Thom Stoddert 

Hearing aids for veterans
                 Iroquois Huey Helicopter Bell Uh-1 Vietnam War
  I once sat in a hotel bar in Nashville, TN with guy I was stationed with in Vietnam, and a couple of civilian salesmen. The civilians were friendly and shared a lot of funny jokes. When it was our turn, we shared a lot of funny stories from the Army. When they asked us how old we were then, they seemed a bit disturbed - just 19 years old. The salesmen were probably thinking about what they were doing at 19. They were now in their 40s telling funny jokes, we had memories – the kind where the gore was left out, just the laugh remained.  That experience at the Nashville bar only highlighted the fact we veterans have given each other a unique and special flavor to each other in life.

  Bob and I were in a Nashville hotel for a reunion. This was rather special reunion because it was attended by several Marines whom we had seen in the Ashua Valley 46 years earlier and had not met since. The Marines, on February 7th, 1970, had been dropped off in the Ashua for a recon mission when they were ambushed after less than 30 minutes on the ground. Our unit, Delta Troop, 2/17 Cav, 101st Airborne was immediately scrambled to rescue them. 

  The 20 minute flight culminated with an aerial ballet right out of Hollywood. Four choppers flying in four ring formations on top of each other in a circle at the same time several observation choppers were scurrying all around, feet above the elephant grass. The first three rings were Cobra gunships, our UH-1s (Huey) formed the top ring. 

  In turn a gun ship would peel off from the lowest ring and unload their rockets into the jungle not far below them. Eventually it was our turn, coming in about 10 to 15 feet above the vegetation the door gunners began grabbing us and pushing us out of the bird. They could have told us that the choppers were being shot up and that was why we were not landing, maybe we could have moved faster for them! Anyway…

  On the ground less than ten minutes and we found the Marines. Three were beyond help, two were loaded on medivacs after the ground was strafed several more times to make it safe for the medics to hover above us. Those second set of rockets hit close enough that debris hit us. The observation birds were ripping right over our heads all the time drawing fire and spotting the bad guys first so we did not have to. We were only 24 strong, significantly outnumbered and we knew it.
  We tied the dead onto poles to make it easier to carry them. The Marine I carried had his left hand a few inches from my face. His wedding band kept reflecting the sun into my eyes. The whole time I kept thinking, why did he have to die, he had a wife, a family. I was a much better candidate. A profound realization over came me that somehow there was God, and He was involved in the affairs of man.
  After carrying the dead up a knoll and loading them onto a Huey, they were taken to DaNang. The wounded were taken to Phu Bai for treatment. The remaining Marines were taken somewhere, we were never told. Finally, it was our turn to get of there. It was all so impersonal.

  Years later, after reading a sample book from Amazon on my tablet, “Marine Recon – 1970,” by Bruce Norton, I realized that he was writing about that mission. The publisher very quickly put me in touch with Bruce; later we were able to meet at a Cabelas in WA State. During our meeting I invited Bruce and any one else he could round-up to come to our reunion. 

  Back then in Vietnam, Delta Troop would be scrambled in response to a variety of missions. We almost never saw the end results of what we did, it was all so impersonal. Missions were usually a 30-minute helicopter ride with lots of fear and trepidation, then any where from an hour to days were spent on the ground. That day we recovered three American bodies, and rescued four Marines. We did not know who they were, their names, or what ever happened to those men. Our meeting with was very brief, intense, and impersonal. 

  But when the Marines came to our reunion, they did say, “thank you” and told us about who they were, and what they had done with their lives. For the first time a mission came full circle. We finally had faces and names for what we had done that day.

  Getting back to the salesmen at the bar. They told funny jokes, but Bob told of how the lieutenant who led us on that rescue mission that February 7th, threw a smoke grenade into a bush and simultaneously three adrenaline fueled GIs exploded out of that bush mistaking it for an enemy grenade. The Lieutenant didn’t know they were in there. There was no gore shared, just laughs that night from a very dark event.
  Only the military can supply life events like this. At first it was just a job, but as we matured, we gained an appreciation for who we were and what we experienced. Our lives have been infused by the military with a quality the salesmen and others will never have. You young guys today - learn to appreciate what you saw and now have - no matter how painful it was. 

 In the final choice a soldier's pack is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Combat, a Special Spice
to a Life

Thom Stoddert
Thom Stoddert
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