The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
September/October 2005
FEATURE
 
 

Harken, O Comrades-In-Arms:
On Fate and Duty
 

BY Allen K. Hoe

What follows is the Keynote Address presented by Allen K. Hoe on August 10 at VVA’s Twelfth National Convention in Reno.


Aloha President Corey, delegates, fellow veterans, and friends. With your permission I would like to begin with an ancient Hawaiian warrior chant.

ALOHA E! ALOHA E! ALOHA E!
EO MAI, E NA HOA KAUA,
E MOE MALIE I KA LA’I.
WELO KA LA I LEHUA.
WELO KA LA I LEHUA.
E LOHE MAI I KA LEO
E KAHEA NEI IA ‘OE.
WELO KA LA I LEHUA.
WELO KA LA I LEHUA.
ALOHA E! ALOHA E! ALOHA E!


This ancient Hawaiian chant calls out to fallen warriors who now sleep softly in the place where the sun sets: “Can you hear our voices calling out to you?”

Although its origins are from antiquity, it is as relevant today as when my ancestors walked the earth. It is a living memorial to our brothers and sisters who stood alongside us during those dark days when we “once were soldiers and young.” Hawaiian veterans chant this tribute whenever we gather to remember and honor those whose sacrifice has honored us with the privilege and the duty to continue their legacy of freedom and liberty.

The power of this ancient chant is very special, for it is now tied to the leadership of Vietnam Veterans of America and your POW/MIA initiatives. I have dedicated it to the brave Marines of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, 1st Marine Division, based at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, Hawaii.


Thirty-seven years have passed since they gave their last measure on a hillside called Ngok Tavak: Thomas J. Blackman, Joseph F. Cook, Paul S. Czerwonka, Horace H. Fleming, Thomas W. Fritsch, Barry L. Hempel, Raymond T. Heyne, Gerald E. King, Robert C. Lopez, William D. McGonigle, Donald W. Mitchell, James R. Sargent, Glen E. Miller, and SF medic Thomas H. Perry.

Two days later on Mother’s Day at the nearby Green Beret camp called Kham Duc, these soldiers and airmen also made the ultimate sacrifice: Richard E. Sands, Bernard L. Bucher, Frank M. Hepler, George W. Long, John L. McElroy, Stephan C. Moreland, Warren R. Orr, and Juan M. Jimenez. Along with them were the men with whom I served in Recon Team Snoopy: Harry B. Coen, Andrew J. Craven, Frederick J. Ransbottom, Maurice H. Moore, Joseph L. Simpson, William E. Skivington, John C. Stuller, Imlay S. Widdison, Danny L. Widner, Roy C. Williams, Randall Lloyd, Antonio Guzman, Richard Bowers, Johnny Carter, and Harry D. Sisk.


Two generations of Americans and millions more across the globe now enjoy the fruits of the hard-earned freedoms bought and paid for with the blood of the men we honor. Fifty-eight thousand of our comrades in arms in that far and distant place we called “Nam.”

For the majority of us, we were citizen soldiers who were called to arms by our country in defense of its principles of freedom and democracy. That is how I remember it as a 19-year-old kid, a surfer from Hawaii, 39 years ago. It was September 1966 when I received my personal invitation to participate. Perhaps it was a lot like that for many of you as well.

Being a young Hawaiian soldier determined my duty to honor my heritage and ancestors, which blends native warriors, men of the American Revolution, Scottish warriors, samurai of feudal Japan, war lords of China, and British forefathers with expeditionary service in India and the Crimea.

If one’s ancestral heritage was not enough, being from Hawaii meant that we as young soldiers had a duty to maintain the legacy of the 100th Battalion of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was originally comprised of young Americans whose Asian ancestry made them suspect within the national culture as it existed in the 1930s and 1940s.

The heroics of the 442nd RCT were not lost on the young men from Hawaii who came of age in the 1960s. Surprisingly enough, this legacy was also one well known to the sons of the brave Texans from the First Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Division, the “Lost Battalion,” who were rescued by the Go For Broke men of the 442nd. The irony is that in performing this heroic feat, the 442nd suffered casualties four times more than the 211 men rescued by that action. Such was the culture and sentiment of my neighbors in my hometown of Honolulu when I entered the Army as a draftee in 1966.


Let us now fast forward to the Crown Room of the Stardust Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip late in the summer of 1968 and listen in on a conversation between Saturday Evening Post writer Joan Didion and a World War II veteran.

“‘I hope you don’t think I’m a hippie. I’m just kind of, you know, growing this beard.’ His name tag said Skip Skivington. He was probably in his early forties and he had been at Bastogne with the 101st Airborne Division in 1944 and his voice was gentle and apologetic and I had not thought him a hippie. It was the first evening of the 101st Airborne Association’s 23rd annual reunion. Outside the late-summer sky burned all day and all night and inside it was perpetually cold and carpeted and no perceptible time of day or night. There, in the Crown Room of the Stardust, along with a great many wives and a few children, were a couple hundred survivors of Normandy, Bastogne, and the Battle of the Bulge.

“Almost everyone else had found friends and a table by then, but Skip Skivington still stood with me. He was telling me about his son. His son, he said, had been missing in Vietnam since Mother’s Day. I did not know what to say, but because Skip Skivington was active in the 101st Airborne Association, I asked if his son had belonged to the 101st. The father looked at me and then away. ‘I talked him out of it,’ he said finally.

“He reached into his coat pocket then and brought out a newspaper clipping, preserved in clear plastic, a story about his son: where he had gone to high school, the report that he was missing, the action in which he had last been seen. There was a snapshot of the boy, his face indistinct in the engraving dots, a blond 18-year-old sitting on a rock and smiling. I gave the clipping back to Skip Skivington, and before he put it in his pocket again, he looked at it a long while, smoothed out an imagined crease, and studied the fragment of newsprint as if it held some answer.

“The indistinct face of the boy and the distinct face of the father stayed in my mind all that evening, all that weekend, and perhaps it was their faces that made those few days in Las Vegas seem so charged with unspoken questions, ambiguities only dimly perceived.

“And, of course, the speeches. Maxwell Taylor came to explain the similarities between the Battle of the Bulge and the Tet Offensive. A colonel from Vietnam came to assure the guests that the operations were characterized by high esprit, the men in Vietnam are exactly like you were, twenty, twenty-five years ago.

“General Anthony McAuliffe, the man who said ‘nuts’ when asked to surrender at Bastogne, said he would be taking a group to Holland next year to commemorate the 25th year of the invasion of Europe. They plan to visit with our Dutch friends and revive memories of that great adventure we had there.

“Later, as I sat with another veteran and his family who shared stories of their young teenage children, I mentioned that I had met someone whose son was missing in Vietnam. The veteran said nothing for a moment. ‘I never thought of dying then,’ he said suddenly, after a while. ‘I see it a little differently now. I didn’t look at it from the parents’ point of view then. I see it a little differently now,’ he said.”

Fast forward another 37 years to March 2005 when the following letter was penned.

Dear Doc:

We share in your grief over the untimely loss of your son. We know from experience that there are no words that can express our sorrow for the heartbreak that you feel.

You were there for us when we lost our first son in Vietnam, and we can’t tell you how much that meant to us.

You and your family are in our prayers and thoughts.

Sincerely Yours,
Bill and Berta Skivington

Yes, the same Skip Skivington of the Saturday Evening Post article, the war hero of the legendary battles fought by the 101st Airborne Division in Europe in those dark days of WWII, the father of the young Vietnam soldier who was declared MIA on Mother’s Day 1968, who was my buddy, the young man who carried the PRC 25 for Snoopy “6,” our own William “Skip” Skivington.

Skip was the young man in the now-faded photograph. That photo was taken by me on one of the many hills that surround the killing fields of the Hiep Duc Valley in the northern sector known as I Corps. Skip and I supported our platoon leader, 1Lt. Fred Ransbottom, “Snoopy 6” Recon Platoon, Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division, Americal.

Skip had joined our recon platoon after Tet 1968 and was assigned to be the RTO for Snoopy 6. He was young, perhaps just 18 years old. I had just turned 21, and the soldier in our recon team we called grandpa was 26. Such were the days of our youth when we counted our years by the number of days and weeks we survived. Skip was proud of his warrior heritage. His dad had marched, jumped, and fought with the famed Screaming Eagles, and he was now ready to take his place in his family’s history of service to their country.

All of us know the sad story of loss in combat; some of us have a closer relationship to it than others. It is a reality that soldiers learn to cope with under the most trying circumstances. On the other hand, a loss of a loved one who is a soldier is grief in its worst form. In November 1969, I found my way to the home of the Skivingtons to offer my deepest condolences and to share with them what information I had regarding the battle of Kham Duc and the loss of their son on Mother’s Day 1968.

I will never forget the sorrow I felt as I witnessed the pain and anguish of a mother for the loss of her precious son, and to bare witness to the strength of a father whose own war experiences told him that this could not be happening to him, and the bewilderment of younger brothers who tried to be brave young men as their big brother Skip would have encouraged them to be.

In reflection, perhaps I was a witness to this to help me in my darkest hour, which came earlier this year on January 22 when my family received the horrible news that our son, 1Lt. Nainoa Keali`ihokuhelelani Hoe, had been killed while leading his platoon on a patrol in the battle for Mosul, Iraq.


In the past 37 years, very few days have gone by that I did not pause to reflect upon the families of the men of my Recon team who are still MIA, the strength they have shown, their incredible resolve to seek out answers to the many questions dealing with their lost loved ones, and to wonder how they could do it. I now know: Each day is a separate challenge to be faced and overcome.

Fifteen years ago I took my 12-year-old son Nainoa to Washington, D.C. We visited the museums and the famous historical sites and monuments. We visited The Wall where I introduced him to the men of Recon Team Snoopy who were lost at Kham Duc. It was not the first time he had heard the story, but I think standing there upon those hallowed grounds is when he first fully understood its meaning in a way that 12-year-old boys do.

Thirteen months ago, as a fresh young 2nd Lt. with jump wings on his chest and the coveted Ranger tab on his left shoulder, Nainoa called: “Dad, I got 2nd Platoon, Charlie Tigers of the Gimlets.” He knew the history of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Vietnam. To be part of his dad’s legacy, to command a rifle platoon in the battalion which served in the 196th Brigade, was all he hoped for, more so that they were on a war footing preparing to deploy.

When I had stood with my son at The Wall, I never imagined that he, too, would be bound to it some day.

For on Panel 54 is the name of American hero 1Lt. Edward F. Guthrie of Idabel, Oklahoma. Ed died on May 2, 1968, while leading the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3/21 Infantry, Charlie Tigers in the Battle for Nhi Ha Village near the DMZ. His CO, Tiger 6 Capt. Denny Leach, now a retired Brigadier General, recalls: “Ed never asked his troops to suffer any hardship that he himself would not endure. He was always up front and had his face in the mud just like his shooters. He led by example and was incredibly brave. He never beat his chest, and there was no bravado on his part. He was a proud warrior but was very humble and always gave his troops the honors for the platoon’s heroics. I could not have asked for a better platoon leader.” Lieutenant Guthrie was the only officer killed from Charlie Tigers while the Battalion served with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam between 1966 and 1972.

Like Lt. Guthrie, my son was killed while leading the warriors of 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3/21 Infantry. To date, he is the only Gimlet Officer to die on this deployment. With just over a month of duty left in Iraq, pray with me for their safe return.

Is it fate, after 37 years, that the platoon leaders of 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3/21 Infantry are now linked together across two generations because
of their commitment to duty, honor, and country, along with the noble desire to make a difference in the lives of others?

Charlie Company commander Robert Born said of Nainoa when assigning him to 2nd Platoon as Tiger 2-6: “He was the perfect man for the job, a natural fit. He earned the respect and trust of his men, his peers, and superiors. Everyone saw the same man. If you asked a private to describe Nainoa, you would get the same description as the Battalion Commander. I was always amazed by and admired Nainoa’s maturity. He was truly wise beyond his years, and everyone felt comfortable talking to him or taking direction from him.”

Is it also fate that 37 years ago in the sky above Kham Duc, a young Air Force FAC pilot with the squadron called Helix would be on station directing covering air strikes while the men of Recon Team Snoopy tried desperately to escape the NVA which had overrun their outposts?

Is it fate that the Helix pilot, James Gibler’s son LTC Mike Gibler, would be Nainoa’s Battalion Commander directing the Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s operations in Mosul?

Is it fate that this sacred battle flag which protected me through the grim days of 1967 and 1968 in Vietnam would be carried by my son and his platoon the day he was killed in Iraq? “Dad, my platoon would like to carry the Recon battle flag to honor all of the men who served with you in Vietnam.”

I am curious to know of those in attendance today: How many of you have a son, grandson, or any relative, niece, nephew, cousin, brother, etc., currently serving in the military or who may be currently deployed? Please stand to be honored. In behalf of a grateful nation, each of you and your families have our undying gratitude.

As Vietnam veterans we can take great pride in the role we played in inspiring a whole generation of young men and women who are doing incredible things on behalf of liberty and freedom from the tyranny of madmen and religious perverts.


I have stopped trying to understand why the events in my life have come to me in the manner they have and at the times they have. Sayings like “there but for the grace of God” have true meaning in my world. I learned many lessons on the battlefields of Hiep Duc and the Que Son Valley. When all seems lost, you need to remember that someone else has it twice as bad as you. A few weeks ago in one of my moments of reflective melancholy, I thought to myself, “Okay, you’ve taken my son. Don’t you think it’s time you gave up the men still MIA from Recon Team Snoopy?” Of course, wouldn’t you know I got a double dose.

On July 25th when I got to my office, I had two e-mail messages waiting for me. The first was from the niece of 1Lt. Ed Guthrie. I was a bit apprehensive. It read: “Your letter to the Idabel Chamber of Commerce seeking to contact the family of Ed Guthrie was forwarded to our family. How may I help you?” A somewhat sterile inquiry, but perhaps a very reasonable response from a family who experienced 37 years of no information. What I shared with his family overwhelmed them: the legacy shared between our families. But of greater importance, I have put them in touch with many of the men who knew and served with Ed Guthrie.

The second e-mail I opened was from Bill Wright, a recon platoon member, who traveled to Kham Duc in 1998 as part of the investigating team. “Doc, they found Stuller on OP 2.” That message took my breath away. I immediately put in a call to Dickie Hites at JPAC.

“Yes, Doc, the recovery team is on the hill at Kham Duc, and they have found remains which include some personal items which we recognize as belonging to Stuller.” John Charles Stuller was one of the medics I worked alongside when I was the senior medic with Recon Team Snoopy.

In the past eight years that I have known Dickie Hites I have learned that he is one of our true heroes. He is a tireless worker for all of us who refuse to leave anyone behind. He is here to meet with your leaders and to share more information. Take the time to thank him personally.

I know there have been many people who have made the POW/MIA question a national priority and a primary focus of Vietnam veterans. I, along with the men and families of Recon Team Snoopy, are forever grateful.

The commitment and the efforts by VVA and the Veterans Initiative Task Force, along with the guidance and dedicated leadership of George Duggins, Tom Corey, Bob Maras, Bill Duker, and Ngok Tavak battle survivor Tim Brown, have been incredible. Your steadfast action to hold our government accountable to all of us who have served is truly remarkable and worthy of recognition and gratitude.

Perhaps it is a reality that at times we may be forced to leave the battlefield. Let it be said loud and clear that we have never and will never abandon our fallen comrades.

I am proud of this organization and all of its glorious achievements these past 25-plus years, but as I look around the room, I see that we are beginning to resemble our father’s generation of two decades ago. Our spirit is still strong, but our numbers are declining and our needs are increasing while our government’s commitment to us appears to be waning.

As the leaders and policymakers who speak for us, I would encourage you to work even harder to fulfill the VVA promise that “never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”


Six months ago when we lost our son, the numbers of our KIA in this war against tyranny stood at 1,500 of the finest men and women in America. Last week an Ohio community suffered a horrendous tragedy in the loss of 14 Marine Reservists who were family, friends, and neighbors.

We are at war, let there be no mistake about that. We have now passed the 1,800 souls loss mark. Each one of those precious men and women represents our collective hopes and dreams of lives unfulfilled.

We owe it to these brave men and women who have taken their place in history much as when we were called to arms, to do all we can to assure that when they return to their primary role as citizens of this great country that their service will be honored with expanded medical care and benefits from the VA. Further, that greater recognition and increased benefits be created to provide for the continuing needs of that ever-increasing segment of our community—the Reserve and National Guard components and their families who now comprise 48 percent of our armed forces.

At the end of the day, it still comes down to this: veterans helping veterans. I am not sure of the numbers, but I have always thought that the Department of Veterans Affairs should be staffed—if not wholly then a majority at least—by veterans. Then perhaps we will be better able to service all the needs of our veterans’ community.

One of the best examples of this is found in the VA’s Vet Center program where the majority of the staff members are veterans and of that number a substantial proportion have had combat service.

This year is a special year—for my family, for the families of the men of Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc, for the families of the 1,800 men and women who gave their lives to better the lot of the Iraqi and Afghanistan people. We will also remember the passing of General Westmoreland and commemorate the 30th anniversary of the ending of our war.

“Grieve not for lost youth. Carved in memory and stone, we dwell in your dreams.”

To the men of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, the Gimlets of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, who are currently serving in Mosul, Iraq: This tribute is for you, for the honor you bestowed upon my son as your platoon leader, fellow soldier, and friend. I am sure you still hear Nainoa exhorting you to “Go for Broke” and “Rangers Lead the Way.”

   

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