NEW NAMES FOR THE WALL
BY: JAMES WEBB
In honor and tribute, and as a place to heal all wounds, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was dedicated on 13 November 1982 by President Carter. The Wall (as it is referred to by Vietnam Veterans) honors all who served in one of America's most diversified, long and controversial wars. This monument acts as a gathering place where American citizens and foreign nationals alike can come together to remember and pay respect.
Designed by a Miss Maya Lin, the Wall is located at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. The monument was conceived in 1979 when Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam Veteran, met with a group of fellow Vietnam Veterans in Washington, D.C. to discuss a proper tribute to those who had served. Together they founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which eventually raised over $8.4 million dollars for the Wall’s construction. The National Park Service currently maintains the Wall and its grounds.
The Wall bears the names of those who perished during the Vietnam War, as well as those of Vietnam POWs and MIAs. A side note: five names on the Wall are not from deceased personnel. In future columns we will discuss the numbers/shell game pertaining to the POW/MIA Issue…
Now, the name of this week’s column is “New Names for the Wall.” Let’s discuss why: Many Vietnam Veterans, politicians and leaders have said that the POW/MIA Issue is the last battle of the Vietnam War. I was the U.S. government’s senior Team Commander for over 14 years working the POW/MIA Issue. I am also a Vietnam Veteran. I too believe in my heart that, yes, this truly is the last battle of that controversial war. If this is the case, then those who sacrifice their lives in the course of POW/MIA-related missions deserve to be recognized on the wall alongside those who fought during the conflict.
At the end of my tenure, while I was commanding U.S. troops investigating cases in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam, I felt I was the “Last Vietnam Veteran.” What I mean by this is that I was back walking the same ground that I had during the war. My young troops were not Vietnam Veterans, but still, as all professional soldiers do, they gave me their all plus some.
I’m sure that the men whose names I advocate adding to the Wall showed similar dedication: In April 2001, a Soviet MI-17 helicopter carrying seven American soldiers and several Vietnamese officials plus the crew crashed in the mountains of north central Vietnam. All on board perished.
The team was conducting advance work for an upcoming Joint Task Force – Full Accounting (JTF-FA) Joint Field Activity (JFA). A JFA is a joint (U.S. and Vietnamese) field operation consisting of various teams to include investigation, recovery, and special teams. A JFA can last from 10 days (in the early days of the mission) to 45 days. Prior to all Teams arriving in Vietnam the JTF-FA Detachment Two (Det 2) personnel in Hanoi would conduct advance work for the cases. Their research would consist of visiting the provinces involved and conducting meetings reviewing what had been done and what still needed to be done for each case. Sometimes these advance teams would even visit specific crash site locales in case special work had to be accomplished prior to the main body’s arriving.
One of the Vietnamese officials who died in the April 2001 crash was a Colonel Bien. He was actually a General in the PAVN (Peoples Army of Vietnam), recognized in their circles as a war hero. General Bien fought against the French and the Americans, in the invasion of Cambodia, as well as against the Chinese. He was very anti-American and difficult to work with. I mention this for I do not want you to think the helicopter was sabotaged.
The Det 2 personnel were flying to a location in the mountains to verify that advance work had been completed as requested. They encountered severe weather conditions in the mountains and the pilot said they should fly toward the ocean (east) to reach flat ground and safety. They would then continue down the coast to either Hue or Danang. I personally knew the particular Vietnamese pilot flying the helicopter, and he was one of their best. Nonetheless, prior to reaching flat land the copter crashed into the top of a mountain, the last before the terrain became flat.
The helicopter exploded on contact, killing all on board. One U.S. team member showed no injuries on his body except that the top portion of his head had been hacked off, probably by one of the rotor blades. The rest were mangled and burned. JTF-FA immediately dispatched a recovery team to the site and all bodies were accounted for.
If tracking down our POWs/MIAs is truly the last battle of the Vietnam War, as I believe it is, then the names of the seven military men who died in that crash in Vietnam, on a military mission for that war, should be inscribed on the Wall. Their names are
LT COL RENNIE CORY
LT COL GEORGE MARTIN
MAJOR CHARLES LEWIS
MSGT STEVEN MOSER
HMC PEDRO GONZALES
TSGT MARTY FLYNN
SFC TOMMY MURPHEY
LTC Cory was the Detachment 2 commander and this was to be his last JFA prior to being transferred. LTC Martin was new in country and was to be the new Det 2. This was his first mission. MSgt Moser was an old JTF-FA hand and would have continued on for a long time. HMC Gonzales was the medic working at Det 2 in Hanoi. TSgt Flynn had worked on numerous JFAs and had returned to JTF-FA to continue the mission he believed in. SFC Murphey was with CILHI (Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii) and was the grave registration expert for the team.
I first met Colonel Cory at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, when he was fifteen years old. At that time Cory was studying martial arts from a close friend of mine. My friend and I would use Cory and a friend of his to hold an air shield while my friend and I took turns seeing how far we could propel them through the air by side-kicking them. Later, when Cory and I met in Hanoi, we would laugh at this past escapade. TSgt Marty Flynn had been assigned to my Teams in the past and had deployed on numerous JFAs with me. After the crash, I took Leave to Pattaya, Thailand and informed Marty’s Thai fiancée that he had died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam. SFC Murphey and MSgt Moser both had deployed on several JFAs as my team members. They were all of the highest caliber and among America’s finest.
I request that all of you who agree that these men’s names deserve a place on the Wall start a letter-writing campaign to your Congressmen. The last battle of the Vietnam War (which continues today) is the POW/MIA Issue. These men died fighting that battle. They deserve to be recognized and honored on the Wall alongside others who served in Vietnam.
For this column I want your feedback and comments. Send me any comment at [email protected] and check out my web site at www.powmiainsider.com. I don’t have all the answers, but I will do my best to find them for you.
You can also get a FREE copy of my eBook POW/MIA HISTORY 101 at http://www.powmiainsider.com/