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Archive for the ‘Veterans’ Category

Tomorrow, on Veterans Day, my heartfelt thanks is extended to all veterans and their families.

This is not a day of celebration, rather a day of reflection to honor those who currently serve in harms way and have sacrificed on our behalf.

You are not forgotten.

Photo taken at Wanker’s Corner Saloon during Sept 11th celebration.

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Mac (L) and Father (R)

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam war.

Occasionally I wander and this post has nothing about motorcycles.  However, it has everything to do with appreciating veterans.

You may recall that the U.S. entered the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam as part of their wider strategy of containment. The southern city of Saigon – later renamed as Ho Chi Minh City – was surrendered on 30 April 1975 to Vietcong troops when several tanks smashed through the gates of what was then known as Independence Palace and the last of the Marines were evacuated from the embassy roof.

But I’ve gotten way ahead of myself.  The year was 1962 in the hot dry desert of White Sands Missile Range and the Hawk Missile Training Program at the Air Defense School in Fort Bliss, Texas…

The 6th Missile Battalion (HAWK), 71st Artillery was activated by General Order 17, dated 19 February 1962, Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Defense Center, Fort Bliss, Texas. The HAWK – from the Latin name Accipter (birds that are known as hawks) – were made by Ratheon, and was an all-weather, surface-to-air, medium-range/medium-altitude missile system.  All HAWK missile artillery battalions served under the 97th Artillery Group (Air Defense Artillery) — “Hoomau i Luna” (Always On Top).

Golden Dragon Voyage - 1965

It would be three years later in July 1965 that the Battalion received Alert Orders for overseas deployment to U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) South Vietnam. The alert order initiated a series of actions to qualify the crews and readied the equipment for deployment.  In less than a month, the Battalion had multiple successful missile exercises and by 15 August 1965 the equipment was ready for shipment.  The PRD (Personnel Readiness Date) was established as 1 September 1965 and all personnel were POR qualified. The Battalion’s personnel were alerted for movement from Fort Bliss, Texas to Oakland Army Terminal, Oakland, California.

The main body (including my father) of the 6th Battalion (HAWK), 71st Artillery departed Oakland Army terminal aboard the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) on 11 September 1965.  My father mailed me the above card which I’ve saved as a reminder of that voyage.  And in a twist of irony the ship turned out to be the very same troop transport ship that he traveled to Asia when deployed to serve in the Korean War some twelve years earlier.  Go figure.  At any rate, on the card above (name intentionally blocked out) you’ll note that at departure my father wore a Specialist E-5 Insignia, indicating the rank of Specialist E-5, or Spec 5 as it was commonly called.  It was phased out after the Vietnam War and today, all E-5’s are Sergeants, but during the Vietnam War, Spec 5’s were sometimes squad leaders or in charge of technical groups.  Most E-5’s in a Hawk Battery were senior radar or missile technicians and they reported to an E-6 or above maintenance Sergeant.   Interestingly an E-5 was the highest rank a draftee could receive without re-enlisting.  The E-5 in charge reported directly to the Maintenance Warrant Officer and functioned as the Sergeant in their chain of command.

So, why were HAWK missiles in Vietnam? It turns out that in 1965 the U.S. significantly increased the scale of its air strike operations against North Vietnam, and in response the North Vietnamese were using Mig-17’s with a top speed of over 1300 MPH and could suddenly pop up on radar screens without much notice.  In addition they deployed Russian Il-28 bomber aircraft which had the potential for first strike.  The heightened air threat from North Vietnam and the lack of allied low altitude radar coverage in the region meant that if the enemy wanted to exploit this weakness it was estimated that the bases in South Vietnam and north-east Thailand would be open to decimating attacks in minutes.  As a result, the 6th Missile Battalion men were deployed in various locations across Vietnam to defend their assigned air bases, fuel and ammo dumps, cities, major troop concentrations areas and free world ports in the Republic of South Vietnam.

My father along with rest of the 71st Artillery debarked at Qui Nhon after 17 days aboard the USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) on 28 September 1965.  In November 1965, Battery C, 71st Artillery became the first fully operational HAWK unit in Vietnam.  In 1966 the battalion relocated to Cam Ranh Bay where it remained until departure.  During the first six-months my father served as an Engineer Equipment Technician and Supervisor, however, in the final six-months he was assigned to the 41st Signal Battalion as a M60 “Door Gunner” on a UH-1 “Slick” Huey.  The “Slick” version was the configuration used for carrying maximum troops and other than the M60’s was not fitted with external weapons to save on weight.  The unit received numerous Vietnam citations ranging from Defense; Counteroffensive; Tet Counteroffensive and Consolidation.  My father returned to Fort Bliss, Texas in September 1966 and retired some ten years later.

Many of you know that the polished black granite of the Vietnam War Memorial is engraved with 58,256 names of fallen soldiers.  It unfortunately includes my cousin “Mike” who was KIA on Saturday, 08 April 1967 along with seven other men in his squad from Co. F, 2nd Bn., 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division.  The following excerpt is from PFC James Popp’s Navy Cross which explained the situation:

“Private First Class Popp’s squad was conducting a squad-size patrol against the Viet Cong forces in Quang Nam Province. While moving along a trail in search of the enemy, the squad was suddenly taken under a murderous volume of small-arms, hand grenade and 40 millimeter grenade fire. The heavy volume of fire rained in from three sides,…continuation HERE…or HERE”.

But, what about that ship you ask?

It turns out the Admiral W.S. Benson-class troop transport – USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) – was built at Bethlehem Steel in Alameda, California and its history dates back to WWII where Admiral W. L. Capps made several trans-Pacific voyages to the Far East with troops between November 23, 1944 and August 4, 1945.  Then from September 1945 to December 15, 1945, it made three trans-Atlantic voyages returning troops to and from Europe.  In the 1950 – 60’s, the ship had a diverse service record where it spent almost two decades carrying men and material to American installations throughout the Far East and the Pacific Ocean during the Korean and Vietnam War support.

The ship was placed out of service and struck from the Naval Register, 9 October 1969 and then transferred to the Maritime Administration for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet.  The ship was then reacquired and reinstated in the Naval Register on 1 November 1978 and was placed in service as a barracks hulk in Bremerton, WA., to serve as a barracks ship for the crews of ships undergoing major overhaul.  Later the ship was laid up in the NISMF Pearl Harbor, HI., and struck from the Naval Register on 25 October 1993.  In the ultimate irony, her final duty was a missile target North of the Hawaiian Islands during the RIMPAC 2000 EXERCISE where she sank on 16 June 2000, at location, in a depth of 2,730 fathoms.

Sure I’m proud of our family’s military service, but this post is more than that.  It’s about remembering the fallen of the Vietnam War.  Many came back to a non-welcome committee and deserve a major shout out.  There are Veteran Motorcycle Clubs and many independent riders across the U.S. who are dedicated to helping and honoring veterans.  If you are one thank you.  If not, then when you see a Vietnam Vet or any Vet for that matter, try and make a point to thank them for their service to our country.  Believe me they’ll appreciate hearing it!

Research for this post courtesy of: Army; BBC; 6th Battalion, 56th Artillery; GruntsMilitary.com; Global Security Org; General Orders and Code of Conduct; Military Personnel Records; Wikipedia; Navy; and family history.

Note: Photo of me above taken in El Paso, TX., circa; 1969 or ’70 and I’m in a ROTC uniform.

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SB2C Flying In Formation

I’ve written previously about the Kwajalein Atoll and what is known in military circles as the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Site.

It’s part of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and is a premiere asset within the Department of Defense Major Range and Test Facility Base. I happen to know a little about “Kwaj” (aka: Kwajalein Island) having lived, worked on the island and flown in/out of Bucholz Army Airfield.  I haven’t blogged about my SCUBA diving experiences while on the island or discussed what was called the ‘aircraft graveyard’ of Kwajalein Atoll, but this came to my mind today when Oregon State Police (OSP) reported that loggers discovered a WWII-era U.S. Navy aircraft, specifically a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver near Rockaway Beach, OR., as part of logging operations on private property.

Oregon SB2C - Oregon State Police Photo

Designed in 1939, the Curtiss SB2C ‘Helldiver’ was a single-engine dive-bomber intended as the replacement for the earlier Douglas-built SBD ‘Dauntless’.  SB2C stands for Scout, Bomber, second dive bomber contract from Curtiss, and the ‘C’ was the letter assigned by the Navy to all aircraft built by Curtiss Aircraft Corporation. The Helldiver carried a crew of two — a pilot and a rear gunner who doubled as the radioman. Early versions of the Helldiver were armed with a single machine gun in each wing while later versions carried a 20mm cannon. The aircraft had an internal bomb bay and could carry a variety of bombs as well as depth charges. The Helldiver had a top speed of 295 mph and good range, making it an essential tool in the Pacific war.

Oregon SB2C - Oregon State Police Photo

Flying from the USS Bunker Hill, Helldivers of Bombing Squadron 17 saw a lot of action over Kwajalein Atoll during Operation Flintlock, which was the assault on the atoll in early 1944. Helldivers helped sink a number of the Japanese ships that lie on the lagoon floor and which we often had the opportunity to dive on.  They flew strikes against targets on several islands within the atoll. After the Japanese airbase on Roi-Namur was captured by American forces the Marine squadron VMSB-151 was initially assigned to Roi with SBD Dauntless dive bombers. The aircraft graveyard near Mellu Island has the wreck of at least one Helldiver.  One wreck we found lies in 85 feet and has one wing in the folded position. Parts of the tail are nearby. The wreck is missing the canopy and dive flaps, and we were never able to determine the specific variant of this particular aircraft. Unless a data plate can be located and photographed that has the manufacturer’s serial number, the history of the plane is very difficult to determine.

SB2C at 85' Near Mellu Island in Kwajalein Atoll

But I’ve digressed and need to get back to Oregon’s SB2C find.

So the search process will begin with historians and analysis gathering to determine the air station where the aircraft flight originated.  The OSP Bomb Technicians have searched the area and found no signs of unexploded ordnance, but there is a possibility of human remains on the site and a team of U.S. Navy personnel are working on-scene to investigate.   All information is being shared with the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) in Honolulu.

The nearby Naval Air Station Tillamook was primarily used to house blimps and was base operations for Squadron ZP-33.   Because of steel rationing during WWII the hangars were built entirely of wood.   It was decommissioned in 1948 and is located about 20 miles southeast of the crash site.   It’s unclear if this aircraft is from the Tillamook station, but the Navy team is on-scene and is making a thorough, undisturbed investigation as safety and integrity of the aircraft site is important.  Initial responders reported seeing a wing, tail section, landing gear and other debris spread out over an approximately 200 yard heavily-wooded area.

I’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 26 March 2010 – Additional news reports HEREHERE and HERE.  OSP provided a news release last night stating information as to the exact location is not being released to media in an effort to maintain scene integrity.  Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Archeologist Matthew Diederich advised that it is a violation of State Law (ORS 358.905-955) to alter, damage, or remove material from this archaeological site. Violators will be prosecuted.  Important to note that the aircraft was discovered on 18 March 2010, but OSP released information on the discovery a week later on 25 March 2010.  Photos from the location area seem to indicate that the logging crew had already cut and removed much of the timber.  It’s unknown if they did so prior to notifying authorities.  If they trampled the so-called “archaeological” scene with equipment prior to notifying LEO will they be subject to ORS 358.905-955?  The Oregonian reported that Sig Unander Jr. (a Cornelius resident) who has spent years researching and tracking down wreckage of military planes estimates there are approximately 30 military aircraft in WA., OR., ID., and MT., from the mid-1930’s through the mid-1940’s that are unaccounted for.

UPDATE: 31 March 2010 – Oregonian reported that a former mechanic for the Navy (Alvin Boese) remembered the crash which was first published on 1 April 1948.  A story which ran the next day stated the pilot was identified as Chief Aviation Pilot R.W. Smedley of Long Beach, CA.  The Navy has not confirmed this crash was the same or would they comment on the circumstances of this “new” find until they were confident of the results.

Photo’s courtesy of Bluejacket.com and OSP.

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Military_ShipOn this Veterans Day we still feel the shock of the 13 who were killed and the 43 injured on the base of Fort Hood just 6 days ago.

I have not been injured or nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.  Nor do I personally understand the trials and long road to recovery that the injuries of war demand.  In war, these events are called battles.  In our own country, by the hand of an American soldier, these events are called a massacre.  The victims were hit not by an exploding IED, responsible for close to 85 percent of the injuries and deaths in Afghanistan, they were hit by bullets, dozens of shots fired from a pistol by a psychologically disturbed individual.  The victims of this tragedy are not only those who were physically harmed, but also their families, loved ones and comrades.  They will need our support, on Veterans Day, and beyond.

Today I say thank you as we commemorate, remember, and honor those who have put themselves in harm’s way for their country.

Photo take in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, HI.

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Frater_InfinitasThe Fort Hood, TX., shooting spree yesterday by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is disturbing.  He had duties as a psychiatrist to help treat soldiers returning from combat with P.T.S.D. and it’s being reported that he shouted “Allahu Akhbar” (phrase meaning “Allah is great” in Arabic) as he opened fire on returning soldiers assembled from combat duties in the middle east.

The commander-in-chief was being constantly briefed on the shooting situation and stated “Let’s not jump to any conclusions” during publicized remarks in the wake of the shooting.  This from the same person who said a couple months ago that police in MA., were “stupid” for arresting a Black college professor – who was a personal friend – and was thought to be breaking into a home?!  The contradiction is disturbing.

And instead of a somber commander-in-chief offering expressions of sympathy and compassion to the Veteran’s and their families, the President maintains his previously scheduled meeting and makes inappropriate and light-hearted remarks at the Tribal Nations Conference.  Backslapping and providing “shout-out’s” to attendees.  A full three minutes into the speech the President finally spoke of the shooting – one of the worst killing’s in military base history!  They should have cancelled the meeting realizing a disconnect between the horrific killing played out at home and the light hearted banter coming from President – the Frater Infinitas (“brothers forever”) disconnect is disturbing.

But I digress.

In a few short days another Veteran’s Day will be celebrated.  It’s about honoring military veterans.   There will be parades large and small celebrating those who stepped forward to serve our nation.  I can’t forgive Hasan for the betrayal and I’m not going to allow a psychologically disturbed individual cast a shadow on remembering them either.   I have a lot of respect for our soldiers and appreciate the service you do for this country.

Photo courtesy of itmon.

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Military_Appreciation

American Bombshell - Marisa Miller

Didn’t you know?

Critics argue that “green” is a passing fad. But, don’t tell Harley-Davidson because the marketing professionals have rolled out a military green marketing and media campaign with “American Bombshell” Marisa Miller.

I’m not talking about an “Inconvenient Truth” or environmental type of green.  Yes, Virginia — I’m talking fashion and the wearing of or riding a Green colored motorcycle. The color comes in all shades and the fashion experts suggest/hype that it’s as fresh as Peppermint!

Yesterday, H-D announced that Marisa Miller expanded her relationship and will salute active and retired U.S. military personnel during the month of November.  This is part of the company’s first-ever “Military Appreciation Month” campaign.  Cool and just in time for Veterans Day!

Sporting minimal clothing, Ms. Miller will be sitting alongside H-D motorcycles in military-themed (read Green) creative, including print and digital ads, posters, postcards and calendars throughout the month of November.  In addition there will be a special section of the H-D web site where anyone can create an electronic postcard with artwork of Miller and Harley-Davidson motorcycles along with a personal message of gratitude that you can send to an active or retired member of the U.S. military.

It’s unclear just how carbon neutral, this ad campaign will be – meaning eliminate or offset all of the greenhouse gases it produces worldwide.  I predict a lot of heavy breathing by teenage males when filling out those postcards!  What do you think?  Is green the new black or is it just the flavour du jour?

Photo courtesy of H-D.

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FireTruck-FlagLike many of you I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on the morning of 9/11.

The sunrise was starting to peek out and you could tell it was going to be a beautiful fall September morning in 2001.  I was up early preparing for a flight to the bay area and in an odd and very uncharacteristic behavior I had the TV on — which I never do — as I prepped.  The announcer interrupted the show about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center and in a few minutes I watched the 2nd plane crash.  I didn’t know what was going on, but knew it wasn’t no accident.  I have friends who work in the city and I went to the PC and sent off a couple emails.  I never did make my flight and remember feeling a sense of violation and anger at both the perpetrators and our governments failure as I watched the TV news for most of the day.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 8 years ago.  The Alan Jackson song, “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” best sums up my feelings today and I wanted to dedicate this post to the victims and hero’s of 9/11.  And while we’re at it let’s not forget the military on the battlefield.

Photo courtesy of NJ Monthly.com

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