John G. "Jack" Heslin will be the Keynote speaker at the VFW Calabash Post #7288’s Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 29, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. What follows is a copy of that speech.
MEMORIAL DAY 2017
John G. “Jack” Heslin
Memorial Day – A time to REMEMBER – A time to APPRECIATE
Do you remember? Do you remember the faces…. Do you remember the names? Can you still see them as they were… in perpetual youth – faces that will never age – lives that will never be lived. I remember… I see them… I will never forget.
My name is Jack Heslin. I spent two tours in Vietnam, 1967-68 and 1971-72, both of which were in the Central Highlands operating out of Camp Holloway in Pleiku. My experience as a helicopter pilot and operations officer during the Easter Offensive of 1972 in Kontum Province provided me with first-hand experience and many insights relating to the military operations of that period especially the Easter Offensive of 1972 and The Battle of Kontum.
As a tribute to those who fought in one of the largest battles of the Vietnam War…. A battle that most Americans never heard of – I told the story of the battle and published it on the web – I told the story for so many of my friends who will never be able to tell their story – I told the story on the web so that others could read it and remember – I told the story on the web so that those who needed to read the story could find it --- so that they could find it from anywhere in the world --- and they have – to date, millions have found the story – The Battle of Kontum … and for many, they remember.
The site is dedicated to the Americans, especially the aviation crews, who fought in the Battle of Kontum. The role the aviation units played in this battle was decisive. The firepower of the helicopter gunships and the Air Force bombers was an essential element in the successful outcome of the battle.
Much of the success we had in providing aviation support was a direct result of the enormous efforts of maintenance crews who worked incredible hours under extremely adverse conditions. Those of us who flew the machines and depended on them must never forget what these dedicated soldiers gave us.
In war, as in life, one's perception is one’s reality. This holds true for both the individual and their society. If you ask most Americans today what was the biggest battle fought during the Vietnam War, most would reply that the Tet Offensive of 1968 was the major battle of the war. If you asked them who won that battle, most would say America lost the battle just as they would say we lost the war. This perception does not accurately reflect the battlefield results but does match the perception created at the time by the media reporting the event and the political leaders who believed what the media was reporting. This perception, held by most Americans at that time, supported the objectives of the Army of North Vietnam and eroded the moral support for the U.S. Army in the field. I hope and pray that this never happens again.
By 1972, the largest battles fought in Vietnam were not well known, or understood, by the majority of the American population. Perhaps people just wanted the war to be over, or the negative emotions associated with our involvement in the war blocked us from hearing about the battles. Maybe, since almost all the U.S. ground troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam, our interest, and that of the media, had waned to the point of indifference. Among the most important lessons learned in the Vietnam War however, one must include the events of 1972. These events must be studied, and remembered, if we are to gain anything from that experience -- an experience many paid for with their lives.
I presented the "story" of the Battle of Kontum as accurately as memory and notes allowed. I am solely responsible for sins of omission or commission, and I am truly sorry if anything I reported offends, or in any way hurts, another person. Since the web site was launched in March 2002, many people, both American and Vietnamese, have added their words and pictures to the "story." I am enormously appreciative for these contributions.
My hope from the beginning was that this would become a "living" history and that all who were able to add to the "story" would do so and they have.
They have come to the web site to remember and they have come to express their appreciation for those who served. I thought I would share some of the thoughts expressed by visitors to the site –
-- These are voices from the Web of people who remember their loved ones.
From Tamara Hall Mooradian –
As a little girl growing up in "safe haven" Bangkok, Thailand 1967-1975 I remember my father - Rudy G. Hall - recounting his service in Kontum. This site retells his story almost verbatim. Daddy passed away a few months ago and I would love to hear from anyone who knew him. He was a helicopter pilot and field advisor.
A warrior for God and Country --My hero
From Kaye Doughtie Ralston –
I am Lt. Ronald Doughtie’s widow and would love to hear from anyone who knew him. He was John Paul Vann's pilot and was killed with him on June 9, 1972. There has been much written about Mr.Vann but nothing about either my husband or the passenger. …. I know it is 33 years ago, however, for me it was like yesterday. To all those men and women who served in Nam, Thank You!
From the Son of a soldier who fought in the Battle of Kontum –
Jack, I appreciate all that you offered me and I thank you with all my heart for the work you are doing and the time you are taking to pass along this information to me. You have provided very valuable insight and an understanding I can pass along to my children about their grandfather.
I remember a noble sadness in my father's eyes. I keep him in my thoughts and prayers.
From a soldier’s wife - -
I recently came across your web-site, because I was looking for information about my former husband. He was an ARVN advisor in country in 1972. My husband was a casualty of the war -- psychologically more than physically. He had great difficulty living with the memories of the war, and so we could no longer live with him. As a result our children have grown up without knowing their father.
I was wondering if I could get more information about him. Perhaps it would be a way for my children to know a little more about their father when they are older.
From a Veteran –
I can't remember exactly how I came across your web site, but I hope I don't forget it. You may be able to help me if you will and can.
I also was in Kontum and Pleiku from 1970-1972. I was delivering some radio equipment back to Kontum from Pleiku. I was to get on the chopper at the hospital near the 146ths Sig. Co. Carrying radio equipment, both hands full, I somehow got turned around and went down the wrong corridor, and was running late for the bird.
I finally asked where the chopper pad was, and got directions to it. As I opened the last door, gaining exit to outdoors, I could see the chopper, it was running, I guessed that it was waiting on me. As I started walking to the chopper, all of a sudden it spewed fuel out the exhaust and caught on fire, then exploded. I could do nothing... people were running and trying to help.
Finally, back in the emergency room, I made my way back too, I remember someone asking for names and ID#'s. I never did get any name of the two warrant officers, and this has haunted me for 33 years.
I was hoping you might know them, or maybe have any information on who they might be. I don't know if anyone else was in the chopper. Most of the time there was a door gunner on that flight.
Any help would be helpful, and Jack welcome home to you, you guys were great. Thanks for the many safe flights, God Bless you and yours.
From the daughter of a Vietnamese Veteran –
Dear Mr. Jack,
Thanks for the story you told on your web site about the Kontum Battle in 1972. I am the third child of an ARVN Colonel ... who in 1972 served in the ARVN 23rd Division.
My few words here to you is to appreciate the contribution of US soldiers in protecting our South Vietnam. Please believe that each of us Vietnamese who loves freedom always remember the sacrifice of US soldiers like you in order to protect the freedom of South VN for so many years.
These are just a few of the thousands of stories that have come to me through the web. Stories of remembering and stories of appreciation.
My friend Captain Joe Wofford Eubanks was a Huey (UH-1) pilot flying with the 57th Assault Helicopter Company during the Battle of Kontum. Joe was killed in action on June 2, 1972 while on a mission near the Kontum Pass. In an effort to rescue Joe, my friend Captain Fred Suttle was also killed. Please remember Joe and Fred and all the others who gave all they had in the service of our great nation. Please remember Joe and all the others who gave all they had in the service of our great nation.
I think the words, written by Dave Millard who was Joe’s crew-chief, are a wonderful tribute to Joe and capture the essence of how we Brothers-in-Arms feel about each other...
From David Millard –
"After 30 years I still can close my eyes and see Joe like he just handed me the logbook and walked away down the apron. Some great men are immortalized in print or art... The greatest are held forever in the hearts of their friends and Brothers-in-Arms."
Finally, I want to thank all of you who have served our Nation and risked everything for the beliefs we hold dear. From the beginning, this great nation has survived because of the long line of sacrifices made by those willing to serve in the Armed Forces – Warriors all. I too remember... and appreciate.
May God Bless this Great Nation – America - and all those who have served and who are serving now.