Past Remembrance Events Remembrance

Las Vegas 2001.....

281st AHC and Project Delta Joint Memorial Service

September 2001

281st Annual Reunion in Las Vegas

Remarks by Jack Mayhew, the 281st AHC Association Remembrance Chairman

When I arrived in the 281st in 1967 the legendary Bob Moberg and equally famous Barclay Boyd, were the mainstays of the organization. Moberg had been there so long that they were running him for Mayor of Nha Trang and Barc would have been appointed his chief brew master had he not ran into some flying lead shortly after I arrived. (Barc, it is great to see you up and about again)

I spent the first few days signing for Forest Hall’s equipment, which he assured me was all there, with plenty to spare. A few months later I learned what Forest meant about equipment to spare when the MPs tried to repossess my jeep, which they said belonged to an Air Force General.

Then I went flying with the Rat Pack and they taught me so well that after a few days with them I was ready for the next Delta mission. Shortly thereafter, as we were leaving for I Corps, Bob Moberg took me aside and gave me some friendly advice, which probably keep me alive. He told me that most of the Bandits and all of the Wolf Pack crews were wild men but that if I would just stay out of their way and never let Freddie Mentzer and the Wolf Pack out of my sight, or at least always fly in the company of gun ships with guys like Lance Ham at the controls, I would probably make it back. As you can see I still travel in the company of these heroes —Barc, Fred, and each and ever member of the Wolf Pack over the years— we thank you for keeping us safe and always being there when we needed you. A lot of us truly owe you our lives.

At this point I had already spent three years in South East Asia, had been declared persona-non-grata in Laos while attached to little company called Air America, had spent some time at a garden spot called Ashau, before there was an I Corps and had done a few other things that were outside  the box. I had been schooled and seasoned by some of the best senior Warrant Officers and Maintenance Chiefs in the aviation business, and I considered myself to be a decent pilot. I was skilled in the business of working with aviation crews and especially Warrant Officers and maintenance chiefs. In fact, a few years earlier, Lou Lerda, who is with us today, and I, worked for a CW4 by the name of Johnny Sandage who took pleasure in strapping us into an old H-19 and a rickety H-13 and sending us on our way to the California desert while he made the trip in the comfort of our new UH-1B. In that unit I had the responsibility for signing the morning report but there was no doubt  who the boss was.

In the 281st there was and amazing difference. In place of the crusty old pilots and senior maintenance NCOs with years of experience, there were young men that, for the most part were straight out of high school. When I looked around at the young maintenance crews, crew chiefs, gunners, pilots and even the operations and admin staff that we were flying with and depending on, I really felt like the "Old Man". However, from what I see here today I am happy to report that it looks like most of you are well on your way to catching up to us older guys.

I realized very early in the game that this was no ordinary group of individuals. They may have been assigned based on the luck of the draw but each individual that joined the 281st quickly came to know that they were in an elite unit with a history that required them to give their very best so as to live up to the deeds and reputation of the individuals who had gone before them. The 281st crewmembers and ground support personnel were all young professionals, who, to the man, lived by the 281st code, which simply said, get the job done and look out for your fellow flight members. Many of these young men like CSM Ohmes,  who is with us today went on to reach the highest ranks of their profession. No other aviation unit in Vietnam came close to developing the spirit of brotherhood that existed in the 281st and your presence here today is living testimony to the fact that the bond of brother hood still exists and our association speaks to the fact that it shall never be broken. Thanks to the magnificent effort of Gary Stagman, the association membership chairman, and our association leaders we have more than doubled in membership this past year and continues to grow daily. (Have Gary stand up)

In addition, we are about to have the high honor of seeing the second member of the 281st take the reigns of the VHPA when in July of 2002 CW4, Joe Bilitzke, also of Wolf Pack fame, takes office as its next president. (Joe please stand up)

When I arrived in Vietnam in 1961 I was an outspoken patriot who believed that we could win the war. I even stayed around until 1963  because I wanted to be there for the victory celebration. In 1967 when I came back and joined the 281st I still believed that we could accomplish our national goals; but I must confess that my views had changed a bit as those of many of our fellow countrymen had. But I am proud to say that in the 281st our one and only focus was on making sure that we provided the highest level of combat aviation support to the 5th SF Group, Delta, the Recon School and anyone else lucky enough to call on us for help. Within the unit there was an overwhelming desire to make sure that we brought everyone home safely. I am also proud to say that thanks to an always present "can do" attitude on the part of ever member of the unit we did our best to live up to the challenges set by former Intruders. We knew that we had to leave the legacy of the 281st intact for those who were to come after us.

Working with Delta and the other Special Forces Units was unique. I recall receiving a Message from the 10th BN telling us that they were sending us a Flight Surgeon and the following day a young doctor arrived at our jump site west of Kontum ready to go to work. I took him over to the Delta senior medic and suggested that he watch and learn. The next day he came to me and requested that he be allowed to return to Nha Trang as he felt that he would only be in the way. We never saw him again and we never missed him, because like all the other individuals in Delta, we had the service of the best medics in the business.

However, Bruiser, I can’t say the same for the cooks who had a knack for baking weevils in the bread and trying to pass it off as raisin bread.

On a more serious note and on behalf of all of the members of the 281st that are gathered here today and those who went before us and those who came after us, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to all of the members of Delta for the privilege of having served with your great and proud organization. Especially the NCOs whom we worked with and respected and who helped us all through many a tough situation. We lived with you, we worked with you, we flew with you and we died with you. Because of our youth we were often in awe of you, and your dedication to valor and professionalism helped us all mature in a manner that is still with us today and for this and for your service to our country we honor you and we salute you.

Early on, Bob Moberg and I became drinking buddies and realizing that I had no idea of what I was getting into he gave me a lot of advice. But the best advice he ever gave me was to say out of insertion holes. Being a bit of a hardhead I failed to take his advice and I must tell you that I will always be sorry for it. Before I went to the 281st, I could ride or fly anything and go back for seconds. After my tour with the 281st I start to develop vertigo at the gates of an amusement park and it is all due to one young man by the name of Denis Petrevich from New Jersey and his marvelous crew. I had worked with the delta crews from the C&C ship for several days and had keep an eye out for the lucky crew was that I was going to go into my first insertion hole with. Up to that point, much to my surprise, no one had invited me to go along. However, like all aviation types, especially crewmembers and pilots, I firmly believed that I was beyond harms way. So normally I would have picked the least experienced crew and flew with them. But for once I used my head and picked Denis and his crew. My thinking at the time was that I couldn’t go wrong with a street-smart guy from New Jersey who looked like he had been lifting weights all his life. I was sure that if we ran into the bad guys on the ground they would take one look at him and run. Now, I must confess that there are things that I cannot remember, but I can and always will remember each and ever small detail of that mission. I remember that Denis and the young crew approached the flight with the professionalism that I had been accustomed to seeing in senior experienced crews assigned to very important missions. I remember lifting off and flying at the tail of the formation on a partially cloudy, almost dark, late afternoon. I remember that when we dropped out of the formation and descended on our own it became very quite and lonely, I remember being thankful that Chuck Allen was in the C&C ship, I remember that the B52 bomb crater looked very small and that the edges were close to the trees, I remember that when we got into the crater the opening was smaller than the helicopter, but most of all I remember the magnificent team work that took place in the few short seconds, which seemed like and eternity, that it took the recon team to off load and disappear into the jungle. On the trip home I remember thinking about how proud I was of the young men of the 281st and what an honor it was to fly with these men. I also recall that I made a commitment to stay in the C&C where I belonged and to always keep the Wolf Pack in sight as  it sure was lonely down there without them.

Last year several of us had the honor of traveling to Fort Drum to honor WO Donald Bruce McCoig, one of our own, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in the 281st. But it turned out that what we were really doing was starting the process of honoring all of our own. When we started to prepare for Fort Drum we searched for and found the family of Donald McCoig who are with us today.  In the process of developing the Donald McCoig story we found another hero by the name of Robin Hicks who was all but forgotten by us. Robin and Donald were both aircraft Commanders and were flying together when Donald was fatally wounded. When we completed Donald’s story each of us realized, without a shadow of a doubt, that Robin was also a hero and that he deserves equal recognition and great credit for his actions that day.  His actions resulted in saving the lives of the surviving crew members.  Robin is with us today and it is an honor for me to introduce him to you. (Robin to stand) I am proud to say that I served with Robin Hicks and Donald Bruce McCoig and I’m here to tell you that there are no finer individuals than these two American heroes, and they are typical of all the members of the 281st that I served with or have come to know.

The search we started with Donald McCoig continues here today as we gather to remember our lost brothers. However, this ceremony is not only a tribute to those that did not return with us but it is also a tribute to each member of the 281st. If we could converse with the 45 individuals that we lost in Vietnam I know that they would tell us not to speak of them with tears, but to laugh and talk as if they were here beside us, for they are proud to have been members of a unit that was truly above the best and that they are blessed to be honored by comrades that were, and are, their brothers.

Some of the individuals that we lost, like Donald Bruce McCoig gave their lives trying to save others. Others like SGT Bobby Brewer and LT. Ned Richard Heintz died of ground fire. We are pleased to have Ned’s widow Karen, and his brother Larry with us today. Specialist Les Howard Paschall and Sgt. John Allen Ware died in circumstances that we have often questioned. Ten of our brothers are still unaccounted for, and we pledge to you that our watch will not end until they have been found and returned to their families. An untold number of our living brothers carry the physical and mental scars that they brought home with them and we honor each of them. I would challenge each of you and your families to get to know each of those that we lost, those that are still missing and those that are still hurting. If you do this I promise you that the rewards will be far greater than the effort you put forth and you will come to know yourselves and those around you in a much better light.

We have a long way to go and a lot of mysteries to solve before we can complete the Book of Remembrance that we started last year, but we are making progress. One only needs to look into the eyes of Donald Harrison of New York who was a member of the 281st for only a few short weeks when he was killed in Laos in Dec of 1966, or 20 year old Danny Joe Taulbee of Kentucky whose mother passed away last month, to see what we need to do to bring closure for ourselves and the families of these brave men.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of another civil war that took place in our own country in another century. But to me he was writing about the young men of the 281st when he wrote:

So nigh is grandeur to our dust
So near is god to man
When duty whispers low,
Thou must!
The youth Replies, I can.

Each member of the 281st that I proudly served with or have come to know was always ready to say, I Can.
It is an honor to know each of you and to be member this great unit.


Past Remembrance Events Remembrance