Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks Vet Mike!

Thanksgiving (the anniversary of Dad's death) was just made better by Vet Mike! Sent via gmail Nov 23 2010.

Dear Stacy,
I just read your wonderful tribute to your father on the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial Fund website. Any father would be proud to read such a wonderful understanding by his child of the role he played. I pray that as another anniversary of his death comes around, your sisters will be able to open their minds, as you have, and understand the great role their father played not only in their own lives, but in trying to improve the lives of a nation of people so far away, so long ago. Your tribute brought tears to my eyes. I can only imagine the pain you and your family have endured. As you said, your mother deserves a medal of her own. I would add, so do you and your sisters. No child should have to endure such a loss. You, as well as your father, have given much for this country. I will give thanks this Thanksgiving for your father's life and for his family for their gift to us.
I sincerely hope that the peace you have found from studying about your father, may also be found by your sisters. My own tour in Viet Nam ended just before your father was killed. While the war was supposedly "winding down," many men were still being lost, far too many. Cherish your father's trunk and your memories of him. He was a fine man!

Mike Nawrath
Chu Lai, RVN, Americal Division
October, 1970 - October, 1971

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Terry Curry's Shadowbox

Terry Curry sent all three sisters a fantastic Shadow Box, created with care and love of a fellow vet. Words can't do justice to his care for us. Photos soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SDIT Reunion with Bob Hall

The SDIT reunion was intense, and not just because of the DC summer heat! SDIT member GEN Casey spoke at the ceremony in front of the Wall. Bob Hall, Dad's gunner, was there and sat with my niece Samantha and me in the shade. I teared up, and Bob let me take his picture. What a guy! I shook GEN Casey's hand and introduced him to Sam. It was a time to remember.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Highest Decorated Soldier

Terry Curry sent me this news clip of a soldier who just fought his last fight. Sir, We Salute You!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How I Found My Father (and Myself) through SDIT

I first heard about SDIT in 1999 from my mother; she heard about it at a Gold Star Wives meeting. I signed up for the newsletter. One afternoon I sat down with the latest installment and began reading an article written by a Daughter about her MIA dad’s chopper wreck. Halfway through the article I realized that the pilot of that chopper had been my father. My father had died in the same wreck that she was describing in great detail. It was the most information I had ever heard about my father’s death; my family never knew very much about the wreck and we certainly had avoided the subject for the past 30 years. I was reading details of my father’s death, written by a woman I did not know.
I immediately contacted the Southern California chapter of SDIT to find out the woman’s name and address. After many attempts, finally someone helped me get in touch with her, and we soon had an emotional phone conversation sharing our common experience. It was the first time I had ever spoken to another person who had lost a father in Vietnam.
After that phone call, I began to look online for any information about my father’s two tours in Vietnam. I posted my query on several veterans’ websites, seeking anyone who had known my dad during that time. The vets answered, tentatively at first. I discovered that my father had been a Special Operations pilot for the Air Force/CIA MAC SOG. His work was so secret that even my mother knew nothing about his mission. He had earned 13 medals, including the Silver Star. Six months later, my mother and I attended a reunion of his unit in Kokomo, Indiana where I met several men who shared stories about my dad. Through these wonderful men, I have come to learn so much about my father that I could never have known otherwise.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. I was filled with desire to help the military kids who I knew would soon learn first-hand the saddest part of war. I began to investigate how to help. I searched for organizations where I could volunteer. With my sister, I attended a SDIT campout where we were welcomed with a “sharing circle.” It was the first time we had ever met anyone else who had also lost a father to war. Through SDIT, I was able to participate in Snowball Express, a charitable event for the newly bereaved military families from the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars. I entered the university so I could research more about war’s impact on the bereaved military family. What I found was next to nothing; no real research was available on American war orphans. So for my master’s thesis I wrote a short book on the subject. I started a blog (http://soldiersfirstdaughter.blogspot.com/) and had an article printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal (my dad’s hometown). I still receive messages from vets who find my articles online – just two months ago I was contacted by a man who told me that my father had saved his life in battle. After two emotional phone calls, my sister and I met with Mr. Terry Curry who told us vivid stories that made us see what kind of a man our dad was.
Because of that little article in the SDIT newsletter, I have embarked on a journey that has led me and my family to tremendous healing. I have found a part of me I didn’t even know was missing. I hold this organization in my heart with fondness, and I hope I can somehow return the favor by helping others find something they might not even know they are searching for.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jim Schueckler's Christmas in Vietnam

Jim (aka Uncle Polecat)sent me this touching story about how he spent his Christmas in country. Altruism runs deep in this man. And then he created the Virtual Wall. What a guy! Thanks, Jim.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anniversary of Dad's Death

Today. Thinking of you, Dad. Got a nice note from SDIT's Tony.

Terry Curry: Dad's Old Friend/ Our New Friend

My sister and I met with Terry Curry a couple of weeks ago over dinner at the Mission Inn. He had driven out here on his motorcycle. Terry freely shared stories about Dad that we had never heard before and has kept in touch via email since then. He sent all three of us a book about the Green Hornets. He's making us all a "shadow box" with photos of dad, medals, etc. Terry, I salute you.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Associated Press Distributes Photo of Fallen Soldier Against Family's Wishes

The family did not want the photo distributed. I'm all for honest journalism, but what about respect for the family's wishes? That should trump any journalist's need to tell a story. See story http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/behind-13/

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Interview with Terry Curry 8/22/09

I just spoke with Terry Curry who was also at the Base Leg Crash, and who saved Davis' life. He said he had also pulled my dad out of the burning chopper, which was news to me. I am waiting to hear back from Davis: did Curry save my dad's life also? Wow and more wow.

Note from Mom

This is the first time I have seen your complete blog. I have found it through footnotes and read a few entries. You are doing a great job in your support of the survivors. It sounds like all the questions we had about your Dad's heroism in Vietnam has been answered through this last communication with Mr. Davis. It was helpful for him to talk with you I am sure. It is interesting to read your initial blog in 2006 inquiring about your Dad to your 2009 information updating all on the support that can be obtained from various entities. Keep up the good work. Personally I am so happy that you are finally getting answers to the burning questions about your Dad. As for me, I still shake with emotion when I read the "real truth." I prefer to remember your Dad as a skinny 17 year old walking three miles in all kinds of weather to court me; as a 26 year old proud pilot with his shiny new wings after he graduated second in his pilot training class 57-O in Bartow, Fl; his terrific sense of humor. Even when he made me angry I would always laugh at his comeback; his ability to make friends. Everyone liked Bob even though at times he could be a real bear; the tenderness he showed with his babies; his toughness as a father; but most of all, I am so sorry that you girls did not get the opportunity to know a "real man" whose approach to life was never comprising his values or beliefs and whose intelligence and strength of character still support me today. I am so thankful that I have made peace with those events from 1969-1971 and can appreciate Bob's heroism and the many lives he saved and touched during those years. I know he is thanking me for letting him rest finally. Again keep up the good work in your support for the children. Love Mom

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dear Bob Davis

You contacted me today to tell me my father saved your life in Vietnam 40 years ago. Thank you. Your story is below:

Phone Interview with Bob Davis August 15, 2009

Bob Davis was the crew’s Chief Mechanic on the Huey chopper Base Leg Crash about 1 mile outside of Ban Me Thuot. Four crewmen were on board: Bob Swenck (pilot), his co-pilot, Kline (gunner) and Bob Davis (mechanic). A severe engine compression stall occurred when chopper was 300ft above ground. Swenck could not establish auto-rotation, so chopper landed on right skid, the skid failed, and the chopper fell over on its side. Rotors hit the ground, and the chopper burst into flames. Davis was trapped inside, the door overhang metal had pushed onto his helmet, smashing it onto his head just below his ears and he was stuck, unable to get his head out of the helmet. 12,000 rounds of ammo was stored in cans right next to 240 gallons of JP jet fuel, near Davis. (The Hueys had jet engines which were very susceptible to debris getting into the engines.) 8 choppers had been lifting off at the time, (4 Army and 4 Air Force) and all returned to location to help downed chopper. Pilots had to stay with running choppers, so 3 or 4 men from each chopper ran toward the one down, a total of around 12-15 men. Swenck initiated and organized the rescue. The men attempted to lift the chopper, but their first attempt failed. Upon second attempt, as Terry Curry climbed inside to release Davis’ gunner belt and helmet, they were able to lift the debris just enough to free him. As Curry was cutting his belt, ammo was already starting to pop off. Curry got Davis out from under door metal and through overhead green window above pilot seat and dragged Davis across ground to safety. 15-20 seconds later the whole wreck blew up sky high. All men were running as fast as they could away from the burning chopper. The only injury was gunner Kline who got some shrapnel in his leg. He was sent home and was not heard from again.
Davis spent the night in the hospital, on a cot with one blanket. The hospital was underground, and he saw one doctor all night long as he lay there. Some crew members came next day to take him back to base location. Alphonso (R.T.), Davis’ good friend, came up to him and with a mock sad face said, “I screwed up. I could have used my safety saw to cut your head off and save your body!” Davis did not fly any more missions after that, staying on ground duty. When I asked him if he was hurt at all, he said, “I hurt my pride and got a couple of marks on my neck where the ballistic helmet pinched it.” And then he said, “Vietnam was the highlight of my life, but I never talked about it until recently.” He also told me “Your dad was one of the finest pilots I ever flew with, in over 200 missions. When you looked at the flight manifest and saw his name, you knew you were with one of the best.” Swenck received an Airman’s Medal for Valor for his actions that day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SDIT plans Father's Day 2010

SDIT plans a Father's Day gathering for 2010! Our hope is to gather survivors from several organizations from all wars. Volunteers muster!

Gold Star Council founded!

SDIT has joined with other survivor's groups to form a new Gold Star Council. The mission (paraphrased from the Council's statement): to unify the groups’ voices and shared concerns on issues affecting Gold Star and Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action (POW/MIA) family members and the organizations that represent them. The Gold Star Council is comprised of parents, spouses, children and other family members who have lost loved ones in America’s military conflicts—from World War II to today’s Global War on Terror. The Council represents a broad and diverse membership of more than one million people from organizations such as:

•American Gold Star Mothers (founded in 1928);
•Gold Star Wives of America (founded in 1945);
•National League of POW/MIA Families (founded in 1970);
•Sons and Daughters In Touch (founded in 1990);
•American World War II Orphans Network (founded in 1991);
•Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (founded in 1994);
•White House Commission on Remembrance (established by Congress in 2000);
•Snowball Express (founded in 2005); and
•Families United (founded in 2005).

This is most wonderful! This Council has the potential to mitigate so much of the pain and suffering I documented in my research project (see sidebar). Thanks to Tony Cordero of SDIT for organizing this Council gathering!

Note from Vet Vernon

This from Vet Vernon, who found my website through an unusual search:

Dear Stacy,

I'm an occasional talk show radio host on KSCO AM 1080 in Santa Cruz California and I happened to have the privilege of hosting the Memorial Day Saturday Special on Saturday May 23, 2009. At the end of that show, one of my guests (from ex-special forces) pulled out about 5 Montenyard bracelets, took one, placed it on my wrist, and said, "there, as you know, once you're given one of these, you can never take it off." As I looked at the bracelet, I felt honored to have it given to me as I journeyed back many years in my mind to my days in Vietnam, my 2 tours in Vietnam. I also thought of a good friend from those days that had just recently looked me up and contacted me and, who had done a film documentary on the Montenyards (the forgotten people of Vietnam and Cambodia) in the mid 90's. I requested, and was given, a Montenyard bracelet that I will send to him." The documentary is available for viewing via streaming video at:


Just search for, and click on "Living in Exile" on that page.

Vernon then searched Google: Montenyard and my footnote.com page was the first reference. I had posted photos of the Montenyard village in Cambodia where dad's 20th SOS was stationed. While I wish there was more information online about the Montenyards (US allies who were victims of Pol Pot after the US left Cambodia), I'm glad Vernon found the website.

Then Vernon wrote: "On this Memorial day, May 25, 2009, please accept my condolences for the loss of your father at such a young age, a young age for both of you actually, and know that, in my humble opinion, he did not die in vain. He died saving the lives of others and for that they owe him a debt of gratitude."

Thanks for your kind message, Vernon!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dad's Memorial Page on the Virtual Wall

The folks at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund accepted my dad's memorial page. Thanks so much! I love getting notes from vets who find my dad's pages online; the new Virtual Wall remembrance pages will enhance communication and connections! View the page here: http://www.thevirtualwall.org/index.cfm?sectionID=110&anClip=220028

SDIT Event s Update

Some upcoming events (from SDIT Legacies eUpdate May 2009): Memorial Day at ‘the Wall’: the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1PM (EST) on Monday, May 25.

TAPS Good Grief Camp:”What is SDIT doing to help the ‘sons and daughters’ of today?”

Last year, SDIT members from across the country helped deliver a panel discussion about the realities of raising – and being – a surviving Gold Star child. If you plan to be in the Washington, DC-area over Memorial Day weekend and are interested in helping with this program, contact Colleen Shine at : ccshine@comcast.net. A link to the program information: www.taps.org/events

Father’s Day at ‘the Wall’: The 2009 Father’s Day ‘Rose for Remembrance’ ceremony will be held Sunday June 21. SDIT members and their families are invited to attend and help place roses at the base of each panel on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. For more information, contact board@sdit.org or visit http://www.vvmf.org/index.cfm?SectionID=19

SDIT is planning a larger Father's Day gathering at the Wall in 2010!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lifting Media Ban on Fallen Soldiers

Watch Bonnie Carroll discuss the lifting of the media ban on returning fallen soldiers. Thank You, Bonnie! And thanks to the DOD for listening to TAPS grief professionals while drafting their new policy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

SDIT on Facebook!

Sons and Daughters in Touch is now on Facebook! What a great idea! Already a couple of people who had been seeking fellowship found us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Note from Vet Gary

Dear Stacy,

I belong to an Air Force website called AFTWS, or Air Force Together We Served. One of the privileges of belonging to such a website is to honor our Fallen Brothers. I am a former Security Policeman, Sgt. Gary Banzhoff, and I have the honor of preparing a "Remembrance Profile" for your Father. I do this with love and respect. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting your Dad, he will always remain a "Brother Airman". This is a bond that many who have never served can fathom.

I have included a link to your Dad's profile, not only for you to view, but perhaps help me make corrections where needed, or fill in some blanks.

I am deeply saddened by your family's loss. Your Dad's memory will be kept alive in the hearts and minds of you, your family and his AF Brothers in perpetuity.




Gary, I salute you! Thanks so much for your tribute. My family loves it!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Note from Nadia, sister of deceased vet

Nadia sent me a touching note. Nadia's brother, James Thomas, was lost with my father when their chopper crashed in the river. Thomas was the pararescue jumper on board the helicopter. Thomas was seen swimming to enemy shore, but was never found. Nadia will visit the Wall in DC this May. As she said, she has "a few pictures and memories, but that is all" of her brother. We know how you feel, Nadia.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Note from Vet Kurt


My name is Kurt Tschuor and I reside in Muncie, Indiana. I am a retired USAF flight engineer (HH-3/HH-53/C-130), and was proud to read your statements regarding your father. Our condolences to your loss.

I was moved by your description of his return from Vietnam, and his behavior that was entwined to his tour. I too had similar actions, and can certainly relate. Time has certain actions that can provide a positive lifestyle, and for me it was to learn acceptance of "family first", and "brother's combined". You see, I had a very hard time distinguishing between the two. Half of me wanted to be there for my family, but I just couldn't get the thought out of my mind that I needed to be somewhere else. I adjusted, but it was a long and hard endeavor.

You father was and IS a hero! His dedication is evident through his decorations, and his love for his family is that he came home for that short visit.

All of our love,

The Tschuor Family
Muncie, Indiana

Thanks, Kurt. Your words mean more than I can say.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Note from Vet Jerry

Vet Jerry Austin found my blog and wrote that he remembered my dad in country. Jerry said he was 19 years old and worked as crew chief on the gunships for the 20th SOS. He remembered my dad as being tall and good at softball. Jerry writes:

"You should always be proud of your father as he did what he believed to be the right thing as did many others."

Amen to that! Thanks, Jerry.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Note from Vet "cokecop"

I just got this email from "cokecop@aol.com" He read my entry on the Virtual Wall:

"From one of the survivors of Viet Nam, your entry and story of your dad was inspiring to read. Thanks for writing it. Viet Nam greatly impacted our generations. Over the years, I've tried to put it all behind me. I lost friends in Nam, as I was assigned to the 179th Assault Support Helicopters in Camp Holloway, Pleiku. US Army. Left as a flight engineer on chinooks. After being back in the "world" one month, I wanted to volunteer to return, so I understand your dad's doing so. I didn't go back, knowing they couldn't guarantee I wouldn't go back to Holloway. I didn't want to return there. Now, due to the Internet, my past is coming back to me.
Sorry your dad had to be one of those who didn't come back."

I am so grateful for the opportunity to hear from so many Vets who have found solace and fellowship through the Internet. Thank You, "cokecop" !

Sunday, August 03, 2008

SDIT Member's "Missing In America" project

SDIT member Nina McCoy, the head of the body donation program at Western University, has organized military funerals for the cremated remains of unidentified veterans. Partnering with the national Missing in America Project, which seeks to find the remains of missing Vietnam veterans, she organized proper burials for the created remains of some of these veterans in the Riverside National Cemetery. Reported by David Goldstein for CBS 2 News Los Angeles July 31, 2008.

Nina - I tip my hat to you! What a wonderful and noble project.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

HUGSS (Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors)

From the HUGSS website: "HUGSS (Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors) is a non-profit 501c(3) charitable organization with the emphasis of providing needed support to surviving families whether mom, dad, a brother/sister, daughter or son, who have lost their lives as a member of our military. The purpose of the organization is to provide care and services to all families who have suffered the loss of a Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor or Guardsman with a primary focus on the Gold Star Families. This includes facilitating support groups, coordinating events, as well as linking families to community resources and services. HUGSS will also be available for community training and serves as a resource for the Military Family."

Uncertain Death/Lingering Grief

Anita Creamer's father was shot down over Vietnam in 1972 and his body was never recovered. Listed as missing for many years, Anita and her family suffered from not knowing if he was dead or alive. My heart goes out to you, Anita, and all families of MIA/POW. At least I had the closure of knowing for sure that my dad was dead.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

New Book about How America Honors her Dead

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jim Sheeler's “Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives" documents the way America honors her war dead. George Will reviews this book in the Washington Post.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Subject of Loss = Unpopular Film

On the last day in May, the original Memorial Day, an article appeared in the San Diego Tribune about the movie, Grace is Gone. The movie is about a family left to deal with the grief of losing a wife/mother/soldier to the Iraq War. This movie never even opened in San Diego, and only played in seven (total!) theatres nationwide. Bad movie or unpopular subject? You decide - the film is available on DVD and features a profile of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a program to assist families who've lost a loved one serving in the military).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

One Dollar for Every Name on the Wall

The Sons and Daughters in Touch fundraiser, One Dollar for Every Name on the Wall,is in full swing! The campaign’s goal is to raise at least $1 for each of the more than 58,000 names on The Wall to support SDIT and the building of the Vietnam Veterans Education Memorial Center. Sons and Daughters in Touch (SDIT), a national organization of Americans who lost their fathers in the Vietnam War, is teaming up with nationally syndicated radio host Rusty Humphries to raise more than $58,000 for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, an educational facility being built by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The SDIT National Radiothon will air May 23, 24 and 26 during the nationally syndicated Rusty Humphries Show on Talk Radio Network. SDIT has pledged to raise $1 for every name on The Wall. Currently, there are 58,260 names.

Read more here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

National Moment of Remembrance

In 2000, Congress passed Public Law 106-579 and created the White House Commission on Remembrance. As the only active White House Commission established by law, this independent government agency's mission is to "encourage Americans to honor the sacrifices of America’s fallen and the families they left behind. It promotes acts of remembrance throughout the year and asks Americans to pay our debt of gratitude in memory of our fallen by giving something back to the Nation. The Commission is also tasked to unite the country in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.

The Commission is dedicated to educating this and future generations of Americans to remember the sacrifices and costs in human life made to preserve our liberties, and to instill in them an understanding of what it means to be an American. This Commission was inspired when schoolchildren who were asked what Memorial Day meant answered "it's the day that pools open!"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Turning Grief Into Art

Artist Tom Hubbard, whose father, Sgt. Thomas P. Kindt (USMC) was killed in Vietnam in 1966, creates wonderful ceramics and art installations from family photos and photos from Vietnam. Turning grief into art is a fantastic, grueling, cathartic activity. His exhibit, SEMPER FIDELIS: How I Met My Father, is a fine-art exhibition which incorporates after-action reports, photos, letters and journal entries. It is the result of Tom’s quest to know his father. Tom traveled across the US and Vietnam on his journey. “The loss of my father in Vietnam has shaped me as a person, a husband, a father and an artist,” Tom said.
SEMPER FIDELIS: How I Met My Father will be on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps from May 23 through July 7, 2008. The museum is in Quantico, VA – 36 miles south of Washington, DC. For more information, visit www.tomhub.com or www.usmcmuseum.com

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Visit the Digital Vietnam Wall

Check out this new digital edition of the Vietnam Wall! You can search the names inscribed on The Wall to find photos and stories about the soldiers. The National Archives and Footnote.com collaborated to create this wonderful new website. Check out my dad's page:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Things They Saved

Here's a poem I wrote:

The Things They Saved

Are defined by the things they did not save:
The stained jungle knife
The vertebrae necklace
The gold ring
The noble heritage –
Those things brought ghosts.

Some things were saved:
A black trunk
An empty uniform
A musty flag
Hieroglyph letters
Disembodied medals
A forever widow.
The child

Opens the trunk
Seeks the ring
Inhales the dust
Translates fragments
Imagines incorrect ghosts.

Saved by sacrifice and amnesia
The child grows old
In a boneless house
Roof patched with dim photos
Silent medals lurk in dark closets.
Moth-eaten and stained,
The flag cannot cover.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Gold Medal of Remembrance

This article appeared in the The Washington Times on October 30, 2007

Fallen troops' children honored;
Award shows nation's support

By Sean Lengell


The sons and daughters of servicemen who lost their lives while serving in Iraq were awarded the Gold Medal of Remembrance yesterday at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

Congress created the award to recognize children of military personnel killed in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A loss on the battlefield is also a terrible loss at home," said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and co-host of the afternoon ceremony at the Russell Senate Office Building.

The ceremony was organized by the White House Commission on Remembrance and attended by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, was the event's other co-host.

"I had no idea so many people mourned and prayed with us; it's just amazing," said award recipient Cali Baldwin, 11, of Gulfport, Miss., whose father, Navy Builder Chief Joel E. Baldwin, was killed in a 2004 suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq.

Others honorees were:

* Kelsi, 14, and Evan Lamberson, 11, whose father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall L. Lamberson of Springfield, Mo., died from injuries sustained when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb last year in Ramadi, Iraq.

* Chandler, 13, Elle, 11, and Bailey Downs, 10, whose father, Air Force Maj. William "Brian" Downs, stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla., was killed in 2005 in Diyala province in eastern Iraq, in a crash of an Iraqi air force aircraft during a training mission.

* Helena, 9, and Rachel Edge, 4, daughters of Marine Capt. James C. Edge of Virginia Beach, who was killed by enemy fire in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005, were not present and will receive their award later. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, accepted the award on behalf of the family.

* Nicole Engeman, 22, daughter of Army Chief Warrant Officer John W. Engeman of East Northport, N.Y., who was killed in Iraq last year, received the medal during a ceremony at the Pentagon earlier in the day. Her brother, Army Lt. Patrick Engeman, 22, was presented with the award simultaneously in Iraq, where he is serving. The ceremonies were connected through a video teleconferencing link.

"It has almost been two years, and I've almost gotten to the point where I can say his name without crying, and I come here and I've been crying the whole time," said Miss Engeman of Bluefield, W.Va. "But it's also eye-opening to see so many other kids here, and my heart just goes out to them."

More than 200 Gold Medals of Remembrance have been awarded since last year.

The White House Commission on Remembrance - an independent, nonpartisan government agency - was established by Congress in 2000 to encourage Americans to honor military personnel killed during service as well as their families.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Still Raw

I just read an email today from a fellow Daughter who is suffering through the 35th anniversary of her father's death in Vietnam. She wrote about how she was still tearing up after all these years. How good it felt to her that someone understood, that she wasn't crazy. I know just how she feels. I've gone for months without even thinking about my dad, then one day, with no warning the sadness comes on. Perhaps I'll be reading a poem aloud to my students, maybe even a poem not about war or death at all, and who knows why, a reminder will bring tears to my throat.

Here's how it feels to swallow tears so others don't see. At first a hot pang originates in my heart cavity and spreads in waves through my body. Down my legs - my knees weaken. Down my arms - my hands start trembling. I command my knees - stand firm! My hands - grip tighter! Fear that I will cry and draw pitiful attention that will fester into rumor. Constricting throat...this is my last chance to gain control. If I let the heat enter my head I will not be able to stop the tears. All the while, I have continued reading aloud, pretending the catch in my voice was a need to swallow, and I roll my inner eye back inside my mind from intense effort to push the pain down where it will stay hidden. There is a point of no return, and I have crossed it - humiliation! But once I tame the tears they are again in my control - crouching, waiting.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Stacy's Story

Memories of My Father

“The deceased, Maj. Robert B. Swenck, was survived by his wife, Donna, and his three daughters, Stacy, Lori and Heidi.” How strange I felt reading that obituary! At age twelve, what had I survived? I still lived in our little brick house in Fern Creek, Kentucky, I still went to Fern Creek High School, and I still slept in my own bed at night. My father had died in Vietnam, his chopper shot down by a sniper on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. I didn't understand then, as I do now, thirty-one years later, what I had survived.
The morning after Thanksgiving that year, as we were eating donuts and listening to music, an unmarked car pulled up in the driveway. Two men in dress blues stepped out. My mother collapsed on the front porch. They carried her crying to the couch, and we were told our father’s chopper had crashed in the river and he was missing in action. Mom sobbed; I felt shocked and numb. I took my two little sisters, ages six and nine, downstairs to the basement. We stayed quiet and listened, forgotten in the confusion. For two days we made sandwiches and stood apart, watching. Dad’s body was recovered two days later. Mom cried some more. People brought us food for a few days and then we were left alone. Mom stopped crying and walked around the house with a distant stare. A dark cloud was in our house for a long time.
For months I imagined my father showing up at my classroom door to take my hand and walk me home. Even now, I wonder if his spirit will ever visit me in a dream, giving me guidance I still long for.
Soon after his death I remember running into Mom in a dark hall of the house and her sharp intake of breath as she said, “You look just like your Dad.” That Christmas I put on mascara for the first time, and when I went to show Mom she broke into fresh crying that would not stop. I stood there in the middle of the floor. I couldn’t help being a reminder of sorrow. Did I remind everyone of Death, my face an omen of the grief Death brings?
I didn’t understand what war was. We had been mainly sheltered from television images of the war. Besides, those men wearing camouflage running around on the ground were not my dad. My dad was a pilot; he wore a plain flight suit when he went to work. He was doing something Top Secret and the return address on his letters was fake. As far as I knew, Dad was at work on a very long mission. When he was killed, I did not know why I felt so ashamed.
As I grew older, I came to hate the Vietnam War and blamed the government, even though I had no idea about the war’s causes and avoided any mention of it. I like to think of my teenage years as the time I managed to not get caught or killed doing things I’d rather not mention. Hating the war helped when I had to tell someone my father died fighting there. I couldn’t say he had been drafted unwillingly; he was a career soldier who served two tours in Vietnam. Joining in the belief that it was a bad war made it easier to get along with others who hated it, which was most everyone I met. I did not know then that my father had been a hero.
I found out about that from The Trunk. One day, Mom appeared and deposited a heavy blue trunk in my living room. She firmly announced that these were my father’s things and were now mine to keep. She was finished with them. I wasn’t so sure I wanted the trunk, so I put it away in the closet. Many months later I opened it. There sat his Air Force hat, the silk band stained with sweat. The musty dress blues, a mysterious black beret, scattered medals, stack of letters tied with yarn, a folded triangle flag. I remembered the casket flag, men with quick white gloves folding it into a neat bundle, placing it with finality on Mom’s lap. Years of silence, all bound up into this one truck, now airing in my spare room.
I had seen the medals as a child, set out on the bookcase in the basement. He had earned most of them during his first tour in 1969. Now I saw what they were: A Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, an Airman’s Medal for Valor (he was most proud of this one), eight Air Medals and a Purple Heart.
I read over 100 letters he had written to Mom and to us.
I found out that Dad was a highly skilled Air Force chopper pilot for the 20th Special Operations Squadron (the Green Hornets) who was flying “sensitive and classified missions” on the real, secret front lines of the war. The 20th SOS’s mission was to rescue long-range reconnaissance patrols on the ground in Cambodia during a time when both the United States and North Vietnam were denying any involvement there. Dad repeatedly flew extremely hazardous missions head-on into gunfire with frequent disregard for his own life. One time he and his men ran to a crashed and burning chopper and lifted it up enough to free a man who had been pinned underneath. Reading the letter he wrote to my mother that same evening took my breath away. He wrote, “As soon as we got him free and clear, the whole thing blew up sky high.” His muddy fingerprints faced me from the paper.
Since opening the trunk, my search for information has intensified. I recently made several personal contacts with men who flew with my father: Dave, Bob, R.T., Leroy, Phil, Maury, Ted, Mike, to name a few. Bob, the group’s steadfast historian, is everyone’s point-of-contact. With Bob’s help, I attended a reunion where the men sang their remembrance song and included my dad’s name. Dave visited me and told riveting stories for hours, some his wife had never heard. They all lived at their “forward operating location” with the native Montenyards in the highland mountains between Vietnam and Cambodia. I have a photograph of Maury with his big coke-bottle glasses on, telling stories to the kids from the village and giving them haircuts. In another photo Phil proudly points to the flattened beer cans he used to patch the bullet holes in the choppers. Leroy, the gunner everyone wanted on their chopper, had a large intimidating rattle he had made from pelvic bones. Ted described how it felt to be stuck in an underground bunker for days while bombs raged down from the sky, shaking the ground under which they could not sleep. They say that my dad kept a cool head in battle. Coming from all walks of life, these men met as soldiers and saved each other’s lives many times. Their mission was extremely dangerous, they were using unsafe and rigged equipment in a remote and clandestine environment, and some died. Yet these outstanding men do not believe they did anything special. They tell me stories about Dad’s bravery and skill, and about his ever-present wit. They respected him. The day he died, he had flown a successful volunteer mission in the rain to rescue fourteen Navy men from battle. After sharing a Thanksgiving turkey sandwich with them at their home base, he was flying back low under the rain clouds when a sniper’s bullet shot him dead in midair.
The Green Hornet motto, written on the latrine wall, was “You have never lived until you've almost died. For those who fight for it, life has a flavor that the protected will never know.” My father’s utmost bravery is part of a life I can never know and part of me at the same time. An empty space in me is comforted when I hear his buddies talk. One man said he had not contacted me because he was afraid I would blame him for my father’s death. Oh, No! No blame here. I tell them that their memories are all I have left of Dad. That their stories, no matter how gory, help fill a hole in me. When I hear their stories I am riveted; afterwards I feel calm, relieved. The ancients knew better than we that telling specific tales of the fallen one’s bravery helps the family heal with grace. Dave recently found a battle report written in Dad’s own hand and brought it to me. It took me months to get up the nerve to read it. I finally read it quickly, like one removes a band aid. For a few moments, I was there, in the chopper with him, lightening speed decisions, bullets screaming past our heads, no room for fear. When I finished my heart was pounding and I was breathing hard. It was a description of the flight that had earned him the Silver Star. By sharing that report with me, Dave helped me piece together a living, breathing legacy to go with the cold, hard medal.
My own memories of my dad have surfaced. I remember him being tall and having feet so big I could sit on one and get a ride around the house. He and Mom had lots of friends and gave big parties. He would kiss Mom in the kitchen or squeeze her knee during road trips in the car. He affectionately rubbed my head until my hair shook, and he challenged me to always do my best in school. He taught us proper manners in a restaurant. His shadowy presence looming in the doorway was enough to make us stop our loud nighttime giggling and lay quiet as mice in our beds. He was always telling jokes and could make anything sound funny. He told us he had earned the Silver Star by flying a general to use a real latrine.
When Dad returned from his first tour in Vietnam, he arrived at Staniford Field Airport still wearing his flight suit. The airport personnel made him enter the terminal through the back door so he wouldn’t upset the passengers or be called baby-killer. I remember Mom and us three girls waiting just inside the big plate glass windows, watching each person walk across the tarmac, looking for Dad. Suddenly Mom flew around toward us and spoke quickly in a tone that made me know her instructions were very important. “Sit here, girls. Wait and don’t move. I have to go meet your father at another gate.” Mom’s look was stern and fierce, but she wasn’t mad at us. We sat wide-eyed for a long time, and finally there was Dad walking down the hall, Mom clinging to his neck. We ran and grabbed his waist, his knees, whatever we could reach according to our heights. He tried to hug us all at the same time with different hugs. Mom needed a certain wife-hug, Heidi a baby hug up in his arms, and Lori and I some little girl hugs. Mine came with a little respect attached since I was the oldest. Lori got the rough house since she was a tomboy and his favorite. We were so happy to see him.
However, when Dad got home, he was different. When we three jumped on him to tickle him in his chair, he growled and pushed us away. He turned mean. He got mad at the dog over an accident and threw it up against the wall. He broke a guy’s nose at a party for making a comment about Vietnam. Mom tells how he woke up from nightmares in a cold sweat. All he could think about was going back over there, and that’s what he did a few months later. When we drove him to the airport, I cried uncontrollably in the car. I did not know that would be the last time I would ever see him.
I am proud to be Dad’s daughter. My Mother deserves a medal of her own. She is an original Super Mom who worked full-time and raised three young girls up into happy, successful adults. The strength of both parents lives on in us. My sisters still don’t like to talk about Dad, but one day our children will be glad to hear about him.
Bob Swenck never saw his daughters graduate college (all three of us!) or get married; he can’t kiss his grandchildren or hold his wife’s hand as they grow old. Heroes historically have fought for a good cause. My father was a hero because he believed he was defending the freedom of his family and country. He could not know he was jousting against the windmills of Communism. The Viet Cong was a real enough enemy, vicious in battle. He fought hard and bravely and gave his life for his fellow man. He deserves the same honor as any soldier. He did not die for nothing. He died for his belief in freedom, because he was a soldier doing his job. I write this to give him that honor.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Soldier's Daughter

I am searching for my father, Major Robert Bennett Swenck, who died in Vietnam in 1971. I was 12 years old; my two sisters were 6 and 9. He died in a chopper crash while on a rescue mission on Thanksgiving Day. At first there was crying, a funeral with four roses, a mother with hopeless eyes...and then Silence. I was too scared to ask unwelcome questions. Until now. I am searching for infomation about my father, but actually, I am searching for a piece of myself.