101st Airborne B/2nd/501st Reunion 67-72 2007
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July 25, 2007EDITORIAL
Vietnam Veterans ?Welcomed Home? in Clatskanie
By Deborah Steele Hazen
for The Clatskanie Chief
CLATSKANIE, Oregon (STPNS) -- ?I remember each of you as the young, brave men I know you still are...I want each of you to know that you are the finest, bravest group of soldiers with whom it was my privilege to serve. For me you will always epitomize the best that America has to offer, and you will always hold a special place in my heart. Drive On! Bob German?
If there was one important thing that we forgot to do last weekend during the reunion we hosted in Clatskanie of Company B (Bravo Company) of the 2nd Battalion of the 501st Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, which fought in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972, it was to read that note from their colonel. Lieutenant Colonel German was unable to attend this reunion because of failing eye-sight, but he sent a contribution and the words that he wanted the veterans formerly under his command to hear.
?Drive On!? was the battalion?s motto, and it lent perseverance and determination to their courage as they battled the North Vietnamese Army in the Tet offensives of 1967 and 1968 in and around the city of Hue, on ?Hamburger Hill,? and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the Ashau Valley in the northern part of South Vietnam.
Among the members of the 2nd Battalion of the 501st Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division were Clifford Sims and Joe Hooper, who both won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sims died in combat - throwing himself on a booby trap to protect his comrades. Hooper, the most highly decorated of any American serving in Vietnam, has since died.
While company strength in Vietnam was planned at between 140 and 200 men, Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 501/101st was frequently much less than that because of the casualties they suffered in the heavy combat they encountered throughout their time in Vietnam.
In the five years the company served in Vietnam, 64 of its members were killed, and many earned Purple Hearts. There are also Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Army Commendation medal winners among them. One of the members of the company was captured after being seriously wounded, suffered pain and privation incomprehensible to most of us, and was ultimately released when the treaty ending the war was signed. He was in Clatskanie last weekend, among 31 others of his ?brothers.?
A few surviving members of the company have been getting together since the early 1990s, but reunions have been held every other year during the past decade. Two years ago, I accompanied my husband Phil to a B-2 501/101st reunion in Tulsa, Okla.. At the closing banquet, when no one else volunteered to host the next reunion, the only other wife from Oregon and I had a quick conference, and sent Phil forward to ask if they would come to Oregon., The answer was a resounding - ?Yes.?
Since then we have enjoyed spending time with our co-hosts, Dave and Pam Krautscheid of northwest Portland, and planning both an ?Oregon? experience and ample time for the veterans to just relax and visit.
It is an amazing thing to witness the bond between these men. Some of them served at the same time in Vietnam. Some never met, because of the way they were transferred in and out of the war-torn country as their year of service in combat came to a close.
Some, of course, were injured before they completed that year. Phil and Dave never got to know each other, because Dave was wounded in the first fire-fight that Phil experienced after being assigned to the company. Three men were wounded and one killed in that ?fire-fight? - an ambush that occurred when a detail was sent down into a rocky valley for water. Phil helped to load the casualties onto helicopters, and never got to know the three survivors until he met them over three decades later at reunions.
The stories these men have to tell are heart-rending and funny, horrifying and spiritually up-lifting. We can?t do justice to them here - it would take volumes and volumes.
But, what we can do, and what we tried to do at the reunion last weekend was to give them the respect and honor this nation as a whole never gave them. In the words of one of the members of Company B in a letter to the editor inside this paper - we tried to give them the ?welcome home? too many of them never received.
Thirty-three members of the company, plus an approximately equal number of family members attended the reunion which started Thursday afternoon at the Portland Hilton where we gathered, handed out name tags, talked, went out to dinner, and talked some more. Friday morning we boarded a chartered bus which took us over Highway 26 to Seaside with a stop at Camp 18 to give the men of Bravo Company, and their wives and other loved ones who accompanied them, a taste of Oregon?s big timber country. After lunch and some free-time in Seaside we stopped at the Astoria Column then arrived at the Clatskanie River Inn about 3:30 p.m.
?If there?s one time of the year you can count on the weather being nice in northwestern Oregon it?s late July and August,? I kept telling them as the rain streamed down and the mist obscured the magnificent view from the Astoria Column.
There was a bit of razzing about the weather, but, honestly, they all seemed to enjoy the tour despite the rain, and the 32 members who came to Clatskanie (one could stay only for the Portland portion, then had to return to his home in Yakima), seemed to love Clatskanie.
They broke into cheers as they saw the special message to them on the ?Welcome to Clatskanie? sign on the west end of town as the bus arrived from Astoria, and again when we drove up to the hotel where the other welcome sign is located.
We had planned a salmon barbecue in the park on Friday evening, followed by a service at the Clatskanie Veterans Memorial, but the weather forced a change in plans. Fortunately, we were already set-up at the legion hall for the Saturday night banquet so we moved the barbecue and service there.
The spring chinook salmon was caught in the Columbia a couple of weeks ago during a commercial season by local fisherman Dick Hurula. We fresh froze it with the assistance of our friends Eric and Bonnie Evenson, and it was barbecued on Traeger barbecues by Toby Harris of Fultano?s Pizza with assistance from our friends Kent Phillipps and Robert Keyser, and our son-in-law Alex Weisensee. It was the best salmon any of them - at least those from outside the northwest - had ever eaten.
After dinner Phil told them about our veterans memorial, how it had been a community effort spearheaded by one of our Vietnam vets, Arne Sundberg; how Clatskanie had a heritage of sending our finest into the defense of this nation, and of honoring them upon their return.
We also unveiled the rubbings we had taken of the 64 names of men from Company B-2 501/101st that are on the Vietnam Wall, and which were beautifully framed by our friend Nancy Williamson.
Kristen Van Camp, a senior at Clatskanie High School whose brother is serving with the Air Force in Italy, played ?Taps,? and there wasn?t a dry eye in the hall.
Saturday the men gathered in the Cedar Room at the Clatskanie River Inn. Several couples went kayaking with kayaks provided by our friends John and Kris Lillich.
I took a group of about 15 on a tour of The Castle, which was opened especially for us by Margaret Doyle. We stopped by the Clatskanie Historical Museum, and then, by special invitation from our friend George Throop, enjoyed a visit to Shooting Star Lavender Farm.
The banquet at the legion hall Saturday night was opened by a color guard of Clatskanie combat veterans - Vietnam veterans Terry Erickson, Arne Sundberg and Tom Eilertsen, Persian Gulf and Iraq War veteran Darren Knutson, and World War II veterans Morris Lillich and Les Galloway. We were proud to introduce them to Company B, and they received standing ovations when Phil told a bit about each of them, their service to our country and our community. The color guard was piped in by bagpiper Gary Thoen of Longview, also a veteran.
In addition to those already named we are grateful to Louis Larsen Post 68 of the American Legion for the use of the hall; to Jack and Patty Jordan, Robert and Michelle Keyser, and Jeanie Eilertsen for their assistance in helping to transport the veterans and their wives back to the airport on Sunday; to Jeanie Eilertsen, Sandi Erickson, Pam Makela, Ron and Arlene Reynolds, and our daughters Erika Weisensee and Amanda Moravec for baking the homemade Oregon blueberry/blackberry cobbler we served for dessert Saturday. Thanks also to our sons-in-law, Alex Weisensee and Michael Moravec, for their assistance in various ways, and to our grandchildren, Madeline and Jonathan Moravec, for helping with the raffle.
Various Oregon companies and businesses, as well as members of B-2 501/101st donated a number of gifts for the reunion. We were able to give each couple nice gift bags of Oregon products, and we raised almost $1200 for the next reunion by raffling off other items that had been donated. We will meet again in 2009 in southwest Michigan where Leo ?Doc? Flory and his wife Ann will host the next reunion.
As a wife of a Vietnam veteran I resent not only the way they were treated by their nation, but the way they have been painted in the media.
I?m proud, however, of the way the people of Clatskanie embraced them, the great service and courtesy they received at the Clatskanie River Inn, the wonderful food provided by Toby Harris of Fultano?s and his crew, and the signs and words of welcome and thanks they received from the businesses and people of Clatskanie.
The men who were ?welcomed home? in Clatskanie last weekend came here from Florida, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, California, Idaho and Washington.
When they were young men, this nation sent them into battle in an unpopular war, and they were changed forever by their experiences, but they returned home - welcomed or not - and continued to live the lives of productive, honorable Americans.
They are military consultants and entrepreneurs, coaches and police officers, ranchers, businessmen and blue collar workers. They are husbands, fathers and grandfathers.
They are my heroes.
Posted by Larry Stafford
May 27 2008 11:55:45:000AM