Memorial Day 2009 Tribute

Just received this from Tom Helvig...




With thanks to Professor Tom Banit, History Department, Kean University, (Lieutenant USMC, Vietnam...)

and Oral History Director aboard Battleship New Jersey.


(Provided by a pilot)

A vivid reminder of some stressful times that are now fading into history.



The below is fm the F-8 Crusader Net. I was on the 1966 Oriskany Cruise, during the fire. I knew Dick and Norm well. Dick flew my wing several times, Up North, when I was flying Recce missions in RF-8's. They were both very good people. Norm died during the fire, as did 43 others.






Subject: Memorial Day. Please observe......


During McNamara and Johnson's Operation Rolling Thunder, Oriskany's Air

Wing 16 suffered the highest loss rate of all naval aviation units in

the Vietnam conflict. We made three deployments and launched over

44,800 missions from Yankee Station. We lost 86 of our assigned 64

combat aircraft and 72 of our assigned 78 Naval Aviators; 59 were killed

and 13 captured or missing in action. The odds of a pilot surviving all

three of those deployments were less than 30 percent. Flying combat

from carriers is, by nature, totally voluntary. The sustained courage

and dedicated professionalism of Air Wing 16 air crews, demonstrated

during and after Rolling Thunder, convinced President Nixon that an all

volunteer military was a viable option. He canceled the draft in

1973. Sadly, we early volunteers have yet to receive acknowledgment or

appreciation from the millions of American parents whose sons and

daughters have been exempt from conscription for the last 36 years

because of our patriotic sacrifices.


I lost two wingmen and two roommates during Rolling Thunder. Realizing

their loss would likely be ignored or forgotten by "modern-day" America,

I began writing an annual Memorial Day letter to the roommate whose Navy

career had paralleled mine. From 1967 to 1997, I simply burned the

finished letters; Fighter Pilots describe a comrade's loss by using the

term "smoked." However, thanks to Mr. Bill Gates, I've been able to

email the last dozen letters to friends and other patriots who value

their memories of those who died for our country. Having passed the

actuarial age, this will be my last letter. It hasn't changed much.

The cold hard facts of Vietnam and America's "protest generation" remain

unchanged and unfortunately unrecorded.


Very Respectfully,

Dr. Dick Schaffert, Captain USN (ret)


Lieutenant Commander Norm Levy, Navy Fighter Squadron VF-111

Good morning, Norm. It's Memorial Day, 7:29am Tonkin Gulf time.

Haven't talked with you in a while. The USS ORISKANY, that magnificent

lady on which we went through hell together, has slipped away into the

deep and now rests forever in silent waters off the Florida coast.

Seems like a good day to make contact. This is the 43^th year since I

last saw you, sitting on the edge of your bunk in our room on

ORISKANY. You remember . . . it was the 26'th of October 1966.


We were on the midnight schedule. There was a solid wall of

thunderstorms over the beach, with tops to 50,000 feet; but McNamara's

Pentagon planners kept sending us on "critical" missions all night. At

4:00am, they finally ran out of trucks to bomb - in that downpour - and

we got a little sleep.


The phone rang at seven; you were scheduled for the Alert Five. I had

bagged a little more rack time than you, so I said I'd take it. I went

to shave in the head around the elevator pit, the one near the flare

locker. The ordnance men were busy putting away the flares. They'd

been taking them out and putting them back all night, as the missions

were continually changed. I finished shaving and started back to our

room when the guy on the 1MC said: "This is a drill, this is a drill,

FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!" I smelled smoke and looked back at the door that

separated the pilot's quarters from the flare locker. Smoke was coming

from underneath.


I ran the last few steps to our room and turned on the light. You sat

up on the edge of your bunk. I shouted at you: "Norm, this is no

drill. Let's get the hell out of here!" I went down the passageway

around the elevator pit, banging on the metal wall and shouting: "It's

no drill. We're on fire! We're on fire!" I rounded the corner of that

U-shaped passage as the flare locker exploded. The tremendous

concussion blew me out of the passageway and onto the hangar deck. A

huge ball of fire was rolling across the top of the hangar bay.


You and forty-five other guys, mostly Air Wing pilots, didn't make it,

Norm. I'm sorry. Oh, God, I'm sorry! But we went home together: Norm

Levy, a Jewish boy from Miami, and Dick Schaffert, a Lutheran cornhusker

from Nebraska.


I rode in the economy class of that Flying Tigers 707, along with the

few surviving pilots. You were in a flag-draped box in the cargo

compartment. The San Diego media had found out about the return of us

"Baby Killers." Lindberg Field was packed with scum enjoying the right

to protest. The "right" you died for!


There was a bus, with our wives, waiting for us - there was a black

hearse for you. The protesters threw things at our bus and your hearse,

not a policeman in sight. When we finally got off the airport, they

chased us to Fort Rosecrans. Their obscene activities kept interrupting

your graveside service, until your honor guard of three brave young

Marines with rifles convinced them to stay back.


I watched the network news with my kids that night, Norm. Sorry, the

only clips of our homecoming were the Baby Killer banners and bombs

exploding in the South Vietnam jungle (Recall our operations were up

North, against very heavily defended targets, where we were frequently

knocked down and captured or killed). It was tough to explain to my

four pre-teens.


You know the rest of the story. The protesting scum were the media's

heroes. They became CEO's, who steal from our companies - lawyers, who

prey off our misery - doctors, whom we can't afford--and elected

politicians, who break the faith and the promises.


The only military recognized as "heroes" were the POW's. They finally

came home, not because of some politician's expertise, but because there

were those of us who kept going back over Hanoi, again and again.

Dodging the SAM's and the flak, attacking day and night, and keeping

the pressure on - all by ourselves! Absolutely no support from anyone!

Many of us didn't come home, Norm. You know . . . the guys that are up

there with you now. But it was our "un-mentioned" efforts that brought

the POW's home. We kept the faith with them, and with you, Norm.


It never really ended. We seemed to go directly from combat into

disabled retirement and poverty, ignored by those whose freedoms we

insured by paying the very high premium. The only thing many of us have

left is our memories, Norm, and we hold those dear! We'll all be

joining you shortly. Put in a good word for us with the Man. Ask Him

to think of us as His peacemakers, as His children. Have a restful

Memorial Day, Fighter Pilot. You earned it.



Your Roomie, Dick Schaffert

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

Touching! I hope many took the time to read that.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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