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FFIC - 1
Frank Drinkwine  C/E


Mike Melia (Rat "39") and I were talking a week ago about the company and the missions and the fact that we all, every one of us have something to be proud of and to think about.  We have all been tried and tested and we have all passed the test of trial by fire.  As he put it so well, we all passed muster and now we know who we are and 'what we would do and can do' when the moment of extreme decision is suddenly upon us ... as it was once upon us so often in our war.

Yesterday a few of my "older brothers,"  those who went before me and the men who followed that is, came to my house here in Florida and we all celebrated each other and the life we live now.  Whether it has been good or bad, whether we are rich or poor, we all have come to this point in time and suddenly we can celebrate that very fact together.

It's no less than a miracle and a gift to all of us who understand that fact.  There were two men here who lost contact with each other that one day in November 1968 who finally met again yesterday and were able to look each other in the eye and without saying a lot, the look spoke volumes for them both and for those of us who were fortunate to be here with them.

I kind of hung around these men and listened to them while I got them a fresh cold drink or more salsa, at one point I suddenly felt the blood rush from my head and my knees grow weak as I heard the story unfold about men who under no conditions and no circumstance would voluntarily leave another brother behind.

Regardless of whether we fought in the clubs at night or avoided each other in the company area or what generation of Blackhawk or Crusader we were or what our jobs were, we would never be that way on the flight line or in the air and we would not have left another brother behind.

I asked myself that question yesterday and the answer was a loud and instant "No I would not leave them behind either!"  I knew I felt that way without asking, but to ask it was to confirm it. If you were to think about it for one-second, your answer would echo mine, of that I am sure...  No doubts.

I understand this trial now and what it took to accomplish the daily missions, the commitment to each other and to life itself. It also makes the way I am with those around me and the way I think about life just a little bit clearer.

This is our legacy men.  It holds as true today as it did back in 1967 and forward to the end.

Frank  Drinkwine
Crusader CE
2nd Platoon   
FFIC - 2
Mike Melia - Rat Pack "39"
Flight...I can not believe how important this net is to me. I never anticipated ever running into any of the guys from "my other life" in a million years and not only have I found some of my old stick mates but I've made new Crusader friends with those that served before and after me. Rat Pack 38.. I owe you big time... for the times you pulled my ass out of the fire and for this... No BS, this is better than medicine for a guy staring old age in the face and more than once wondering what its all about... Thanks Mike.

These Crusader gatherings are great things and I am happy that the participants write about them because the rest of the flight does get to enjoy them vicariously.  My old room mate was Rick Daniel.. Crusader "27"... remember the guy I described as a "stud" pilot.. (He later disciplined me for my exuberance and threatened to tell the world about 1 sling load I screwed up back in '70)... I'll never call him a stud again :- )... I am in Police flying and am going to lecture at this years ALEA convention out at Ontario, CA. and "27" advises he is about 30 minutes away... we are going to try to get together... this is unbelievable after 3 decades...

In the discussion that Frank was referring to we covered a lot of "heavy" things (as Frank puts it)... and with the chance of being thought of as a total boob here are some of the thoughts we shared....

In our tour we were in the presence of some great men who did what they can do but also (and more importantly) we also served with some very average men who when called upon rose to the very highest levels of individual capabilities and heroism for their Brothers without asking or expecting anything in return...We were brainwashed in reverse when we returned to the states.  We really didn't know our efforts were so ignoble until advised by the media but there is nothing so pure as a man's willingness to give up his own life for another strictly because of a Brotherhood.  A Brotherhood that is based on shared experience... that we all shared... when the time came and you were asked if you could be counted on.  It was not a political decision we made but for each other with no stipulations or conditions... might be the purest thing we do in this short life that God has given us.

Every time I look at my 18 year old son and I think about what you youngsters from Mr. Timberlake right through to Frank Drinkwine did - I am in awe... few of our non-participant friends will ever reach the heights we all have. Regardless of what life has in store for us, they can never take that experience away from us...

Mike Melia 
Rat Pack "39"     1-70/1-71

Welcome to Tay Ninh...
Marco Picanza - Tech Support

 A phrase i heard the first day in Nam would be impressed in my mind till my days are over . It was said to me by some clerk in Cu Chi,  while informing me that I was going to be assigned to the 187th AHC, " ahhhhhh  Tay Ninh , that's an R & R  place for the VC. "   I didn't know what to make of it  but it wasn't long after ,that I was going to find out what those fated words meant .

 I got to Tay Ninh in a monsoon drenched afternoon.  Cpt. Gresham (who was going to be my superior officer in charge of tech Supply) landed that UH with such an ease  it left me with a sense of amazement.  I didn't know at that time that the VC had sent a 120mm rocket into the compound to welcome me, and sure enough I found out what  that R & R  meant. I found it out with my face stuck in a pool of water and mud when I hit the deck after the explosion.

So this was going to be my home for the next year . From my viewpoint , it was a dismal prospect.  A small  base in the middle of nowhere,  a sacred mountain looming over the horizon, mud all over the company area.  Welcome to Vietnam . What I found that first evening  was something that would shape the rest of my stay there and the rest of my life. 

The guys of the 187th welcomed me into their ranks in the traditional way they had been
introduced themselves, by being thrown into the latrine as a sign of welcome.  That meant  something.  I wasn't scared or mad or anything  for that act, rather I welcomed it as a reminder that the whole country perhaps was a latrine.  You have to understand that the transition from being State side to a war torn zone wasn't something that could get into your psyche in a few hours.

The following few hours spent in the E-M club dispelled any concerns I had about the
187th.  It was all of you, buddies of the 187th that made my first night in Tay Ninh a memorable one.  I felt  immediately that there was a special bond among all of you , and I felt safe and proud that I too was going to be part of that bond.  To be sure, it was a long year in Tay Ninh, but it was a year filled with many happy and sad days in which every little emotion felt gave more credence that indeed life is beautiful, that life is sacred no matter what language you spoke or how you looked like . WE were a close knit group of youngsters then, we were the best because we gave our best . WE are proud of how we conducted ourselves with the 187th, and no one can take it away from us .

WE all left at different times and we all vouched  to keep in touch.  Many of us did, many of us for some reasons couldn't, but inside us we will always remember that year and all the people that were part of that time we spent there.

 The 187th It was a heck of a unit , wasn't it ? ..........

Marco Picanza
Tech Support - 1970 - 1971

Air Conditioning, Chocolate Pudding and Warriors
Mike Hodges - Rat Pack "38"
NOTE:  This message was in reply to a string on the 187th net concerning Air Conditioning in a Cobra Gun Ship.  I had the only Cobra with AC so this is my reply and some thoughts that crept in during its writing.

First thing you have to know is that I had and ECU. (Environmental Control Unit) in that super sleek, butt kicking, I dare you to show your face, fling wing war bird.  Lord forbid the Army let anyone know the military wasted tax payers money on an air-conditioner :-).  Thinking about it now, the way Uncle Sam likes to show stupidity in purchasing, I bet that ECU cost more than all the weapons systems on the "Snake"....

According to SOP, the ECU was supposed to be turned off during any high engine power maneuvers like take off, landing and gun runs.  Right,,,,,,, the way I looked at it, If the blades were turning, the ECU was supposed to be on.

Talk about cooling power, that thing had it.  With it on full power, which it always was :-), I could close my vents in the back seat and send the front seat guy into IFR conditions.  The difference being that the fog was inside of the ship instead of outside.  The volume of really cold air coming out of the front seats two little 2 inch vents was un- &$^%@#+- real.  Looked like someone had cut old Smokey loose in the front.  No one ever complained about not being able to see out of the ship........ 

On occasion, well, every occasion I got, I would ask my wing man things like if he had any spare poncho liners on board that I could borrow because I was so cold.  You can imagine the words that came back to me.  Funny, some guys just can't take a joke.  Aside from the wing man, there always seemed to be someone in the flight that was tuned up to the Rat's  freq.  Man those guys could say some nasty words about my ECU and what I could do with it :-)))).

For the un-initiated, there was a price to pay for being able to fly that beautiful bird.  The normal ventilation configuration, without ECU, consisted of two 2 inch vents in the front seat and 2 of the same in back.  They did a great job of taking the over 100 degree air from outside and moving it inside.  Kind of like sitting in front of a convection oven.  Add to that the canopy.  That thing surrounding us was the most efficient green house going.  Seems that thing let heat in but never out.  No matter which way you were headed, the suns pounding rays were always beating down on you.  The inside of a Cobra was much like a sauna.  Sweat soaked flight suits were the norm.  SOP for any Snake Jocks was to have a 2 gal. thermo or two on board that had its contents frozen solid the night before.  The block of ice within would melt fast enough to give you a cold swallow throughout the day.  "Passing the jug" to replace the rapidly depleting body fluids was a fairly constant thing.  There were no doors to open and no escape from the heat.  Sitting down in POL on the hot asphalt and all the turbine exhaust circulating around you was actually a relief from the 40 yards of hell inside of the ship.

Heaven on Earth, well actually heaven inside of a Cobra.........  The best thing I received in Care "I love you" packages from home were those little chocolate pudding cups.  No doubt the best chocolate pudding in the world.  I loved to put one of the morsels of goodness on the right hand panel where the ECU treated air would blow right on it.  When the urge hit, I would turn the ship over to the front seat and grab that pudding and my plastic spoon.  Relax as much as possible in the seat with the head still on the swivel and gently peel the top from the pudding can.  In just a moment, the oh so sweet smell of the ice cold chocolate would fill the air and brought on a great feeling of relaxation and comfort.  There is just something about the smell of chocolate.  The first thing you had to do was  lick the chocolate that was always stuck on the inside of the ice cold metal lid.  Man I tell you it was almost better than sex......  Oh hell, almost anything was better than sex when you were not getting any.  When the lid was clean, you could start eating the pudding from the can.  Keep the can in front of the ECU vent and eat very slowly.  Every taste was an escape to a happier place and time.  Nam, killing, death of friends, bugs and mess hall chow didn't exist while I savored the sweet, smooth miracle from the little can.  Life, at least for a time, was very, very good.  Oh well, I guess we all found our ways to escape if only ever so briefly.  That can of ice cold pudding was my way home.  It really is the simple things in life that bring so much joy.  The kind of feelings that those who were never over there can fully appreciate.

One more thing along those lines...  On occasion the Rats would get to sit down at a FSB while we waited for the grunts to get themselves together.  When this would happen, there would always be a small contingent of GI's that would make their way over to take a close up of the "Snake."  It's funny to remember how I felt looking out at these guys and thinking how very young these warriors of the bush were.  Then it would occur to me that I and almost everyone in the birds were the same age.  Some even younger.  These wonderful young men would approach the ship slowly as if waiting for a nod of approval from me for them to come all the way.  You could see their faces brighten up and at the same time see the stress in their eyes.  They all had the baby faces but they all had the eyes of experienced warriors.  Young eyes that had seen the carnage of war and the death of a friend all too close and all too often.  Its called the thousand yard stare.  The stare that sees you but at the same time is looking miles away.  I know each of you know what I mean.  It's a look I will never ever forget.  Combat grunts have it.  Combat air crews have it.  You can look into a guys eyes that has the stare and read his soul.  That is if you share the soul of a warrior.

Anyways, as the young heroes approached the ship, they would always ask permission to climb up and look around inside.  God I wish I could have taken each and every one of them for a ride.   In no time at all, you would catch some of the guys staring at the 2 gal. sitting behind my seat.  No one ever asked so you had to ask them if they would like a drink of the cold water.  As each took a drink from the jug, you could see that smile on their face come alive.  That cold drink of water gave them their ever so brief escape.  The kind of escape the pudding brought me.  No one took advantage of the situation.  Each man took a small swallow always leaving enough for me and the front seat to make it through the day.  Every man there knew the value of sharing without question.

On one of these occasions, one of the warriors kept offering me his canteen. I took it to be a gesture of sharing with me but did not want to have any of the hot water I knew these kids had to live with.  With all the chopper noise I couldn't hear what he said so I really don't know what he wanted me to do.  Later that day, after all the missions were completed, I got to thinking about the men at that base in the middle of hell.  I was headed back to Tay Ninh where I could get hot food, drink all the cold beer I wanted, sleep in my dry hooch with the  clean sheets on my bed and a refrigerator near by.  Mostly I thought about those guys that stayed at the fire base and the ones we had dropped off in hell's domain for the night.  

It was easy to hurt for these young men and how they would be spending the night.  Hot nasty chemically treated water, monster mosquitoes, blood sucking leeches, poisonous snakes, dirt and more dirt.  Constantly on the alert for sappers, ambushes, snipers, incoming.   Sitting in the middle of the compound on an open air box on the ground to relieve themselves.  Sleeping in a hole in the ground.  

Then I thought about the young man with the canteen.  Perhaps I misunderstood him.  Perhaps he was asking for just a little cold water for his canteen.  Like so many other things that question haunts me to this day.  The thought that I may have denied a true hero a little cold water digs at my guts each time I remember it.  

There are so many things I do not know the answer to about that year in the Nam.  Sometimes they eat at my mind and guts with unbelievable and relentless ferocity.  Sometimes they leave me alone long enough to get some sleep.  Some real sleep.  Some dream free sleep.  Another escape from Nam and from my own mind.  My little can of chocolate pudding.

Mike Hodges
Rat Pack "38"

VA Hospitals
Peter Davis "Crusader 22"

I had a Flight Surgeon in the Army who became a personal friend as well.  He told me one day about his first duty assignment as a young doctor fresh out of ROTC-financed medical school.  Being nearly a generation older than me, his military career began shortly after World War ll and his first assignment was to a Veterans Hospital.  He was delighted with this assignment and eagerly looked forward to serving those who had so recently served us.

He reported promptly at the appointed place and hour, introduced himself to his new colleagues and before the day was over did “rounds” with the staff, getting his first look at those veterans who were to be his new charges.  Some were veterans of WW 1.

A few hours later he faced a new and unsettling reality.  Every single veteran in his ward was there for smoking related illness.  Not a single war wound.  Not even an accidental injury from stateside duty.

Fast forward 60 years to this week, August 2009.  I retired six years ago and made my first trip to a VA hospital Monday.  I needed a hearing test badly because my wife had promised I’d need many more trips to the hospital if I didn’t hurry up and get hearing aids.  Eleven thousand hours in a helicopter will do that to you.

Getting the hearing test was no simple matter.  In fact, getting through the answering systems to speak with a person was a challenge in itself that took several days to master.  Then I had to wait six weeks for the hearing test.

I arrived nearly an hour early because I didn’t want to get delayed in traffic and have to wait another six weeks for a new appointment.  So I had a fair amount of time in the waiting room.   To begin with, the phrase “waiting room” doesn’t do justice to the scene.  It was more like an airline terminal during a Christmas snowstorm.  Very crowded and not everyone was singing Jingle Bells.

A few things struck me about the veterans around me.  Nearly all were approximately my age, 63.  I saw only one person, out of perhaps 50, young enough to pick up a rifle and walk a mile.  Nearly all were seriously overweight and most of them appeared to be smokers.  Now, I can’t swear as to who was a smoker and who wasn’t but there are some signs; the rectangular bulge in shirt pocket, the Bic lighter in hand, the deep creases in pallid complexions, the frequent trips in the direction of the designated smoking area.  I couldn’t help but recall the story my flight surgeon told of his first day in a VA hospital.

Then I began to wonder, what would this waiting room look like if the VA stopped treating the self-inflicted illnesses of smoking and obesity?  It would probably look more like a church, thirty seconds after the preacher says Amen.  And how much money does the VA spend treating these preventable diseases of lifestyle choices?  I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that.

Consider this: the next time you rail at the VA for not answering the damn phone remember that they’re busy treating other veterans with self-inflicted illnesses.  The next time you shudder at the size of the VA budget and compare it to the service you get, think how much of it is being spent on preventable illnesses.

If you want to do something patriotic, don’t wag the flag, quit smoking.  The health benefits will begin to accrue immediately and continue for years and some of your visits to the hospital won’t be necessary.  If you have to wait six weeks for a doctor’s appointment don’t write a nasty letter to the VA, loose twenty pounds.  You won’t need to see the doctor.  Instead of looking to Big Government to spend ever increasing sums on veterans’ health care, practice preventive medicine at home, loose some weight, quit smoking, get some exercise, put down that hot dog and pick up a tomato.  You’ll live longer, you’ll live better, you’ll spend less of your life in the waiting room at the VA hospital, you’ll help reduce the size of Big Government and you’ll help save uncounted billions of dollars.  Now that’s patriotic.

OK, it’s your turn.  Yell back at me.  My hearing aids haven’t arrived yet.

CW5 Peter Davis
Crusader 22

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