121st AVN Association Volume Number 6 Issue Number 3 Date 16 December 2015
From the Editor’s Desk I am back at work after having missed both the reunion and the last issue of the Gazette.
My thanks to all of you who prayed for my recovery, and to my fellow board members who made the reunion and the last issue of the Gazette a success.
At every Christmas season I look back to those Christmases that I shared with comrades true and tried. Some of us were celebrating other holidays, but all of us took the greetings and good will in the spirit that they were given. I spent two Christmases at Soc Trang: 1966 and 1967. I don’t recall much about 1966 other than the Salvation Army sent us gift packages, but 1967 left some very strong and very good memories. These were due to (Major) McNair’s arranging for some down time so that we could celebrate, and his officers, Warrants and senior NCOs pitching in to give us a party.
Gentlemen, you did yourselves proud, and we enlisted men appreciate your efforts. After all these years I remember the singing, the gift exchange and the camaraderie. I also remember everybody cooking their own steaks. My gunner Gardner and I used a bottle of Christian Brothers brandy to marinate ours in, and poured more on as we cooked them.
They turned out pretty well despite our lack of expertise.
This party was the best present that a bunch of homesick young men could have and ranks high in my list of good memories.
Our annual Scholarship Program is still alive and well. Sadly, we had only one applicant last year. Anyone who served with the 121st and associated units who is a member of the 121 AVN Association, or their children/grandchildren is eligible. Encourage your descendants to start early gathering the necessary documents for their application. Instructions and applications are on the 121 AVN Association web site. If anyone can not download the forms, contact me at email@example.com . The deadline for submission is June 30th. All applications and supporting documents must be in my hands by that date.
Merry Christmas to all,
Treasurer/Membership Desk A CHRISTMAS STORY
The story began in 1963. I left Travis Air Force Base on a USAF C135 bound for Japan with a stop in Alaska for refueling. We would leave California the day before Thanksgiving and actually arrive in Japan the day after. A strange way to erase a holiday. About ten days later I was on my way to Kimpo in the Republic of Korea. A couple days in a replacement depot and I would arrive at my final destination, Camp Casey, and the 7th Aviation Battalion, 7thInfantry Division, and a short tour of 13 months. By then it was only a few days until Christmas and, being the junior aviator of the unit, I was assigned the sole mission flown by the battalion on that Christmas day. I returned to the division airfield at dusk. The sky was grey and cold, there was snow on the ground, and I had not eaten since an early breakfast. I headed for the battalion compound and the “O” club, hoping for a hot meal and perhaps some Christmas cheer. I found the building empty except for the club NCO. I asked if there had been a meal saved for me and he indicated he had not known I was out flying and, therefore, there was no meal for me. I asked if he could fix me a sandwich and he informed there was no food in the building and I repaired to my BOQ room, now tired, cold, hungry, and a bit lonely. I was disappointed that my three roommates had not looked out for me but promised myself I would never allow any fellow soldiers I served with to have such a sad experience in the future.
Fast forward to December of 1966 in Soc Trang, Republic of Vietnam. I was walking through the operations office on Christmas Eve and noted there was a single mission scheduled for the next day. I volunteered for the flight and the operations people told me that was not necessary and there were plenty of junior aviators to handle the mission. I insisted that I take the mission and that all the crew members involved would have to be volunteers as well. I also made it a point that my crew would receive an appropriate Christmas meal upon their return. The flight was the usual ash and trash type and the only excitement was a singular VC who fired at us, obviously ignoring the cease fire mandate or perhaps not caring about it. We returned to the airfield about 1530, in plenty of time for a hot meal and some Christmas revelry. The focal point of the Tigers Den was a small Christmas tree shipped to one of the pilots by his family. It was all of two feet tall and its lengthy journey had robbed it of about ninety per cent of its needles but we pronounced it a handsome piece and promptly decorated with dog tags and C ration can tops and whatever else was available. It seemed to bring great cheer to all assembled there and a touch of home numbed the lonely feeling of being far from home and loved ones, at least for a time. I felt that a sad memory of three years before had been replaced with a better one.
I wish all of you and your families the Merriest of Christmases and hope the New Year will be good to all.
White Tiger Lead, 66-67
Secretary’s Report 2016 Reunion Update
Plans for our 2016 reunion are nearly complete. As we decided this past June, when we were in Nashville, the reunion will be held in Charleston, South Carolina. We have scheduled the week of June 13 – 16, 2016 for our annual gathering. We are trying some different things this year. First of all, the reunion dates, mentioned above are Monday thru Thursday. When we polled the members who attended the annual meeting in June, we asked about holding the reunion during the week and it seemed like there were no major objections. There were several reasons for doing this. First of all, group hotel rates are sometimes less expensive during the week. Also, weekday airfares can be found that are less expensive. The second change from our usual format will be the location of the reunion. When the committee began looking at hotels that could provide the accommodations we need, we found that Charleston, being a top tourist destination, can be quite expensive. When we found good hotel rates, the catering for our usual two dinners would cause our registration fees to jump through the roof. Just the opposite occurred when we found reasonable catering rates, the nightly room rates skyrocketed.
Facing a dilemma, the board came up with some alternative ideas and we began looking at these other possibilities. So, we have contracted with a VFW post in Charleston to host our reunion. They will also provide the catering for our dinners on Tuesday and Wednesday evening. These will be home-style dinners, prepared by the ladies auxiliary and Post members. The cost will probably be around half of the rates for banquets we found at hotels in the Charleston area.
We have made arrangements at two hotels for you to choose from, both near the VFW Post. The rates for these hotels are surprisingly inexpensive.
In addition, we have arranged for a tour of Charleston for anyone who wishes to explore this historic city. One of our Tigers happens to operate a tour service in Charleston, and we will be working with him to arrange one or two tour times to give everyone an opportunity to take advantage of a discounted rate to see Charleston and learn about its history.
Full details about the reunion will be sent (via USPS mail) in early January, to everyone on our address list. The information you will receive will include the, rates, names and phone numbers of the hotels where we have negotiated a discounted room rate – the cost for the reunion registration fees that will cover the reunion costs for hospitality the room snacks and refreshments and other related expenses. You will be given the opportunity to sign up for the Charleston tour when you send in your registration form.
In order for the committee to make all the final plans for the reunion, we encourage everyone to send in their registration forms as soon as possible. By doing so, the committee will be able to keep track and know if we need to increase the number of rooms at our two hotels, provide the final number of meals that will be catered and purchase the necessary snacks and refreshments. All these things are determined by the number of people that are registered. Waiting until the last minute only causes extra work for the planning committee. When you receive the reunion information, please read it carefully.
Where in the heck did the year go! It just seems like yesterday that I was getting ready to close out on the 121st Avn Association Archive version 4 and now version 5 is looming. So with this issue of the Gazette I will attempt to let you know what I have accomplished this year.
As I explained last year, I discovered that until the middle of 1965 when the First Aviation Brigade was activated and took over all non-divisional aviation assets, awards with citations were awarded to individuals without relating them to the unit to which each individual was assigned. However, I discovered that Air Medals without citations were given by unit since 1962. So my approach to relate individuals to units was to create a spread sheet for each year from 1962 to 1965 which contained a unit member’s name whenever he was first awarded an Air Medal. Was this a laborious task? You bet! But I could figure out no other way. I first started with HQ USARPAC for 1962 and a bit of 1963. Next I tackled HQ USARV for 1963 through 1965. Here is the breakdown of the number of names I found by year: 1962 – 57, 1963 – 242, 1964 – 174, and 1965 – 229. Have I been 100% accurate? Obviously not, so I will depend on you to examine my records and help me gain more accuracy. As usual I will be located in the hospitality room at the reunion.
Another task I have been working on is scanning photos into the archive for each individual. Mike Dewey has given me a real challenge with almost 200 photos. The majority are in plastic folders that have proven challenging to remove without damaging the photos, but I figured out how to do it and am now about halfway through.
I know many of you have more photos and other items for the archive. We welcome them all as long as they can be scanned. Looking forward to a little southern hospitality at Charleston this spring. See you there.
A Tiger is to be Honored
Charles Kettles served with the 121st as “Tiger 6” in 1969, and is a life member of the
121 AVN Association. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in 1967 while assigned to the 167th AVN Company (AML).
We received the following:
Vietnam Aviator Helped Save 40 Troops And Four Helicopter Crewmen To Receive Medal Of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery that America can bestow upon its soldiers. The medal is awarded personally by the President of the United States, and since its inception in 1863 it has been awarded on only 3512 occasions – around half of those were during the American Civil War.
The US Secretary of Defence has recently approved the award of a Medal of Honor, and once it has been endorsed by Congress, then President Obama will put his signature on a document to make it official. The medal will go to Vietnam veteran Charles “Chuck” Kettles from Michigan who, on 15 May 1967, carried out an extraordinary act of bravery on the field of battle. For this action he has was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1968.
It wasn’t until 2012 that a local campaign was launched by William Vollano, a coordinator with the Veterans History Project, for Kettles to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Peters’ office
His citation for the Distinguished Service Cross:
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with 176th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light), 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division. Major Kettles distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 15 May 1967 while serving as aircraft commander of a helicopter supporting infantry operations near Duc Pho. An airborne Infantry unit had come under heavy enemy attack and had suffered casualties.
Major Kettles immediately volunteered to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and evacuate their wounded from the battle site. Although friendly artillery had pounded the hostile positions, the enemy was well entrenched and fighting fiercely. Major Kettles led a flight of helicopters into the landing zone through a savage barrage. Small arms and automatic weapons fire raked the landing zone and inflicted heavy damage to the ships, but Major Kettles refused to leave the ground until all the craft were loaded to capacity. He then led them out of the battle area. He later returned to the battlefield with more reinforcements and landed in the midst of a rain of mortar and automatic weapons fire which wounded his gunner and ruptured his fuel tank.
After leading more wounded aboard, he nursed the crippled craft back to his base. He then secured another ship and led a flight of six helicopters to extract the Infantry unit. All but eight men had been loaded when Major Kettles directed the flight to take off. Completely disregarding his safety, he maneuvered his lone craft through a savage enemy fusillade to where the remainder of the Infantrymen waited. Mortar fire blasted out his windshield, but he remained on the ground until the men were aboard.
The enemy concentrated massive firepower on his helicopter and another mortar round badly damaged his tail boom, but he once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged ship to safety.
By the time he returned to the United States in 1970 Major Kettles had flown more than 600 missions in total and gained 27 air medals. He served at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonia in Texas until his retirement from the army in 1978.
Now, 48 years after the events described here he is about to receive his country’s highest possible award for valor. Modest about his achievement on that day, Kettles says that the fact the names of the men he rescued are not on the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington DC is “enough gratification
A New Book Available It is our policy to publish information on new books about helicopters in Viet Nam when asked politely and provided with suitable material. We have received the following description of a book by one of our members. LTC Dandridge is a very articulate author, and has helped with the reunion in Charleston. Here is a description of his book, in his own words:
One of our 121stAviation Association Members, LTC (Retired) W. Larry Dandridge has written a non-fiction, Vietnam War history book about Army helicopter pilots, door gunners, crew chiefs, and other aviation troops. All 2015 profits from the book sales are pledged to Fisher House Charleston, SC, a free lodge and refuge for the families of troops and veterans in the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. The book is primarily about the 121st Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) in 1968 and 1969. However, there are also war stories in the book about a 498th Medical Evacuation (Dust Off) Company; a tragic 187thAHC smoke ship mission; a 235th Aerial Weapons Company (Cobra Attack Helicopter) mission; and a Cavalry LOACH (Oh-6) mission near Dom Tam. Ten of the 13 chapters are about Tigers and Vikings and their missions. Chapter 2 includes a leadership speech that has previously been published in over 20 magazines and newspapers in the US, Germany, and the UK. 11 of the 13 chapters in the book start off with a letter from one soldier to another and concludes with an aviation war story. The book has 46 pictures and 43 are pictures of Tigers, Vikings, and the Delta. The book has 11 information filled appendices including a tribute to Warrant Officer Gerald David Markland who was killed in action on 28 December 1968; a lessons learned and not learned appendix; 27 mini biographies of the Tigers, Vikings, and other characters in the book confirming they were very successful after Vietnam; information on Fisher House Charleston and the Joint VA-Library of Congress Veterans History Project, and much more. The book is available direct from the author at LDandridge@earthlink.net and Cell Phone 843-276-7164, Amazon, and Kindle. The paperback book has received all five star reviews since it was published in early July. The 121st Aviation Association appreciates anyone who helps to preserve the glorious and accurate history of the 121st Assault Helicopter Company and its associated units.
Letters to the editor should be sent to:
1155 Union Road
Greeneville, Tn. 37745
Your Board of Trustees is: Donald Jackson, Chairman Robert Greene, Vice Chairman