Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Remembering Things for which to give Thanks

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving--My health, for what it is, my friends and my family above all.
This post is written by my sister, in review of a Veteran's Day Parade which took place in Russleville, Arkansas. The theme of the parade this year was to honor the Viet Nam Veterans, of which my father is one. I think what she wrote here could remind many of us what we should be thankful for.
Wow, where to start. Obviously, thanks to EVERYONE involved in the parade and ceremony from Jim Bob Humphrey to the participants to the wonderful people lining the streets. To have people who don’t even know us thank my husband and my dad for serving their country always brings me to tears. This year, with the special salute to the Viet Nam Vets, the experience was more than I can explain but I’d like to try.

The war in Viet Nam is not just old history, it still has a very deep affect on the lives of so many people. Every one of the veterans who crossed that stage has so much they could tell us about their service. Even though there was only time for a smidgen of information, we didn’t even get that from a large number of them. My dad crossed the stage last night. What he didn’t say was that he flew Jolly Greens on his first tour in Viet Nam and worked directly with the South Vietnamese and Cambodian Air Forces on his second tour. The Jolly Green is the HH-3E search and rescue helicopter. To say that was a dangerous job is an understatement. But that’s only part of the story.

Thankfully, not every military person returning from Viet Nam was spit on but that doesn’t mean there was no stress. The entire military family was affected very deeply by the attitudes of the vocal minority and the silence or indifference of the rest of the civilian community. While Dads were away for training and the actual tours in Viet Nam, Moms were left at home with the kids and no extended family to help. Unlike now, there was very little support from the community and family members were not spared from the ignorance and hatred.

I was a senior in high school when Dad came home from his first tour and we moved to Colorado Springs. It was 1969. All seniors were required to take American Government and the war was a huge topic in class. Very quickly the class became divided with the military kids on one side of the room and the civilian kids on the other. No matter what the assignment, the military kids were given failing grades while the kids who took an anti-war stance were given straight A’s. We were harshly discriminated against just because we had parents who served in the military. Of course, the instructor was eventually reprimanded and the practice stopped but the damage was already done. I can’t imagine a teacher getting away with that kind of behavior now!

In Viet Nam, as in every war before and after, our troops did more than just their jobs. They got to know the people and did what they could to help on a personal level. There isn’t room here to describe everything our troops have done and are still doing for the people in whose countries they serve. They feed, clothe, and educate children and adults. They give hope and friendship; they make a difference. On Dad’s second tour, he had to deal with the fact that the US was pulling out, a death sentence to millions of men, women, and children. When he was leaving, a Cambodian officer thanked him for giving them a chance to fight for their country. They knew that when the U.S. left, they would be killed. Viet Nam wasn’t just political, it became personal.

Twenty five years after the US left Viet Nam, we were reminded again that it is still personal. When my son was preparing to start college, Dad attended the family orientation with us. A Vietnamese man was there with his daughter who would also be a freshman. He and Dad started talking and when he found out Dad had served in Viet Nam he thanked him for being there to help.

I was lucky, my dad came home. However, just a few years ago our paths crossed with another daughter who wasn’t so lucky . Her dad didn’t come home and she and her family didn’t know for sure what happened to him. She was trying to find out if anyone knew if he had died immediately or if he had been captured. As it happened, my dad was on the same mission. He was able to tell her that her father had died instantly and was not captured. After nearly 40 years, her family finally had answers. Don’t say they had "closure," there’s no such thing for anyone who has lost a loved one too soon, but at least they know he didn’t suffer.

I grew up with my father in the Air Force. He served in Korea and Viet Nam. The year he retired I married a career Air Force pilot. He served in Desert Storm. One of my sons served four years in the Navy Reserves and another is currently on active duty in the Navy. Being a military daughter, wife, and now mother isn’t easy but it helps when others appreciate what the men in my life have done and continue to do. It helps to live in a place where most people are supportive of the military and their families. The special recognition for Viet Nam vets was deeply moving. It helped more people than Mr. Humphrey had hoped to honor, I think it will help all of us heal. Hopefully, more of the personal stories can be told. Hopefully, and even more importantly, everyone will continue to support our troops AND their families. Again, thank you to everyone who took part in the parade and ceremony.

HH-3E Jolly Green Giant

The HH-3E helicopter is a modified version of the CH-3 transport helicopter. Fifty CH-3Es were converted to HH-3Es. These 50 CH-3Es were modified for combat rescue missions with armor, defensive armament, self-sealing fuel tanks, a rescue hoist, and in-flight refueling capability. It was developed for aircrew rescue missions deep into North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Many downed aircrews were rescued by Jolly Green Giants and their crews.

The HH-3E, which arrived in Vietnam in 1967, gave the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS). a significant capability. Operating out of Udorn, Thailand, and Da Nang, South Vietnam, this helicopter could reach any point in North Vietnam and return to its home base. The HH-3E was also specifically modified for rescue operations, to include communications equipment that was compatible with all other Allied aircraft operating in Southeast Asia. Today, the HH-3E continues its proud heritage with ARRS, and is an integral part of the Military Airlift Command’s search and rescue mission.

The first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight by a helicopter was made by two Jolly Green Giants between May 30 and June 1, 1967, when they flew from New York City to the Paris Air Show. During that 4,270-mile flight, which took 30 hours and 46 minutes, each aircraft was aerially refueled nine times. The Jolly Green Giant flew 251 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.

The HH-3E, the Jolly Green Giant, is a twin-engine, heavy-lift helicopter. It is used for search and recovery of personnel and aerospace hardware in support of global air and space operations. It is also used for combat and special operations. With the ability to operate from land or water, the Jolly Green Giant boasts combat rescue-related equipment including titanium armor plating, jettisonable external fuel tanks, internal self-sealing bladder-type fuel tanks under the cabin floor, a retractable in-flight refueling probe, two 7.62mm machine guns, a forest penetrator and a high speed rescue hoist with 240 feet of cable. The long-range helicopter has a hydraulically operated rear ramp for straight-in loading and a jettisonable sliding door on the starboard side at the front of the cabin. It has a gas turbine auxiliary power supply for independent field operations and built-in equipment for the removal and replacement of all major components in remote areas. The Jolly Green Giant has an automatic flight-control system, instrumentation for all-weather operation, and Doppler navigation equipment. Twin turboshaft engines are mounted side-by-side on top of the cabin, immediately forward of the main transmission. The aircraft also has a retractable tricycle-type landing gear.

The Defense Department's range support for Shuttle flights in the 1980s was extensive, and it applied to civilian as well as military missions. Military rescue forces were stationed at Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) sites in Africa and Spain. Shuttle contingency forces at Patrick AFB placed three military HH-3E helicopters (complete with aircrews, medical personnel and pararescue specialists) on alert at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at KSC for every Shuttle mission. Forces from the Air Force Reserve, the National Guard, U.S. European Command, US Air Forces Europe, the Coast Guard and the Navy were positioned to support an astronaut bailout during the launch phase of each Shuttle mission.
Photo Credit: Global