Category Archives: Vietnam

T’ODON C. ‘CHUCK’ LESHIKAR – Silver Star Recipient -“You might say I was in the thick of things”


                                          2nd Lieutenant Leshikar 1967


Chuck Leshikar 2018





“You Might Say I Was In the Thick of It”


By Todd Blomerth


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Chuck Leshikar for this story. I planned on a couple of hours. It didn’t work out that way. Five hours after arriving at his home, the two of us were still talking. Well, mostly, I listened. To say Chuck Leshikar is an interesting human being is like suggesting that the sun is kind of warm.

Chuck Leshikar was born in Austin, Texas on January 10, 1946. The son of T’Odon Leshikar and Angel (Dexter) Leshikar, he was the second of four children. Chuck’s father, of Czech heritage from Smithville, was Bursar at the University of Texas. Raised in Austin, Chuck attended Austin High School, graduating in 1964.

Chuck enrolled in the University of Texas, intent on majoring in architecture. He flunked out. Vietnam was heating up and expecting to get drafted, Chuck decided he want to fly helicopters. Taking a preliminary flight physical that showed him to be a good candidate for Warrant Officer School and his wings, he enlisted. After basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Ord, California, he was given another flight test and told that, no, he wasn’t going to get to go to flight school – his eyesight wasn’t quite good enough.

Chuck’s Plan B? To complete Infantry Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Then, he pinned on his 2nd lieutenant bars and signed up for additional schooling. In the mid-60s, everyone ‘knew’ you wouldn’t get sent to Vietnam if you had less that a year to go on your enlistment (That wasn’t necessarily so). He figured if he took enough schools, by the time he finished them, he’d have less than a year to go on his active duty commitment, and miss the usual one year tour in Southeast Asia.

Airborne School, Pathfinder School, Ranger School, Jungle Warfare School, 4.2” Mortar Platoon Leader School. Chuck completed them all. And still received orders for Vietnam. He’d finished all the training and still had one year and seven days left on his active duty hitch!

While at Ft. Hood he was temporarily assigned to the 1st Armored Division.  Along with several thousand other soldiers, Lt. Leshikar was ordered to Chicago when riots broke out in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The mayhem and violence left its mark on him, both internally and externally. During the riots his arm was sliced open with a rioter’s rat-tailed comb.

After a thirty-day leave, 1st Lieutenant Leshikar lumbered onto a flight from Bergstrom AFB to California. At Travis AFB he and others were packed onto a commercial flight. Destination – Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. “It was miserable,” Chuck recalls. “And to top it off, the in-flight movie was Will Penny, which was a really depressing story.”

Chuck had originally been assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. That brigade had taken its lumps and had been rotated to a relatively quiet area of Vietnam. Had he remained with the 173rd, it is probable he would never have seen the horrors and intensity of the combat about which I write. However, Chuck had volunteered for the 101st Airborne Infantry Division, which was assigned to one of the hottest combat zones in Vietnam.

Chuck arrived in Vietnam on June 13, 1968 and was assigned to the 101st on July 1, 1968. He remembers July 1 ruefully. “That’s the same day the 101st Airborne Division became “Air Assault,” and went off “jump status.” This meant, among other things, his hope of receiving the much coveted “jump pay” was gone.  After processing, he was flown to Hue, only recently retaken from North Vietnamese troops after bloody building to building fighting. From Hue, a jeep took him to LZ Sally, near the A Shau Valley. Despite his training as a mortar platoon leader, he was assigned as an infantry platoon leader in the “Delta Raiders,” D (Delta) Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment (D/2/501).

Vietnam’s A Shau Valley runs north and south for twenty-five miles. Flanked by two strings of heavily forested mountains, it was a key entry point into South Vietnam for North Vietnamese (NVA) soldiers and equipment, using the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. The 101st’s areas of operation were in this hotbed of enemy activity.                The daily log of Delta Company shows almost constant contact with the enemy. Search operations and reconnaisances in force were met with attempted ambushes. Sudden sniper and artillery fire from the well concealed enemy were encountered. Bunkers, weapons caches, were found and destroyed. 1st Lieutenant Chuck Leshikar found he was a natural leader of men. On August 18, 1968, his radio telephone operator (RTO) fell down a steep embankment and into a river. Chuck saved the man’s life, and was later awarded the Soldier’s Medal, awarded for “heroism not involving conflict with the enemy.”

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier’s Medal to First Lieutenant (Infantry) T’Odon Charles Leshikar, Jr. (ASN: 0-5344035), United States Army, for heroism not involving actual combat with an armed enemy force in the Republic of Vietnam on 18 August 1968. First Lieutenant Leshikar distinguished himself while serving as a Platoon Leader in Company D, 2d Battalion, 501st Infantry. The Third Platoon, commanded by Lieutenant Leshikar, was conducting a search and clear operation along the Song Bo River, Republic of Vietnam, and, because of the nature of the mission, it was necessary for half of the element to move through the water in order to locate any enemy weapons caches along the bank. Private First Class Robert L. Walker, the platoon radio telephone operator, stepped into a deep depression in the stream bed and, because of the weight and bulk of his equipment, was unable to remain above water. Observing the situation, First Lieutenant Leshikar, fully clothed and equipped, immediately jumped from the bank into the water to rescue the man. In the absence of First Lieutenant Leshikar’s quick action, Private First Class Walker undoubtedly would have drowned. First Lieutenant Leshikar’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Three days later, while operating six kilometers east of Fire Base T-Bone, Delta Company ran headfirst into the NVA. The Silver Star, the Armed Forces’ third-highest medal for gallantry, is awarded for singular acts of valor or heroism. The description of Lt. Leshikar’s actions, as part of the commendation, speaks for itself:


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Lieutenant (Infantry) T’Odon Charles Leshikar, Jr. (ASN: 0-5344035), United States Army, for gallantry in action in the Republic of Vietnam on 21 August 1968. First Lieutenant Leshikar distinguished himself while serving as Platoon Leader with Company D, 2d Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. First Lieutenant Leshikar was leading his platoon on a search and clear operation in mountainous jungles near the city of Hue, Republic of Vietnam, when it made contact with an undetermined sized enemy force. He immediately deployed his men and moved with his weapons squad under the increasing volume of automatic weapons and small arms fire to within twenty-five feet of the fortified enemy position. By successfully directing the fire of this element, he enabled another squad to begin maneuvering against the enemy in an attempt to flank the position. When the weapons squad was pinned down by sniper fire, First Lieutenant Leshikar crawled across an open spot in the trail and became the primary target of the enemy riflemen as he closed on their position. He then engaged the enemy with effective supporting fire, allowing another of his men to successfully eliminate the snipers with hand grenades. First Lieutenant Leshikar returned to his men and discovered several members of his platoon were wounded and lay directly in the line of fire. He again directed the fire of his men, while under direct enemy fire, and made possible the evacuation of the injured. First Lieutenant Leshikar carried one of the more seriously wounded to the rear. Even though he was wounded himself during the initial confrontation, First Lieutenant Leshikar refused medical evacuation, and again moved forward to the front lines. He then continued to lead the advance of his platoon by constantly moving from position to position, directing and giving encouragement to his men, while continuing to maintain accurate artillery fire support. The enemy retaliated by firing an intense barrage of rocket propelled grenades, which forced the friendly troops to withdraw. First Lieutenant Leshikar remained behind, covering the withdrawal of his men and directing the fire of helicopter gunships into the enemy positions, dangerously close to his location. First Lieutenant Leshikar’s personal bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

In mid-October 1968, the Delta Raiders were operating in a rugged and mountainous area They advanced on a sharp ridgeline, eventually dubbed Blue Falcon Ridge, they were met by murderous NVA fire. During the two day battle, the enemy hit the company with one of the heaviest mortar attacks he experienced in Vietnam. At dusk, a resupply helicopter arrived. Unable to land because of the tight perimeter, its crew threw out food and ammunition and began to ascend when it was hit by an RPG. The helicopter exploded and “it fell over the side of the hill in flames,” wrote Chuck. Some of what he saw was heartbreaking:

The medevacs came out and we were trying to get the co-pilot on board. He had suffered a severe and very mangled right leg, it was just hanging on by threads. He had lost all of his finger tips and was burned over quite a bit of his body. I will never forget standing on that ridge line to hold a strobe light to guide the helicopter in with. I was a standing target for all to see. The helicopter hovered above us with its spot light shining down on us, the wind from the blades whipping around us. It seemed to be a dream. All the tragedies of that day were around us. It was if I was watching the twilight zone. I was immediately returned to reality when I heard an AK-47 fire three rounds. I knew what was about to happen and it did. The mortar tube started firing again. Again, I heard three shots and the mortar rounds shifted to the other side of the ridge line. The NVA were adjusting mortar fire on us as we tried to medevac our wounded Delta Raiders.

The medevac lowered the basket and the pilot was placed in it and as it was going up one of the other men who had been on the helicopter walked up to me and asked, “Sir, am I very bad/” I looked at him and said, “No, you’re not hurt very bad at all. You’ll be okay.” And the young man looked at me and said, “Sir, do you know who I am?” And I looked at him and said, “No, I don’t.” The man was burned all over his face, had all of his hair gone and was burned pretty bad. I was trying to comfort him and tell him that he was not very bad when he informed that he was SGT Frank Wingo, who I knew very well but I couldn’t recognize because of the extent of the injuries and burns. It caught me totally off guard when he told me his name. That moment is something that I’ve thought over the years….I can’t keep from thinking about how he must have felt – that his injuries were so bad that I didn’t recognize him. I wanted to do something, but was totally unable to. I felt helpless and that I should been able to make it all right – all of it – the burns, my failure to recognize him –everything. This haunts me still. (Excerpt from Delta Raiders, Southern Heritage Press, 1998, The Days of Blue Falcon Ridge, by Chuck Leshikar).

1st Lt. Leshikar on the radio – October 1968

In January 1969, Chuck became Echo (E) Company Commander. In May of 1969, some of the 101st units were involved in the protracted and deadly assault on Hill 937, or what became known as Hamburger Hill. The seemingly pointless extraction of blood from Americans, and the ensuing press coverage of this encounter with well dug in NVA, overshadowed an almost equally deadly battle.

While the battle raged for Hamburger Hill, Chuck’s company – a combat support unit – was in support of artillery and other 101st Airborne units securing the top of a remote hill dubbed Firebase Airborne. “It was the roughest territory I ever saw,” Chuck recalls. Upon approaching the hilltop, the helicopter carrying him and others was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the tail boom. “I was thrown out of the chopper from about fifteen feet up,” he recalls. A defensive perimeter was constructed, and the Americans dug in. The firebase came under increasing sniper fire. E Company had ground surveillance radar, and a reconnaissance platoon. The radar and the recon both were telling 1st Lt. Leshikar that the enemy was about to hit the firebase, and hit hard. “I told the S-3 [operations officer] that we were about to get overrun,” Chuck recalls. “I was ignored.”

In the early morning hours of May 13, 1969, that is exactly what happened. Stationed with his RTO near an artillery battery, he fought for his life. “Three enemy ended up in my foxhole. You do what you have to, to survive.” By morning, the NVA had disappeared. “They had no intention of taking the firebase. Their intention was to damage us and leave,” he recounts. Some areas of the


Chuck’s photos of artillery firing at FB Airborne just hours before the night attack

firebase were held only after hand-to-hand fighting, and artillery firing deadly “beehive” rounds directly at the oncoming enemy.

The U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam’s truncated information provided to the press of ‘significant events …during May 1969’ cannot begin to describe the hell of May 13, 1969:

III MAF (THUA THIEN PROV) – At approx 0330, an elm of the 3rd Bde, US 101st Abn Div (AM) at a fire spt base 27 mi SW of Hue rec a gnd atk fr an unk size NVA force. The en atkd fr several dirs, empl hv SA & auto wpns fire along with RPG. The trps dir organic wpns & point blank arty fire at the atkg en. No en were reptd to have pent the peri & contact was lost at an unreptd time. Res: 31 NVA soldiers kd. US cas were 25 KIA & 51 WIA. 9 I/Wpns & 1 CSW was cptrd.

Carlton Meyer’s Lost Battles of Vietnam –  – describes the incident more honestly:

  1. Firebase Airborne Overrun- There are several short, vague accounts about how this artillery firebase was overrun on May 13, 1969. One veteran believes it was bait to draw the NVA into combat. VC sappers slipped inside its weak defenses and exploded the artillery ammunition dump, killing a dozen and causing confusion. The NVA swept through the base at night killing and wounding most defenders and destroying its big guns. Many Americans managed to hide until the NVA left before dawn, so the base was never officially captured. However, it was wrecked and later abandoned.

Along with the Silver Star and Soldier’s Medal, Chuck was awarded the Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars.

At the end of his tour in Vietnam, 1st lieutenant Leshikar reverted to Reserve status, joining a Texas Army National Guard Airborne unit while re-enrolling and completing his college degree. He attended Jumpmaster School at Ft. Benning, completed the Advanced Officer Branch Course by correspondence, fully intending to continue in the military. It was not to be. The U.S. Army Reserve was glutted with officers and there were no positions available, unless you were willing to “drill for points” only, in hope of one day getting a paid position. It was time to move on to other things.

In 1975, Chuck’s life took a dramatic turn. Walking into Austin’s Scholz Garden, he eyed a beautiful young lawyer. It was love at first sight. “My single days are over,” he thought. “I just knew I was going to marry her.” He and Nancy Burrell were married at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church on January 31, 1975.

Chuck became a CPA and eventually had his own company. He also developed a software program for bottle distributors. “I found out I was good with computers.” But, he was traveling all the time, so in 1989 he sold his company, and he and Nancy purchased their Caldwell County property. Unable to stay idle, he and a cousin purchased a commercial flooring business. He retired the second time in 2004. Nancy, after a legal career in both the private and public sector, also retired.

PTSD – for years, Chuck didn’t give much credence to its existence. After all, he’d come through the horrors of Vietnam unscathed mentally. Or so he thought. In the late 1990s, Chuck’s world went upside down. Nearly thirty years after the combat he’d survived, PTSD struck him down with a vengeance. Even now, Chuck’s voice changed dramatically when describing PTSD’s effect upon him and his family. “Once it hits you, it doesn’t go away.” Clinical treatment, counseling, and support got him through PTSD’s tornado-like havoc. He feels blessed that there were resources available, and that he took the often extremely painful steps needed, to overcome PTSD’s potential life-destroying effects.

The Lesihkars have two grown children. Son T.C. Leshikar III is a tax partner with Price Waterhouse. Daughter Jamie uses her skills as an excellent horsewoman to use those remarkable animals with autistic children and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers.

Chuck and Nancy share their property with two longhorn steers (“Butch” and “Cassidy”) and a bull aptly named Ferdinand and 15 longhorn cows. Chuck is an active member of The Single Action Shooting Society, the organization that organizes and sanctions Cowboy Action Shooting competitions. His interest is this type of competition gave Chuck the idea of creating his own Western town. Chuck’s Agarita Ranch sprouted a frontier town, complete with saloon, hardware store, and bordello. Carriage races, cowboy shooting, and wedding receptions, were just part of the Old West created by Chuck. He recently sold this property, but has no end to interests, primarily involving military history.

With a passion for military and American history, his collection of World War I artifacts is eye-opening. Photos of long-forgotten Doughboys line walls. I asked Chuck if any of the photos are of his family. “No,” he replied. “I’ve found them in garage sales and antique shops. It seems to me that they deserve some respect, so I gave them a home.” Complementing the photos are rare uniforms, diaries, and accoutrements of American soldiers of the early 1900s and World War I.

Next time you see Chuck, be sure to thank him for his service to his country. A simple acknowledgment of his efforts is most richly deserved.

Complete WWI American infantryman uniform                         







1913 American artilleryman’s saddle and gear





WWI Uniform with manuals





Chuck with doughboy’s WW1 Diary






Before the Purple Heart                                          if wounded, you received this





NOTE: After publishing this, I visiting with Chuck again. “It’s funny what comes back to you,” he told me. “And what, at the time, we thought was either funny, or that could have killed us, that we didn’t think much of at the time.”

  1. He recalls being in contact with the enemy and calling in fire support from the old battlewagon, the USS New Jersey, sitting off the coast. The naval gunners didn’t take into account the changes in elevation. They let look with the ship’s huge guns, only to have the shells fall the WRONG side of the hill they were dealing with. Fortunately, the impacts and explosions were 500 meters away and no one was hurt. “Cease fire, cease fire,” was quickly shouted into the radio.
  2. While at a firebase, or location of some kind – i forgot which – someone commenced firing.  The enemy was spotted on a LZ. Hopping into a LOACH (small spotter helo), he and others proceeding to get airborne and open fire on enemy. All of a sudden, the NVA opened up with a 12.5mm (.50 caliber) anti-aircraft gun. The pilot banked the helo, and took a round into the armored seat. The round extruded (but fortunately didn’t go all the way through), injuring the pilot. The pilot’s only worry: “Now I’ve got to tell my momma I got shot in the ass.”

LT. COL. KENNETH BYRD ‘KEN’ WHITTEMORE – How the Byrd Learned to Fly

Major Ken Whittemore taxing out for mission over North Vietnam – 1966
Ken Whittemore – Lockhart, Texas – 2018



By Todd Blomerth

Newspaper account of a close call – 1954

On October 6, 1954, 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Whittemore took off on a training mission in an F-86D from Sioux City, Iowa. Suddenly, the engine of his fighter exploded. Too low to bail out, Ken opted to crash-land in a farmer’s field just across the Missouri River in Nebraska. He sprinted from the burning aircraft. Pausing to catch his breath, he turned to see the plane explode. Ken recalled, “As I sat beside a road awaiting the crash crew to arrive, a farmer came up and asked me if my combine was on fire!!”

How an impoverished child of the Great Depression wound up flying sophisticated jet aircraft is a story of determination, skill, and, Ken  is absolutely convinced, God’s grace.

Kenneth Byrd Whittemore was born in Red Bank, Tennessee on June 26, 1930. His parents, Byrd Whittemore and Naomi (Harvey) Whittemore, were factory workers. In the depths of the Depression, Ken and his brother Eugene moved from place to place. His parents divorced when he was ten, and eventually his father became the custodial parent. Life wasn’t easy. Somehow, Ken made the most of it. While living with his father in a rented room in downtown Chattanooga, he would often skip school and use his ten cents of lunch money to watch double features at the Cameo and Dixie movie theaters.

In the summers, he was farmed out to various aunts and uncles in Tennessee and Georgia. While in Elberton, Georgia, he was baptized by the local Methodist preacher, who happened to by his Uncle Alton. Once, when visiting his Uncle Max, he was  exposed to polio by his cousin and quarantined for several weeks.

Byrd Whittemore remarried, but this did not provide any geographic stability. Byrd became a barber, and worked at Fort Oglethorpe and Dalton, Georgia, before moving back to Chattanooga where Ken graduated from Central High School in 1947. The school had an ROTC program. Ken found he enjoyed its structure.

Enrolling in Reinhardt College, a small Methodist school in Georgia, and short of funds as usual, Ken enlisted in the Georgia National Guard. The three dollars drill money was a Godsend.

Ken graduated from college two months before the North Koreans invaded the South. A draft notice was inevitable. The misery of National Guard summer camps at Fort Jackson, South Carolina dissuaded Ken from a career in the infantry, so he enlisted in the US Air Force. After completing courses at the USAF’s Supply School, Ken was assigned to the newly- reactivated San Marcos Air Force Base (renamed Gary Air Force Base in 1953, it now contains Gary Job Corps Center, and San Marcos Regional Airport). Almost completely shut down at the end of World War II, the facilities were primitive. No street lights. Barracks in disrepair. Runways and taxiways in sad shape.

That said, the young enlisted man thoroughly enjoyed his time there. Ken convinced his boss, Tech Sergeant Charlie Chester Brooks, that, because of the ‘valuable inventory’ of band instruments and athletic equipment in the Personnel Supply Room, it was necessary for Ken to sleep in the Supply Room’s isolated building. He avoided the bustle and lack of privacy of barracks living. Relief pitcher for the baseball team, he traveled to other bases. However, there had to be more to life than this.

Luckily, the Air Force was looking for pilot trainees. Not surprisingly, Ken was accepted into the single engine jet pilot program. Getting into the program was much easier than staying in. While at the Southern Airways training school, Ken remembers, “I soon realized that I needed help getting through this program, and I prayed to God for His help. He not only gave it, but has stayed with me ever since.”

                          Three of the aircraft Lt. Col. Ken Whittemore trained in

            While training at Laredo Air Force Base, Ken took his 1937 Nash to the dealership for servicing. While standing around, he was introduced to a beautiful schoolteacher from San Marcos who was teaching in Laredo. They fell in love almost at once, marrying on October 17, 1953, just two months after their first meeting. Loraine Brooks, whose Texas frontier roots run very deep, proved to be a perfect mate. Ken and Loraine have been married for sixty-five years.

The following years passed in a flurry of radar and interceptor training and assignments. Some were short. Others longer. The peripatetic military life saw Ken and Loraine in Panama City, Florida, and Sioux City, Iowa, where the Whittemore’s first son, John Michael was born in April 1954.

In November 1954, 1st Lt. Whittemore’s squadron was assigned to RAF Station Bentwaters, England. John Michael was too young to cross the Atlantic on a ship, and he and his mother were required to fly. Lucky for them. Ken recalls “rough seas, kippered herring for breakfasts, and sea sickness.” After three years in England, it was time to rotate home, this time to Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Here, their son David Mark was born. It was a joyous time, and eased the sadness of the loss of an infant daughter Karen Marie, who was just three days old when she died in England.



Being a desk jockey wasn’t in Ken’s blood. After eighteen months as a staff officer, he volunteered for the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Some may not recall just how important SAC was to the nation’s defense during the 50s and 60s. The Soviet Union, nuclear capable, made no secret of its willingness to use those weapons. The Cold War was often in danger of turning white hot. A SAC assignment required a commitment far greater than was ordinarily expected of most service personnel. Nuclear weapons delivery, survival, and B-52 flight training were completed. In the meantime, Loraine gave birth to the couple’s third son, Paul Stewart. She and the three boys rejoined her husband at his new duty station – Biggs AFB in El Paso, Texas.  

Captain Whittemore’s first assignment was with the 334th Bomb Squadron as a co-pilot of the massive bomber. To say that SAC training was intense is an understatement. There was zero tolerance for mistakes. On one occasion, his crew’s gunner missed the answer to one test question. The entire crew was confined to a room for two hours. The crew then re-took the test. Everyone aced the exam this time. The crews trained, flew and spent much time together on ground alert. Crews were tested constantly. Ken recalls, “There were three kinds of tests: Alpha, Bravo, and Coco. For Alpha, all crewmen went to the plane and strapped in their seats. During Bravo, crew members strapped in and started engines and then cut them off. For Coco, the crew strapped in, started engines, taxied onto the runway, and simulated takeoff by taxiing to the far end of the runway and then returning to the parking place.”

Nuclear Airborne Alert Missions, with thermonuclear weapons, were flown frequently. These flights originated and ended at Biggs AFB, with much time over the polar regions of Northern Canada. Beginning in 1960, one-third (this later went to one-half) of the Squadron’s aircraft were on fifteen minute alert, fully armed, fueled, and ready for combat, all to reduce the vulnerability of a Soviet nuclear attack.

In 1963, Ken was promoted to B-52 Aircraft Commander. If anything, the pressure became more intense. With names like Chrome Dome, Hard Head, Round Robin, and Head Start, SAC kept nuclear-armed B-52s in the air constantly, flying routes near the Soviet Union’s borders. Each bomber crew had specific targets it was to attack in the event of a war. The Soviet Union had similar strategies aimed at the U.S. Ken’s B-52, refueled midair by KC-135s, flew missions often lasting twenty-two hours! Thankfully for mankind, no thermonuclear weapons were ever needed. Those of us living in the 1960s can well recall the bomb shelters, drills, and gallows humor that went with the ever-present threat of ‘what could happen.’

On August 4, 1964 the Tonkin Gulf Incident occurred. North Vietnamese torpedo boats apparently (the event is still the subject of intense controversy) attacked an American warship lying off the coast of North Vietnam. Congress’s Tonkin Resolution led to the substantial escalation in an already bloody conflict.

The B model Stratofortress was being decommissioned. Ken was intent to on ‘getting into the war,’ but not flying another version of the huge bomber. Anti-aircraft defenses in North Vietnam were substantial. “I had no intention of flying over Hanoi in a B-52.”  In November 1965, he received notice that he would be going to Southeast Asia within the year. First, he had to learn to fly the F-105 Thunderchief (endearingly nicknamed the ‘Thud’). During that time, Ken and Loraine decided that the family needed a stable home base. Loraine’s parents were living in San Marcos, so the two searched for a house nearby. In 1966, they purchased a house on Maple Street in Lockhart. They continue to live there today.

The supersonic single seat F-105D Thunderchief conducted the majority of the strike bombing missions in the early days of the Vietnam War. The massive fighter bomber could carry up to 14,000 pounds of armament, more than a World War II B-17 or B24. The two seater variant, the F-105G was dubbed the ‘Wild Weasel,’ and was designed for anti-aircraft missile suppression.

F-105D with full bomb load

On July 22, 1966, Major Ken Whittemore reported to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base for assignment to the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron. Between then and January 1967, he flew over one hundred missions. All but four were over North Vietnam.

In 1965, the U.S created Route Packages, dividing regions of North Vietnam for air missions. Route Package Six (Pac 6), around Hanoi and its port of Haiphong, held the deadliest concentration of anti-aircraft weaponry in the world. Other Pacs were only marginally safer to attacking bombers.

Ken describes a ‘routine’ mission:

Bombing a transportation center – North Vietnam – 1966

“The method of delivery was to approach the target at an altitude of around five to six thousand feet, with the throttle in afterburner. The altitude was determined by the area defenses, and the afterburner gave us a very high speed. At a preplanned point we would begin a rapid climb to about fifteen thousand feet and at an air speed of 350 knots, roll over into a steep dive, aim at the target, release the bombs at six thousand feet, and get the heck out of there.”

On one occasion, his empty external wing fuel tank took an anti-aircraft round, rather than his left wing. “I jettisoned the tank, and the plane settled down,” He recalls. “I did not want to bail out up there. That was pretty exciting and another reminder that God had His eye on me.”

The Wild Weasels would fly with bomber formations. The two-seaters were tasked with attacking surface to air missile (SAM) sites before their weapons could be launched.    It was a deadly cat-and-mouse game, played daily.

Ken’s aerial map showing location of MiG 17 shootdown


Two missions stand out in Ken’s memory. The first was an attack on a railroad and highway bridge at Dap Cau, about twenty miles northeast of Hanoi. Ken was part of Ford Flight, a Wild Weasel-led contingent of four aircraft intent on protecting a large attack force from SAMs. Ford Flight entered North Vietnam from the Tonkin Gulf, when two MiG 17s began tracking the lead two aircraft, but not seeing the trailing two. Lt. Karl Richter scored a rare ‘kill’ on the unsuspecting enemy. Do Huy Hoang, the MiG’s pilot, bailed out, and survived the war. Richter would be shot down and die ten months later.

The second was an attack on a railroad bridge in Pac 5. After dropping his bombs and strafing a train, a pilot radioed Major Whittemore that his aircraft had been hit. He escorted the stricken fighter-bomber, and stayed on station long enough to ensure that a rescue helicopter was able to retrieve the pilot.  Another pilot in the four aircraft flight was not seen again.

And so it went, day after deadly day. In the words of one F-105 pilot, “There was simply no room for error.” Over three hundred and fifty F-105s were lost in the conflict. Many young crewmen never came home. The reasons were many: the F-105 was originally a nuclear strike aircraft. It wasn’t designed for the mission, but served admirably until replaced by newer aircraft. Russian ‘advisors’ to the North Vietnamese ensured they received state-of-the-art radar and missiles. The American commanders insisted on certain attack corridors in the north. The predictability played into the hands of the enemy.

Ken Whittemore was one of the lucky ones.

Lt. Colonel Whittemore’s last assignment in the Air Force was Chief of Safety at Laredo AFB. He retired in 1972. Lockhart became Ken’s ‘permanent duty station.’

Ken became the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce manager for two years and was instrumental in the creation of the Chamber’s Chisholm Trail Roundup. Then, working under Joe Rector, Ken helped in the change-over from Lockhart’s collection office to the Caldwell County Central Appraisal District.  Meanwhile, Loraine, a gifted teacher and counselor, worked for Lockhart ISD, mentoring countless children, until her retirement in 1990.

Ken returned to college, earning a degree from Southwest Texas State University in 1977, and finished his formal schooling with completion of an electronic tech course at Texas A&M in 1980.

For years Ken could be found most mornings at the Lockhart State Park, intent on getting in eighteen holes of golf. The couple remains actively involved in the lives of their sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Lt. Colonel Whittemore’s career was, to say the least, exciting. During his tenure, he flew nine different types of aircraft including cargo, fighters, reconnaissance, trainers and heavy bombers. Among his many awards: the Distinguished Flying Cross and eleven Air Medals. He is, quite rightly, extremely proud to have had the opportunity to serve our country.

Be sure to thank him for his devotion to duty. He’ll be the first to tell you to not forget Loraine. Without her love and support, he couldn’t have done it.


Lt. Col. Ken Whittemore USAF (retired) – 2018





Ken Doran 1968
Ken Doran 1918




By Todd Blomerth


Hundreds of young soldiers sat in the hot bleachers. They were beginning the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s two week jungle school at An Khe, Vietnam. The training sergeant eyed the newly-arrived men. “Look to the man on your left,” he shouted. “Now to the man on your right. Now look to the man in front of you. Now to the back. Only one of you will come back from Vietnam just the way you got here.”

As Ken recounted this, his voice and countenance changed noticeably. The sergeant was wrong. No one who experienced combat and field operations in Vietnam returned home unchanged.

. Ken’s mother, Malou King, was a Mississippi farm girl. His father, the son of a West Texas sheep rancher, was a Fightin’ Texas Aggie, Class of 1940. The two met in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jack Kennedy Doran, Sr. flew B-29 Superfortress bombers out of India and later the Pacific during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His family is quite rightly proud of his service to his country. After the war, he joined his family’s farming operation in Midland, TX and also contracted as a civil engineer with various companies in West Texas. Jack Kennedy “Ken” Doran, Jr. was born in Midland, Texas on April 4, 1947.  Ken and his older brother Russell went to school in Midland, San Antonio and Houston, settling in Corsicana, Texas where Jack Sr. owned a Phillips 66 distributorship.

Corsicana was by Ken’s account, a great place to grow into adulthood. He lettered in basketball and enrolled at Texas A&M in the fall of 1965.



                                              fish Doran – A&M – 1965

Studying didn’t agree with Ken. With dreadful grades, “I was invited not to come back,” he told me jokingly. He made another stab at it, taking courses at Navarro County Junior College, but clearly, Ken wasn’t ready yet to finish his college education.

Ready or not, the Army was ready for him.

It’s hard to explain the choices, or lack thereof, available to draft-age men in the late 1960s. The United States was embroiled in a seemingly never-ending war in Southeast Asia. Enlistment or being drafted into the military often resulted in a tour of duty in the war zone of Vietnam.

Ken was, and is, a very patriotic American, Young and seemingly invincible, he wanted to help his country in its war. Not only that, he wanted to do it as a helicopter pilot – an incredibly dangerous occupation with a very high casualty rate.

To speed the process along, he reckoned that if he had to serve, he’d enlist rather than wait to be drafted. Off he went to “Tigerland,” Fort Polk, Louisiana. It was common knowledge that, if you scored well on your initial testing, and if you were in excellent physical shape, you could apply for Officer Candidate School, and Army Flight School, while you were taking Infantry Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT). Ken was a fit in both categories.

Here, the Army threw its first monkey wrench into his plans. While in basic, a young 2nd lieutenant told Ken, “You can’t go to OCS. You don’t have a college degree.” The shavetail was totally wrong. Being a new recruit, Ken didn’t know it, and opted for another route toward his dream of flying helicopters. Scurrying around amid the time constraints of basic training, Ken somehow managed to complete his application and physical for Flight School. Successful completion of that school meant a commission as a Warrant Officer, a single-track specialty officer, and getting to fly. Things were looking up. Surely, upon completion of AIT, he’d be on his way to the Army’s helicopter flight school at Fort Wolters, Texas.

Instead, Ken wound up at Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Three ‘fun’ weeks went by; he earned his jump wings, but still no orders. Where were they?

Army Special Forces are an elite fighting force. Figuring the Army had ignored his request for flight school, Ken had the opportunity to go to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and vie for the coveted Green Beret. However, he and his girlfriend at the time were supposed to be in a wedding back in Corsicana. “If I sign up for Special Forces training, will I get any time off?” “Oh no,” said an instructor. “The class starts immediately.” Ken decided against signing up for the Special Forces’ program. After jump school, he went home to be in the wedding, and later received an infamous “Dear John” letter. In Vietnam, he ran into someone who had volunteered for Special Forces training. “Turns out,” Ken told me, “the guys got to Fort Bragg, and were given thirty days leave, as there were no classes starting at that time!”  The Army had thrown him another curve ball.

Still waiting for the elusive orders for flight school, he received his next set of orders. He was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. PFC Ken Doran was going to Vietnam. As an airborne infantryman.

Pfc Doran and hundreds of young men flew from McCord Air Force Base, through Anchorage and Japan. As the jet banked toward a landing at Cam Ranh Bay, he thought to himself, “What have I gotten into?”

In-country, the men were processed, given one week of acclimatization and ‘culture school.’ He loaded onto a C-123 transport that took him to An Khe. The aircraft landed at an old “shot-up” French airfield. Then two weeks of jungle school began. “We learned how to use claymore mines and improvised explosives. We learned how to make and detect booby traps, and call in air strikes. If necessary, a Pfc could even call in a B-52 strike.”

Ken’s arrival with the unit was fortuitous. The North Vietnamese Tet offensive of January 1968 had been a bloody tactical disaster for the NVA and VC. However, it had proved a propaganda success with the American public. Shocked at the growing number of American deaths (there would be over 14,000 in 1968), President Lyndon Johnson replaced his military leadership in Vietnam, refused to substantially increase the number of American troops, and told the South Vietnam leaders they needed to start carrying a heavier load in the war. The 173rd was a proud outfit that has seen several nasty battles in 1967 and early 1968. It had badly mauled the enemy, but in the process had taken substantial casualties. Hill 882, Dak To, and Hill 875 became synonymous with death and destruction. Its combat effectiveness reduced, the 173rd was re-located to a ‘quieter’ zone of combat just before Ken’s arrival.

173rd Airborne Brigade on an operation

However, in March 1968 when he arrived, “everyone was still jumpy from Tet,” Ken recalled.  He was sent to a combat battalion at Bong Son in Binh Dinh Province. Three weeks of  operations ensued, including avoiding an ambush that had troops scurrying to avoid incoming mortar fire. Then suddenly, one set of orders caught up with him. A sergeant told him, “You’ve got orders to report back to headquarters at An Khe. You weren’t supposed to be here.” Combat infantryman Doran found out he’d been assigned as a pay clerk.

This was a great opportunity to avoid combat zones, stay safe, and ride out the remaining eleven months in-country. Ken chose a different route. The finance officer sought out volunteers to take Military Pay Currency (MPC, or ‘scrip’) to the soldiers at outposts. Loading up ‘monopoly money’ in plastic bags which were stuffed in rucksacks and fatigue pants pockets, he’d head to the airfield, catch a flight on a chopper or Caribou to fire bases. “You were a celebrity when you showed up with        money,” he laughed. Sitting on an ammo crate, Ken would disburse MPC to troopers.

Often, it wasn’t that simple. Ken would arrive ready to pay troops, only to find they were loading on choppers for combat operations. “I wasn’t supposed to be there,” he recalls, “but I’d go with them so they’d get their money. Then I’d start looking for a ride back to headquarters.” I asked Ken why he took the chances. He thought about it a moment and said, “I felt obligated. In a way I felt I was supposed to be out there with those guys to begin with.” His insistence on taking care of his fellow soldiers, and repeated travels to outposts and firebases earned Ken a Bronze Star

The time in Vietnam wasn’t all life-and-death. He was able to take an R&R to Australia, and somehow, wrangle time off at Christmas to visit his older brother Russell, who was stationed at Okinawa with the Air Force. He still marvels at the “loosey goosey” way he was able to hop rides on helicopters and transport aircraft flying around the country virtually unaccounted for.

Remember Ken’s orders for flight school? They caught up with him shortly after he arrived in Vietnam. Once again, someone threw a monkey wrench into the gears. “You have to finish your one year tour before you can go back to the States for helicopter school.” Turns out, the sergeant that told him that was wrong also. Shortly before Ken’s tour ended someone finally got it right. “You don’t need to serve out your tour here,” said a noncom who knew what he was talking about. “I’ll get your orders cut right now and get you sent back.” Ken passed on the chance. It was time to go home.

Ken in Vietnam


Spec 5 Doran finished his military service at Fort Hood, Texas as a finance clerk with the 2nd Armored Division and discharged on June 19, 1970. He turned down $9000 in re-up bonus money, and re-enrolled in college. Ken Doran graduated from Texas A&M in 1972.

Thankfully, things haven’t been quite as exciting since he finished his military service. They have been very fulfilling, however. He met a beautiful U.T. student visiting her mother in Corsicana. He and Gail McElwrath married on December 29, 1970. They are the proud parents of three exceptional sons. Alex, older by five minutes than twin brother Jack Kennedy III (“Tres”), is an FBI agent. Tres is a CPA with KPMG. Major Casey Doran is a helicopter pilot and flew Marine One during President Obama’s terms of office. Casey also served two tours of duty in Iraq.

Ken went into banking, working at various levels within the Farm Credit System, first with a Production Credit Association in Mexia, Texas, and then with Farm Credit Administration in Washington D.C, the Farm Credit Banks in Wichita,

Kansas and finally with Texas Ag Finance in Robstown, Texas.. He earned a Masters degree in agricultural banking from Texas A&M in 1975. He and Gail came to Lockhart in 2004, when he accepted the position of branch president of American National (later Sage) Bank. He also operated the Lockhart branch of Camino Real Bank for three years, then ‘retired’ briefly. He was coaxed out of retirement, resuming his role as branch president at Sage National Bank, retiring for good in 2014.

While living in the Corpus Christi area, Ken served on the Calallen ISD school board. His encounters with a demanding coach in Corsicana gave him a strong sense of empathy for students. “We only have one shot at these kids,” he told me. “Kids can be at the mercy of those in power. We have to make sure they are given every opportunity to excel.”

Ken Doran’s life has hardly come to a halt. He and Gail have nine grandchildren and are quite active in their lives. The couple is heavily involved in the community of First Lockhart Baptist Church. Ken attended men’s Bible studies with the non-denominational Bible Study Fellowship for several years, and continues with his study of the Bible with a men’s group that meets at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Monday nights. Ken is on the Lockhart Kiwanis Club’s ramp building team, which undertakes at least one project a month. He also a co-organizer of the Gig ‘Em – Hook ‘Em golf tournament. This annual event earns substantial scholarships for Caldwell County students attending A&M and UT.

A few more things: Ken’s got a wicked sense of humor, a keen wit, and wisdom that many of his compadres are envious of.

Lockhart is blessed to have him and Gail in our community.

BTW, Ken chose not to elaborate on the night, while on guard duty and taking sporadic VC fire, he shot out the main communication wire around one sector of the An Khe perimeter.


  ENSIGN HILBURN 1968                        BENNY HILBURN 2018

It was early 1968, and thousands of enemy troops surrounded a fire base in South Vietnam. As his aircraft flew at low altitude dropping sensors over the area, the young naval officer knew the North Vietnamese were equipped with several types of anti-aircraft weapons. At the height his US Navy P2V Neptune was flying, rifle fire could also easily reach it. However, his biggest fear was not the enemy. The crew had just received a warning notice. B52 Stratofortresses were inbound, and soon would be directly over the battlefield. From 30,000 feet, thousands of pounds of deadly ordinance would be dropping on targets. It was time to get out of the way.

I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start at the beginning.

Benny Hilburn was born in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1943. He was the son of Ben Bazzel Hilburn and Pauline (Stringer) Hilburn. Benny’s dad was manager of a Swift poultry plant, and Benny spent his first five years of life in Yoakum, Texas. The Hilburn family moved to Lockhart in 1949. It should come as no surprise that Benny was an active, fun loving kid. He was a Cub Scout, and played trombone in the high school band.

Upon graduation from Lockhart High School in 1961, Benny attended Texas A&M. Benny’s dad and two uncles were Texas Aggies. It only made sense that Benny attend there too.

He was a proud member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, a military unit within Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, and the world’s largest military marching band. At A&M, the first two years of Army or Air Force ROTC was compulsory. Benny was determined to be an aviator, and figured the Navy gave him the best shot at attaining that goal. He took advantage of a program allowing him to enlist in the Navy while still attending college, anticipating qualifying for its pilot program.

His wish came true. After completion of the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, the newly minted ensign was selected for flight training, receiving his wings in December 1966. Ensign Hilburn qualified on a variety of aircraft, including the T34 and T28.  Multi-engine training on the Grumman S2 followed at


                                Benny’s mom proudly pins on his aviator’s wings  

Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. Benny qualified on aircraft carrier takeoffs and ‘traps’ (landings) on the reconfigured World War II aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Lexington.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Hilburn’s next duty station was Naval Air Station Lemoore, where he was introduced to one of the era’s toughest warbirds. Even though the 1960s was well into the jet age, the Navy continued to fly many aircraft whose vintages reached back to World War II. The A-1 Skyraider was one of these. This aircraft was a beast. Developed too late to see action in World War II, the SPAD, as it was nicknamed, was the Marine and Navy workhorse of the Korean War.  The plane could put fear into an uninitiated pilot. Its 2700 horsepower radial engine was so powerful that the pilot very quickly learned to ‘lead with rudder.’ If he didn’t, the consequences could be catastrophic, as the aircraft would do a ‘torque roll,’ that is, turn around its propeller. Benny recalls that “my right leg became very strong.” The A-1 was a close air support aircraft in Vietnam, eventually being turned over to the South Vietnamese. Its ability to linger over the battlefield, carrying 8000 pounds of ordinance on its fifteen hardpoints made it a welcome sight to troops in combat.

However, flying close air combat support wasn’t in the cards for the young aviator. While training on the A-1, a new squadron came looking for pilots. Observation Squadron (VO) 67 had just been created. It used heavily modified P2V Neptune anti-submarine aircraft. VO-67’s future mission was secret. “I asked where it was going, and they said they couldn’t tell me,” Benny recalls. Twenty-three years old, and with the invincibility of youth, it sounded like a grand adventure. He volunteered immediately.

By 1966, the North Vietnamese (NVA) were moving massive amounts of equipment and personnel into South Vietnam. The powers-that-be had declared Hanoi and its harbor facilities at Haiphong off limits to bombing and mining, so plans were made to interdict enemy movement along a series of hidden routes dubbed the ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail.’ The quickest solution to finding the enemy was to use aircraft already capable of detecting hidden movement and sound. The Navy, with its anti-submarine technology, was the only branch of service with that capability. VO-67’s mission was born.

The heavily modified and newly armored Neptunes were secretly flown to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base. Nakhon Phanom was chosen because it was hard up against the Mekong River, Thailand’s border with the country of Laos, ostensibly ‘neutral’ and thus off-limits to United States combat missions. They immediately began the use of converted sonobuoys, dubbed ‘acoubuoys,’ and other devices.

There, VO-67’s twelve crews and a large number of ground personnel went to war. “When we arrived,” Benny says, “it was primitive. The runway was short, and they were still using [World War II era interconnecting steel] Marston mats for runways and hard stands. “We were told that our combat mortality rate was expected to be 75%.” A grim prediction, but one based on reality. By 1967, the NVA had emplaced radar-guided anti-aircraft batteries the length of the Trail. Survivability of the slow moving Neptunes was unknown.

VO-67 began flying clandestine combat missions in November of 1967. Using ‘Mud River’ as part of their call signs, the twelve crews flew over Laos dropping listening devices in jungles near suspected troop movement areas. Drop altitudes depended on the type of sensor used. Some were released at 2500 feet, some at five hundred feet. The lumbering four engine aircraft wasn’t built for speed. Its two jets and two propeller-driven engines could only push it so fast. If known anti-aircraft batteries were suspected in the area, VO-67’s air crews used terrain masking and the many karst outcroppings to survive missions. As ‘third pilot’ Benny sat in the nose of the aircraft, bent over a Norden bombsite. When near the target area, he took command of the aircraft, just like a World War II bombardier.  There was nothing between him and the enemy but Plexiglas.

Then, in January of 1968, communist North Vietnamese besieged Khe Sanh Combat Base, just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  As a run-up to, and to distract the South Vietnamese and Americans from the coming Tet Offensive, as many as 40,000 North Vietnamese (NVA) soon were in the mountainous area, cutting the base off from normal supply routes. Life in the surrounded base for the Marines, Army and Air Force personnel was extremely dangerous. There was a very real risk that the base would be overrun. VO-67’s mission changed. Flying low-level missions, its aircraft dropped different types of sensors to get ‘real-time’ fixes on where the enemy was massing. Based on these sensors, fighter-bombers were directed with their deadly ordnance against the well-hidden enemy.

Benny Hilburn reflected that “I wasn’t afraid of getting shot down. There were so many aircraft in the air in Khe Sanh’s defense, I was afraid of a mid-air collision!” However, an even greater fear was being in the area when the B52 Stratofortresses, begin unloading their payloads as close as two hundred meters from the Base perimeter. “We were given five minutes to clear the area,” he recounts. “You did not want to be around anywhere near when their bombs were falling through the air.’

In the minds of Khe Sanh’s defenders, and in those of many who have studied the battle, VO-67’s efforts at finding where the enemy was, so it could be destroyed, was instrumental in the ultimate relief of the combat base.

For nine months, Lt (j.g) Hilburn flew missions over the jungles of Laos and Viet Nam. While his aircraft was occasionally hit by small arms fire, his crew survived unscathed. Others weren’t so lucky. Between January 11, 1968 and February 27, 1968, VO-67 lost nine men in each of Crews 2 and 5, and the pilot and one crewmen of Crew 7 to enemy fire or navigational errors.  

VO-67’s duties were taken over by newer, faster aircraft, and the squadron was de-commissioned in 1968. A richly deserved Presidential Unit Citation was not awarded until 2008, after VO-67’s remarkable story was finally declassified.

                      A long overdue Presidential Unit Citation

Rotating back to the United States, Lieutenant (s.g.) Benny Hilburn filled out his ‘dream’ sheet for his next assignment Unlike many, he actually did receive an assignment that turned out to be a dream.  For the remainder of his Navy career, Benny was assigned to a squadron at Norfolk, Virginia, ferrying all types of aircraft around the United States. It was aviator heaven.

By November 1969, the United States was reducing the size of its military. Lieutenant (s.g.) Hilburn, after five amazing years, decided to leave active service. In 1970, and in part because of his love for aviation, Benny went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration, commonly referred to as the FAA.  While assigned to Corpus Christi, Benny met a beautiful young Oklahoman, who was working as a medical technician. They married on December 29, 1972 (and not in January of 1973, as she had planned), because Benny wanted to get the tax deduction for 1972!

Linda and Benny are the proud parents of three children: Melissa, David, and Alison. They also have seven grandchildren.

Benny’s FAA assignments included Dallas-Ft.Worth, Midland, San Antonio, Lubbock, Enid, (and after the 1981 strike by controllers, he was assigned on an emergency basis back to DFW while the family remained in Enid), Ft. Worth Regional, Houston Intercontinental, and Austin.

Benny and his family returned to Lockhart in 1990, where he and his wife Linda raised their son and two daughters, David, Melissa and Allison.  Benny continued to work with the FAA in a management capacity, to include a position requiring the government’s highest security clearance. Benny’s skills and leadership proved invaluable to the FAA in administrative areas, particularly after 9/11. Traveling between Tacoma, Washington and Panama City, Florida, he coordinated airspace designs to ensure safety for the United States President when on Air Force One. In 2007, he finished out his illustrious career at Randolph Air Force Base as FAA liaison with the Air Force training command.

Retirement did not slow Hilburn down. He just quit getting a paycheck. His service to his church and community just got even busier. What does this ‘retired’ person do today? Where do I start?

Benny serves as a deacon at First Lockhart Baptist Church. He’s also sat on many committees, notably as chairman for Long Range Planning. He meets with men of various denominations weekly as part of a men’s Bible study.

He has served in many capacities with the Lockhart Kiwanis Club. Many Saturdays will find him building wheelchair ramps. These ramps liberate the physically and mentally challenged, allowing them to enter and leave their homes safely. Usually the first to arrive and last to leave the club’s weekly meeting, he sets up the meeting room, and cleans up the tables. The club’s annual Five K Stampede relies on him to coordinate its sign-up system, and place directional and safety signs.

Benny volunteers in many capacities at Chisholm Trail Roundup. He’s always on the Meals on Wheels sign-up sheet, for both Kiwanis and his church. He recently finished up two unopposed terms on the Lockhart City Council. He was universally acknowledged as a non-partisan, level-headed, conscientious representative of his community.

In his ‘spare’ time, Benny volunteers to transport people to doctors’ visits and the airport.  

In January 2018, in recognition of his selfless service, he was named Lockhart’s Most Worthy Citizen by the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce.

Benny is deeply devoted in his faith and love for his God, his family, and community in his willingness to help others. Unfailingly kind and generous, this most remarkable American continues to be a blessing to Caldwell County. And, he is a lot of fun to be around.

If you can slow him down long enough, be sure to thank Benny Hilburn for his service to his country.

Todd Blomerth 2/2018








Todd Blomerth

            It was early 1953. The Allies were locked in vicious combat with communist forces along a line across the Korean peninsula.  Ten miles inside enemy lines, Captain Stan Reece was in the back seat on an AT6 “Texan” artillery spotter aircraft. After flying over thirty missions, the 6147th Group commander had made Captain Reece the group’s operations officer. The unit’s casualty rate was too high, and as operations officer, Captain Reece was told to check out each pilot, to ensure all were qualified and performing at the high standard needed. Stan sat in the rear seat of the two-seater aircraft, where an Army forward observer usually was placed. He was evaluating the skill and proficiency (we’ll call him Jones), trying to ensure Jones would not be another casualty while providing the US Army with an aerial platform for forward observers.

Very concerned about the Jones’s too-casual attitude about the enemy’s willingness to shoot down “low and slow” unarmed intruders, Captain Reece instructed him to make corrections. Before that could happen, the AT6 took 37mm antiaircraft rounds that damaged its right wing and flipped the aircraft onto its back. Smoke poured into the cockpit  Jones failed to respond to Reece’s intercom, and Captain Reece was forced to take over piloting the wounded airplane. Flinging open the canopy to clear blinding smoke, Captain Reece fought to regain control of the damaged aircraft,. He prayed the wounded bird would get the two back across the front lines before it came apart. Fortunately, it did.

“Where were you when I needed you to flying the airplane?” he frantically demanded of Jones. Finally responsive, Jones meekly replied, “I was scared.”. “Well I was too,” responded Captain Reece. “But you still have to fly the plane!”

As Captain Reece landed, the ground crew furiously waved him away from revetments and parked aircraft. It turned out that the anti-aircraft rounds had ignited white phosporus rockets under the aircraft’s wings, used to spot enemy positions. The ground crew’s well founded fear of an horrific explosion and fire was not realized. Fire crews extinguished the flames, as a forward observer pilot and his evaluator leapt from the plane. Captain Reece made sure Jones never flew with the unit again. It was a tough call, as Jones was a friend, but the only one to make.

Sixty-four years later, Colonel Stan Reece sat in his living room, telling me of his life. Now ninety six years old, he expresses some doubt as to why he is being interviewed. “I don’t think my career was all that interesting,” he tells me.

This is his story. You decide for yourselves whether his belief is correct.

Horace Stanley “Stan” Reece was born in the community of Martin’s Mill, Van Zandt County, Texas on September 21, 1921. He was the oldest of five children of Flake Elijah Reece and Nettie (Lancaster) Reece. Flake and Nettie taught school for a period of time.  Flake was also a farmer, but later moved the family to Athens, Texas where he owned a garage. Stan and his younger siblings, Charles, Billy, Bonetia and Mary Jo all graduated from Athens High School.  Like all children of the Depression, Stan knew about hard work. When he wasn’t in school, he worked for his dad as a mechanic. He graduated in 1940, and then worked construction in Ft. Worth and at Camp Wolters.

    Flight Cadet Reece – Eagle Pass, Texas

On June 30, 1942, Stan was sworn into  the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet.  Because of training facility shortages, he was told to go home. “They said they’d call me in a month,” he recalls. He worked in his dad’s garage for almost six months before he received orders to report to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (later Lackland Air Force Base). Stan took to the air naturally. Without bragging, he calmly states, “I was a very good pilot.” After Basic at Brady, Texas and Primary at Waco Airfield, he finished second in his class at  Advanced training at Eagle Pass Army Airfield. With over twenty hours already in a high-powered P-40, he hoped for a combat assignment. Enamored with the monstrous P-47 Thunderbolt, he tried for an assignment flying that fighter. No luck. Then he applied for a unit flying the magnificent P-51 Mustang. Again, no luck. The Army Air Forces had other ideas. 2nd Lieutenant Stan Reece was assigned as an instructor pilot at Randolph Army Airfield, outside of San Antonio. It was a bitter disappointment, but just one of the breaks. He loved flying, and was a natural teacher.

                                       Edith Clark Reece

The stateside duty proved a blessing in disguise. In mid-1944 he was diagnosed with osteomylitis. Prior to the advent of strong antibiotics, the best someone with this dangerous bone infection could hope for was to survive with an amputation. Stan was lucky, as penicillin was coming available. It still took fifteen months in the hospital to be cured. “They didn’t know how long I had had the infection in my leg before it was discovered,” he recalls. By the time he was released in October of 1945, the war was over. The interminable time recovering was not all a loss. Stan met and married a beautiful Army officer (and nurse) – Edith Clark, from Prairie Lea. Their happy marriage lasted for sixty-six years. Edith died in 2011. They have two children. Ralph was born in 1946. Jacqueline was born in 1948.

Because of his skills, Stan was one of the small minority of pilots who were allowed to stay in the Army Air Force after World War II, as the services drastically reduced manpower. The newly married pilot, soon to be a father, was assigned to post-war Germany, first in Wiesbaden, and then in Kassal. He had several assignments.

Then the Soviet Union and its East German lackeys began closing road and canal access to areas of Berlin controlled by the French, British, and Americans. With one and one half million Soviet troops surrounding the former capital of Nazi Germany, Stalin felt sure that he could force the Western Allies out of Berlin, subjecting its citizens to the communist rule beling inflicted on East Germany. The Americans and British undertook to fly into the beleaguered city over 6000 tons daily, of food, supplies and coal. In was considered an impossible task.

Beginning in late June, 1948, with C-47 Dakotas, and later with C-54s and other, heavier transports, pilots flew narrow air corridors at three minute intervals, day and night, for almost one year. Airplanes got one shot at landing. Upon landing in West Berlin, engines were kept running, air crews remained in their transports, as Berliners unloaded the precious food and supplies. Then it was an immediate take-off and return to friendly territory.  A missed approach meant returning to West Germany, fully loaded. There was no room for error.

Despite Soviet harrassment, eventually the Airlift was moving over 11,000 tons a day! In April of 1949, the Soviets gave up. Berliners actually had a surplus of food and supplies. Stan Reece flew over twenty flights in and out of Berlin. His younger brother Charles, also an aviator, was part of the all-out effort. The Airlift is one of the proudest moments in our nation’s history.

Captain Reece was then assigned to Tinker Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. He had flown and mastered all sorts of aircraft. A small sampling: P-40, P-47, and P-51 fighters; A-26, B-25 bombers; C-47, C-54 transports, AT-6 trainer. Because of the rush to get pilots into aircraft in World War II, and the budget and manpower cuts afterward, training had suffered grievously. Stan recalls that “many of these pilots, including some who’d flown in World War II, weren’t trained properly.”  What better man to help fix the problem than someone of Stan’s stature and reputation?

Then, war in an unexpected place threw the United States in a frenzied effort to save South Korea from subjugation by North Korean, and later, Chinese communists. Bidding farewell to his wife and kids, Captain Reece arrived in the war-torn Korean peninsula in 1952. He was assigned to the 6147th Tactical Control Group. He flew unarmed AT-6 “Texans” over enemy lines, with an Army artillery forward observer onboard. In over twenty-five missions, he was shot at “plenty of times” but never hit.  That is, until he was a check pilot for “Jones,” and was almost shot out of the sky over  enemy lines.

In September of 1953, Captain Reece was back in the States. The 1950s were a transition period for the United States Air Force. Propeller driven aircraft were phased out, and jets of all types were tested. There were fewer straight winged aircraft, as jets’ speeds required swept wings. Thousands of aircraft were moved back to the continental United States from overseas. Some were scrapped, some were sold to friendly countries, some were given to Air National Guard units, and some were retrofitted. Stan was part of this complicated and often dangerous task. Between 1953 and 1962,  Stan took on hundreds of ferrying operations.


Assigned to the Military Air Transport Command (MATS) and its 1708th Ferrying Wing, he coordinated and flew transports to and from overseas air force units. One trip nearly got him killed. He and his crew flew a new C-119 to Japan. They exchanged it for one that was on its last legs. Taking off, the overloaded aircraft needed all the runway and overrun to make it into the air. Then, the crew discovered that the extra 900 gallon tank in the fuselage was leaking fuel. Stan was piloting a potential fiery bomb. It turned out that someone had installed a fuel vent pipe the wrong way. Remaining cool, Stan landed the plane without incident. The crew fixed the problem, and made it to Hawaii before the tired bird gave up the ghost. He and his crew caught another flight home.

After an assignment at Andrews AFB, Major Stan Reece and family spent three years in Japan, where he commanded the 531st Fighter Squadron flying F-100s. Later, as the Wing operations officer. He oversaw pilots flying RF-101s, and AD-102s. As he recalls, most of his pilots were “a bunch of kids.” They were lucky to have a proficient and demanding boss, who expected nothing less than the best, and made sure they achieved it. The Wing was equipped with nuclear weapons.

Stan knew that to move up the promotion ladder, it was expected that he be proficient in all areas of aviation. Often that meant accepting assignments to non-glamorous jobs. Because of his willingness and skill, he was often picked to ‘clean up’ situations, particularly those where pilots’ lives were in danger because of inefficiency or poor training standards. The 1960s found him and the family at Eglin AFB in Florida, in another of those roles.

His next assignment put Lieutenant Colonel Reece back in Germany. He was the first commander of the 7th Air Special Operations Squadron,  tasked with supporting the 10th Special Forces, one of the first Green Beret units. Comprised of a hodgepodge of propeller-driven aircraft, and designed for special operations, the squadron’s pilots and crews helped the SF forces conduct airborne training operations. “A large percentage of the Special Forces unit were first generation Americans from Eastern Europe. They spoke with thick accents. They hated the communists,” recalls Stan. Maximum flexibility best describes the operations of the Squadron. It was a heady time, as the United States continued its experiment with small and specialized forces. Stan spent two and a half years as squadron commander. His Army counterpart was “an old OSS [the World War II predecessor to the CIA] colonel. We got along famously.” Practice for insertions and extractions behind the Iron Curtain, providing air support for British Special Air Services commandos, conducting parachute drops, and retrofitting aircraft for unorthodox warfare made life, in Stan’s word, “interesting.” That has to be a understatement

Military spouses have unenviable roles to play. Stan was transferred many times during his career.  Even when assigned to one base, duties often took him away from his family. A full-time mom who often had to parent alone, Edith was the rock that kept the Reece family together. Edith’s duties expanded when Stan was a unit’s commanding officer.  She then became a mentor, advisor, and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. It was tough duty, and  deeply appreciated. Stan is unstinting in his praise of Edith. “Edith was a stabilizing influence on many young wives,” Stan recalls.


Between 1966 and 1968, Lieutenant Colonelr Stan Reece commanded the 492nd Tactical Fighter squadron, based in England. Flying F100s, the squadron participated in numerous NATO exercises. These included deployments to Bodo, Norway, Aviano, Italy, and Ishmir, Turkey.  Joint exercises, intended as training for possible response to Soviet aggression, came at the heighth of the Cold War. The training was arduous, and demanding. If war came, the Soviets had a numerical superiority that would test the very fiber of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s ability to defend the free countries in western Europe, Turkey, and Scandinavia.


It was inevitable that an aviator of Stan Reece’s ability would end up in Vietnam. Saying goodbye to Edith, he reported for duty at the Phu Cat Air Base. A new airfield, capable of jet powered aircraft, it was completed in late 1967. Lt. Colonel Reece was assigned as the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing’s operations officer. Part of the unit was the Iowa National Guard’s 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Equipped with the now aging and quirky F100s, the Wing flew interdiction and combat support missions. In just six months, Stan flew 135 combat missions. Most were in South Vietnam, but over thirty were in Laos, and there were a few into North Vietnam. Thankfully, he came through that experience in one piece. His final six months in Vietnam were at 7th Air Force Headquarters in Saigon.

Returning to the United States, newly promoted Colonel Stan Reece finished out a most colorful and exciting career in St. Louis, Missouri as Wing Advisor to the Air National Guard. He retired, after 30 years of service, in 1974.

Edith longed to return to her Texas and Caldwell County roots. In 1975, the Reeces purchased forty-nine acres of land outside of Luling. Anyone who knew him realized that Stan Reece wasn’t someone to sit back and let the world pass him by. He raised cattle. He served on the Luling Independent School District Board of Trustees for twenty-four years, of which nineteen he was the Board’s president. He joined the Luling Kiwanis Club in 1975 and remains active today. He was an officer on the Caldwell County Farm Bureau, and served on the Caldwell County Agent supervisory board for many years. Trying to track him a couple of weeks ago, I found him awash with plans for Night In Old Luling.

Stan will tell you his has been a blessed life. In 2014 at the young age of ninety three, he tied the knot for the second time when Madeline Manford, a dear family friend of many years and a widow, agreed to be his bride.

So this is a short-hand version of Stan’s life (so far). After reading it, I know you will agree that Colonel Stan Reece has indeed led a most incredibly interesting and fruitful life. He truly is a shining example of the best of the Greatest Generation. If you can catch him, please be sure to thank him for his service to his country and community.
















Spec 4 David Durham 1968



                                                     By Todd Blomerth


In the late 1960s, Americans became all too familiar with phrases that burned themselves into the American psyche. One phrase was “the Iron Triangle.”

An area west of Saigon, South Vietnam, and stretching to the Cambodian border, its mention mustered images of jungle fighting, ambushes, tunnels, infiltrating North Vietnamese (NVA), Viet Cong (VC), and death. To young Americans sent to fight in that area of Southeast Asia, the reality was all of these, and more.

I sat down with Dave Durham the other day, and he told me about his abbreviated tour of duty in the Iron Triangle during the Vietnam War. Dave had just celebrated his 70th birthday, and while we didn’t dwell on it, it was obvious that he was glad he has made it this far. In 1967, there was substantial doubt that he would live to see his twentieth birthday.

Dave was born on March 22, 1947 in Velasco, which is now part of Freeport, Texas. Both his mom and dad, Harold “B.H.” and Edna Iris, worked for Dow Chemical, as did most everyone in that area. Dave graduated from Brazosport High School, and then enrolled at Stephen F. Austin University in 1966. He dropped out in early 1967 and “within three weeks” received his draft notice. Like thousands of young men, he was going into the U.S. Army, and once there, into combat in Vietnam.

The United States had allowed itself to be sucked into the vortex of a new and dangerous kind of war in Southeast Asia when it stepped into a role abandoned by the French. Since the end of World War II, guerilla warfare had ebbed and flowed as France, a colonial power, resisted attempts at the creation of new and independent countries in French Indochina. Finally, after a disastrous defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the French gave up, leaving a power vacuum that was, largely, filled by communist and communist-leaning nationalists in the new countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. As part of the negotiated departure of the French, Vietnam was cut in two, with a demilitarized zone divided communist North Vietnam from the pro-Western South Vietnam. This did little to dissuade communist Viet Cong (VC) and their North Vietnamese allies (NVA) from continuing a war of “liberation” in South Vietnam.

The United States and the West stood by as Stalin gobbled up once-free countries in Eastern Europe. Communist Chinese seized power in 1949, kicking the Nationalists off the Asian mainland.  To many, the communists’ efforts in Vietnam were part of a continuing effort at world domination that had to be stopped. Vietnam became to some extent a ‘proxy’ war. The United States and its allies supported South Vietnam. Communist China and the USSR gave its support to South Vietnamese communist insurgents and the North Vietnamese. By the time Dave Durham was drafted, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen were engaged in a bloody and widening war.

Dave did Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) followed. Basic and AIT was ‘brutal,’ Dave recalls. When the new soldiers marched, they were required to yell “Kill” every time their right feet hit the ground. It was just one of the many ways that civilians were indoctrinated to become combat soldiers. Most of the training cadre consisted of combat veterans. They knew what the young men would be up against, and did their best to toughen up the recruits and draftees. However, as Dave says, “nothing can duplicate the misery and horror of war.”

While at Fort Polk, Dave met and became friends with Joe Golf, an Italian-American from Chicago. Fresh out of AIT at Ft. Polk’s “Tigerland”, they were assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Shortly after arrival in-country, the Regiment was re-assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, known as “Tropic Lightning.”

The “Regulars,” as the 22nd Infantry was called, had a proud heritage stretching back to the War of 1812. In 1967 two of its battalions operated out of Dau Tieng, a large fortified Base Camp, also home to mechanized infantry and Army of Vietnam (ARVN) units. Only 40 miles from Saigon, the Camp lay just to the east of the Saigon River. A mountain range, dubbed ‘the Razorbacks’ lay to its northwest. To its north and east was a vast Michelin rubber plantation.  The 22nd Infantry had been in Vietnam since 1966 and had seen much combat. In March 1967, some of its units were involved in a vicious battle at Soui Tre, where over 700 NVA and VC were killed attacking a forward fire base.

Dave processed in at Saigon. Then a C-130 transport flew him the short distance to Dau Tieng’s airfield.

PFC Durham was given a choice: be a machine gunner, an ammo bearer, or be point man on combat patrols. He chose point man. Why did he choose this most dangerous of assignments? “The M-60 machine gun is heavy. Ammunition is heavy. I didn’t want to lug that stuff around.” The Viet Cong moved mostly at night – the Americans mostly during the day. Serving as point man on a patrol meant that Dave quite possibly would be the first man to detect the enemy – and the first man to be detected by the enemy. Not happy with an M-16 in that role, for a time Dave traded for a Stevens short barreled shotgun. Lethal at short range, it proved more burden than benefit. “Shotgun shells are heavy,” recalls Dave. “I could only carry so many. In one fight I ran out of ammunition.” He went back to using the M-16. He could carry many more bullets than shotgun shells.

Active patrolling and search and destroy missions were two methods of taking the war to the enemy. While he was at Dau Tieng, Dave spent most of his time in the field. Troopers would come in, clean up, sleep in sandbagged barracks, let off a little steam – and then repeat the process. There were many contacts with the enemy. Dave recalls being in at least six firefights in his short time at Dau Tieng.  Dau Tieng was near the terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail actually consisted of hundreds of routes from North Vietnam funneling weapons and fighters for attacks on US and South Vietnamese targets.

Rubber Tree Plantation

Charlie Company kept extremely busy. Road convoys traveling “Ambush Alley” required security. Enemy forces were always present, and battles were common. American patrols crossed rice paddies, which was highly dangerous. In the wide openness, men were  easy targets. Search and destroy missions searched out the enemy miles from Dau Tieng. Patrols roamed the huge Michelin rubber plant, occasionally encountering workers collecting rubber from the trees. “We never knew if the workers were also VC. We were in the middle of a war and this French company was still operating this huge plantation. And being allowed to do it by the VC. It was very weird.” Another combat veteran of that era, Harry Foster, recalls that Americans felt that Michelin was quietly paying off the communists so it could continue its operations.

Odd memories of combat bubble up sometimes. Dave remembers the Army’s mosquito repellent. It came in small rubber squeeze bottles. “It didn’t work on mosquitoes. But it came in handy for keeping snakes away.” He recalls his unit setting up night ambushes, and hearing snakes slithering toward his position. “I’d squeeze that stuff toward them. They hated it, and would slither off in another direction.” He also recalls the shortage of gun oil for M-16s. “They never gave us enough of it. It was oily, so we’d use the mosquito spray to keep our rifles lubricated. It worked.”

The VC and NVA created a labyrinth of tunnel systems in the Iron Triangle; some extended for miles. Some even went into Saigon. It was not unusual for an American patrol to uncover a hidden tunnel opening. This would be blown closed. First, someone had to ensure no enemy lurked inside, waiting to pop out and attack. Who better to do it that someone slim, agile and willing to be a point man? “They’d hand me a pistol and a flashlight, and I’d go check it out.” Responding to the inevitable question about fear and serving as a “tunnel rat” Dave said simply, “I was scared the whole time I was in Vietnam.”

In late October of 1967, Dave came down with a respiratory infection, and was put on light duty for a week. Coming back from another 25th Division base a few miles away at Cu Chi, he was grabbed up on November 1, 1967, and put into a squad going out for a night ambush patrol. A similar thing happened to his buddy Joe Golf. “I had come in from the field with ear infection,” Joe remembers. “Next thing I knew, I was in on a night ambush patrol.” Dave and Joe knew no one else in the eleven-man squad. “I didn’t know anyone except Joe,” Dave said. “I guessed the others were in a different platoon in C Company.” Research shows that in fact, most if not all of the men in this put-together group weren’t even from C Company.

When on combat missions, normal unit integrity was an absolute necessity. As an example, if you were with 1st Platoon, Charlie Company, you trained with that platoon and company, and you went on operations with that platoon and company. You knew your buddies’ capabilities and shortcomings. You knew your officers and NCOs.

Dau Tieng’s base security patrols were a different story. The September 4, 1967 edition of the 25th Infantry Division’s newspaper, “Tropic Lightning News” tells how these patrols were assembled:

Mixed Nightly Patrols Provide BC Security

DAU TIENG – When the nightly ambush patrol leaves the 3d Bn, 22d Inf, lines at Dau Tieng each evening, it’s a mixed bag indeed – representative of every contingent in the battalion.  Along with the ubiquitous medic may go a truck driver, a 4.2 mortar man, an operations clerk, a mechanic or radio repairman, or any of the multiple trades which make the modern infantry battalion function.  It’s a training mission for new replacements and the last time out for the old.
While the main infantry elements are on missions far afield, the ambush patrols carried on by these “instant” units are vital in the security of the “Tropic Lightning’s” third brigade base camp.


Joe Goff was ordinarily a Charlie Company assistant machine gunner. On November 1, 1967, Joe told me in his pronounced Chicago accent, “I was carrying an M-16.” Joe continued, “We weren’t expecting anything.” Ambush patrols went out nightly to keep the enemy off guard, and prevent infiltration near the military base. No one wanted to see action. The main concern for the GIs was staying alive.

Leaving during daylight, and moving less than three miles from the Base Camp, the patrol set up for an ambush along a suspected infiltration route somewhere in the Michelin plantation. In groups of threes or fours, soldiers were arrayed in three-prong ambush formation. Trip flares and anti-personnel mines were set up.

Joe and Dave were together with two other troopers they didn’t know, sharing the same poncho liner to stay out of the mud. It was Joe’s turn to sleep when all hell broke loose. “I was asleep and the next thing I knew, someone was covering my mouth with a hand. The VC were about fifteen or twenty feet away. Then a radio mike was keyed, and the world exploded.”

Dave’s memory is similar, but not exactly the same. “We ambushed an enemy unit that turned out to be much larger than our patrol.” He remains unsure of whether the enemy was VC or NVA, or a combination of the two.

Either way, the result was same. “An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] hit the two men next to me,” Dave recalls. “There were killed instantly. I was hit by shrapnel that wasn’t stopped by their bodies.” His friend Joe, also wounded, pulled him twenty meters back into relative safety, as all hell broke loose. Somewhere in the process, Joe lost his M16 in the mud. Grenades were thrown, gunfire erupted… and then suddenly, it was over. The enemy disappeared into the night, leaving the shaken survivors to their misery. Because the patrol had (possibly) “gone out the wrong gate at Dau Tieng,” in the words of Golf, it wasn’t found until morning. The patrol’s medic ran out of morphine. One soldier’s wounds kept the survivors awake all night with his screams of pain. “With the screaming, there was no question the enemy knew where we were. We were afraid they would come back,” Dave recalls. It was a very long night. Joe remembers firing off a flare as dawn approached. The patrol was eventually found, possibly by a mechanized infantry unit, the 2/22, (the “Triple Deuce”) also from Dau Tieng.

Dave remembers the sound of chain saws. Rubber trees were cut down to allow medevac helicopters in to airlift the wounded. A wounded man medevaced out with Dave constantly screamed in pain. And then stopped. The soldier was either given sufficient pain medication, or died. Dave doesn’t know which.

Initially, Dave was treated at the Division’s medical facility at Cu Chi. Shards of metal had peeled his nose open. The skin was folded back, and sewn up. Because of the chunks of skin torn from his legs and one arm, he was flown to a larger hospital in Saigon for skin grafts. Eventually, PFC Durham was evacuated to an even larger facility outside of Tokyo, Japan.

For several months after the surgeries, he needed a cane to support his walk. Then one day, he received orders —- to return to Vietnam. Fortunately, his treating physician intervened. “You’re still walking on a cane. I’ll take care of this.”

Orders were changed, and instead of Vietnam, the recovering soldier spent the rest of his overseas duty in South Korea. His memories of Korea are pleasant, although the “the whole area I was in smelled of kimchi and honey wagons!”

PFC Miller

Because he never returned to his outfit, Dave never knew what happened to the rest of the patrol. He’d heard that eight men were killed. In fact, the best evidence shows two soldiers died violently – the men next to him who’d taken the brunt of the RPG round when it exploded. They were David Tucker, a 20 year-old from Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3/22. He is buried at Red Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Fairfield, SC. The other was 23 year-old Earl Bertmann Miller, a B Company soldier from Missouri. He is buried at St. Bridget’s Cemetery in Pacific, MO.

One veteran with Charlie Company recently recalled the patrol survivors returning to Dau Tieng, and “looking pretty beat up.” But the names of other members of the patrol? Apart from Joe Golf, we still don’t know. Despite the best efforts of reunion locators for Charlie Company and others, they perhaps have been lost in the fog of war and time.

In February 1968, Specialist 4 Durham returned to the United States, out-processing at Ft. Lewis, Washington. It was time to pick up the pieces of his life. He flew back to Texas on a commercial flight, and, as required, in uniform.  As he walked past the ticket counter at Houston’s Hobby International Airport, he was confronted by a gauntlet of screaming anti-war protesters. “I’d been gone, and wasn’t aware of everything going on at home.” He was spat on and called “every vile name in the book.” He was thankful his parents were waiting for him elsewhere in the airport, and didn’t have to witness the shameful incident.

Dave returned to Lake Jackson, and re-enrolled in college, eventually graduating from Southwest Texas State University. He also married the love of his life, Nan Rives. He has been in the office supply business for years. Nan recently retired as an art teacher from the San Marcos School District. Dave and Nan have two children. Their son Cole lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a professional weight and strength trainer for the AAA Louisville Bats, in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Their daughter Mattisyn (Mattie) lives in Austin.

Dave Durham’s buddy Joe Golf continues to suffer from PTSD. “I can’t sleep at night unless someone is up and awake.” Dave still has shrapnel in his arms and legs. A knee occasionally locks up from the damage it received. His right arm and leg both remain gouged and scarred from the RPG explosion. He’s dealt with the mental issues well over the years, although, as he reminds me, “War is not normal. You can’t go into a war and come back ‘normal.’” Dave Durham has for the most part put the war behind him. What still hurts after fifty years was the way he was treated when he arrived in Houston, Texas. Unlike many veterans, Dave hasn’t been involved in unit reunion groups.

Spec 4 Dave Durham was blessed to return home alive. Over 50,000 of his countrymen weren’t so lucky. Dave doesn’t talk much about his military service. He is a quiet man who feels he was just doing his duty. Be sure to thank him for his service to his country. It is long overdue.

Dave Durham -2017



Del & award
Del Tally with the “Oscar’ of Safety Awards – FELLOW
Lt. Col. Delmar Tally, VNAF Advisor 1971

by Todd Blomerth



Todd Blomerth


I visited with Del Tally and his wife Betty in the bank a couple of months ago. As we visited, I mentioned my continued desire to interview veterans. I knew Del had served in the military, but at the time I was concentrating on World War Two veterans, and had not asked him about his service. Within the space of five minutes, I knew he had some stories that needed remembering. He and Betty graciously said I could visit them at their home. However, before that happened, Del wanted me to ‘read up a little ahead of time.’ Within a week of re-contacting Del, he dropped off two volumes on the A-37 Dragonfly, an aircraft I was completely unfamiliar with. I had some homework to complete.

            Delmar Tally was born in Lockhart on June 13, 1932, to Lonnie Erbin (“L.E.”) Tally and Bertha Mae (Harris) Tally. Del was the youngest of six children. Three died in infancy. The others were Nona (Romine) and A.L.  The first years of Del’s life were spent in Bateman, just across the Bastrop county line. L.E. was a barber, and had a small dairy. Del is proud of his five generations of Texas ancestors.

             Rural students in the 40s faced many challenges. Schools were small and scattered. The days of consolidated districts with financial resources were mostly in the future. While living in Bateman, Del first attended elementary school in Dale. Then the family moved closer to ‘town’ – three miles south of McMahan off a rutted road that would later become Highway 86. Del traveled on horseback to McMahan School every day until he completed the eighth grade. Bused in from McMahan to Lockhart for high school, he somehow managed to take care of chores on the home place and still play football. He was a hefty 130 pound halfback. He graduated in 1951 and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Older brother A.L. was already a pilot in the USAF, and I’m sure this was one of the incentives to join.

            In 1952, Del was accepted into pilot training. As an aviation cadet he transitioned from primary trainers into more complex and powerful aircraft at Bainbridge Air Base, GA  and at Webb AFB in Big Spring, TX.  He graduated #2 in his class and became an instructor pilot.  He trained many American, Turkish, Italian, and French student pilots.  He married his High School sweetheart, Jessie Mae Efird. They had a daughter Julie Hart, a recently retired L.I.S.D. District Nurse, and son David, a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) at the Austin  Convention Center.

            President Eisenhower sent brand new T-33 and F-86 aircraft and American flight instructors to Dhahran Air Base to train Saudi Arabian Air Force crews.  There Del trained the first class of Saudi Air Force pilots in 1958.

             1st Lieutenant Del Tally’s next stop was Castle AFB in Merced, California. He showed up expecting to become a B-52 pilot. The B-52, amazingly still in service today, was just coming on line as America’s main bomber. However, the base had failed an inspection, and the young officer was assigned to upgrade the T-33 trainer program. It was Del’s first taste of safety training, and it would serve him well the remainder of his professional careers.

            While an instructor pilot at Castle, 1st Lieutenant Del Tally had a near death experience. He and a student took off, and as the T-33 jet trainer climbed off the runway, it had a ‘flameout.’ Unable to restart the engine, Del chose not to drop the fuel tanks or bail out, because of heavily populated area below. He was able to turn back toward the runway, drop the landing gear, and make a dead stick landing, unaware that his aircraft was on fire. He then avoided a fully loaded B-52 bomber taxiing for takeoff. No one was injured. It seems that Del’s penchant for safely operating complex equipment paid off, as what could have been a disaster was averted by cool thinking, aviation skill, and God’s grace.


 Newspaper headline of the near disaster   



Del explaining his maneuvers to safely land

Receiving commendation after avoiding the crash


            The next stop – Bergstrom AFB in Austin, Texas. A major’s slot as flying safety officer / assistant base operations office came open. His training and record in safety helped get the position, and the young family moved to Lockhart. The Tallys lived next door to their good friend Dr. Phil Wales on Prairie Lea Street. Sadly, Dr. Wales, diagnosed Jessie Mae with leukemia in 1964. Treatment options weren’t what they are today. She died nine months later.

            Bergstrom AFB, at the time, was a Strategic Air Command base. As the safety officer, Capt Tally flew often with B-52s during Operation Chrome Dome. During the depths of the Cold War, B-52s with nuclear weapons on board were in the air continuously, as a precaution against a Soviet Union surprise attack on the United States. The 26 hour missions, with multiple refuelings, would fly near the North Pole, approach Soviet air space, and then return to home base. Del would join the crew as an evaluator, and racked up hundreds of hours with these top secret missions. Fortunately for the world, the therm25 LT COL DELMAR TALLY CHROME DOME ROUTEonuclear weapons were never used.

            The next stop for Del and his family (he remarried in 1966 to Autie Benson) was at the headquarters for the Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB. He was the safety officer responsible for all non-tactical aircraft, up to and including the KC-135. In 1968, he became chief of safety for the 95th Strategic Wing at Goose Bay, Labrador.

            Then, in 1970, what seemed the inevitable happened. Major Del Tally received orders to Vietnam.

But first, he was sent to England AFB, outside of Alexandria, Louisiana where he learned to fly a most unusual aircraft – the A-37 Dragonfly. In the mid-1950s Cessna developed a highly successful jet trainer, the T-37. It’s high pitched engine noise eventually got it350px-Tweet_and_Super_Tweet dubbed “Tweety Bird,” or “Tweet.” It would serve as the primary jet trainer for the US Air Force for over 50 years. With the growing military involvement in Vietnam, a tougher variant of the T-37 was developed. With more powerful engines, beefed up armor, larger wingtip fuel tanks, a 7.62 mm minigun, tougher landing gear, and three stores pylons (“hardpoints”) under each wing, this small aircraft (dubbed “Dragonfly”) would prove to be one tough and dependable bird. The A model made its appearance in the war in 1967. The more robust B model rolled out in 1968.

The South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) had, up to now, flown the01 LT COL DELMAR TALLY SKYRAIDER propeller driven A-1 Skyraider. The Skyraider was tough, and could linger over the war zone for hours providing close air support to ground troops. However, its slow speeds made it vulnerable to ground fire. VNAF would continue to fly this aircraft, but was also provided with the A-37. The airplane flew one hundred miles slower than other jets, and its slower speed enabled pilots to achieve an incredible accuracy rate – something desperately needed in the jungle warfare of the area. Armed with napalm, rockets and conventional bombs, its appearance often made the difference between death and survival for ground troops.03 LT COL DELMAR TALLY A38

During Del’s assignment at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam as Air Division Director of Safety and Instructor Pilot advisor, he flew 300 combat missions, including three missions on a Sunday afternoon with troops in contact with “bad guys” shooting mortars onto DaNang Air Base.  This resulted in a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) award to Tally.  Other AF medals include Bronze Star and air medals (13 oak clusters).  Del still has contact with some of the squadron VNAF pilot survivors he flew with in Vietnam.


The Citation for Lt. Col. Tally’s DFC


            Lt. Colonel Delmar Tally retired from the Air Force on August 1, 1973. He is rightly proud of his service to our country. He is just as proud of his subsequent professional achievements. His extensive safety training in the military served as a departure point for a transition into industrial safety.

            Immediately after his military retirement he went to work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Dallas and then San Antonio.

            The Austin Chapter, Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, hired him as Safety Manager to develop and improve their member safety programs.  Numerous national safety excellence awards were received by the chapter and the member companies during his tenure as Safety Manager and Executive Director.

            The Austin AGC and Del established Construction Safety and Health, Inc. (CSHI), a non -profit company to expand safety and health services to all Central Texas companies including construction and general industry including high tech companies such as Samsung, IBM, Motorola and many others.  CSHI safety professionals assisted safety managers write their safety manuals and taught safety courses in English and often in foreign languages such as Spanish, Korean, and Japanese.  Classes were taught to over 120,000 students.

         Del is a registered professional safety engineer in California and a Certified Safety Professional (CSP). Betty is also a Certified Safety Professional. Both continue as active members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). They met when Del was with AGC, and she was an OSHA inspector. Betty retired from OSHA and worked at CSHI as a safety consultant before Del and Betty married in 1995.  Betty was honored as one of “100 Women Making a Difference in Safety” in 2011. Del received the Society’s highest honor, the “Fellow” designation in 1997 and the President’s Award in 2013. The ASSE is the oldest and largest professional safety organization. Its goal is to create safer work environments, and prevent workplace injuries. Del also served as the national ASSE president in 1985/86. He and Betty created the Delmar and Betty Tally Professional Education Grant, which provides financial incentives for further education of safety professionals. Del retired again a few years back.

            Del and Betty don’t let grass grow under their feet. They live on a ranch Del and his brother A.L. purchased many years ago, in the home Del designed in the 1970s. Until recently, they offered their services as professional consultants in industrial and construction safety. They raise black angus cattle. Del is chairman of the Old Red Rock Cemetery where so many of his family have been laid to rest. They are members of Lockhart’s First United Methodist Church.

            Please thank Lt. Colonel Tally for his many years of service to his country, next time you see him.