Vietnam Helicopter Pilot's Association

www.vhpa.org

24 August - 30 August 2015

Washington, D.C.

Gerry, Marie and I travelled to our Nation's Capital for the 32nd reunion of the VHPA. We missed not having our sister Barbara with us to share in our wonderful experience. On the checklist was to have a beer at The Willard Hotel, which we did by accident the first day there. We happened to walk by the entrance on 15th Street, noticed it and took the opportunity to go in. With luck we had to walk by the Historical Display and walk down Peacock Alley (great treasures) to get to the Round Robin Bar, where we were served by Jim Hewes. "Bar Keep Supreme" for 30 plus years. He said we made him smile! 

Tuesday morning we took a VHPA sponsored trip to Landover, MD to the National Park Service warehouse that houses the Vietnam Memorial Collection. It stores personalized memorabilia that is collected daily from the Vietnam Wall. We had a "photo op" with the iconic piece of the collection, the Wisconsin Hero Bike. It was left at the wall on Memorial Day in 1995 by a veteran's group from WI, in honor of the 37 POW's/MIA's from that state. Of what we were able to see of the memorial collection it was very moving! One display had a soldier's blue baby sweater. It came with a letter from his mom stating she could not part with his teddy bear so she brought the sweater instead. Once back at the hotel we met up with Jim Brennan (C/227) who showed us the two Huey Helicopter's that were parked out in front of the hotel on both sides of the main entrance. There was a "H" Model and a "M" Model gunship. Our personal favorite was the "H" Model. The troop carrier that Ralph flew! After lunch we hailed a cab to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. An awe inspiring experience! Then we headed to the National Cathedral to hear the Peal Bells. Even though we did not hear them we had a wonderful visit in the Bishop's Garden. 

Wednesday morning we attended the Gold Star Breakfast. A wonderful event hosted by Julie Kink, Gold Star Sister of WO David Kink. We had the pleasure to sit at a table with Bob Witt (friend of Ralph's from flight school and Vietnam), his wife Tanya, Jim Brennan (C/227) and Jerry Mellick, our new friend, who in an email said, "I will continue to attend the Gold Star Breakfast's as they are so moving and emotional, but in my way of thinking the highlight of the reunions." After the breakfast we waited for Bob and Marilou Weiss to arrive at the hotel from their home in Maryland. We were eagerly waiting for them as Bob was one of the ground troops from C5/7 that witnessed Ralph's helicopter come into the landing zone, drop its emergency load of ammunition and water and then get hit. He was one of the troops that volunteered to get to Ralph's crash site believing it would be a rescue mission. I had talked to Bob on the phone many times but it was the first time we were all meeting! Before we left the hotel we were joined by Bob and Tanya Witt for a beer and to gather any more information and location details of the landing zone and crash site from Bob. We then left the hotel in a cab with the Washington Monument as our first stop. We had tickets to take the elevator to the top and were in line when we were told the elevator was being looked at by a technician. Knowing it had broken down the day before and people had to walk back down the steps, we decided to move on from there. So we made our way to the Vietnam Wall to pay our respects. It was nice to stand together in front of Ralph's panel and have some quiet thoughts. We left some treasures (heart-shaped quadruple hug rock, sand dollar and a starfish) we collected from home on the beach at Fourth Cliff, where Ralph had walked many times. We took our first Uber ride courtesy of Bob and Marilou (old pros at it) in a black Chevy Suburban. We felt like we fit right in! Back at the hotel we sat down to dinner together and listened to Bob and Marilou tell us some of their life stories! We so enjoyed their company and we're looking forward to seeing them again. 

Thursday saw us take another VHPA excursion, this time to Mount Vernon. Jack Black's look-a-like was our tour guide and he did not disappoint. Our VHPA group participated in the Wreath Laying Ceremony at George and Martha's Tomb. George Washington's "Prayer for My Country" was read and then we all joined in saying the "Pledge of Allegiance". It was a special moment. We walked the grounds and had a tour of the main house.  George Washington, a remarkable man. Mount Vernon a remarkable working farm and home. We checked in with Jim Brennan when we got back to the hotel and he called Duane Caswell and asked him to come down to the Vendor Room to meet us and show us where the LZ and crash site were on the Camp Evans Map. (Thank you Les Hines at the ADVA Map Table). Jim noticed Duane earlier in the day when Duane was walking through the Vendor Room close to Jim's table for the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. Jim had not seen Duane since their time together in C227AHB back in 1968. Duane was a bit surprised and was trying hard to keep his emotions in tact when he met us and told us a little about the day Ralph was killed. He told us that earlier on that day he had flown the same emergency mission to get ammunition and water to C5/7 as they were in an intense battle with the NVA. In fact he said Ralph's mission was the 7th emergency TAC-E that day to the same LZ. It was an LZ that you could not land in and the only way out was to back out. Duane said it was the most dangerous mission he flew in Vietnam. Duane  told us that Robert Parent was the crew chief on his ship and Robert Stone was his gunner. As it was that night, all the day missions were on a volunteer basis. Robert Stone during Duane's day mission replaced the gunner because he was going home soon. Stone was maintenance and not even a gunner. Duane remembers when the call came in for additional ammunition and water that night, he advised how dangerous the mission was and could not believe that both Parent and Stone volunteered to go again. After meeting with Duane, we met up with Stevey Callahan (Gold Star Sister of Charles Callahan III) and walked down to  CT Street with Jim and had a bite to eat at the Open City Cafe. We had a great time which started with a toast to Ralph and Chuck. Jim left the table and when he came back we discovered he had paid the bill. Of course we were a bit loud in our displeasure with him when Officer Bob Fennell with the Metropolitan Police Department walked in showing us his handcuffs, just in case we could not keep it down. We were introduced to Officer Fennell by Jim earlier in the day in the Vendor Room. The hotel is part of his beat and he just happened to be outside the restaurant when we were there. Jim saw him when he went out to pay the bill. It turns out that Jim and Bob discovered a day earlier when they met on the street that they grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood! 

Friday we said good bye to Gerry and said hello to Carrie Fitzgerald (Gold Star Daughter of Charles Callahan III). Bob Weiss came back into town so he could meet Stevey and Carrie. Bob met us down at Open City for lunch and then we walked back to the hotel and had a beer or two in the lounge where we met up with Steve Davidson (A227AHB) before Bob had to catch the train back home. Friday night we had the pleasure and honor of attending the Marine Corps Evening Parade at the Oldest Marine Post in the country located in DC at 8th and I Streets. It was an amazing performance showcasing the President's Own Band and the Silent Drill. It was hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., who came home to Quincy, MA in 2011 to dedicate Ralph's Street Square

Saturday was a special day for Marie and I. We wore our 1st Cav Ghostrider tee shirts and VHPA lanyards with our name tags and headed out with our three red roses from the Gold Star Breakfast and hailed a cab to The Vietnam Wall. Our cab driver told us about his father who never talks about his time in Vietnam and about his uncle who has struggled with PTSD since Vietnam. I handed him a ghostrideroneeight.com card and after he read the card he said his name was also Ralph. Off to a good start! Ralph is watching our six! A "godwinK" (a term Stevey told us about from a book she read). On our short walk to the Vietnam Wall we were saluted by a man maybe because of our tee shirts and the red roses in our hands. Another "godwink"! Once at Ralph's panel, we were placing the red roses, a ghostrideroneeight card, our mother's prayer card and a photo of Ralph, Chuck, Robert Parent and Robert Parent when a teacher stopped and asked if she could take a photo. She told us she taught 8th grade and teaches her students about the Vietnam War. We sent her off with a ghostrideroneeight.com card and an extra photo of the helicopter crew. Next we were looking up names that were on our list to see on the wall and one in particular that we were going to do a rubbing when we were asked by Jeri McMahon if we needed any help. Jeri is a volunteer at the wall. Close by was her friend Butch, also a volunteer, who gave us the old style paper for name rubbing that he has saved all these years just for family members. We asked him for a second so we could also do Ralph's name on the original paper! Thankfully Jeri climbed the ladder to do James Cavicchi and then she also walked with us back to Ralph's panel and hand rubbed his name too. We had a connection with Jeri especially when she asked where we were from. She has fond memories of the Brant Rock section of Marshfield. More special moments! After climbing the steps to visit with Abe we hailed a cab to Arlington National Cemetery where we visited the gravesite of Lt. Thomas J. Brown. Lt. Brown was Chris McCoy's (a family friend) platoon leader. From Lt. Brown's grave we walked through a sea of grave stones as we made our way to the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier. I could not help but think how many have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. Astounding! We made our way to the viewing area and were just in time to watch a Wreath Laying at the tomb. Along with the Honor Guard there were three civilians who participated in the ceremony. As they were escorted back to their group, I made my way forward to take a picture of them. When I saw one of the gentleman with his Iwo Jima hat on I got choked up and could not talk. Probably why the photo is blurry. When I went back to tell Marie I noticed he was now sitting in a wheelchair beside us with his guardian Laurie. She quickly read our name tags and discovered we were gold star sisters. I asked if she would take our picture with him. There is a backstory to the picture as you can tell. His name is Leroy E. Peasly. He was there with Honor Flight Maine. Quite an experience and moment! We then watched the "Changing of the Guard". A humble experience and honor to watch! We then viewed the museum, walked through the remarkable Memorial Amphitheater and lastly looked for and found the VHPA Tree Planting. A ceremony that was done the day earlier in memory of the helicopter crews lost in Vietnam. Back at the hotel we talked about our day over a Corona Light and then back to our room to get ready for the Closing Banquet.This year I was asked to participate in the Missing Man Ceremony. My part was to bring up a slice of lemon and place it on a small plate. A treasured moment! Other highlights of the banquet was a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and of course hanging out with the special people you see in the photos! 

Sunday was our flight home and as we made our way up the MA coastline towards Boston the clouds parted at the right time affording us a view of Humarock Beach and Fourth Cliff below. Maybe another "godwink" from Ralph!

Turk's Seafood Luncheon

20 April 2013 

Mattapoisett, Massachusetts

Barbara, Marie and I met with Charlie and Carol Brown and Howard and Lillian Burbank to sit down and have lunch together, get to know each other and talk about their Vietnam experiences. Both Charlie and Howard were with the 1st CAV. Charlie was a Lieutenant with C1/5 and Howard was a Warrant Officer with A227AHB. We had a wonderful time! Great folks! Howard graciously gave us each a 227 Patch and Charlie graciously picked up the tab "paying it forward" because he was sure at some point in time in Vietnam, Ralph had transported him and his troops in his helicopter!


 

 

C 227 AHB Reunion 

"Ghostriders"

Minneapolis, Minnesota

13 - 16 September 2012

 

 

Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Reunion 

www.vhpa.org

New Orleans, Louisiana

31 July - 5 August 2012