Saturday, April 23, 2011

On This Day 43 Years Ago - HMM-161 Made History

It was today, 43 years ago, at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, in Irvine, California that 24 CH-46 Super D helicopters appeared in the sky to the south, flying in a formation that wrote 161 in the air, ending a journey that began on April 20, more than 3,000 miles to the east.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, commanded by Lt. Col. Paul W. Niesen, was putting the icing on a history making flight, that itself was just the beginning of a history making journey.

HMM-161 landing at El Toro, April 23, 1968.

You won't know about this if you haven't read the official Marine Corps history of 161, or my unofficial history, but it happened. We started off at the Marine Corps Air Facility in New River, N.C., which was and still is part of the sprawling Camp Lejeune complex in flights of four on April 20. Each section flew a pre-planned route with refueling stops and overnight stays at military bases along the way.

We took one day off in Tuscon, Arizona so the squadron could regroup, and then flew into California as one unit.

The main gate at New River Air Facility, circa 1967

We flew a southern route from North Carolina to California and, as a crew member on YR (Yankee Romeo)-39, I saw the Mississippi River, the Great American Desert and even the lower reaches of the Rocky Mountains from the open cabin door of a CH-46.

A CH-46 from HMM-161 over the desert during the squadron's cross-country flight in April, 1968.

I don't know why this year is more special than any other years, but thanks to the Internet, many of the survivors of that flight and the subsequent tour in Vietnam are talking about it - a lot. For the past three days I have been receiving emails from friends who served in 161 back then, starting with a pilot, Chuck Songer, who noted in the first message that it was 43 years ago that we were making that historic flight.

One person responded, then another, then another, then the floodgates opened. We all have our memories.

We spent five days at El Toro then boarded the USS Princeton LPH-5 for a 17-day trip across the Pacific that included an exploding boiler and a very intense trip right through the center of a Pacific Ocean typhoon.

Two CH-46s from HMM-161, one piloted by Lt. Col. Niesen, making a dramatic mid-ocean rescue of a sailor who had fallen overboard from the USS Princeton, LPH-5.

HMM-161 writing its squadron numbers in the air over a US Navy vessel in 1967 during a NATO operation.

Then we were off the coast of Quang Tri, South Vietnam, then on land in our new home and within 48 hours were flying combat missions along the DMZ, the Laotian border area, and of course the Marine Combat Base at Khe Sanh.

The air strip at Quang Tri. Hot burning sand and helicopters.

In the next several months 161 set records for virtually all of the things that someone keeps track of, but along the way we lost aircraft, pilots and crews too. Chuck Songer made it about three months in country before he was wounded in both legs from communist gunfire and medevaced out of country and eventually home.

Southeast approach to Khe Sanh

Col. Niesen was wounded that day too. HMM-161's tour in Vietnam that started with the April 20 liftoff from the flight line at New River eventually saw 20 crew members, corpsmen and pilots killed in action.

Those deaths represented far more than statistics to most of us. We had joined together in New River beginning in the late summer of 1966, a point when we didn't even have a squadron designation, and many of us lived together, worked together, and fought together for more than two years. Those deaths hurt, and still do.

HMM-161 was designated The First because it was the first Marine helicopter unit to carry troops into battle in the Korean War. The squadron had many other tasks in the intervening years, but we were the first of the various units that carried the 161 colors to fly CH-46s. The squadron continued flying the 46s right up until last year when it received the first tilt-rotor Ospreys and was renamed VMM-161 - the "H" designation no longer applies since Ospreys are not technically helicopters.

I don't think about Vietnam as much as I used to. I was 18 when I joined the Marines, just turning 19 when I joined 161, and 20 years old when we left for Vietnam. I turned 21 during that tour, as did my friends John Allison and Norm "Frenchy" LaFountaine - all of us shared the same birthday.

Two views of yours truly way back when. Top, aboard the USS Princeton, LPH-5 en route to Vietnam. Lower, grabbing a cigar and a few quick winks outside the 161 Avionics hooch, summer 1968.

But I am older, 43 years older in fact, and I have been fortunate in that I have 43 years of other memories that often shoulder the past aside. Time has been taking its toll and many of the people who made that cross-country flight and survived our tour in Vietnam are no longer with us. Some have died of diseases, old age, heart attacks, strokes, even at their own hand.

But once in a while, an email will arrive from an address that I recognize as one of my former squadron mates and I'll stop what I am doing for bit to think back. We were an incredibly talented group of people, starting with our pilots. We had some of the best officers and NCOs that younger Marines could ask for, and we did everything that was required and asked of us, to a far greater degree than many inhabitants of the civilian world could imagine.

In mid-1969, at about the time most of us had completed our tours and were ready to come back to the states, the entire Viet Cong guerrilla force had been wiped out, and the North Vietnamese regulars who had borne the brunt of the fighting in the south since 1965 were decimated.

The US had been working with the South Vietnamese Army for several years to help build their capabilities and if left to its own designs, the war would have become more of a South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam affair in a matter of years. In fact it did and I'll address that in a minute.

But just about the time our tour was winding down, and at the time the US finally had numerical parity on the battlefield, with nearly 550,000 troops serving "in country," President Richard Nixon, at the instigation of National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger announced that he was going to start troop withdrawals.

It was an abysmally stupid announcement on Nixon's part because as we later learned, the communist military commanders already were putting pressure on the political bosses in Hanoi to surrender. They had been beaten to a pulp, even though the pro-communist American media never reported it - and were afraid the US would just cross the DMZ and roll right over them - which we should have.

But the political bosses in Hanoi prevailed after Nixon's blunder, saying the US had weak leaders - they were right - and no backbone - they were right - and no political willpower - they were right, and even if they couldn't beat us militarily the communist politicians would eventually defeat our politicians. They were right about that too, but not as soon nor as easily as they expected.

In late 1969 Nixon announced his Vietnamization program, to shift more of the military burden to the South Vietnamese army, an approach which had worked wonders nearly two decades earlier in South Korea. By 1972 nearly all US combat troops were gone and the northern communists invaded the democratic south with some 250,000 combat troops backed by massive artillery and armored divisions.

But the south held, and aided by US air power inflicted an unprecedented defeat on the north. For years the US intelligence community said that 75,000 communists were killed that spring, but after the Soviet Union fell and the KGB archives were opened for foreign researchers, that number was upped to 150,000, with half of all the communist armor and artillery destroyed too.

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the top communist military leader who had defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1953, was fired and placed under house arrest.

Nonetheless Kissinger strongly urged Nixon to continue the Paris peace talks, even as Jane Fonda was urging the communists not to surrender - apparently using the argument that even though they had just suffered a military defeat that dwarfed their losses in the Tet Offensive of 1968, America's political will was virtually nonexistent.

The peace talks continued until late 1972 but when the communists kept dragging their feet Nixon began another bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Unfortunately, according to reports from the communists long after the war was over, Nixon, again at Kissinger's urging, stopped bombing two days too early. The communists were on the verge of full surrender, but again, American political "strategy" and willpower were insufficient.

Over South Vietnam's rigorous objections the Paris Peace Accords were signed in March 1973, literally giving South Vietnam away. To put the final nail in the coffin, the US Congress passed the Case-Church Resolution in mid-1973, and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which ended all economic, humanitarian and military aid to South Vietnam, in what has to be the most shameful incident in the history of US foreign relations. (News reports from the time state that the US government accused the South Vietnamese government of corruption. Talk about hypocrisy.)

The South was left to fend for itself, Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford became president but still relied on Kissinger for foreign relations "expertise," and in April 1975, seven years after HMM-161 and hundreds of thousands of other American, South Korean, Australian, New Zealand and Thai servicemen went to help South Vietnam stay free, it fell to the communist onslaught, alone and abandoned.

In the next few years the communist rampage consumed Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with nearly 3 million people butchered by the communists. An estimated 2 million South Vietnamese boat people fled on the South China Sea, with some 300,000 perishing due to storms, sharks or pirates. Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned in communist concentration camps that the American pro-communist media labeled "re-education" camps, and more than 160,000 are reported to have been murdered by the communists.

When Kissinger and company signed off on the Paris Peace Accords they knew that more than 300 American fliers were still being held captive in Laos, but in the following years they too were written off and abandoned. In 1991 Sens. John Kerry and John McCain as co-chairs of the Senate Select Committee on POWs and MIAs slammed the door on all further inquiries into their fate, and ordered all information on those brave Americans to be "Classified" until long after we all are gone.

By now you must be asking yourself if I would do it all over again?

I'll tell you. I wish I could bring back all who were killed, and heal all who were grievously wounded. If there truly was magic in this world, that is how I would use it.

As I write this, it is a gray and rainy day in Southern New England. The trees are just starting to show a bit of green, but the clouds and fog descended on us earlier and with the starkness of the forest just beyond my office window, it is easy to conjure up images from the war, especially the monsoon months after Agent Orange had done its work.

Oddly enough, I remember the good things most. How so many of my fellow aircraft electronic technicians volunteered to fly as gunners. How many Air Medals we were awarded, individually as well as unit awards, along with many other decorations. How close we were, even if the stress of war and death rubbed us terribly raw at times. And there is no doubt that I also remember how many were killed, and the others who were wounded.

But even knowing what I know - How our ally was abandoned by our government; how we were betrayed by traitors like Kerry, and Fonda, and yes, Kissinger; even knowing what happened I would never in a million years have missed the opportunity to serve with the people I knew in HMM-161 who 43 years ago began a journey that in many ways still has not ended.

Maybe it would have been more politically correct to write about Easter today. But I'd rather leave you with the words from the original version of an Irish folk song now known as The Parting Glass.

What I have done through lack of wit,
I never, never can recall;
I hope you're all my friends as yet;
Good night. And joy be with you all

In fact, how about if I just leave you the entire song, as it was performed on one of my favorite movies, The Waking of Ned Devine.

It was 43 years ago today, but I remember much of it as if it all just happened. And I will never forget those who also served in HMM-161.
Friday, April 15, 2011

When Is The Obama Administration Lying? Trump Has Obama Questions - Media Quaking

How do you know when someone from the Obama administration is lying?

Their lips are moving. I know, it's an old joke and it's supposed to be about lawyers, but I've watched the president and his henchmen out on the talk TV circuit for the last couple of weeks supposedly explaining everything from Libya to America's finances and all I really saw was smokescreens.

We supposedly have ceased taking an active role in the attempt to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi yet we haven't - our planes are still bombing him but secretly. (And we still don't know why him, why now, and why not some other places. Oh, and we have no Congressional authorization to use military force, although Congress appears to have ceded that authority to the UN and NATO.)

We supposedly are going to set the budget and the massive federal deficit right, but we really aren't. We supposedly are moving toward emerging alternative energy sources - a b.s. term in itself - yet the price of oil is again escalating. Once again countries that have a grudge against us will have plenty of money to manipulate our stock market and destroy our economy as they did in late 2008 - but the Administration isn't talking about that, much less doing anything about it.

Did you know that while Obama was saying we didn't have "boots on the ground" in Libya, meaning military personnel, he could get around the lie because the military can temporarily transfer Special Operations Forces to the control of the CIA? This then makes them "covert operatives," not members of the military ... even if they are still wearing their uniforms and carrying the same weapons!

Every time I see the president on the television these days I change the channel because I have come to the conclusion that I can't believe a word that he or any of his spokespeople utters.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who has almost declared that he is running for president, is openly investigating Obama's claims to be a US citizen, and counter-claims that he is not. This is something the media should have done years ago when Obama first declared that he was running for president, kind of the way they are going after Trump now.

I saw Trump on the Neil Cavuto show on the Fox News Channel last week and Cavuto nearly sneered at Trump's decision to send an investigative team to Hawaii to search for Obama's birth certificate. Cavuto averred that Obama already has released his alleged birth certificate, but Trump pounced with both feet.

Trump noted that Obama has NOT released an actual birth certificate, but HAS issued a "Certification of Live Birth," from the State of Hawaii - and referenced in such "esteemed" locations as Fact Check as a Birth Certificate - but it is not a birth certificate. As Trump noted, the Certification of Live Birth is not a valid Birth Certificate - which should be on record in the county in which he was born and is a public document by the way - and that the Certification of Live Birth omits many details that are contained on a real Birth Certificate such as which hospital Obama supposedly was born in and the attending physician.

Trump told Cavuto that Obama's relatives can't even agree on which Hawaiian hospital he supposedly was born in, while his Kenyan grandmother is adamant that she witnessed his birth in Kenya.

To that point, the documents below that purportedly record the birth of one Barack Hussein Obama II have surfaced and oddly enough they do contain all the information that US birth certificates contain - except they were issued in Kenya.

This document is a Certified Copy of Registration of Birth, and below is a copy of the actual Certificate of Birth.

Take a look at this document, which purportedly is an actual birth certificate listing our very own president as being born in Kenya to a Kenyan father. See the details it lists. Why don't we have these details from the State of Hawaii if Obama was in fact born there?

I am not for an instant claiming to be an expert on any of this. But I do know that this issue has been hotly debated for at least three years now and everyone who points out even the most obvious discrepancies in our president's background story is immediately jumped on, reviled, dismissed as a crank and relegated by extremist Democrats and their media lackeys to the status of "birther" which is not a compliment.

For instance, I was working in my office last Saturday afternoon and a talk panel show was on. I am not familiar with it because I rarely watch TV at that time, but the panel got around to Trump and his investigation and he was immediately dismissed by a bunch of people I don't know. "We've been down that road before ..." smirk, simper, smirk, simper.

Well, actually, no they haven't. A few mainstream news figures have tried to raise the issue but they are shut down pretty quickly.

I did see a very thorough review of the issue a couple of years ago in Pamela Geller's Atlas Shrugs blog, including forensic reviews of various documents released by Obama. Those reviews were startling in their revelations of different type faces and other inconsistencies. Check out Pamela's work here, but it may take a while to load it all because it is extensive:

Pamela thus became the fawning mainstream media's favorite target and has been roundly dismissed by hacks who don't possess a micron of her journalistic ability.

But they never made the effort to review her work and determine if there was validity to the information she revealed. They universally relied on the Certification of Live Birth that as Trump noted, has a far lower standard than an actual birth certificate.

Here are a few other issues that have surfaced on the Internet and came my way the other day. Relating to his claim of attending and graduating from Columbia Univeristy: No classmates, not even the recorder for the Columbia class notes ever heard of him. Where is the footage of the graduation ceremony for his class showing Obama as a proud graduate? Has anyone talked to the professors? Where are the people who knew him or taught him or lived with him?

When did he meet Michele and how? Are there photos? Every president gives their photos and memorabilia to the public for posterity. What has he released? Who was the best man at his wedding? Who were the groomsmen? Where are the people from President Obama's past saying they knew him, attended school with him, were friends with him? As insignificant as we all are someone whom we went to school with remembers our name or face, someone remembers we were the clown or the dork or the brain or the quiet one or the bully or something about us.

Can we talk to them and get some background information - which considering the grilling that Sarah Palin, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and dozens of others received, certainly should have been done by the media long ago?

This literally represents the tip of the iceberg on questions related to Obama's history. If you go the Pamela Geller website I listed above you'll see a video of Trump appearing on the female talk show The View a week ago.

When Trump was making his case Whoopi Goldberg said the only reason anyone is questioning Obama is because he is black. Aha! Play the race card when all else fails.

Then she pulled the timeworn, hackneyed tactic of diverting attention to George Bush, claiming no one every questioned his authenticity that way!

Hey lady, we not only have George Bush's birth certificate, we have his childhood photos, his school records, and his military records. Got Obama's? Show me.

It appears that Donald Trump has a lot of established politicians and alleged journalists who feed at the same trough, very, very worried. I find that somehow comforting. Go Trump!
Thursday, April 14, 2011

Connecticut Allows Childhood Revenge on Parents; Euthanasia OK in West Hartford

The state of Connecticut has dropped charges against a Massachusetts man who was accused of helping kill his Alzheimer's stricken father - a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Korean War - in a case of so-called mercy killing - assisted suicide - or euthanasia.

The state's decision not to pursue a conviction in the case effectively paves the way for generations of disaffected youth to off their parents with little fear of retribution.

Parents who have limited or no parenting skills may want to look closely at the case of Bruce F. Brodigan of Somerville, MA, who previously pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of his father George D. Brodigan, who died at the age of 82, on Sept. 14, 2010.

George Brodigan died of an overdose of alcohol and amitriptyline, which was prescribed to Bruce Brodigan, police said. However, press reports say the state Medical Examiner’s Office was unable to determine the manner of death.

In dropping the most serious change against Brodigan, the state also paved the way for him to apply for a program termed accelerated rehabilitation on three lesser charges - tampering with evidence, making a false statement to police, and interfering with police.

That means - if the program is granted - that he will have to promise not to help anyone else pass over to the promised land ahead of schedule. If he is a good boy for a year, the charges will be dismissed and his record erased.

Police initially alleged that Bruce Brodigan assisted in the death of his ailing father. The elder Brodigan also was a retired West Hartford lawyer and former interim Superior Court judge.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Arthur P. Gold accepted the state's decision Tuesday and said in court documents that the manslaughter case will be "reopened and pursued" if Brodigan is not successful in the pretrial intervention program. I have no idea how you would fail a pretrial intervention program if you know that to do so will put you on trial facing an extended prison sentence.

Basically, Bruce Brodigan will have to say "yes" at the appropriate times, and "no" at the appropriate times and be sent on his way to wait out his one-year probation. Then he'll go on with his life in Massachusetts and the state of Connecticut will be left wrestling with the issues of assisted suicide, mercy killing, euthanasia, call it what you will.

We will be seeing escalating numbers of the elderly being "put down" as if they were family pets. Inevitably issues will arise where some people will say the dead person was in pain and only hours or days at best away from dying naturally, while those who opposed the "procedure" will maintain that was not the case at all.

The debate on euthanasia is just getting started and while it may seem clear cut to some people, I challenge them to define at exactly what point in their lives they want a friend or relative to pull the plug on them. The definition of "terminal" is bound to find some very wide interpretations.

According to news reports Bruce Brodigan described the end of his father's life as the "most beautiful, loving moment I had with my father" throughout his life.

Frankly, it sounds a lot more like a Charlie Sheen moment to me. Not the kind of moment where Sheen is in a motel room with a bevy of hookers and a kilogram of cocaine, but a moment out of the movie Platoon. where Sheen is in a massive firefight firing weapons and screaming "This is f'ing beautiful man!"

I can relate to that somewhat because as a .50 caliber machine gunner on Marine helicopters in Vietnam, I had a few of those moments. It's easy to have a feeling of euphoria when you have the biggest weapons and the battle is going your way.

But one thing I never saw was the communists come running out of their jungle positions yelling "Shoot more, shoot more, this is f'ing beautiful man!" Being on the losing side of a deadly encounter generally is less exciting than being on the side where death is inflicted.

As a wounded combat veteran the elder Brodigan probably knew that.

Now I know that there are going to be people reading this who say I am being flippant and disrespectful. So what? If it gets people talking about this, so much the better.

Because this week, the state of Connecticut quietly moved the goalposts in the euthanasia - assisted suicide - mercy killing debate and most people didn't notice. We deserve far better. We deserve a full, transparent, free wheeling debate on this issue and thus far we have not had it.

Oh, and would everyone who is reading this please print it out and save it in a safe place. Then 30 or so years from now if you see a death notice about me, and it says alcohol and drugs were involved, please press for a forensic autopsy and make sure they identify the alcohol as GlenMorangie single malt scotch, at least 12 years old.

If they say it is anything else, press for a full investigation!


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