CAPT Thomas J. Hudner, Jr.

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Thomas Hudner had no particular interest in airplanes when he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946. He wanted only to serve aboard a ship. But in 1948, after he had been at sea for several months and had worked as a communications officer at Pearl Harbor for a year, he was ready for a new challenge and volunteered for flight training. He was briefly stationed in Lebanon before being assigned to the carrier USS Leyte as an F4U Corsair pilot.

By the fall of 1950, Lieutenant Hudner was flying combat missions in Korea. On December 4, he was one of a flight of six fighters sent out on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Korea. Hudner was wingman for a Navy flier named Jesse Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who had attracted a good deal of attention—and some discrimination—as the Navy’s first black pilot.

While strafing enemy positions at a low altitude, Brown’s plane was hit by antiaircraft fire. Smoking badly and without power, the aircraft was too low for Brown to bail out or clear the snow-covered mountains. Hudner followed Brown down, calling off a checklist to help prepare him for the crash landing.

Brown put his plane down in a wheels-up landing in a clearing below. The impact buckled the fuselage at the cockpit, and Hudner was certain that Brown was dead. To his amazement, Brown opened the canopy and waved weakly, but he appeared to be unable to free himself. Knowing that rescue helicopters had a long distance to travel, Hudner decided to help Brown get out of the plane himself. He didn’t ask permission from the flight leader because he knew it would be denied.

Hudner radioed, “I’m going in,” then dumped his ordnance, dropped his flaps, and landed wheels up, hitting the hilly area hard. He got out and struggled through the snow to get to the downed plane. Hudner saw that Brown’s right leg was crushed by the damaged instrument panel, and he was unable to pull him out of the wreckage.

Hudner kept packing snow into the smoking engine and talking to Brown as he drifted in and out of consciousness. When a U.S. helicopter arrived, the pilot worked with Hudner for forty-five minutes trying to get Brown out. They hacked at the plane with an ax, and even considered amputating Brown’s trapped leg with a knife. The snow packed on the bottom of their boots prevented them from getting any firm footing on the plane’s wing. As nightfall approached, bringing temperatures as low as thirty degrees below zero, it was clear that Brown was dead. Hudner hated to leave the body behind, but the helicopter pilot couldn’t fly in the mountainous terrain after dark. Reluctantly, the two men returned to base camp.

The next morning, reconnaissance showed that Brown’s body, still in the cockpit, had been stripped of clothing during the night by enemy soldiers. Because of the hostile forces in the area, it was impossible to retrieve it. The following day, the commander of the Leyte ordered four Corsairs to napalm the downed plane so that Brown could have a warrior’s funeral.

By February 1951, the Leyte was back in port in the United States. In mid-March, Hudner found out that he was to be the first American serviceman in the Korean War to receive the Medal of Honor. Daisy Brown, the widow of Jesse Brown (who had been posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross), was present when President Harry Truman put the medal around Thomas Hudner’s neck on April 13, 1951.

We honor you, Thomas Hudner Jr.

(#Repost @Medal of Honor Speakout)

Lt Col Gregory A. M. Etzel

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Greg Etzel was born on April 9, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt through the Air Force ROTC program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, on June 7, 1957, and went on active duty beginning February 27, 1958. Lt Etzel next completed pilot training and was awarded his pilot wings at Craig AFB, Alabama, in April 1959, followed by Helicopter Pilot training at Stead AFB, Nevada, from May to October 1959.

His first assignment was as an SH-21B Work Horse helicopter pilot with the 46th Air Rescue Squadron at Otis AFB, Massachusetts, from November 1959 to March 1960, and then as an SH-21B Rescue Alert Pilot with Headquarters Air Force Iceland at Keflavik Airport, Iceland, from March 1960 to March 1961. He then served as an H-21 and then CH-3C Jolly Green Giant pilot with the 1371st and 1375th Mapping and Charting Squadrons at Turner AFB, Georgia, from March 1961 to June 1967, followed by service as an HH-3E pilot with Detachment 2 of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from June to October 1967. Capt Etzel next served as an HH-3E pilot with Detachment 1 of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from October 1967 to July 1968.

He then attended Naval Test Pilot School from July 1968 to June 1969, followed by service as an Aerospace Research Flight Test Officer in the VTOL Section with the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, California, from August 1969 to August 1973. LtCol Etzel served as an HH-3E pilot and Operations Officer with the 1st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at McClellan AFB, California, from August 1973 to April 1975, and then as a Flight Test Officer with the Flight Test Engineering Division, 6510th Test Wing, at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB from November 1975 until his retirement from the Air Force on July 1, 1979.

His official Air Cross Citation reads:

“Captain Gregory A. M. Etzel distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force in Southeast Asia as an HH-3E helicopter pilot on 2 and 3 July 1967. On the 2nd of July, Captain Etzel flew his helicopter into one of the most heavily defended area of North Vietnam to rescue a downed F-105 pilot. Unable to effect a pickup because of oncoming darkness and intense small arms fire that damaged his aircraft, Captain Etzel withdrew from the area. After landing at a friendly base, he volunteered to continue rescue operations the next day. After minimum rest, he took off at first light and flew through intense automatic fire, dodged deadly missiles, and evaded attacking MIGs in search of the downed pilot. In the face of heavy small arms fire that severely damaged his helicopter, he located and rescued this valuable pilot. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Etzel reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

Major Richard Mehr flew combat support in his A-1E Skyraider to defend the downed pilot in this rescue effort and aided Captain Etzel’s recovery effort. For his actions, Major Mehr was also awarded the Air Force Cross.

We honor you, Gregory Etzel.

(#Repost @Veteran Tributes and Hall of Valor)

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)

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)

MG Harry William Brooks, Jr.

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Retired Major General Harry W. Brooks, Jr. was born May 17, 1928, in segregated Indianapolis, Indiana. A good student, he attended P.S. 42, P.S. 87 and Crispus Attucks High School, graduating in 1947 as an officer in the ROTC. Joining the United States Army as a private, Brooks soon rose to sergeant and used the provisions of the G.I. Bill to attend college. Noticed because of his baseball prowess, he was invited to Officer Candidates School (OCS) and received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1949. Brooks went on to obtain his B.A. degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1962 and an M.A. degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1973. He also completed the Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Program.

Becoming an officer during the U.S. Army’s desegregation efforts, Brooks served in Japan with a logistics command in support of Korea. Serving in Germany as an artillery officer, Brooks also served a tour in Vietnam. His subordinate officers included Colin Powell. While attending the United States War College from 1969 to 1970, he coauthored The Gathering Storm: An Analysis of Racial Instability Within the Army. Appointed Army Director of Equal Opportunity Programs at the Pentagon in 1972, Brooks was promoted to major general in 1974, as the 6th African American general in United States history. As the commanding general of the famed 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, Brooks was responsible for 16,000 men and for ordering 10,000 of them to return to school for high school and associate degrees.

His decorations included: the Distinguished Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, two Legion of Merit Medals, two Bronze Star Medals, and seven Air Medals. Awards from NAACP and Kiwanis recognized Brooks volunteer activities. After retirement in 1976, Brooks became executive vice president of Amfac, Inc. He then founded, with some of his friends, Advanced Consumer Marketing Corporation, which was heralded as the Department of Commerce Minority Business Enterprise of the Year in 1989 and the Black Enterprise Company of the Year in 1990. Married with four adult sons, Brooks was chairman of Brooks International and lived in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brooks passed away on August 28, 2017 at age 89.

We honor you, Harry Brooks Jr.

(#Repost @History Makers)