On Fate and
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!
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.
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
|“‘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
“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
“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.
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”