I was a born in the early days of the Vietnam War, so much of those early war years went unnoticed…by me anyway. The war official began on November 1, 1955, but there was much turmoil in the years leading up to the actual beginning of the war. It was an unpopular war, and probably the biggest news in the United States was the many protests against the war.
Nevertheless, there were some big operations that took place in the Vietnam War years. One such operation was Operation Plan (Oplan) 34A, and it was initiated on February 1, 1964, by the United States and the South Vietnamese. The plan called for raids by South Vietnamese commandos, operating under American orders, against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations. In this operation, the American forces were not directly involved in the actual raids, but United States Navy ships were on station to conduct electronic surveillance and monitor North Vietnamese defense responses under another program called Operation De Soto.
The Oplan 34A attacks played a major role in events that would eventually lead to what became known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On August 2, 1964, North Vietnamese patrol boats, in response to an Oplan 34A attack by South Vietnamese gunboats against the North Vietnamese island of Hon Me, attacked the destroyer USS Maddox. The Maddox was conducting a De Soto mission in the area. Then, just two days after the first attack, there was another incident, but that attack remains unclear. The Maddox, joined by destroyer USS C. Turner Joy, engaged what were thought to be more attacking North Vietnamese patrol boats.
There is some question as to whether or not the second attack actually happened, but the incident provided the rationale for retaliatory air attacks against the North Vietnamese and the subsequent Tonkin Gulf Resolution. That became the basis for the initial escalation of the war in Vietnam, and ultimately brought about the insertion of United States combat troops into the area.
Our instincts tell us not to leave a man down, or behind. That doesn’t just apply just to military personnel. Nevertheless, military personnel have had that concept ingrained into their being…probably more so than the rest of us. It is a code for them…never leave a man behind…whenever they have any say about it, they don’t. 1st Lieutenant James P Fleming was no different. In fact, Fleming was exceptional. Fleming was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. On November 26, 1968, Fleming and four other UH-1F helicopter pilots were returning to their base at Duc Co, South Vietnam, for refueling and rearming when an emergency call for help was received from a Special Forces reconnaissance team.
While en route, they got a call that a six-man Special Forces team was pinned down by a large, hostile force not far from a river bank. The homebound force of two gunships and three transport helicopters immediately changed course and sped to the area without refueling. As the gunships descended to attack the enemy positions, one was hit and downed. The remaining gunship made several passes, rapidly firing with its miniguns, but the intense return fire from enemy machine guns continued. Finally, low on fuel, the helicopters were being forced to leave and return to base.
Lieutenant Fleming alone remained as the only transport helicopter left. He descended over the river to evacuate the team. Upon arrival, he found the area unsafe for landing because of the dense foliage, so he hovered just above the river with his landing skids braced against the bank. The lone gunship continued its strafing runs, but heavy enemy fire prevented the team from reaching the helicopter. Fleming’s leader advised him to withdraw. After pulling away, Lieutenant Fleming decided to make another rescue attempt before completely exhausting his fuel. He dropped down to the same spot and found that the team had managed to move closer to the river bank. The men dashed out and clambered aboard as bullets pierced the air, some smashing into the helicopter. The rescue craft and the gunship then returned to Duc Co where it was discovered that they were nearly out of fuel.
It was truly a miraculous rescue, in which not a single life was lost. Lieutenant Fleming was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of the special forces team that day. For his actions, Fleming received the Medal of Honor in May, 1970. Fleming remained in the Air Force serving a total of 30 years, becoming a colonel and a member of the Officer Training School staff at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, before his retirement in 1996 at the rank of Colonel.
These days, patriotism seems to be constantly under fire. The nation has basically taken sides on the issue. There are those who hate this country and all it stands for, and those who love this country despite its faults and any negative historical events. I am a patriot, and it is my belief that history is history, mistakes and all. It can’t be changed by tearing down a few statues, and certainly not by stomping on our flag. The patriots of this time feel the same as the patriots of the Vietnam era…”Our Flag, Love it or Leave.” I find it strange to think that this era is really no different than that era, or any other era of American history, or in fact, in the history of any nation. There are those who love their nation and are loyal to it, and those who tend to blow with the wind…only showing faithfulness when it suits their own agenda. In my opinion and the opinion of every patriot, these people who turn on our country just because things aren’t going their way, are traitors, and should be treated as such.
There have been a number of traitors in our nations history, and I’m sure there will be many more, but one of the most famous of them all was Benedict Arnold. On this day in 1780, during the American Revolution, an American General named Benedict Arnold met with a British Major named John Andre to discuss the treasonous act of handing over West Point to the British. In return Arnold was promised of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, who was once considered an American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.” Benedict Arnold was not always a low life traitor. He was actually born into a well-respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. He apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763. Later, he became a successful trader and then joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775. When the war ended in 1783, the colonies had won their independence from Britain and formed a new nation…the United States.
During the war, Benedict Arnold proved himself a brave and skillful leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold also had some enemies within the military and in 1777, five men of lesser rank were promoted over him. I see that there were those who were not fooled by his presumed loyalty. Over the course of the next few years, Arnold married for a second time. He and his new wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, accumulating a large amount of debt. The debt and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were the motivating factors in his decision to become a turncoat.
In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, an American fort on the Hudson River in New York, and future home of the United States military academy, which was established in 1802. Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and his men. On September 21, 1780, Arnold met with Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact. Thankfully, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot turned traitor, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801, having never realized the greatness he thought he would achieve. Now, when people think of a traitor, they often call them a Benedict Arnold. It is a huge insult to be called that.
For as long as there have been wars, there have been prisoners of war. Obviously, part of the reason was to take those soldiers out of the fighting. If you are fighting against less enemy combatants, you have a better change of winning. It was a simply a part of war. Both sided took prisoners, and both sides knew that the other side was going to take prisoners. It was not the fact that prisoners were taken, but rather the way they were treated that made this part of war ugly sometimes.
I’m sure that if there was work to do, it made sense to use the prisoners of war as, basically slave labor…make them earn their keep, so to speak, but often they were beaten, starved, overworked to the point of exhaustion, and basically treated like they were sub-human. Some nations were worse than others. And sometimes, the prisoners of war, weren’t even combatants, but civilians taken hostage for a variety of reasons…most of which had nothing to do with them being a danger in battle. Of course, from about the time of the Vietnam war, it became harder to tell if someone was a “combatant” or not. When children were sent out to interact with soldiers…bombs strapped to their chest…soldiers had to learn to be less than hospitable to the little ones too.
I understand the need for prisoners of war, when the war is still going on, but what is appalling is the treatment of the prisoners sometimes, and the refusal to give the prisoners back at the end of the conflict. Vietnam was also one of the times when prisoners were held long after the war. I know that sometimes the reasons for holding prisoners is that the opposing government refuses to abide by the conditions of the surrender of the losing side. Still, sometimes, the prisoners were held, for no legitimate reason, and for far longer than was reasonable. After World War II, the western Allies released their final prisoners in 1948, but many German POWs in the USSR were held for several more years. Most were used as slave labor in copper or coal mines, and anywhere between 400,000, and up to one million eventually died while in Russian custody. Some 20,000 former soldiers were still in Soviet hands at the time of Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, and the last 10,000 didn’t get their freedom until 1955 and 1956 a full decade after the war had ended. That seems completely unconscionable to me, but then I’m not part of an evil nation.
Over the centuries of life on Earth, there have been numerous wars, and numerous weapons of warfare. Yet, few could bring fear to the heart of an infantryman quicker than the Flammenwerfer. Developed by the Germans during World War I, the Flammenwerfer…or Flamethrower, in English…once lit could throw a steady stream of flames 20 to 30 feet in front of it. For the men on the ground, this meant one of two things. They could run…abandoning the relative safety of their foxhole, usually with the result of being shot down by the enemy, or they could stand their ground and be incinerated. It wasn’t much of a choice really, and most ran in the hope of escaping the machine gun fire that would undoubtedly follow the flamethrower. It was a situation of instant death…no matter which choice a soldier made…not to mention the fact that every fiber of a soldier’s being and training told them to stand their ground. This weapon took much of it toll on the soldier’s sense of bravery.
The Flammenwerfer was developed in 1915 by the Germans, and first used in battle against the Allied forces on this day, July 30, 1915 at the Battle of Hooge. Eleven days before that battle, British infantry had captured the German occupied village of Hooge, located near Ypres in Belgium, by detonating a large mine. Using the flamethrowers, along with machine guns, trench mortars and hand grenades, the Germans got their positions back on July 30, 1915. They broke through enemy front lines with ease, pushing the British forces back to their second trench. Only a few men were lost to actual burns, but a British officer was heard to explain that the weapons had a great demoralizing effect, and when added to the assault of the other powerful weapons, they proved mercilessly efficient at Hooge. I suppose that is true. I can think of few things more demoralizing for a soldier than running from your position in fear. Soldiers don’t take kindly to fear…or running away.
During World War I, the Germans were the only ones to use such a weapon, and not because it was difficult to make. So, why didn’t the Allies us it too? It was one of the great puzzles that emerged from World War I. Why? The British made three attempts with larger, more unwieldy prototypes: the smallest one was equal in size to the German Grof, which the enemy had almost abandoned by 1916. The French were more persistent, and by 1918 had at least seven companies trained in using flamethrowers, and still the use of the weapon never progressed to the same level as that of the German army.
By World War II, however, the flamethrower was the most dramatic hand weapon used by any Army and the most effective for its purpose. But it was during the 20th century that engineers and scientists placed flames under advanced technological control in an effort to make flamethrowers portable, reliable and reasonably safe…for the user anyway. Prior to that the words “friendly fire” had a second meaning in that flamethrowers could kill the operator while he was doing his best to kill the enemy with it. The result of this new technology was a device with as much psychological impact as it’s lethality impact. That was the chief reason why the United States, Great Britain and other world powers used the flamethrower from World War I through the Vietnam War. Even today, Russia still has flamethrowers in its inventory. I guess it is an important weapon, but for most of us, I think that just the thought of using it on someone would make us seriously ill.
Our country has been involved in so many wars in its relatively short history, protecting both our freedom and many other countries from the oppression imposed by so many evil dictators and nations. Some people don’t think the United States should be the guardian of the nations, but when push comes to shove, the United States is always the one they call to come in and save them. In all reality, the only countries who wish we would just stay out of things, are the ones who have overstepped their boundaries, and are trying to do evil in the helpless nations they have occupied.
Of course, no military machine can function without the sacrifice in time and lives of people. Military men and women who are willing to make that sacrifice are a rare breed indeed. True, in years past there was a draft, but even then, there were those who volunteered, like my dad and many others. They saw a need, and knew that they had to answer the call to duty.
Over the course of the major wars the United States has been involved in beginning at World War I, we have lost a total of 619,300 men and women. That is an astounding number of people. Fighting evil is a costly business, both in money, and more importantly in the lives we have lost. Nevertheless, if we allow evil to prevail, we are in a far worse position. That is something every soldier knows all too well. It is what brings them to the point of making the decision to serve…to fight, and give their lives if necessary. It isn’t that they don’t know what they are getting into, because they do. They know that as a soldier, they will be taking the ultimate chance with their life, and they know that they may lose their life. And yet they serve. That is the picture of a true hero.
There are those who condemn our soldiers for their sacrifice, those who protest, and scream hate at them, but what they don’t really understand is that their very right to protest, scream, and even hate, comes from the fight our soldiers have waged to protect that very freedom. It is a tough job, and often thankless, but they fight because they can see what is right and what is wrong. It is wrong for anyone to steal the freedoms of another human being, and it is wrong for them to try to force their will on others. Soldiers have the vision to see this, and even when hate is aimed at them, they will fight for the rights of those who hate. Yes, soldiers are a rare breed, and they are heroes. They deserve our respect, and they deserve the honor and respect that this day is all about. Happy Memorial Day!! Be sure to thank a Veteran today.
I have been telling you about some of the family connections I have made recently, and how surprised I have been at just who some of these people are. It isn’t always about them being famous, but rather about what amazing things they have done in their lives. So often we don’t hear what our family members have accomplished…mostly because they are too humble to really share all of their accomplishments. Recently, I made a family connection with the Noyes side of my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s family. This would be Bob’s grandmother, Nettie Noyes Knox’s side of the family. The connection was one that in all reality, I stumbled on. I had been searching for information…over a year ago, and I had copied the web addresses of several sites I thought might help, and put them into a Word document. There they sat for far too long. Finally, I found the time to check on one of them, and found the email for Paul Noyes. What an amazing find that was!!
Paul has blessed me with information that I hadn’t found, and I sent him some pictures I had of Noyes family members, to add to his tree. Then he sent back more information on one of the pictures I sent him. He had no idea where that would lead…but I knew, because I had been thinking about a story about him and his family since I received his first response to my email. I love making these new connections, but some of them turn into a great cousinship and friendship too, and those are the most special ones, for sure. I had sent a picture of Eugene Noyes Jr in uniform…but Paul knew from looking at the uniform, that the uniform was from World War II. He knew this because of the 15th Army Air Forces shoulder patch on the uniform. I suppose I might have caught that too, since I had seen my dad’s 8th Army Air Forces shoulder patch, but it was simply something I didn’t notice at all.
In my defense, I am not a retired after 22 years veteran…and Paul is. Well, that got my curiosity going again. I asked Paul to tell me about his service time. True to the form I have seen with most military men and women…a humble breed…Paul told me a little bit about what he did. He spent most of his 22 year Army career was as an Army aviator. He started out as an Airborne Ranger, then served in Vietnam in Special Forces, where he was wounded. While recovering from the wounds, he was selected for flight school and served in Army Aviation special ops. I did a little research on what Special Operations does exactly, and this is the summary I came up with, “Conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements.” If you’re like me, that doesn’t clarify much. Upon further research, I found that much of what Special Operations did in Vietnam was to train groups of the Vietnamese Army so they can train the remaining army members. Of course, I am probably generalizing Special Operations to a large degree, and I will have to ask Paul to tell me more about it as soon as I have a chance.
After he was wounded, Paul’s entire career changed when he was selected to become an Army Aviator. Having worked with a pilot for over 18 years now, I have had the opportunity to fly…and I use the term loosely…a small 4 seater plane. Basically what I really did was steer it, and I didn’t do that so well, because it kept climbing, and had to be brought back to level. It was an opportunity given to me with no preparation, and I really enjoyed it. I think to a degree, that is what happened with Paul too. After being wounded, he was given an opportunity to switch gears and do something he never expected to do, and he excelled at it. That is an awesome career change, and one I look forward to hearing more about.
Of course, in a 22 year career, Paul was also building a family. He was married to his lovely wife, Elizabeth, who is an author, and after collaborating with 11 other authors on a book called “A Dozen Apologies”, she released her first book this past August, called “Imperfect Wings”. I look forward to reading both. Paul and Elizabeth have two children, daughter Shari and husband Jimmy Nardello, and their children Cameryn and Reid; and son Chris who is married to Dr Christina Noyes, and they have a son named Owen. I am really looking forward to getting to know these wonderful, new to me cousins as time goes on.