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War Stories

My First D Troop/Squadron Reunion

MIke Vaughn

This is an essay that Mike wrote in 2002 after attending his first D Troop/Squadron reunion.
Date: September 5, through September 8, 2002

Crew: Gerald, Darrell, Terry, Willi, et al.

September 5, 2002

Can’t sleep…lets see, did I pack everything? Is the alarm clock set; the alarm had better go off on time…what if it doesn’t? I want to make sure I get to Gerald’s house on time. Damn, I hope everything goes well.

September 6, 2002 - 0500 (that’s 5:00 am).

My truck is loaded and I’m ready to get on my way. I have knots in my stomach just like I used to get before a big mission in Vietnam. What am I going to say to these men after 35 years? Most of the men I served with probably don’t even remember me. I wish I hadn’t built this thing up so much in my mind…I just hope it’s not a disappointment. Oh well, at least I know a couple of guys that will be there; maybe we can find something to talk about.

I arrive at Gerald’s house (McEwen, TN) a little after 0700 (that’s 7:00 am). Gerald Crawford….Gerald was my best friend in Vietnam. We went through crew chief school together at Ft. Rucker, AL. Chopper crews call it “Mother Rucker” because it gave birth to us helicopter crew chiefs and pilots. Actually, I think it had more to do with changing the “R” to another letter in the alphabet. Gerald is much more than a friend, he’s more like family. I had forgotten, just because you tell Gerald you are going to pick him up at 0700; that doesn’t mean he will be ready at that time. Gerald is just a laid-back 'Good ol’ Tennessee Boy.' What you see is what you get. I wish I could be more like him, he just never seems to get excited or rattled…always steady as a rock. Gerald has not changed one bit from our days together in Vietnam.

We finally get on our way after an hour or so. Gerald and I make a lot of small talk on our way to Chattanooga. Between the two of us we try to remember as much as we can about the men we know will be at the reunion.

After little more than 3 hours, we arrive at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Inn. Gerald and I start to unload our bags from his truck…I look around and Gerald is talking to two men in front of the motel. Damn…that’s Darrell Leland and Terry Vaughn. I’m sure we turned a few heads, four old men hugging each other in the middle of the street like long lost brothers.

We get registered in, get to our rooms and dump our bags as fast as we can. Gerald, Darrell, Terry and I quickly make our way to the hospitality room (free draft beer). The place is packed. The entire room is buzzing with conversation; it seems as if everyone is talking at once. I hear someone call out, “Mike Vaughn”…hey, it’s Leo Rice. Leo tells us he has a table next to the pool and asks us to join him. When we sit down there are about 8 to 10 people around the table. There are men from A and B Troop, one or two from F Troop. Many of us at the table were in the Troop at different times. I had never met most of these men, but as soon as I sat down it was like I had known them all for years. The stories start coming in rapid secession …the stories all seem to start with “Do you remember ...” I just sit back and try to take it all in at first, just enjoying listening to the different stories. People drift away from the table, as others join us. Someone brings a man to the table and ask if we know who this is…we quickly answer “Woody Gardner.” Woody hasn’t changed that much, like the rest of us, a little older and a little grayer.

We are soon joined by none other than John 'Willie' Williams…let me tell you about this nut. One day in Vietnam, after his chopper had attacked an enemy position, his pilot landed their chopper in a rice paddy, Willie jumps out and captures a VC Flag and recovers one NVA soldier’s body. He still has it…the flag, not the body.

We continue to talk the hours away and before we know it, it’s after 0200 (that’s 2:00 am)…it seems like we just got here.

September 7, 2002 - 0900 (you get the idea)

After a wakeup call from Terry Vaughn; Gerald, Darrell, Willie, Terry and I meet for breakfast. The “Remember when stories” soon start again…no one hardly touches their breakfast.

After breakfast we all head over to the Squadron Meeting. During the meeting Col. Fleming (Troop Commander in Vietnam) takes the opportunity to tell everyone how much he enjoyed reading my essay (Two Down) and encourages everyone to read it. Col. Fleming is the recipient of at least 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses and probably more Air Medals for Valor than you can count. For him to single out an old country boy from Providence, Kentucky in front of such an honored and distinguish group is just unbelievable to me. Col Fleming invites everyone to do like “Mike Vaughn” to share their stories. As Col. Fleming said, “everyone’s job was important. We were a team and everyone in the Troop was apart of that team and every one of you has a story to tell."

After the meeting, we all return to the hospitality room. It is even more jam-packed than last night; not an empty seat in the house. People are gathered around looking at old photo albums (some with the covers worn and frayed), one guy is showing pictures on a laptop computer, and another has a TV and VCR hooked-up showing old 8mm footage and some old still photos from our glory days. People I have never met before this reunion ask me to stop by and visit them if I am ever in what ever state they happen to be from. Such a strong bond, nothing false or phony…it’s very real. Soon it’s time to start getting ready to attend the Saturday night banquet.

We have the pleasure of sitting at Col. and Mrs. Fleming’s table at the banquet. Mrs. Fleming is a very charming and classy lady. I really did enjoy talking to her (and I picked up a little inside info. on the Col).

The Chattanooga Fire Department had the honor of presenting the colors at our banquet. We all lifted our glasses in a toast to our fallen Squadron Comrades, then a toast to the 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry and a final toast to the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States.

A very young looking General is the speaker at the dinner. He looks to me like he should still be in high school. He and his wife drove down from the Pentagon just so he could speak to us. The General gives us a brief history of our unit and the US Cavalry. He opened by telling us about how the US Cavalry had started out on horseback. When the Army started to modernize in the early 1920s the US Cavalry moved on to wheeled vehicles and soon to track vehicles. For the first time, in Vietnam, the Cavalry got a new kind of horse “the helicopter.” The General said one of the first requests the pentagon received from our Special Forces in the field in Afghanistan was not for global positioning equipment or hi-tech weapons. It was for saddles…the US Army has returned to the horse.

The General tells us that the 4th Cav. Is the second highest decorated unit in the entire military….not just the army…the entire military. He also told us that our unit was the first to touch French soil during the D Day Invasion of World War II.

“On D-Day two troops of the 4th Cavalry Group were the first sea-borne American forces to land on French soil when they seized the St. Marcouf Islands off Utah Beach at 0430 hours 6 June 44. During the liberation of the Cherbourg peninsula the 4th Cavalry fought dismounted at Cape de la Hague receiving a French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star. In the battle for the Hurtgen Forest the 4th Squadron received a Presidential Unit Citation for gallantry in fierce fighting for the town of Bogheim which included a dismounted charge across two hundred yards of fire-swept open ground.”

Even in Vietnam I always knew that we had some very large shoes to fill.

There was a wonderful lady at the dinner who asked if she could speak to our group. She had written to someone in the Squadron asking for information on her brother who was KIA in Vietnam. She was informed that she would be welcome to attend our reunion if she would like. She said she was reluctant at first, but decided to attend and she was extremely happy she had decided to be there and take part in the reunion. She said she was amazed by how strong our bond was even after 30+ years. She said it gave her and her family a great deal of peace and comfort knowing that her brother had been a part of such a close group when he died. She thanked us for seeing to it that her brother came home, saying it wasn’t the way her and her family had wanted their brother to return to them, but the family is thankful that he did return. When this lady finished speaking…there were not many dry eyes in that room.

After a great dinner, a lot of laughter and a few tears, we head back to the hospitality room. It’s our last night together…the time seems to fly by. There are so many people that I haven’t had a chance to talk with and now it’s almost time to go home. When we first arrived at the reunion the stories were action packed, the conversations were excited. Now the mood has changed, people speak in almost whispered tones. There are a lot of stories about, “Remember Charlie or Joe or Bill” and almost always ends with “Wish they could have been with us.”

September 8, 2002 – 0900

We attend our Squadron Memorial Service. We enter the chapel to the sounds of the bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace”. After everyone is seated, the “Roll of the Honored Dead” is read. We stand in “Silent Tribute” and as we “Salute to the Honored Dead”. Chaplain Dennis Roe gave the Memorial Address. Chaplain Roe tells us how he was a drug addict when he returned from Vietnam, shooting heroin into his veins. He tells us how God picked him up, dusted him off and made him a soldier in His Army. The service concludes with the playing of “Taps” as we stand in silent salute. As hard as I try, I can’t hold back the tears…they soon stream down my face and drip to the floor. It’s a very sad time, but I feel such pride. What a privilege and honor to stand here and pay tribute to the best of America’s Sons.

With the end of the service…the 3rd Squadron 4th Cavalry Association Reunion is officially ended. The next reunion will be in Louisville, KY, in 2004. Gerald, Darrell, Terry, Willie and I gather together for a last few pictures. We all promise that it will not be 2 more years before we see each other again. Hugs and handshakes all around; none of us wants to be the first to leave.

I have always known that I have a very strong bond with the men that I had served with in D Troop. But until the reunion I never realized how strong of a bond our entire Squadron has with one another. Doesn’t matter A Troop, B Troop, C Troop, D and F Troop and it doesn’t matter what year you served.

For 35 years it’s been as if I had left a large part of my soul in Vietnam. President Bush called on our Nation to hold a day of healing on September 11, 2002. I honestly tell you that September 6, 2002, was a day of healing for me and many of the men of 3rd Sqdn. 4th Cav. After those few days in Chattanooga, now I can truly say, “I’m home.”

Some people might be shocked to learn that there were no old hippies or potheads at the reunion. No crazed, spaced-out Vietnam Vets with needles sticking out of their arms; just a bunch of very ordinary looking, well adjusted, successful, graying, middle-aged men.

I have been blessed in many ways during my life. I thank God for giving me a loving family to come home to. I’m thankful for all the friends that have stood by me through all these years. Thank you all for your “Welcome Home.”

God Bless You All,

Mike Vaughn