Saying Goodbye To A Friend

I buried a friend yesterday. At this age, that’s not terribly unusual. What made this different is that Rick Chorlins was killed 45 years ago, and his remains have finally been brought home.

Rick and I were close when we were cadets at the Air  Force Academy. Then, in 1967, graduation sent us in different directions, and we didn’t meet up again until late 1969. I was stationed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and had wangled a good-deal trip to Thailand for a few days. I was going to go for an orientation ride on a C-130 Airborne Command and Control Center (ABCCC), call-sign Moonbeam. It was a chance to get away from the unrelenting nightly rocket attacks, and see locals who were not burdened by war and who knew how to smile.

I arrived at Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, called NKP, and headed to the Officers Club. And there, standing at the bar, was Rick, along with another classmate I hadn’t seen in over two years, Bob Moore. Meeting up with old friends after a long time is always fun. Running into them unexpectedly on the other side of the world is really special. We hung around together the entire night. After a few drinks, we had dinner, then went back to their hootch and caught up with what had been happening in our lives. We had all gotten married since we last saw each other. Rick had gotten a Master’s Degree. Bob had become a father. We swapped war stories. I told them what it was like to be a Forward Air Controller, and they told me what it was like to fly the A-1 in combat.

Truth be told, I felt like I was the kid and they were the grown-ups. I was flying a dinky little O-2A Skymaster, while they were flying the Skyraider, a gigantic, fire-breathing tail-dragger with a round engine that carried thousands of pounds of bombs under its wings and dueled with enemy gunners for a living. They were real fighter pilots. After hours of shooting down our watches with our hands, we said our good-byes and vowed to get together again, at some unknown time in the future. Great guys.

If you’ve read Hamfist Over The Trail, this story might sound familiar. Chapter 28 is the fictionalized account of my meeting up with Bob and Rick. Dave and Dick in the book are the fictional characters representing the real-life Rick and Bob.

Bob was killed the next week . A few months later, Rick was shot down and he was listed as KIA, but his remains were not recovered.

Until now. After 45 years, Rick came home. His remains had been discovered in Laos in 2003 and sent to Hawaii, where DNA testing finally confirmed it was Rick.

Rick was buried at the Air Force Academy cemetery with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, a missing-man fly-by, and the solemn playing of Taps. Generals presented flags to his two surviving relatives, his sisters, Cheryl and Toby.

Then we all gathered together at a restaurant to tell Rick stories. And we all had a really great time, reminiscing about Rick’s great sense of humor, his intelligence, and his dedication to duty. It was a great Celebration of Life.

And it was also a solemn reminder of the sacrifices the families of servicemen faced, and continue to face, when they send their loved ones off to war. They wait at home, never knowing if the sound of the closing car door in the street is a neighbor coming home or a military staff car with a Colonel and a Chaplain coming to bring news that will change their lives forever. That happened 58,286 times during the Vietnam War.


Eighteen on my classmates were lost in Southeast Asia. Five have still not been found.
classmatesBut, finally, Rick Chorlins has returned. Welcome home Rick! Rest in peace.


The Last Mission of World War II

Here’s a great interview with Captain Jerry Yellin, the P-51 pilot who flew the last combat mission of World War II.

With 10 percent of the country’s population serving on active duty, it truly was the greatest generation!

Great Vietnam Videos on History Channel

This week, most likely to coincide with Vietnam Veteran Welcome Home Day, the History Channel has some really excellent high-definition videos of the Vietnam War. Today they featured Hell Over Hanoi, chronicling the aerial victories of the Air Force’s first – and only -pilot ace in Vietnam, Steve Ritchie.

In case you missed it, here it is. Cinch your lap belt tight and get ready for a great ride!

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Here’s a neat video of a typical day at Tan Son Nhut in 1968. Some great  music from the time.

WARNING: There are some scenes of the war that may be disturbing, starting at 6:30 in the video.

Hamfist Over Hanoi Free Download!

Hamfist Over Hanoi is a free Kindle download for the next three days. Here’s your chance to vicariously experience Operation Linebacker and Linebacker II, mentioned in the Rolling Thunder video. This would make a great (free) gift to any baby-boomers you know who have Kindles!Over Hanoi CoverAs usual, Reviews on Amazon are greatly appreciated!



50th Anniversary of the Start of Rolling Thunder

March 2nd marks the fiftieth anniversary of the start of Operation Rolling Thunder, the air offensive against North Vietnam, the most heavily defended area in the world. This video is an excellent summary of the operation, with compelling documentary footage.

Slow HAND SALUTE to the brave pilots of Rolling Thunder.

Vietnam War Story

As you may know, the stories in the Hamfist series are fiction, inspired by actual events. If you want to read one of those actual events, it’s posted on the Cherries website. If you read Hamfist Over Hanoi, you’ll recognize the story. This one has real names and is totally true. Okay – it’s as totally true as a war story can get when it’s told 40 years later!

And if you want to know what the war was like for the Army troops slogging through the jungle while we Air Force types were in our air-conditioned hootches, you can’t get better than Cherries, a novel by John Podlaski, inspired by his own tour of duty in Vietnam.