CPT Isaac Camacho

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The First American POW to escape captivity during the war in Vietnam.

Green Beret Army Capt. Isaac Camacho vividly recalled the terrible night when he was captured by Viet Cong. It was the night of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. He was held for nearly two years until he fled, becoming the first U.S. prisoner to escape from Viet Cong captivity. That evening, Nov. 22, 1963, the Viet Cong forces started firing mortars into the Hiep Hoa U.S. Army Special Forces base camp, in South Vietnam, about 35 miles north of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). While half of his team was away, he said, Viet Cong fighters infiltrated the camp, silently killed guards and forced Vietnamese civilians to lay down their weapons — they only wanted to kill the Americans.

Several of the Special Forces troops manned a machine-gun position and began trying to stem the tide of invaders.

Camacho, who was the camp’s heavy weapons specialist, grabbed a carbine and made his way to the mor-tar bunker, where he waged a one-man mortar barrage against the enemy. He was still firing approximately 30 minutes later when he was joined by Lieutenant John R. Colby, the detachment’s executive officer, who was trying to rally the defending forces. In light of the attack’s intensity, and seeing that some of the CIDG troops were fleeing, Colby decided that further efforts to defend the camp would be futile. He handed Camacho a grenade to use for added protection and ordered him to leave while he could.

Camacho left reluctantly. He knew that a couple of Americans were still fighting inside the camp. Once outside the compound, he thought of his friends and could not bring himself to abandon them. He re-entered the enclosure and encountered heavier firepower and exploding mortar rounds. When he suddenly came face to face with some VC, he blasted at them with his carbine. The enemy fire was so overwhelming that he tossed his grenade at the VC and made a dash for cover in a machine-gun bunker. But the VC soon located him, as well as Sergeant George E. Smith, Specialist Claude McClure and Staff Sgt. Kenneth M. Rorback.

Apparently, I was seen, Camacho later recalled, because in the next 30 seconds, I was surrounded and flashlights were being shined on me. I was ordered to get up, and as I did a VC grabbed my carbine. He felt the barrel, which was hot, then he said something to the others in Vietnamese. While they were tying me up, one VC gave me a butt stroke with his M-1 and I was out. When I came to, I had blood all over from a gash on the back of my head. Then another order was given, and we were practically dragged across the barbed wire.

Although he survived the intense attack, Camacho and the three other men captured by the Viet Cong were beaten and blindfolded. They were transported like cargo to one of the guerrilla army’s bases. Camacho lived in shackles and was confined to cages, one of which was just six by eight feet, for much of the next 21 months.

The action (at the camp) earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. On July 9, 1964 His escape, spending four days evading pursuers in order to return to U.S. control, earned him the Silver Star.

We honor you, Isaac Camacho.

(Submission by: Miah Parry. #Repost @Special Forces Association Chapter LX)

CAPT John McCain

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When John McCain made his first bid for public office in 1982, running for a House seat in Arizona, critics blasted him as a carpetbagger, pointing out that he’d only lived in the state for 18 months.

“Listen, pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy,” the exasperated candidate reportedly shot back at one event. Then, after explaining that career military people tend to move a lot, he delivered a retort that made the attacks against him seem ridiculously petty: “As a matter of fact… the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

McCain won the election, launching a political career that earned him two terms in the House, six in the Senate, and his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. But even after four decades in public life, McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam continued to define him in the minds of many Americans, admirers and detractors alike. While he ultimately made his name on the national political stage, the scion of two four-star admirals was, at his core, a lifelong military man. He followed into the family business, becoming a decorated, if at times reckless, fighter pilot who conducted nearly two dozen bombing runs in Vietnam before being shot down, captured and tortured.

In both his military and political careers, McCain earned a reputation for being feisty and combative. “A fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed,” he declared in his 2018 memoir The Restless Wave, written with his longtime collaborator Mark Salter, and published after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that took his life on August 25, 2018.

Below, a timeline of his military life [selected segments, see History.com for the full account]:

John Sidney McCain III is born on August 29 at a U.S. Navy base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, John S. McCain, Jr., is a submarine officer who will later rise to the rank of admiral and become commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific during much of the Vietnam War. His grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., also an admiral, would come to command the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific during World War II. “They were my first heroes, and earning their respect has been the most lasting ambition of my life,” McCain would later write in a 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

John McCain enters the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1954 and graduates with the class of 1958. He’s the third generation in his family to attend the Academy; his father had been class of 1931; his grandfather, class of 1906.

By all accounts, especially his own, the young McCain is an indifferent and rambunctious student, prone to pranks and occasional disobedience to authority. He graduates fifth from the bottom of his class. “My four years here were not notable for individual academic achievement but, rather, for the impressive catalogue of demerits which I managed to accumulate,” he admitted to the graduating class of 1993 in a commencement speech.

After graduation, McCain goes on to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and later Corpus Christi, Texas, to train as a pilot. “I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flyer more than I enjoyed the actual flying,” he will remember. “I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties, and generally misused my good health and youth.”

In late 1966, he joins a squadron of A-4E Skyhawk pilots that will deploy on the U.S.S. Forrestal, a carrier that soon heads to the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of North Vietnam. They arrive at the peak of President Lyndon Johnson’s Operation Rolling Thunder campaign of massive sustained aerial bombardment.

On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain has another brush with death. As he awaits his turn for takeoff from the USS Forrestal, for a bombing run over North Vietnam, another plane accidentally fires a missile. It strikes either his plane or the one next to him (accounts differ), igniting a raging fire on the ship’s deck. McCain manages to extricate himself from his plane, only to be hit in the legs and chest by hot shrapnel.

“All around me was mayhem,” he would recall years later. “Planes were burning. More bombs cooked off. Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping onto the deck. Pilots strapped in their seats ejected into the firestorm. Men trapped by flames jumped overboard.” By the time it’s over, more than 130 crew members are dead.

Three months later, on October 26, McCain takes off on his 23rd bombing run over North Vietnam, reportedly on a mission to destroy Hanoi’s thermal power plant. Just as he releases his bombs over the target, a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, described as looking like “a flying telephone pole,” strikes his plane, ripping off its right wing. McCain ejects, breaking both arms and one knee, and parachutes into a shallow lake.

After briefly losing consciousness, he wakes up to find himself “being hauled ashore on two bamboo poles by a group of about 20 angry Vietnamese. A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly…. Someone smashed a rifle butt into my shoulder, breaking it. Someone else stuck a bayonet in my ankle and groin.”

Soon, an army truck arrives, taking McCain as a prisoner of war. He will remain one for five and a half years.

McCain remains a prisoner until the U.S. and North Vietnam sign a peace accord in late January 1973, ending the conflict. He is released in March, along with 107 other POWs, and boards a U.S. transport plane headed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

After his return to the States, and while he’s still undergoing therapy for his injuries, McCain requests assignment to the National War College in Washington, D.C. “By the time my nine months at the War College ended, I had satisfied my curiosity about how Americans had entered and lost the Vietnam War,” he later wrote. “The experience did not cause me to conclude that the war was wrong, but it did help me understand how wrongly it had been fought and led.”

In late 1974, after he manages to pass the physical exam to qualify for flight status, he’s sent to Cecil Field, a naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida. A few months later, he’s promoted to commanding officer of a replacement air group, responsible for training carrier pilots.

McCain’s third and final assignment, however, may be the most influential in setting his future course. In 1977, he’s assigned to a liaison office in the United States Senate in Washington, where he serves as the Navy’s lobbyist and gets to see the workings of Congress from the inside. The job marked “my real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant,” he later recalls.

In 1981, McCain retires from the Navy with the rank of captain. His decorations include, among others, a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We honor you, John McCain.

(#Repost excerpts @History.com)

SSG David William “Ozzy” Osborne

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Staff Sergeant David William Osborne of Route 1, Hudson, was on patrol August 17, 1970 in what he thought was friendly territory in Vietnam. However, as he and 30 other men in his Army patrol approached a group of Vietnam troops, they were fired upon, and within minutes, all were dead from Viet Cong inflicted wounds. Sgt Osborne was serving his third tour of duty in Vietnam and had been counting the days until his tour of less than three months was up. In fact, the day before his death, his daughter, Teresa Lynn had celebrated her seventh birthday with her little brother, David Eric, 4, and her mother, the former Jewel Duncan, at the family home near South Caldwell High School. And, just a few days before that, Sgt Osborne had spent some time making tape recordings to send his family, with several of the tapes containing his views on the war in Vietnam.

When his funeral service was held eight days after his death at Center Grove Baptist Church, the Tapes that he had made were played, but were barely audible to those attending. The afternoon of his funeral, the weather was humid and stuffy, and the buzz of bees and flies entering the open church door seemed to serve as a stark reminder of the jungles of Vietnam, where the serviceman had spent three tours of duty. A veteran of 14 years service in the Army, SSgt Osborne had volunteered each time he served in Vietnam. During his second tour of Southeast Asia in 1967, he was wounded during a conflict and was awarded a Silver Star Medal, his second. He had also been awarded a Bronze Star Medal with V for Valor. A few days before her husband’s funeral, Mrs. Osborne sat in the kitchen at the home of her mother, Mrs Boyd Duncan, receiving visitors and attempting to make some sense of the strange war that had claimed the father of her two children.

At that point, she admitted she found it hard to accept his death, but said he had always taken a special pride in serving his country. Since the children had eagerly been awaiting his homecoming, they too, found it impossible to understand all the unusual happenings. SSgt Osborne was buried in the church cemetery with full military honors, including an honor guard representing each branch of the armed services and a 21-gun salute. As the 21-gun salute echoed in the valley of the cemetery, cows grazed peacefully in the background as a reminder of life continuing. Yet, the pain on the faces of a bewildered family left memories that will endure for those attending the rites. Sgt. Osborne was 30 years old, the oldest of Caldwell County’s men to give his life in service in Vietnam. His death was also the last of the war .for a Caldlwellian.

We honor you, David Osborne.

(Submission written by: Nell Greene. #Repost @Together We Served)

1LT Garlin M. Conner

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Garlin M. Conner was born on June 2, 1919, and raised in rural Clinton County, Kentucky. With the nearest high school almost 15 miles away, Conner’s formal education ended in eighth grade. He spent his teenage years working on his family’s farm and served in the Civilian Conservation Corps when he enlisted in the Army, March 1, 1941, at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Following basic training, Conner was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. After several months of training, Conner and the 3rd Infantry Division deployed, Oct. 23, 1942. During Conner’s service, he fought for 28 months on the front lines in 10 campaigns, participated in four amphibious assault landings, was wounded seven times and earned a battlefield commission.

On the morning of Jan. 24, 1945, 1st Lt. Garlin M. Conner was serving as an intelligence staff officer with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, near the town of Houssen, France, when German formations converged on 3rd Battalion’s position.

With his battalion at risk of being overrun, Conner volunteered to run straight into the heart of the enemy assault in order to get to a position from which he could direct friendly artillery on the advancing enemy forces.

With complete disregard for his own safety, Conner maneuvered 400 yards through enemy artillery fire that destroyed trees in his path and rained shrapnel all around him, while unrolling telephone wire needed to communicate with the battalion command post. Upon reaching the battalion’s front line, he continued to move forward under the withering enemy assault to a position 30 yards in front of the defending U.S. forces. He plunged into a shallow ditch that provided little protection from the advancing enemy’s heavy machine gun and small-arms fire.

With rounds impacting all around him, Conner calmly directed multiple fire missions on to the force of 600 German infantry troops, six Mark VI tanks and tank destroyers, adjusting round after round of artillery from his prone position until the enemy was forced to halt their advance.

For three hours, he remained in this prone position, enduring the repeated onslaught of German infantry which, at one point, advanced to within five yards of his position. When the Germans mounted an all-out attack to overrun the American lines and his location, Conner ordered his artillery to concentrate on his own position, resolved to die if necessary to halt the enemy.

Ignoring the friendly artillery shells blanketing his position and exploding within mere feet, Conner continued to direct artillery fire on the enemy assault swarming around him until the German attack was finally shattered and broken. By his incredible heroism and disregard for his own life, Conner stopped the enemy advance. The artillery he expertly directed while under constant enemy fire killed approximately 50 German soldiers and wounded at least 100 more, thus preventing heavy casualties in his battalion.

After spending over two years in nearly continuous combat, Conner was honorably discharged from the Army, June 22, 1945. Conner returned home to Clinton County after his discharge to a parade in his honor, where he met Pauline Lyda Wells. After a one-week courtship, they were married.

Conner ran a 36 acre farm in Clinton County, Kentucky, where he and Pauline raised their son, Paul. For several years, he served as president of the local Kentucky Farm Bureau, and he and Pauline volunteered their time to help disabled veterans receive their pension benefits. Conner died in 1998 at the age of 79 after battling kidney failure and diabetes.

We honor you, Garlin Conner.

(#Repost @Army.mil)

SP4 Terry Lee Smith

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Specialist Smith was seriously wounded in action on 21 October 1966 while serving with the B Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. His gallantry earned him the Silver star. His Silver star citation reads:

“On that date, Specialist Smith was called with the rest of his platoon to provide security for several men who had been wounded by two command detonated Viet Cong claymore mines. The injured men were being harassed by an estimated ten men insurgent force in the jungle region south of Lai Khe base camp. Immediately upon reaching the embattled men Specialist Smith detected several Viet Cong talking in an area to his front. He immediately fired upon their position with his machine gun. The insurgents countered with an intense barrage of fire striking Specialist Smith in the chest. Weak from his injury, Specialist Smith protected the assistant machine gunner from the intense hostile fire with his own body. When his strength returned Specialist Smith disregarded this painful wound, took over the machine gun and commenced firing at the Viet Cong until he was mortally wounded. Specialist Four Smith’s unquestionable valor in close combat against numerically superior hostile forces is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division and the United States Army.”

On October 23, 1966, he had a nurse help him write a letter to his mom stating that he was injured but getting better, and that he would be coming home in a week or so.

His wounds however proved fatal, and he died 7 days later.

We honor you, Terry Smith.

(#Repost @National Purple Heart Hall of Honor)

GEN James J. Lindsay

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Although James Lindsay never intended to stay in the US Army when he joined, the decorated General has been devoted to service in the military for six decades.

General James Lindsay was born in Portage, Wisconsin on October 10, 1932. His childhood on his family farm prepared him for service, and the loss of his family farm prepared him for hardship and sacrifice.

When he could no longer afford college in 1952, he enlisted in the US Army and joined the 82nd Airborne Division, the following year. He went on to serve nine assignments in the 82nd and commanded the Division from 1982-83.  He served two tours in Viet Nam, 1964-65 and 1968-69 and two years in Thailand, 1971-73.

Lindsay’s military education includes successful training at Infantry Officer Candidate School, Infantry Advanced Course, Army Language School (Russian and German), The USMC Command & Staff College, and the National War College. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska and a Master of Science in Foreign Affairs from George Washington University.

Lindsay was the first Commander in Chief of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). He was inducted into the United States Army Ranger, the Officer Candidate School and the 82nd Airborne Division Halls of Fame. He retired in 1990 as Commander of USSOCOM. General Lindsay then served from 1990 to 2009 as a Senior Mentor in the Army’s Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) coaching leaders who were commanding brigades, divisions and corps. In 1990, he founded the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, which raised $27 million to build the museum, which opened in 2000.

Lindsay’s career disproves Georges Clemenceau’s oft quoted “War is too important to be left to the generals,”

We honor you, James Lindsay.

(#Repost @Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

Sp4c John Philip Baca

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Baca was born on January 10, 1949, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was raised in San Diego, California. Baca was drafted into the United States Army on June 10, 1968.
By February 10, 1970, he was stationed in Vietnam as a Specialist Four with Company D of the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. On that day, in Phuoc Long Province, he was serving on a recoilless rifle team when the lead platoon of his company was ambushed. Baca led his team forward through intense fire to reach the besieged platoon. When a fragmentation grenade was tossed into their midst, he “unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety,” covered it with his helmet and then laid his body over the helmet, smothering the blast and saving eight fellow soldiers from severe injury or death. Baca survived his wounds and was formally awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard M. Nixon on March 2, 1971. Two other soldiers in Company D, Allen J. Lynch and Rodney J. Evans, had previously earned the medal.

He says he should have died in Vietnam on Feb. 10, 1970. Baca, a 21-year-old soldier, found himself in the middle of a gunfight and watched a grenade land in the middle of his patrol. “I saw my whole life flash through me. What do I do? Do I pick it up? Do I throw it? Where did it come from? It’s not supposed to be here, and do I run from it? Somebody is going to get wounded,” Baca said. “All these thoughts went through my mind.”

He covered the grenade with his helmet and then covered his helmet with his body, saving the lives of the men around him. He remembers praying to Jesus and feeling as if an angelic presence was holding him as he lay bleeding on the battlefield.

In 1990, Baca returned to Vietnam with ten other soldiers of the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. The group spent eight weeks working alongside former North Vietnamese Army soldiers building a health clinic in a village north of Hanoi.
Baca rarely speaks publicly about the events for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, he prefers to recall an event that occurred on Christmas Day, 1969, when he was walking ahead of his unit, acting as “point,” and surprised a young North Vietnamese soldier sitting alone on top of an enemy bunker in the jungle. He saw that the soldier could not reach his rifle quickly and, not wanting to shoot him, yelled in Vietnamese for him to surrender. Not only was he able to take his “Christmas gift” alive and unharmed, the young man, twenty years later, was among the Vietnamese that Baca worked with building the clinic in 1990. Baca remains active in social causes, particularly related to Vietnam veterans issues and the plight of the homeless.

In 2002, a park was named in his honor in Huntington Beach, California. After living in Orange County, Baca moved to Julian, California, enjoying the relative solitude. Gaudette’s pie shop is a local favorite, and Baca is her best customer, sometimes ordering 10 pies a week. Baca says he doesn’t own a television anymore or a computer. Instead, he spends his days talking with people. He listens to their stories and occasionally he shares his.

44 years later, Baca continues to be a giver. The apple pies are proof. They aren’t for him, but for strangers all across the country: Wounded warriors who’ve lost limbs and families who’ve lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s just a delight doing this. Making some people happy, people we’ve forgotten about. But, pies…everybody likes pies,” Baca said.

“He is the most generous man I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think he wants to own anything in this life. He wants to give it all away,” said Mike Murray, a friend and a veteran himself also living in Julian.

We honor you, John Baca.

(#Repost @Hawaii Reporter)