. We heard gunfire and mortar fire but rarely looked into enemy eyes. Those who did, are often haunted for life by those eyes, those sounds, those electric fears that ran between ourselves and our enemies, and the likelihood of death for one of us. Or we get hard, calloused, tough. All in a day's work. Life's a bitch then you die. But most of us remember and get twitchy, worried, sad.

We are crazies dressed in cammo, wide-eyed, wary, homeless, and drunk. We wear Brooks Brothers suits doing deals downtown; we are housewives, grandmothers, and church deacons; we are college professors engaged in rational pursuit of the truth about the history, politics or culture of the Vietnam experience; and we are sleepless. We are often sleepless.

We pushed paper, pushed shovels. We drove jeeps, operated bulldozers, built bridges; we toted machine guns through dense brush, deep paddy, and thorn scrub. We lived on buffalo milk, fish heads and rice. Or C-rations. Or steaks and Budweiser. We did our time in high mountains drenched by endless monsoon rains or on the dry plains or on muddy rivers or at the most beautiful beaches in the world.

We wore berets, bandanas, flop hats, and steel pots. Flak jackets, canvas, rash and rot. We ate cloroquine and got malaria anyway. We got shots constantly but have diseases nobody can diagnose.

We spent our nights on cots or shivering in foxholes filled with waist-high water or lying still on cold wet ground, our eyes imagining Charlie behind every bamboo blade. Or we slept in hotel beds in Saigon or barracks in Thailand or in cramped ship berths at sea.

We feared we would die or we feared we would kill. We simply feared, and often we still do. We hate the war or believe it was the best thing that ever happened to us. We blame Uncle Sam or Uncle Ho and their minions and secretaries and apologists for every wart or cough or tic of an eye. We wonder if Agent Orange got us.

Mostly, we wish we had not been so alone. Some of us went with units, but many, probably most of us, were civilians one day, jerked up out of "the world," shaved, barked at, insulted, humiliated, de-egoized and taught to kill, fix radios, and drive trucks. We went, we put in our time, and then were equally, ungraciously plucked out of the morass and placed back into the real world. But now we smoked dope or drank heavily. Our wives or husbands seemed distant and strange. Our friends wanted to know if we shot anybody.

And life went on. It had already been going on, as if we hadn't been there, as if Vietnam was a topic of political conversation, a college protest, or just news copy, and not a matter of life and death for tens of thousands.

Vietnam vets are people just like you. We served our country proudly, reluctantly, or ambivalently. What makes us different -- what makes us Vietnam vets -- is something we understand, but we are afraid nobody else will understand. But we do appreciate your asking.

Vietnam veterans are white, black, beige and shades of gray. Our ancestors came from Africa, Europe, Asia, or crossed the Bering Sea land bridge in the last Ice Age and formed the nations of American Indians, built pyramids in Mexico, or farmed acres of corn on the banks of Chesapeake Bay. We had names like Rodriguez, Stein, Smith and Kowalski. We were Americans, Australians, Canadians, and Koreans ... but most Vietnam veterans are Vietnamese.

We were farmers, students, mechanics, steelworkers, nurses, and priests when the call came that changed us all forever. We had dreams and plans, and they all had to change...or wait. We were daughters and sons, lovers and poets, beatniks and philosophers, convicts and lawyers. We were rich and poor -- mostly poor. We were educated or not -- mostly not. We grew up in slums, in shacks, in duplexes, in bungalows and houseboats, hooches and ranches. We were cowards and heroes -- sometimes we were even cowards one moment and heroes the next.

Many of us have never seen Vietnam. We waited at home for those we loved. For some of us, our worst fears were realized. For others, our loved ones came back but never would they be the same.

We came home, marched in protest marches, sucked in tear gas, and shrieked our anger and horror for all to hear. Or we sat alone in small rooms, in VA hospital wards, in places where only the crazy ever go. We are Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Confucians, Buddhists and Atheists -- though as usually is the case, even the atheists among us sometimes prayed to get out of there alive.

We are hungry, or sated, full of life or clinging to death. We are the injured, or we are healers, despairing or hopeful, loved or lost. We got too old too quickly, but some of us have never grown up. We want desperately to go back to heal wounds and revisit the sites of our horror. Or we want never to see that place again, to bury it, its memories, its meaning. We want to forget, and we wish we could remember.

Despite our differences, we have so much in common. There are few of us who don't know how to cry, though we often do it alone when nobody will ask "what's wrong?" See, we're afraid we might have to answer.

Adam, if you want to know what a Vietnam veteran is, get in your car or cage a friend with a car to drive you. Go to Washington. Go to the Wall on Veterans Day weekend. There will be hundreds there ... no, thousands. Watch them. Listen to them. I'll be there. Come touch the Wall with us. Rejoice a bit. Cry a bit. No, cry a lot. I will. I'm a Vietnam Veteran and, after all these years, I think I am just beginning to understand what that means ..."

Copyright 1996 L. Daniel Mouer, all rights reserved. (Soon to be published as a chapter in Dan's forthcoming book Warbaby: Surviving the Sixties and Beyond.)

“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

Friday, December 16, 2011


This came in an email to me from a friend of ours, Al Comeau.  The film is excellent and I proudly salute the eleven men who were awarded the Certificate of Recognition.


Thanks for following me on Twitter (NamVet65) and I would like to share with you a film where I was interviewed for my service along with 10 other veterans who served in conflicts from WWII to the current Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

The film was presented on Veterans Day 2011 at the University of Connecticut - Waterbury, Connecticut Campus and where we eleven veterans were awarded certificates of recognition for our service by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Congressman Christopher Murphy, both of Connecticut.

The film is: ELEVEN

Something to remember and that I quoted during the time I was with the production staff was, and I quote: "Courage is Fear Holding on for a Minute Longer." (General George Patton). The Eleven veterans interviewed in the film shared that same sentiment.

I also said that the ability to survive under extreme combat is to accept the fact that you WILL die and only then will COURAGE become your greatest ally in that fight against overwhelming odds. I guess the same can be said for each of us who travels the path of life.

Dying is inevitable and life's struggles will become less stressful, if we could all accept our ultimate fate. A little FAITH in what might await us in the hereafter doesn't hurt, either.

I have submitted material in the past that you have been so kind to place on your blog, Memoirs From Nam, and now, perhaps, you can put a face to my name.

Thanks for all that you do and a "Merry Christmas" season to you.

Al Comeau
Vietnam Veteran (US Army)
Volunteer, Veterans Service Officer
Telephone: (203) 419-0378 (Home)
(203) 597-7687 (Cell)
E-mail: ahcomeau1969@comcast.net

***Merry Christmas to you, too, Al, and again, Welcome Home my friend.

“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, December 15, 2011


On Jeopardy one evening, the final question was, "How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?" All three contestants missed it.

This is really an awesome sight to watch if you've never had the chance to see it.  It's fascinating.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why?

21 steps: It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute which is the highest honor given any military or foreign

2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why?

21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1

3. Why are his gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

4. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and,if not, why not?

He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path,he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

5. How often are the guards changed?

Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

6. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5' 10' and 6' 2' tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30".

They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.

After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules or give up the wreath pin.

The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt.

There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.

The first six months of duty a guard cannot watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are:

President Taft,
Joe Lewis {the boxer}
Medal of Honor winner Audie L. Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII and of Hollywood fame.

Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty..


In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington , DC, our US Senate/House took 2 days off with anticipation of the storm. On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of the dangers from the
hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, "No way, Sir!" Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled
continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

“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, December 14, 2011

A Foxhole Christmas

This poem was written from a foxhole on the front lines in Rollesbroich, Germany on December 25, 1944, while Cleburne R. Martin was serving with the 78th Lightning Division of the U.S. Army.  One year later, on Christmas Day, Martin was on a ship headed back home to Mineral Wells, Texas.  He died on Christmas Eve, 2002.

Christmas in a Foxhole
by Pfc. Cleburne R. Martin, Christmas Day, 1944

I guess the way I should begin
Is “Peace on earth, Goodwill to men,
”But over here, it is differently told
With shells and bullets and life in a hole.

Now Hans and Fritz just over the way
Don’t seem to know that it’s Christmas Day,
Or maybe they value their exploits bold
And choose to live out here in a hole.

We have the trees, the ice and snow,
But to places like this old Santa don’t go;
If he were here, I’m sure he’d say,
“What an awful place to spend Christmas Day.”

The thing in life that drives us on
Is a spot in the States that we all call home,
And though our loved ones are far away,
They’re with us in spirit this Christmas Day.

When it will end, we do not know,
This miserable life in the rain and snow:
But for one thing I earnestly pray –
Unoccupied foxholes next Christmas Day.

“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, December 2, 2011

Vietnam Christmas 1967

By Lee Miracle, with Terry Bender

Our unit was the 1st 14th Inf, 3rd Bgde, 4th Inf Div, Golden Dragons, and our Company was Echo (E). Three of the platoons in our company were mortar platoons, and we were the Recon Platoon for the 1st 14th. Our code name was Fox Force.

Several days before Christmas 1967, we were sent out on patrol. The main task was patrol, but we did lots of ambushing also. We were right in the middle of Monsoon season, and it was raining day and night. It would get so cold at night, that I could not sleep for the chattering of my teeth. The only cover we had was our ponchos and liners.

We had been on patrol for several days, and everything we had was soaked beyond belief...soaked to the point where your skin begins to wrinkle. I was a machine gunner, and we were trying to keep our weapons clean in all the rain; we would take turns with the cleaning.

We had a very good Platoon Leader, Lt. Terry Bender. He had moved us to the top of a hill to setup for the night, as he felt that would be a good place. The hill had some big boulders on it and would give us some protection.  It also overlooked a rice paddy that appeared to be one-half mile long from where we were to the other end. From our left, as you looked towards the rice paddy, was a steep hill that was covered with heavy woods. There was a wide trail that ran along the rice paddy and the bottom of the hill.

Lt. Bender had a policy that, whenever possible, he would always plot either mortars or artillery in the event we needed help during the night. Well this evening was no different; the Lt. had charted artillery since we were out of range for mortar support.  We split our platoon into the three squads and placed them around the perimeter so the hillside could be covered. Each squad would always decide where they felt an approach point would be, and that is where the machine gunner would setup. Then we would place the CP in the center of the secure area.

The guys started scrounging for food because, being out for several days, we were running real low on supplies. We were practically out of food, cigarettes, and ammo. On our last resupply, we were mistakenly sent tracer ammo for our machine guns.

We were so desperate that we would take the aluminum foil from the candy in the C Rations, place our wet cigarettes on it, and roll it back and forth while holding it over a heat tablet, hoping to dry them enough to smoke. We had more heat tabs than we had food.  All went well that night; we dried enough cigarettes so that everybody could have a smoke before dark...but nobody smoked after dark.

At daybreak the next morning, whoever was on guard at the time would wake everybody in the squad. As we got up that morning, in our water-soaked stupor, we did like all GIs...we took a leak, cleaned our weapons, and ate whatever there was for breakfast or drank a cup of coffee. Someone would always be on guard because you could never relax for a minute.

Just as we finished cleaning our weapons, our guard, on the side of the rice paddy, notified the CP that he thought he saw movement along the tree line at the other end of the rice paddy. Immediately everyone focused their attention on the site.

Shortly, a Vietnamese soldier stepped out of the tree line and just stood there looking around for awhile. He was waiting to see if he had been detected or if he could detect any enemy in the area. Apparently he felt that he was all alone, so he proceeded out of the wooded area and began walking along the trail that ran between the hillside and the rice paddy. He was walking point.

After he made his way into the open, there came another, and then another. Those soldiers just kept coming out of that tree line. We were just sitting there counting Vietnamese soldiers, but Lt. Bender was on the radio with HQ deploying our backup support. He knew that we would need help with a group this big because we were almost out of ammo, except for the tracer rounds. We were still counting soldiers as they came out of the tree line.

Lt. Bender had arranged for the "Sharks" Gunships to hover behind the hill until he gave the order to open fire. Since we had so many tracer rounds, we were to pinpoint the targets for the gunships. Everyone else would open fire with their M-16s. At the same time, the gunships would come from behind the hill and zero in on the enemy. Once the gunships had finished, the artillery was supposed to take over and saturate the entire area, which was the hillside and the wooded area directly in front of us.

We were still counting soldiers coming out of the tree line, right at our position. There were so many that they looked like ants lined up along the rice paddy. Our count was up to 111 soldiers when four guys came out of the tree line carrying something wrapped in canvas that was so big, it took all four of them to carry it. Well, this was enough, 115 Vietnamese soldiers heavily armed. Lt. Bender knew that we could wait no longer for some help.

Lt. Bender gave the order for the gunships to come on in; and, at the same time that they came over the hill, we all opened fire...all three machine guns, spitting out tracer rounds to mark the target, and everyone else firing their M-16s.  It sounded like ALL hell was breaking loose; I mean, here are 25 guys on the ground firing simultaneously, including three machine guns, and then the "Sharks" Gunships. Those babies are BAD NEWS for the enemy. Once that all started, the Vietnamese were trying to sprint up that wooded hillside.

As soon as the gunships had cleared the air space, Lt. Bender followed up with artillery. Those guys completely saturated that hillside. This seemed to last all day, but it was probably no more than an hour. When it was over, we could hardly see the rice paddy for all the smoke and fog mixed together.  

Well, now we were in one heck of a mess...already short on ammo and now even shorter, out of food, and the choppers could not get back in to land and pick us up due to the weather. And, we could not move from our position because it was open all around us. I know the Platoon Sgt. was expected to extend for another tour; but I heard him call HQ and tell them to get his papers ready, that he was going home when we got in.

I think that Lt. Bender and our Platoon Sgt. must have threatened somebody's life. Here we were, several days without resupply, wet, cold, out of ammo; and we could not get any help. So, on our second day of being stranded, we finally got a chopper pilot to fly down the valley; and one of the crew kicked C Rations out the chopper door as they flew by. We sent a patrol down to dig the C Rations and a little ammo out of the rice paddy. At least we could finally eat and protect ourselves.

Now, I'll tell you, these were really scary times because the enemy knew where we were, but the terrain was so open that we could not move our position. We had the best there was to offer at the time. We were just stuck there until the weather broke.

Finally, late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the choppers were able to come in close enough to pick us up and get us out of there. Man, were we ever happy. Here it was Christmas Eve, and we were going in for Christmas. It was finally over.  We were on the choppers and heading back to LZ Thunder, when we had to make a detour. Bravo (B) Company was pinned down and could not get out. So, Fox Force gets the call to stop by and try to help Bravo out of a mess.

The choppers landed us about one-half mile from where Bravo Company was pinned down, and Lt. Bender had everybody drop their rucksacks He left three guys there to guard the equipment, and everyone else took all the ammo they could carry. We headed for the sound of gunfire.

On our way, running as hard as we could carrying ammo and weapons, we came upon a creek that looked to be only about five feet wide. It was a little hard jumping that far, carrying 1,000 rounds of ammo and a machine gun; so, I went in the water. But, I was not alone...there were other guys that could not make the jump either.  The bad news is, the creek was almost as deep as it was wide. Here we were, chest deep in a creek. We got out OK; but, as was the case with all those creeks, once you got out you were covered with leeches.

We finally got through this mess and came within eyesight of Bravo pinned down by snipers in a hooch. Lt. Bender got on the radio and called for artillery, moving us in under the fire of 8" guns. The whole time, he was on the radio walking and talking, charting the artillery as we walked. When I heard those rounds whistling in over our heads, I did not think this heart could take it. I said, "GOD, please don't let him screw up." Well, he didn't.

We got Bravo Company out of trouble, went back to where our rucksacks were, and got some choppers on in to LZ Thunder.  When we got to LZ Thunder, we had to stay in some abandoned artillery bunkers; but they had a roof, and they were dry inside. We even got to eat hot food from the mess hall. Some of the guys scrounged up some candles, and one of them bummed a guitar from someone stationed there. We all sat around candles that night, singing Christmas Carols.

There was supposed to be a ceasefire because my parents sent me copies of the newspaper articles saying so. The next day...Christmas Day, however, we were up and out at the crack of dawn, heading back to the field, eating Ham and Limas again. The Vietnamese had broken the so-called ceasefire. Hell, we already knew that.


With all that we had just been through, it was amazing that all these grown men sat in those hooches on Christmas Eve, around candles, singing Christmas Carols, knowing that GOD had saved our lives, again. It was made more glorious by the fact that we were of different color, but all Americans. Now, this is what America is all about.

Christmas sure has been lots nicer ever since that day, and I really do appreciate everything that GOD has given me, including my life. I hope and pray that everyone has a great Christmas, especially America's Vietnam Veterans.  Merry Christmas, Fox Force.

Lee Miracle
1st 14th. Inf., 3rd. Bgde, 4th. Div.
Golden Dragons
Fox Force Recon

“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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