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







By Todd Blomerth

Imagine yourself as a visitor to Carlsbad Caverns National Park seventy-five years ago, on a tour requiring a long walk down into its vastness. Upon arriving in the Big Room, one of its largest galleries, imagine being seating at a huge formation dubbed the ‘Rock of Ages’ as Park Rangers extinguish all lights, and a recording of the hymn of that name is played. You realize what total darkness really is. Feel yourself blinking as the lights come on, expecting to laugh as you savor a new experience that will help your mile-long trek back to the surface as the tour ends. Then try to imagine your thoughts as a somber Park Ranger announces that he has just received the news that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Imagine the screams of a fellow tourist before she passes out – her son is stationed at the huge Navy base there. Imagine your world changing forever. Private Curtis Owen of McMahan, Texas experienced that on December 7, 1941.

Born in 1919, Curtis was the third of four boys born to Odus and Elizabeth (Handley) Owen.  He attended school in McMahan until the ninth grade. His last two years (high school went to the 11th grade in those days) were completed in Lockhart in 1938. Growing up in the Depression, the family kept food on the table farming cotton with mules and horses. Given the cost of horse feed, he often wondered “who was working for whom.”

By 1940, it was becoming obvious to many that America would end up in another war, in all likelihood against Germany. Young men were required to register for the draft in September of that year. As a farmer, Curtis could have claimed a deferment. He chose not to. Despite a farm accident in 1938 that caused the loss of a finger, he also obtained a waiver and, at the suggestion of his family physician, Dr. Joe Coopwood, enlisted in the National Guard’s 36th (“Texas”) Infantry Division’s 141st Infantry Regiment’s Medical Detachment, of Lockhart.

Almost immediately after enlisting, Private Owen became part of America’s belated awakening to our country’s dangers. Along with other National Guard units, the 36th Division was mobilized to national service, on November 25, 1940. It is hard to conceptualize today just how unprepared for war our country was. Worldwide, nations had been at war all through the 1930s. For years Americans refused to acknowledge the reality that, like it or not, ultimately our country would have to fight. Training facilities were non-existent. With obsolete equipment and a poor organizational setup, and the total unpreparedness of military officials everywhere, the Division’s attempt to mobilize quickly went FUBAR, or “fouled up beyond all recognition.” The Lockhart Medical Detachment and the Lockhart infantry unit, Company F, were first housed in tents on a drill field where Lockhart’s American Legion Hall is now located. The Medical Detachment’s commander, Major Abner Ross MD, recruited a local cook, and his men ate at their camp. Company F’s men were not so lucky, having to march to the Carter Hotel on the downtown square three times a day for their meals.

In March of 1942 the division’s many units, coming from armories from El Paso to Texarkana, were united at Camp Bowie, near Brownwood. Located in old cotton fields, the camp’s water and gas lines still lay exposed. Men were housed in 5-man tents. For the next six months “we played like we were at war,” said Curtis. Maneuvers in Louisiana showed how unprepared our military was. Trucks were painted white and designated as “tanks.” Bombing raids on the infantry were made with sacks of flour. In November of 1941, Curtis was selected to attend Surgical Technician schooling at Ft. Bliss’ Wm. Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso. He learned about plasma, sulfa drugs, and emergency care for the wounded. During a weekend break, his class was bused to Carlsbad Caverns. It was on that tour that he found out his country was at war. On December 20, 1941, he graduated tied for first in his class.

The 36th Division trained at Camp Bowie, in the Louisiana Maneuvers, at Camp Blanding, Florida, in the Carolina Maneuvers, and finally at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. Then its men and equipment were loaded onto ships at New York and sent to Oran, Algeria, in April 1943. Dr. Coopwood, now a major, was the141st’s regimental surgeon. More training ensued, some for amphibious landings, in the squalor and heat of North Africa. By 1943 Private Owen had become Staff Sergeant Owen, and was the senior NCO of the 141st’s 2nd Battalion medical aid station.   Thomas William Hazen, a subordinate who became a close friend described Curtis like this: ‘Sgt. Owen, the steady one, who tried to keep this motley group in order, was known as “Colonel.” His Texas drawl was so pronounced I think it sometimes made him laugh with the rest of us.’

The British and Americans invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943. The 36th stayed in Africa. Would the Texans ever get into the war? All too soon, they did. The 36th Infantry Division was bloodied – and badly – on September 9, 1943 in the Allied landings at Salerno, Italy. The Italians had just surrendered. However, the Germans were aware that it was going to happen, and took over defensive positions. They were waiting when the landing occurred. It was a near disaster, and a foretaste of the debacle called the Italian Campaign. After securing the beaches, bitter fighting continued until the Germans retreated into the mountains north of Naples. The 36th was pulled out of the line to rest and refit in October, and then put back in November, replacing a badly battered 3rd Infantry Division. It fought northward, was pulled off the front line again and then moved by ship to assist in the breakout from the disastrous Anzio beachhead. In July 1944, it was pulled out of the line again, and took part in the landings in Southern France the following month. It raced north in an attempt to cut off retreating Germans. In October 1944, the point system allowed Curtis to come back home for a thirty day leave, which only started once he got to the US. The leave kept him out of the war for nearly five months, because of the transportation difficulties in getting to and from the European Theater of Operations. During this interlude, he married. Curtis and his family were (and continue to be) members of Bethel Primitive Baptist church. At a church conference, he met his future wife, Edith Morrow. Born in Cuero, Edith was raised in the South Texas town of Sebastian, where her father farmed. Curtis and Edith dated until the war separated them. While on leave, Curtis traveled to Sebastian and asked for Edith’s hand in marriage on a Sunday. They were married three days later on December 13, 1944. Curtis’ parents did not attend the small wedding – he had borrowed the family’s only vehicle and wartime rationing made travel problematic. McMahan is a close-knit community, and many families are interwoven. He says jokingly, “I had to leave home to keep from marrying a cousin!”  He rejoined his unit in March of 1945 as it fought through the Siegfried Line. He was in the Brandenburg Alps, at Kufstein, Austria when Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Curtis looks back on his service in World War II with the eyes of a historian. He sees and interprets much of what he endured as part of the big picture. Nevertheless, I asked him of certain instances in his service remain seared in his memory. He paused, and then shared with me some of them.

The Allied landing at Salerno, Italy on September 9, 1943 – His medical detachment rode into the beach on a British landing boat. When the bow ramp dropped, he and everyone on the landing craft were near-casualties. A German machine gunner sprayed bullets at them. Fortunately, the enemy gunner was entrenched too low, and when he depressed his weapon, his rounds struck sand dunes at his front instead of young Americans. Curtis hit the ground, only to feel something kicking him in the side. Rolling over, he looked up at a British MP yelling at him, “Son, get up and off this beach. The bullets won’t kill you unless they hit you.” He got off the beach, but not far that day.

The “utter chaos” (Curtis used that term a lot in his discussions about the war) of Salerno, where the 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions were nearly pushed into the sea – US Navy destroyers cruised close to shore, depressing their guns to drive off the advancing German tanks. The aid station was set up at water’s edge because of the fierce resistance to the landing. The badly wounded were turned over to Navy corpsmen at the beach and evacuated to waiting ships, all the while under fire. Then it was up the ‘soft underbelly of Europe,’ where in Curtis’ words, “there was just one mountain after another.” Mignano, Altavilla, Mt. Rotundo, San Pietro, Sanmucro, and the Rapido River became bywords for misery and death.

The constant replacement of his men – “Each line company was assigned three medics,” he told me. “I lost many of them. Some were killed. Some were wounded.” Many times infantrymen were pulled out of companies and made stretcher-bearers. Toward the end of the war, personnel shortages were so critical that prisoners in army guardhouses were returned to the line, if they agreed to behave. The Medical Detachments got some of them too. They usually did a good job.

The necessity of finding a place for medical facilities –  “We were usually around one mile from the front lines,” he said, “which was well in range of artillery.” If lucky, they found suitable structure where medics and doctors could work in blackout conditions. But weren’t structures also artillery registration points – in other words, targets? “Well, yes, but that was a chance we had to take so we could work on the wounded.” Until prodded, Curtis said nothing of his Purple Heart – he took shrapnel in a hand in late 1943. The picture below, taken from Hazen’s book, “Medicos Up Front – With the 36th Texas Infantry Division,” shows the 2nd Battalion’s aid station in November and December 1943.

For 43 days, in mud, rain and snow, and with mortar barrages which missed (but barely) Sgt. Owen’s men struggled to save lives. Hazen describes their existence:


The Aid Station was located on a mountain trail impossible to reach by jeep and several hundred yards from a point where a jeep could get in. there is where we established our collecting point to be used sparingly during daylight. (light discipline was strict). At night a jeep would bring water and food to the collecting point and then take the dead in body bags (mattress sacks) back to Graves Registration for burial. In order to evacuate the severely wounded promptly in daytime, our drivers had to chance being observed. …One canteen of water was each one’s ration for the day and it was used for drinking and cleanliness. Our clothing could not be changed for 43 days.

The death of Lockhart’s Dr. Joe Coopwood – Major Coopwood was not required to visit aid stations, but he did, and regularly. He was at the 2nd battalion’s Aid Station the day before he died. His last words to Sergeant Owen as he left were, “I’ll see you day after tomorrow.” It didn’t happen. The 141st’s regimental surgeon was killed at regimental headquarters by long-range artillery the following day. “He was like a father to us. His death really affected me. I knew he was different from other doctors. Before going to medical school he had attended VMI. He was a soldier’s soldier.”

The horrific blunder of the Rapido River crossings of January 20 and 21, 1944 – The 36th’s commander, General Fred Walker, told higher authorities that attacking across a river into the main German defensive positions would be suicide. Despite this, he was ordered to move two of his regiments across the swift moving stream and then attack the entrenched enemy. The two attempts turned into a slaughter, as men and rubber boats were riddled with artillery and machinegun fire. Although a toehold was made, the survivors had to retreat. Of the 6000 men involved, over 2000 were wounded, killed or captured The Germans suffered less than 300 casualties. Three days later, a four-hour truce was called, so the Americans could recover their dead. Sergeant Owen was ordered to dispatch two medics with a white flag, where a truce had been arranged. “I recall the silence,” he said. Almost continuous artillery fire had, for a brief moment in time, ceased. “After four hours, the truce was over with, and things started back up again.” Curtis understates his own involvement. Hazen remembers that ‘[a]s might well be expected, Sgt. Owen told the captain that he could ask none of us to go unless he himself went also. [The detachment commander] said that he would not permit the sergeant to go for he felt that these two men might not come back. The captain could ill afford to lose the services of Sgt. Owen.” He would later receive a commendation for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” for his work evacuating the wounded the following month.

The horrors of Kaufering, one of the many Dachau sub-camps – Although Nazi extermination camps were in Poland and elsewhere, Germany was home to over 20,000 labor, transit, and concentration camps between 1933 and 1945. The camps in Germany used Jews, Gypsies, political and social undesirables, and Russian POWs, as forced labor. Hundreds of thousands vanished due to starvation, disease, and outright murder. Like other Allied units, the 36th came upon the horrors of unbelievable inhumanity. Beginning in 1943, Kaufering’s inmates – mostly Jews – were forced to excavate underground facilities for fighter aircraft production. As the Allies approached in late April 1945, the SS forcibly evacuated surviving inmates and murdered those too ill to move. Curtis and thousands of other GIs witnessed these horrors. Of his experience, Curtis says little, just shaking his head.

Starving displaced persons and freed inmates from concentration camps – After Dachau, the Division was on K rations. The GIs did not have spare food to distribute to the thousands of displaced persons and camp survivors that were, seemingly, everywhere. Sergeant Owen, the erstwhile farmer, knew something about places where these unfortunates might find some stored foods. He “suggested” to some that they look in Germans’ cellars. Many did, finding stores of potatoes, which they were able to boil and eat. They also discovered schnapps and wines, and some got quite drunk very quickly.

German autobahns filled with enemy soldiers marching to surrender in late April and early May – The average soldier knew their country was defeated. Only fanatical SS units thought otherwise. SS men hung or shot “defeatists.” Curtis recalls one group explaining that they had to kill several SS men so they could surrender.

The countenance of captured Nazi SS soldiers: “I only saw a few,” he tells me. “But the ones I did see had dead eyes.”

The emotional and psychological costs of war: War became unreal. “If you thought about it too much you would go stark raving mad,” he recalled. “You see so much suffering your mind goes blank.” But not perfectly. By the end of the war, if he saw someone badly wounded, “I had to get up and leave.” The war’s horrors stayed with him afterward. When asked, Curtis acknowledged quietly it took a toll on him. As we talked, Edith nodded.  Although not discussed, she too witnessed Curtis’ suffering in those years. He told me the hours spent alone as a farmer helped put the demons to rest. There is no doubt that a strong and loving wife and family, and a deep Christian faith helped as well.

After Germany’s surrender in May, 1945 hundreds of thousands of GIs spent months awaiting transportation home. Most finally went by ship. Tech Sergeant Curtis Owen (he had been promoted) got lucky and hopped a ride on a four engine bomber. With fueling stops at Marseilles, Casablanca, the Azores, St. John, and Presque Island, it reached Boston. Then it was by train to San Antonio. He arrived home on August 1, 1945. At last, his war was over.

Ed Horne, the local Farmall dealer, knew Curtis was a returning veteran, and put his name at the top of the list for a new two row tractor. He continued to farm for sixty years.

Curtis and Edith celebrated 71 years together recently. They have been blessed with three children (Diane Ross, Beverly Coates, and Tom Hazen Owen), seven grandchildren, and fifteen great grandchildren. Curtis and Edit h now reside at the Golden Age Home. Their warmth and kindness are infectious. They and their family have done much to enrich Caldwell County. Drop by some time.

Curtis and Edith Owen and Their Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren

ADDENDUM 11-15-17 

I wrote this story in February of 2016. I visited with Curtis today at a local nursing facility.  He recently fell and broke his pelvis. He was recovering nicely. His bride of 72 years had recently passed away. Curtis continued, at the age of 98, to be mentally sharp as a tack.  We discussed world affairs, and Curtis expanded a bit on the effects of the war on him. “There were a lot of funerals i didn’t attend [after the war]. I’d seen too much.”







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


Tommy w MG


By Todd Blomerth

He is 91 years old now. When he speaks about his life you sense that despite his chronological age he is much younger at heart. He is a quiet and modest man, not prone to boasting. He tends to minimize a series of events that few of us can imagine living through.  His is a story worthy of recalling.

His name is Thomas C. Holland. Tom, or Tommy, as he goes by, was born in Lockhart in 1922. He has been a resident of Caldwell County almost all his life. Tommy’s dad, Cleveland (he went by “Cleve”) was a respected construction supervisor for Holland Page, a large construction company and traveled extensively to job sites in Texas and Oklahoma.  Tommy and his younger sister Georgia were mostly raised by Albert and Myrtle Schneider. The Schneiders lived at 1217 Woodlawn Street in Lockhart. Cleve often helped Caldwell County men get jobs during the late 30s and during World War II. During summer breaks and after high school graduation, Tommy would travel with his dad and work with construction crews. Georgia would occasionally travel with them. Bridge City and Lubbock were two of the places he worked. Slight and wiry, Tommy shoveled a lot of sand and gravel for concrete jobs. He had to be tough. There was no pre-mix in those days.

In 1942, Uncle Sam sent an invitation to Tommy to join his armed HOLLAND - HARLINGEN 1943forces. In other words, he was drafted. When he was three, he had fallen into a wash pot. The burns scarred an arm. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Army thought the scarring had limited his strength and mobility. Much to his disgust, after basic training he was assigned as a clerk at an army airbase in Mississippi. In December of 1942 he was reevaluated. He reiterated to the Army doctors that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and that he wanted to be allowed normal duties. He got his wish. Knowing it was a quick way to earn sergeant’s stripes, he opted for gunnery school. After graduation from gunnery school in Harlingen, Texas, the Army sent him to aircraft mechanic school as Keesler Army Air Base in Mississippi. Then, because he applied to be a pilot, he was enrolled in the University of Alabama under the Army Air Force aviation cadet program. Designed for young men with only high school educations, it was intended to help turn them into “officers and gentlemen.” After six months of college level courses, he was transferred to an airbase in San Antonio. Pilot graduation rates often depended on the number of pilots needed. With an over abundance of pilots at the time, Tommy did not become ‘an officer and a gentleman.’ Instead, he was assigned as a tail gunner on a B-17 and sent to MacDill Field in Florida to begin crew training.






Standing, L-R

S/Sgt Bernard Duwel, ENG

Lt. Charles Pearson, B
Lt. WIlliam Hoyer, P
Lt. Joseph Syoen, CP
Lt. John Riddell, N

Kneeling, L-R:
Sgt. Thomas C. Holland, TG
Sgt. Floyd Broman, WG
S/Sgt Walter Degutis, WG
Sgt Edward Thornton, WG
S/Sgt Thomas Burke, BTG

His ten-man crew began training on Boeing Aircraft’s B-17. Dubbed the Flying Fortress, it was a magnificent aircraft, and was rightly loved by those who flew in her. The crew became close, as one would expect. They trained as if their lives depended on it-because it would. The life expectancy of a bomber crew in Europe was aboutRattlesden-07-may-1946 two weeks. In late May, 1944 the crew received its orders assigning it and their bomber to the U.S. 8th Air Force’s 709th Bombardment Squadron, 447th Bombardment Group based at Rattlesden, England near Bury St. Edmunds.  Lt. Hoyer’s crew was given a brand new B-17 at Hunter Field outside of Savannah, Georgia. Because the B-17 was a four-engine aircraft, the crew flew the extremely hazardous northern route across the Atlantic, through Newfoundland and Greenland. Weather was problematic to say the least. Along with other aircraft, their bomber was grounded in Greenland by winds so violent the crew had to feather the propellers to keep the engines from being damaged. In the midst of the horrific weather, word came on June 6, 1944 that the Allies had invaded German controlled Europe.  Despite the weather, base officials told the many stranded crews to head to England. And so they did.

Much to the crew’s disappointment, upon arrival in England, their brand new B-17 was taken away from them. It would be used by more experienced crews. They would be stuck with whatever aircraft was assigned them. Like all fresh aircrews, the Hoyer crew was split up for its first missions, in order to ensure the crewmen and pilots were familiar with combat formations and tactics. Tommy’s first mission, on June 24, 1944, was either to Blanc Pignon Ferme or Wesermude – he can’t recall which as there were simultaneous attacks planned. Neither was successful, and both bomber formations came back with their bombs, as neither target was visible through heavy cloud cover.b17g

His second mission, on June 25, 1944, again with another crew, was to Area #1 of Operation “Zebra.” After a 2 a.m. briefing, the Group’s B-17s flew to Vercors, west of Grenoble, France. Instead of dropping bombs, the planes dropped 420 canisters containing ammunition, supplies, and weapons for the French resistance fighters in the area. Several OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) agents also parachute jumped in.

On June 28, 1944, and again with another crew, Tommy manned the tail guns for a run toward a target in France. Weather obscured the primary target so an airfield at Denian/Prouvy, France was hit instead.

On June 29, 1944, the Hoyer crew was reunited for its first combat mission. The target was an oil refinery at Bohlen, Germany. The crew briefing was at 2:30 a.m. At 4:50 a.m. dozens of Flying Fortresses, loaded with 100 pound bombs, started taking off. With the intercom-connected crews donning oxygen masks and heated tail gunnerclothing, the B-17s lumbered to an altitude of 24,000 feet. They were supported by fighter aircraft. German Bf 109s and Focke Wulf190s shot down many bombers during the war, but the greatest danger by far was anti-aircraft artillery. Nearing Bohlen, flak from German anti-aircraft guns began reaching for the Americans. Tommy had been told that if you saw flak, you were probably okay. However if you could hear it, you had better watch out. He could hear the flak “very well.” Just as Lt. Charles Pearson, the plane’s bombardier, finished releasing the bombs, flak hit near the Number 2 engine. Some of the crew was injured by shrapnel. Fuel streamed back, and then erupted in fire. Lt. William Hoyer’s last words heard by Tommy were, “let’s bail the hell out of this thing.”

44-6027 GOING DOWN
44-6027 GOING DOWN

ship crash goodThe B-17 tail gunner was the most isolated member of the crew. He did have one advantage however – his own escape hatch. Tommy didn’t need to be told twice. Throwing off his oxygen mask, helmet, and intercom connections and snapping on his parachute, he jettisoned the escape hatch and flung himself out of the plane. The shock of the parachute deploying knocked him unconscious momentarily. When he came to, he was floating under a canopy deep in enemy territory.  “I seemed to all alone,” Tommy remembers. “I wondered if my insurance would pay off if something else happened.”  Since he was alive, he worried that his dad and the Schneiders would not know for some time that he had survived.

Lt. Pearson was blown free of the plane as it exploded. He had chuted up, and although badly battered, survived. Cameras were mounted in various aircraft to record bomb strikes and anti-aircraft sites. In this instance, Tommy’s B-17, aircraft number 44-6027, was photographed falling out of the sky. Lt. William Hoyer and seven other crewmen all died a fiery death high over Germany.Arndt Teichmann - later Lt

Things got even more interesting when Tommy hit the ground. A welcoming committee of angry German farmers armed with scythes approached him as he landed in a hay field. It looked as if he would be chopped to pieces. He was rescued by someone his bombs had intended to kill – a German soldier. Lt. Arndt Teichmann (shown here as he appeared in 1939) waved off the farmers with his weapon and took the relieved tail gunner into custody. . (Arndt Teichmann would later be captured by the Russians and somehow survive the hell of Stalin’s gulag, coming home in 1948).

Tommy was put in a farmer’s child’s playhouse, and Lt. Pearson, much the worse for wear was then brought in. Lacerated on his face and head, he also probably had broken ribs.

His captors were gentle. He was given some bread and margarine, and a bit of sausage. He asked for water in English, and instead was given a glass of beer.

Tommy was first taken to Nobliz, a Luftwaffe airfield. Then to Wetzler, where German intelligence officers interrogating him. “Hell, they knew more about our organization than I did. I just told them I was a new crewman.”  The interrogation did not last long. The Germans knew crewmen didn’t have a lot of secret information to impart. The Germans took his electrically heated boots, and gave him a pair of shoes.

Eventually, Tommy arrived at Stalag Luft IV, a German Prisoner of War camp at Gross Tychow, Eastern Pomerania (now Poland). Inadequate shower facilities, heating, and clothing, spotty distribution of Red Cross parcels, bad food, overcrowding and poor medical attention were the order of the day. Escape was not remotely possible. Boredom reigned among the nearly 8000 American, and the thousand or so British, Polish, Czech, French and Norwegian POWs. The men slept in barracks designed for 160 men but holding 240 or more. Each barrack had a two-hole latrine, to bealagerphoto2 used only at night. During the day, POWs were required to use open-air latrines, with pits cleaned by Russian POWs. The daily ration consisted of bread bulked up with sawdust, a soup made with a mixture of potato, turnip, carrot, rutabaga, kohlrabi and horsemeat. The men also received cooked barley and millet once or twice a week. Most camp guards were benign, but some, with nicknames like Big Stoop, Green Hornet, and Squarehead, were known to be sadistic. Guards also would open Red Cross parcels and steal the best of the food before turning them over to POWs. Most of the POWs lost about between 15 and 20 pounds during captivity here. Upper respiratory infections, diphtheria, diarrhea, skin diseases, jaundice, meningitis were common. As bad as this was, at this stage of the war, the German populace in cities wasn’t faring much better.

By early 1945 terror gripped Germans in their eastern provinces. The Soviet Union’s huge armies were driving for the heart of Germany, and revenge was their byword. While German soldiers fought desperately, civilians fled east. On February 6, 1945, some 8000 men imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV were told they could take what they could carry, and then were marched west as the camp was evacuated. The ordeal became known as “The Black March.” To the distant sound of Russian artillery in the east, over 8000 POWs began a forced march across East Prussia, Poland, and almost to Hamburg. The ordeal began in one of the coldest winters in European history, and lasted for nearly three months, on a trek nearly 600 miles long. Divided into sections, the prisoners zigzagged west.

Marched during the day, they were housed in barns, or in open fields. Some men became violently ill from drinking from fecal laden ditches. Pneumonia became endemic. Food usually consisted of potatoes which were sometimes eaten raw if no firewood could be found. The sick were often carried in farm wagons. In the camp, Tommy had become good friends with Floyd Jones, another B-17 crewman. Jones was a great scrounger. His skill proved very useful. Jones stole two bottles containing water for a farmer’s bees. He and Tommy drank the water, and kept the bottles to brew dandelion tea. They ate raw soy beans. On March 28, 1945 many of the men were crammed onto a freight train at Ebbsdorf, sixty to eighty to a boxcar. Many men were wracked by dysentery but the cars remained locked until the train arrived at Stalag 357 near Fallingbostel on the afternoon of March 30. Another move was ordered by the Germans for those fit to continue. Tommy, too sick to travel, was excused by an American doctor. Floyd wasn’t, so he made himself sick by smoking all the cigars in a Red Cross packet, and vomiting on the doctor’s desk. It worked. Five days later, British forces liberated the camp. The ordeal was over.

Tommy returned to Lockhart after the war, planning to go into construction like his father. Instead, he became an auto mechanic with the local Dodge / Plymouth dealership. In 1960 he purchased a service station property from Charlie Kelly on South Main, and transitioned into small engine repair. He married Opal Lackey on November 24, 1946. The couple was blessed with two daughters and a son. His daughters became school teachers, and his son, a trouble shooter for Waukesha Pearce. Opal passed away in 2007.

Tommy got his pilot’s license in 1949. Beginning in the early 80s, he built or partnered in ownership four airplanes. No longer an active pilot, he still has an ownership interest in a kit-built aircraft hangered at the Lockhart airport. And he still fixes lawnmowers and chainsaws on South Main. Drop by and say hi some time.

tommy in one of his kit planes

Tommy takes off in a kit built aircraft.

tommy in shop

Notes: This story was published in the Lockhart Post Register and the Luling Newsboy Signal in August of 2014. Tommy passed away on January 7, 2016 at the age of 93. It was a privilege to have known him.




by Todd Blomerth

Jack Storey Lipscomb was born in Lockhart, Texas on November 25, 1925. He was the son of John William Lipscomb, Sr. and Corinne Cardwell Storey Lipscomb. The two had married in 1919, when John was 28 and Corinne was 23. Jack’s family lineage encompassed many of the ranching and farming pioneers of Caldwell County and South Texas. Jack had two siblings, older brother John W. Jr. and younger sister Beulah Jean. The Lipscomb families owned and operated several cotton gins and mercantile stores in northern Caldwell County.

 John Sr. enlisted in 1917 at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War I. After being discharged from active service in early 1918, he worked in the family businesses. He also became an officer in the Texas National Guard. The Lipscomb family lived on South Main Street, and attended Lockhart’s Presbyterian Church.

In March of 1935, John Sr., by now a captain, was appointed by Texas Governor Allred as the custodial officer of the Texas National Guard Encampment near Palacios, in Matagorda County, and the Lipscomb family moved from Lockhart. Camp Hulen, as the encampment was more commonly called, served as a Guard training facility until nationalized. It then became a U.S. Army training facility until early 1944 when it was converted to prisoner of war camp for captured Germans.

Jack thrived in Palacios. He played football at every level of schooling allowed. At one point he was nicknamed the “Mighty Mite,” when he quarterbacked the grammar school team in the late 1930s. . He was quarterback of the Palacios Sharks when the team was district co-champion his junior year. He was described by one admirer as a “happy, tousle-headed, freckled faced lad.”

But Lockhart was still considered home, and the family was often in Caldwell and other counties where the large interwoven family owned land. A June 1939 Post Register story reported that Jack’s grandmother, Mrs. A.A. (Beulah Cardwell) Storey, his mother Corinne, and sister Jean traveling to the family ranch in Zavala County, to drop off Jack, older brother John, and cousin, James Storey where the boys would spend a month. The Post-Register stated that “[t]he boys are being chaperoned by Sr. Estanislau Gomez and they are expecting a great time.”  That “great time” included a lot of hard work.

            John Lipscomb Sr.’s military duties included inspecting National Guard units, including the 141st Infantry Regimental detachment in Lockhart. When Camp Hulen was nationalized in 1940, and by now a major, he transferred to Camp Bowie, where he was the base recreation officer. In 1942, Major Lipscomb transferred to Austin, where he served as coordinator of the staff of Adjutant-General J.W. Page in the Selective Service work of that office. By 1941 older brother John Jr. was attending Texas A&M, and about to be selected for the United States Naval Academy. Jack and younger sister Jean along with their mother, continued to live in Palacios so Jack could finish high school (and continue to play football).

            Jack graduated from high school in 1943 and enrolled in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. Corrine and Jean re-joined John Lipscomb, Sr. in Austin where John Sr. and Jean bought a new home in Highland Park West.

            Jack quit A&M after one year and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on February 21, 1944. He completed boot camp at Camp Elliott, California, where he was occasionally able to be meet up with his cousin John Cardwell, also a marine stationed nearby. John Cardwell would eventually serve as a machine gunner on a Dauntless dive bomber. John Cardwell’s older brother Gus served with a tank battalion and was killed in Italy in 1944. Jack sent a letter to John expressing his grief over Gus’s death.

Jack finished boot camp, qualified as an expert on the M-1 rifle and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and was shipped to Hawaii. He then was sent to the island of Guam in the Marianas in mid-August, 1944 and was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division.  The division had just taken part in the American re-taking of the island of Guam from the Japanese. The invasion cost the Americans over 1700 dead and 6000 wounded. The 3rd Division suffered 677 deaths and over 3600 wounded. The nearly 19,000 Japanese defenders were virtually wiped out. After several months of refitting, the 3rd Division was again ready for another island landing. It would be its bloodiest.


Iwo Jima is a tiny, sulfurous blot of land in the Bonin Chain less than 600 miles from the Japanese main islands. With the Marianas in US hands in 1944, new American B-29 bombers now had bases from which to attack the Japanese homeland.  A massive bombing campaign began to take the war to Japan’s cities and industrial centers.

Iwo Jima was important to the Japanese because it lay athwart the air route from the Marianas to Tokyo, and served both as an early warning site, and an interceptor location for fighter aircraft. To the Americans, Iwo Jima’s location only 650 nautical miles from Tokyo meant it was ideally located to recover disabled or damaged B-29s returning from bombing runs over Japan. It was also close enough to allow P-51 fighters to escort the B-29s all the way to Japan. At first glance, Iwo Jima appeared to be a difficult place to defend. But the Japanese had proved masters of island fighting. The bloodbaths at Tarawa and Peleliu had taught the Americans that.

Intelligence figures estimated that at best the Japanese held the ‘dry wasteland of volcanic ash that stinks of sulfur’ (as James Bradley described it in Flags of Our Fathers) with only 12,000 troops. Hardly a small number, but 70,000 Marines seemed to be more than enough to overcome the defenders. American intelligence estimates conservatively stated that one week was all the time needed to secure Iwo Jima and its three airfields. But those intelligence estimates were wrong, and badly so. The actual number of defenders had grown to 23,000 before the island was blockaded.

The 3rd Division embarked from Guam on the USS President Adams LIPSCOMB - GEORGE COMPANY ON MOTOYAMAon February 12, 1945. It was designated as the invasion’s floating reserve. Weeks of pre-invasion ‘softening up’ of defenses proved fruitless. The 4th and 5th Divisions hitting the beaches on February 19th had so many casualties that the 3rd Division was ordered ashore on the 20th. The mayhem on the beaches wouldn’t allow its landing, so it tried again the following day. From February 21st on, Jack and his men were in continuous combat. The Americans quickly cut the island in two. But casualties soon reached epic proportions. The well trained and concealed defenders, fighting from a maze of caves, tunnels and pillboxes, supported by mine fields and interlocking fields of fire meant some units were soon down to a fraction of their original strength. By March 2nd, Jack’s battalion had less than 300 men able to fight out of the 1200 who had come ashore. It had lost every company commander and all but one company executive officer. On March 3rd, the 21st Marines took the unfinished Airfield No. 3, and were able to seize the nearby high ground northeast of the field. It was here that Jack was killed.

The family received the news of his death shortly afterward. BothLIPSCOMB - PRIEST Lockhart and Palacios were deeply affected. The Palacios Beacon ran a long tribute to Jack, written by a good friend, Claire Burton. It was re-printed in the Post-Register. The family received many letters of condolence, including several from members of the 21st Marines. Corporal P.A. Shiesler wrote: “I was not with your son at the time of his death, but a buddy of mine was, and told me that Lippy died instantly from a bullet wound. There was no suffering…. I can honestly say that he was doing more than his share when he was on Iwo. He was a good Marine.” The unit chaplain, probably numbed by the last rites given and funerals read, wrote: “You son was killed while in the heat of battle on Iwo Jima on 3 March, 1945 when he was hit in the head by an enemy bullet killing him instantly. He is buried in the 3rd Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, Row 25, Grave 1484, Plot #6.” He went on to assure the family that after the battle was over, the entire division assembled to bestow honor on its 1,131 dead with three volleys of seven gun salutes, lowering the American flag to half-mast, and the singing of “Nearer My God to Thee.”



In 1947, the Americans began to disinter the 6800 American marines and sailors buried on Iwo. In 1949, Jack came home. On Sunday, January 16, 1949, Dr. Sam L. Joekel, pastor of Lockhart First Presbyterian Church conducted Jack’s funeral.  Superintendant Newsome of the Palacios schools was present. Casket bearers were members of Jack’s Palacios High School football team. Jack is buried in the Lockhart Cemetery.

Jack Storey Lipscomb was nineteen years old.







by Todd Blomerth

“He was larger than life. He had this big smile, and loved to laugh. He always had my back.” E-5 (Ret.) Albert Fambrough

            I want you to try to imagine the following:

            You are the parent of two adult children. The oldest is in the military, and is stationed in Iraq. The doorbell rings. You are trying to get out the door with a friend, to see a Seattle Mariners – Boston Red Sox baseball game. You assume the bell has been rung by the neighbor kid, who likes to come over and play with your dog. You peek out the front door expecting to see a small child. Your eyes fall instead on two sets of military shoes and uniform trousers. Without opening the door, you know why the men wearing them are here – your only son has been killed in action.

            That is what happened to Kei LaFleur in 2007. She, along with her ex-husband Chuck, and her daughter Megan, were confronted with the worst news of their lives. A beloved family member, vibrant and full of life, had been killed in a faraway land, serving his country in the United States Army.

            That family member was Jason LaFleur. This is his story.

            Jason Kenneth LaFleur was born on January 28, 1979 to Chuck and Kei (Warden) LaFleur. His sister Megan came along two years later. The family lived in Houston at the time, where Chuck and Kei both worked for Southwestern Bell. They transferred to the Austin area in 1985, and settled in Lockhart. The LaFleur children attended Lockhart schools. Jason’s parents instilled in them the joy of travel, and the family often took vacations to Colorado and New Mexico.10 JASON LAFLEUR soccer kid resized

Jason played soccer all through school, and was a drummer in the Lockhart High School Band. A good student, he took many college level courses. He graduated in 1997.

Jason’s folks divorced shortly after he graduated from high school. Kei moved with her job to Washington State. Chuck 16 JASON LAFLEURmoved to Durango, Colorado.

Jason received a partial scholarship to the University of Mississippi. Two years at Ole Miss, in Oxford, Mississippi, resulted in a lot of fun, but perhaps was not the route Jason wished to take. More mature, but still uncertain of what to do, Jason returned to his beloved Texas, taking some courses at Texas State University.

He then moved to Durango, Colorado to be closer to his dad. He worked at Home Depot, at the city Recycling Plant, and with his dad’s contracting business. He kept up with all the European soccer leagues, and coached kids under twelve in the Durango Youth Soccer program. He relished Colorado winters, when he could snow ski, an activity he loved almost as much as soccer.

Jason was an ardent patriot. In the words of a woman whose Durango house he boarded at, “He was just very adamant about supporting the president and defending our country.” Somewhere in this time of maturing and introspection, he decided to enlist in the Army. Jason was a big man physically, but he was overweight. He began to eat better and spend time in the gym. His mom knew he was serious about enlisting when he began running every day, an exercise he detested.

In retrospect, Kei believes her son met and visited with a retired helicopter pilot, who whetted his appetite for the Army in general, and Army aviation in particular. Although he rarely discussed it, Jason told someone, “I’ve just got to get through this first enlistment, and then I can go into aviation.” After he died some of his notebooks were found showing he had been studying for Army aviation tests between missions.

Jason enlisted in the Army in 2005. With his test scores and background, he could have chosen any number of military specialties. He chose to be an infantryman. In today’s Army, enlistees going into combat arms (artillery, armor and infantry) do both basic training and advanced combat training at one location – in his case it was Ft. Knox, Kentucky. There, he became fast friends with several other enlistees. At 25 years of age, he was an “old man” compared to other young soldiers.

About half way through this initial training, called One Station Unit Training, someone showed up from Ft. Bragg, looking for volunteers for Airborne School. Those who volunteered, and who completed the arduous three week course, were promised assignments with an Airborne Cavalry unit being formed at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

About thirty of the young men volunteered. Some were just gung ho. Others went to jump school for more prosaic reasons.  Some of the volunteers did it  because they didn’t want the military occupation specialty of Eleven Bravo – infantryman- “so they wouldn’t have to ride in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” seen as a bigger target than the vehicles used by cavalry scouts.

            Jason completed the intense three weeks at Ft. Benning, Georgia and proudly wore jump wings on his uniform. He was assigned to Bravo Troop, First Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment. He joined his unit in November of 2005. His military specialty had a certain cache to it – cavalry scout, or “19 Delta.”

The 1/40th Cav (Abn) training in Alaska was arduous. Part of the 25th Infantry Division’s Fourth Brigade, It was to be a rapid deployment unit for Southwestern Asia. Ultimately, the unit would fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jason enjoyed the challenges. He thrived on the structure and discipline. And, he loved the camaraderie. He made fast friends with and won the admiration of many of the young men he served with.

Albert Fambrough, a slow talking Kentuckian, went through Basic training with Jason. In Alaska, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Jason and others often came to the Fambrough apartment for meals. Jason’s “big Texas grin” is etched in his memory. Albert and his wife thought so much of Jason that they planned to name him as one of their unborn child’s godfathers.


Inevitably, the 1/40th received orders to Iraq.


After the capture of Saddam Hussein, the United States forces were slowly withdrawn from Iraq. However, all attempts at establishing a working government quickly foundered. Al Qaeda terrorists moved into the power vacuum, disrupting any chance of peaceful resolution of political issues. Mutual hatred and distrust between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the growth of sectarian militias, compounded a witches’ brew of long simmering problems.

In 2006, President George Bush began meeting with military and civilian leaders, trying to come up with a plan to stabilize the country. “The New Way Forward”, better known as “the Surge,” came into being. 20,000 additional troops were sent to Iraq, and the aims of the military were refocused “to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security.”

It was highly controversial at the time. While by no means unanimous, most observers, including critics such as Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, would ultimately agree that the Surge was successful.

As part of the Surge, in October 2006, the 1/40th Cav was flown into Baghdad, and then moved south to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon near Checkpoint 20, the last site under U.S. control.

When they arrived at FOB Falcon, the troop’s first sergeant ordered all the young troopers to write a letter home their moms. Jason, six years older than most of the soldiers, thought this order was silly, but in typical droll fashion, did what he was told to do.

07 JASON LAFLEUR letter home

           Jason’s first letter home to his mom, ‘complying’ with the top sergeant’s orders


The unit’s operational area consisted of around forty square miles west of the Tigris River, just south of Baghdad. Crisscrossed by irrigation canals, with fish farms, palm trees, tall grass, and narrow roads, its small villages were hotbeds of El Qaeda activity.

One such village was Hawr Rajab. Under the control of Al Qaeda and that group’s mostly foreign jihadis, it was on a major infiltration route into Baghdad for suicide bombers. Al Qaeda was armed with AK47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and a “seemingly endless supply of homemade improvised explosive devices [IEDs],” many made with urea fertilizer and nitric acid.

American patrols and sweeps always resulted in ‘contacts’ – a euphemistic term for combat, in the squadron’s area of operation.

The 1/40th’s first six months in-country saw an increase in Al Qaeda activity in their area of operation, as adjoining American forces displaced Al Qaeda jihadis into the Hawr Rajab area.

          05 JASON LAFLEUR in Iraq

Jason during a break on a recon in Iraq


Eight months into his tour, Jason received leave. He flew into Seattle, surprising his mother and sister. Equally important, Chuck happened to be in the area. Quick arrangements were made, and Jason and his father reunited for Father’s Day. It was a joyous time. It would be the last time his family would see him.

Because of growing American impatience, and the Surge, many Sunnis, originally hostile to the United States, began to rethink their positions. Tribal sheiks, or chieftains, realized that by enlisting the U.S. help, they could rid their villages of Al Qaeda fighters, who were terrorizing the local populaces. Additionally, many sheiks concluded that the U.S. could provide the Sunni Muslims with protection against the predatory practices of the largely Shiite Iraqi government forces, and various hostile militias.




After seeing the success the Americans had had in other areas in providing support and security, Sheik Ali Majid al-Dulaimi, a sheik at Hawr Rajab, of the Dulaimi tribe, cautiously approached the American Army about ridding his village of Al Qaeda. Sheik Ali was no stranger to Al Qaeda’s violence. Imbedded with the 1/40th, New York Times reporter Martin Gordon noted:  “Al Qaeda militants had killed his father, kidnapped his cousin, burned his home to the ground and alienated many of his fellow tribesmen by imposing a draconian version of Islamic law that proscribed smoking and required women to shroud themselves in veils.” Quietly, Sheik Ali began recruiting locals into a small self-protection group, and reached out to the


                       The village of Hawr Rajab, marked with red marker

Americans. Sheik Mahir Sarhan Morab al-Muini, of another tribe in Hawr Rajab, also came forward asking for help.

Most of the ‘big picture’ was not available to the trooper on the ground. Daily life was filled of staying alive, and completing the assignment ordered. FOB Falcon had ancillary fortifications in the squadron’s Area of Operations. Bravo Troop rotated platoons in and out of Patrol Base Dog. In May of 2007, a suicide bomber driving a dump truck rammed the Patrol Base. Men were lost and injured. Iraqi summers are vicious. The men rebuilt the PB in the blazing heat, and continued to patrol and scout.

With the limited number of soldiers available in the 1/40th’s area of operation, it was critical that the Americans obtain the locals’ full support. Information given the Americans resulted in a successful air strike on an ice factory where Al Qaeda fighters were hidden. A decision was made to move 1/40th’s A Troop into Hawr Rajab, to distribute food, and to help the sheiks re-assert their authority over the 8000 villagers.

In late July 2007, an abortive attempt was made to support Ali’s men attacking Al Qaeda strong points in Hawr Rajab. Blowing sands grounded supporting American gunships. Al Qaeda, tipped off to the movement, attack Sheik Ali’s force, forcing a retreat, and nearly killing a subordinate’s sister and her children.  In the following days, 1/40th made several raids against the enemy, trying to keep it off balance, while other plans were made.

On August 4, 2007, another attempt was made, this time with A Troop leading the way. The American soldiers wore Kevlar helmets, body armor, Nomex gloves, and ballistic glasses. Engineers with anti-mine vehicles moved out at five a.m., followed by soldiers who were to enter the center of the village, distribute food, and allow psychological operations to begin. The dual objective was a show of force and support for the local Iraqis, as well as an effort to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of potential allies.

There was one road in and out of Hawr Rajab from the north, simplifying Al Qaeda’s task of IED placement. Soon, an American vehicle hit an IED, blowing the cab over 50 feet and injuring the driver. As other troopers pushed into the village, they were aware of closed shutters. The locals knew something bad was up.

Elements of A Troop reached the village center. Humvees formed a protective circle, as announcements went out over loud speakers for the villagers to come get food. And then, the radio came alive. The 1/40th’s commander, Lt. Colonel Mark Odom and his humvee had hit an IED. All four of the vehicle’s occupants were badly hurt.

Jason, with Bravo Troop, was part of the squadron’s Quick Response Force. Sergeant James Allred was a section sergeant for Bravo Troop. “We weren’t in our Area of Operation. We were there to support Alpha. We were to pick up some detainees, and return to the FOB,” he told me. “Route clearance vehicles were to the front. We assumed IEDs had been cleared. Suddenly, the colonel’s humvee got hit.”

With admiration for Lt. Col. Odom’s leadership despite his extensive injuries, Allred explained that “our mission had suddenly changed.”  He and Medic Dustin Wakeman assisted in extracting the injured men from Odom’s Humvee. Sergeant Donnie Cartwright also dismounted from the humvee where Jason was gunner.  Bravo’s men and vehicle assumed defensive positions around the perimeter. Things calmed down – although in the madness of the event this is a relative term. It was time for Bravo’s men to return to FOB Falcon. “I radioed Jaron [Holliday} to back up and pick us up. The last thing he said was ‘roger.’”

The humvee hit a pressure plate, or a massive IED was activated remotely by phone. “Wakeman had gone back to the humvee to take a breather,” recalls Allred. “Sergeant Cartwright and I were standing there when the whole thing went up in pieces. We were pretty close.”

Cartwright asked, “Where is the humvee?”

The humvee was gone, and with it, three young men. Sgt. Dustin Wakeman, Corporal Jaron Holliday, and Corporal Jason LaFleur were killed instantly.

New York Times reporter Michael Gordon witnessed the mayhem from another perspective:

We drove back toward Checkpoint 20 and came upon a terrible sight. The twisted wreck of a Humvee was in the middle of the road. Combat medics were hovering over two soldiers lying in the grass. One was the turret gunner. The other was Odom, whose face was swathed in bandages. The wounded soldiers were lifted by stretcher into waiting Humvees and driven back.

Another Humvee, meanwhile, drove down from Checkpoint 20 to guard our flank. Suddenly there was a massive blast. Much of that Humvee disintegrated into fragments that rained down around us. Nobody could survive such a blast. The radio traffic reported three killed in action.

Again, in the words of reporter Michael Gordon:

When we got back to Checkpoint 20, the outpost was silent. The soldiers had lost three of their comrades. Another eight had been wounded. The enemy had suffered no casualties. Food had been given out to 40 residents.

At Forward Operating Base Falcon, the commanders imposed “River City” — they shut down the unclassified Internet connection the soldiers used to chat with their families and to blog so that word of the casualties would not spread until the next of kin were notified. That night, I went to the airfield at the base for the “angel flight.” A formation of soldiers lined up and saluted as the caskets of the three dead soldiers were carried to the tarmac so they could be flown away.

            Ordinarily, Cpl. Farmbrough was the squadron commander’s driver. On August 4, he had been assigned to man the radios in the Tactical Control Center, back at the Forward Operating Base. “When I heard what had happened, I knew who had died. I started crying over the radio.”

            In reading Michael Gordon’s account, and listening to James Allred’s version, it is in some respects like two different occurrences. The reality? The compression and expansion of perceived time, the incredible stress of combat, and the events seen through different lenses, focused on different issues.

“Jason was bold,” Allred remembers, but occasionally maddeningly hard-headed. “We butted heads sometimes. He was older closeup in gearthan me. I had joined the Army at eighteen, and was a very young NCO.” Allred had been a drill instructor, and admired the big Texan. “He was the soldier I had that made me want to do my job better.” Sergeant Allred states, “We were all a brotherhood there. I am still dealing with it.”  Allred spoke on behalf of Jason at the men’s’ eulogies at FOB Falcon. “I was able to personally say goodbye,” as Jason’s casket was loaded to be flown home.

Corporal Jason LaFleur’s body came home to Texas. His funeral was held at Lockhart’s Eeds Funeral Home. Jason hadn’t lived in Caldwell County in nearly ten years. The LaFleur family was stunned by the outpouring of love and concern shown by the large numbers of Caldwell County folks in attendance. Jason is buried as Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.

The loss of this young soldier continues to ripple through his family, and his many friends. When speaking to me, Albert Fambrough could not hold back his tears. To this day, and despite logic and reason, James Allred remains haunted by what happened. I have “what iffed’ the situation every day.”  If they hadn’t back up a few feet. If he hadn’t radioed Holliday to come pick them up so they could return to FOB Falcon. If, if, if….

            Megan, Jason’s sister, succinctly describes the devastation when she says, “I felt like I lost my whole family.” Her mother Kei understandably became “all consumed” with the loss of her only son. Her father Chuck could not deal with the loss. He withdrew, as if to protect himself emotionally. His son’s death has exacerbated health issues.

Megan’s sense of loss is nuanced. She and Jason weren’t close growing up, but that had begun to change. The ability of siblings to reach a new or renewed level of affection and understanding with age and maturity has been taken from her and her brother. “I regret the inability to get together,” she says. “This made me feel how fragmented our family had become. I feel very small.”

Kei visits her son’s grave at least once a month. She is a member of American Gold Star Mothers. Comprised of moms who have lost sons or daughters in the service of their country, the Gold Star Mothers volunteer to support veterans and those serving in the military. Gold Star Mothers offer support and friendship, but also makes the most of the members’ situations to help others even less fortunate. She is also a member of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a grief and healing organization. She has mentored  through that program, “talking to other moms who may not be as far down the road as I am.”

As I was writing this story, I received this message from Kei LaFleur: “When [Jason] told me he was going to enlist, I felt I needed to counsel him. Not to dissuade him, but to have him think about other military options. I told him in the Army, he would be sent to the desert. Probably pretty quick. He’s big and he’s strong. And he said to me, ‘I know Mom, but I am willing.’ So if people remember anything about Jason, they should remember that he was willing.”

TWO troopers killed


The three troopers killed – Holliday, LaFleur, and Wakeman

aftermath one aftermath 2 13 JASON LAFLEUR aftermath











Aftermath of several IED attacks witnessed by 1/40th troopers while in Iraq



Kei at her son’s grave Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery

14 JASON LAFLEUR gold star window

The window of a Gold Star mom

Note: I am indebted to Kei LaFleur for her time and kindness in providing pictures and stories of her son. She also helped me make contact with Megan LaFleur, James Allred, and Albert Fambrough who honored me with their time and recollections.

New York Times journalist Michael Gordon was embedded with the 1/40th. His story appeared on September 2, 2007 and can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/world/africa/02iht-02checkpoint.7348866.html

The Durango (Colorado) Herald front page story of August 9, 2007, entitled Soldier LaFleur Proud to Serve was provided to me by Kei LaFleur.




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.





by Todd Blomerth

Hal William Dalton was the middle son of William Ewen Dalton and Delta (Martin) Dalton. He was born on February 20, 1923 in Hays County, Texas. His older brother Wesley was six years his senior. Younger brother Robert, or Bobbie, was born in 1932. Hal’s father, Ewen, began married life as a farmer in Hays County, and then changed careers. For most of Hal’s life his father was an automobile salesman. At some time between 1930 and 1935, the family moved to Luling. Shortly before Hal entered high school the family relocated to Lockhart, living at 623 Cibolo Street.

            Hal was active in the Lockhart High School Band, and was at one time an assistant drum major. According to Harry Hilgers, during the Depression, few could afford to buy band uniforms, so cast-off University of Texas Longhorn Band uniforms were obtained, and band mothers would dye them, changing the color from orange to maroon. The band mothers would then make the trousers. Caps were also from the Longhorn Band, which were also dyed appropriately. Hal’s senior year he, along with Andy Hinton, Winifred Adams, Vera Riddle, Opal Shinn, Dorothy Nell Williams, Corbett Halsell, Branch Lipscomb, and Hollis Raymond, starred in a play at the Adams gym – “Professor, How Could You?”

Hal graduated from Lockhart High School in May of 1940 and DALTON - GREAT PIC FROM PEDAGOGenrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University). He attended for two years, and served on the Student Council. He was also a member of the Harris-Blair Literary Society. Like many others, he did not finish school, enlisting in the Army Air Forces in 1942.

Hal graduated from Bombardier School at Kirtland Airfield in Albuquerque, New Mexico, training on AT-11s and B-18As. The AT-11 was built by Beech. It was a twin-engine trainer and personnel transport that after the War became a popular business aircraft. The B-18 “Bolo” was developed in the 1930s as a medium bomber. By the onset of the War, its deficiencies were obvious – inadequate bomb load capacity and armament, and underpowered engines. It was soon relegated to anti-submarine patrols and training missions.

Hal was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and received his bombardier’s wings. He then went overseas in May of 1944, completing thirty-three combat missions in the European Theater of Operations.

By June of 1945, the Dalton family perhaps thought it would remain intact despite others’ losses in World War II. Bobbie was too young to serve in World War II. Wesley had served with Dr. Joe Coopwood’s Medical Detachment of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, He had been wounded by artillery shrapnel in Italy, but recovered. Returning to the States, Hal was assigned as bombardier instructor at San Angelo Army Air Field. The school’s class book, “On Course!” DALTON - FROM ON COURSEshows Hal was an instructor for student Flight “E” of Class 45-15B. The war in Europe was over and he was training others to be bombardiers in the continuing fight against Japan. His assignment was a challenging but pleasant change from the high-risk operations of aerial bombardments. One thing was certain – after what he had lived through, he was not supposed to lose his life in the continental United States. But he did, and needlessly.

            Bobbie had spent part of the summer of 1945 with his big brother, Hal. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, by now living at 4120 Tennyson Street in Houston, left Houston early on Saturday, June 30, 1945, driving to San Angelo to pick up Bobbie. Shortly after leaving, a telegram arrived at their home. Another family member saw its contents, and telephoned Wesley, now living in Lockhart. Wesley parked on the side of the highway he knew his parents would be taking to San Angelo and flagged them down as they approached. He broke the news that Hal had been killed the night before in a training accident.

            At 9:12 p.m., Central War Time, a Beechcraft Model 18 (the DALTON Beechcraft_AT-11_out_over_the_West_Texas_prairies_(00910460_103)military nomenclature was AT-11A “Kansan”), aircraft number 43-10417, took off from San Angelo Army Airfield. There were three men on board: 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Nageotte – pilot; 1st Lt. J.B. Colleps – bombardier instructor; and 1st Lt. Hal Dalton – bombardier instructor. The flight was for bombardier instructor proficiency training – in other words, Lieutenants Colleps and Dalton were maintaining that their own skill levels.

DALTON - CRASH FINAL DALTON - airview of crash


The AT-11A, powered with two Pratt and Whitney R-985 engines, rated at 450 horsepower each, crashed near Christoval, killing all three occupants. Several miles from the airbase it struck the arid ground at a shallow descent, bounced once, twice, and on the third strike exploded. Very little of the aircraft was left intact. The resulting investigation gave no clear explanation for what had happened. Report of Major Accident Number 45-6-29-21 noted:

The accident occurred at about the part of a bombing mission where the last bombardier is completing the 12 C Report on bombs dropped and the pilot is losing altitude for entrance into the traffic pattern at the home base. It is possible that the reflection of the bombardier’s nose light on dirty glass might have blinded the pilot enough to cause confusion and error.

      The investigators also surmised the possibility of an air lock, as the one hour and eighteen minute flight would have emptied the main fuel tank. “With possible air lock in fuel system, [and the plane descending from the practice bombing run altitude] the pilot may have placed his entire attention inside the cockpit long enough for the accident to occur.”  In other words, there was no clear explanation for the three deaths. The aircraft simply flew into the ground, plowing up mesquite and cactus, before disintegrating.

            A good friend, Lt. C.D. With accompanied Hal’s body home. Funeral services were held at Rogers-Pennington Funeral Home in San Marcos on July 2, 1945. Dean H.E. Speck, the men’s dean at SWTSTC spoke glowingly of Hal.  A letter from Reverend C.E. Bludworth, pastor at First Methodist Church at San Angelo, and former pastor at First Methodist in Lockhart, was read. Reverend Bludworth knew Hal as a boy in Lockhart, and became re-acquainted with him when Hal began attending church at Rev. Bludworth’s church in San Angelo. Pall bearers included Joe Lipscomb, C.E. Royal, Alton Williams, and Jack Hoffman.

            1st Lt. Hal Dalton did not reach his 23rd birthday.

DALTON HAL W - HEADSTONE 1945 KYLEHal Walton’s Headstone – Kyle

If You Don't Learn It, You Will Repeat It