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Memorial Day – 2011

It’s Memorial Day – flags will be lowered to half staff to honor those who gave all to defend our freedoms, graves will have flags placed upon them and wreaths will be set to honor the ultimate sacrifice.  Parades will be held and many will be saluted for their service.

Shadows will be cast upon headstones as visitors stand looking down at gravesites, and tears will fall with a whisper of “thank you”.  Monuments will have hands placed upon them out of respect to reflect upon those whom we honor today.

It’s Memorial Day, and regardless of which conflict that “all”, was given, everyone of us should be mindful that without these brave men and women who took an oath to defend our great nation, there would be no  barbecues to attend, no Memorial Day sales to catch, no 3-day weekend to enjoy, or fireworks to watch …. There would be no freedom to celebrate as we do, because freedom is many things, but the one thing it isn’t, is “free”.  Someone has to pay that price, and those some ones deserve this day to mean more than a cold beer, the smell of charcoal, and summer shorts on sale at Old Navy.

I recently had the privilege of hearing an astonishing story told by Jack Carver, a 92-year old retired Army Lieutenant, who fought at The Battle of the Bulge.  The majority of men who filled this room were themselves WWII and Korean War veterans who sat a little straighter and held their heads a little higher, with pride and respect as Jack took us all to a hill in Germany filled with SS tanks, and proudly told about the day when a jeep pulled up  on the front lines to find himself face- to- face with his hero, General Patton, who left with the words, “You boys are doing one hell of a  job, keep it up!”

Jack told of shells being fired as he and a couple of his buddies tried to take cover, and the moment he realized he had been hit.  As fate would have it, the one that struck him was a dud and was hung up in the collar of his uniform.  When he looked to his right, his one friend has been critically injured, and the buddy to his left had been killed.  He kept that shell as a reminder that his life had been spared that day while someone else paid the price.  I’m sure that today will be a day that Jack will reflect on those he served with and those who were lost.  At 92-years of age, no doubt Jack has known too many goodbyes, and too many to remember this Memorial Day.

How many of us will take the time on this day to actually do something to honor our Fallen, or is this a day that only touches those who paid the ultimate price along with their loved ones?

It appears in many ways that perhaps we have lost ourselves along the way somehow, and this day has become someone else’s job to remember while we attend all the festivities and gatherings of the first long weekend of summer.

Before you bite into that burger, remember this…… “The American flag does not fly because the wind moves past it -The American flag flies from the last breath of each, military member who has died protecting it!” ~ Unknown

Happy Memorial Day, and I hope you will do something that honors that “last breath”.

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Captain Calvin Maxwell Remembered

October 10, 1969 – October 10, 2009

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Today marks 40 years that Captain Calvin Maxwell went missing in Vietnam.  I was 21 when I ordered a POW/MIA bracelet to wear for a soldier who needed prayer for a safe return.  That was 37 years ago, and today I sit here wearing that same bracelet acknowledging what this day means and, offering a pray for his family who for the past 40 years have been denied closure or knowing with any certainty the final fate of their loved one.

Over the years when I have cleaned things out or given items away, I could never part with the bracelet.  I felt that if I threw it away, it would be like giving up hope that he did make it home or worse if there was no one to remember this soldier, he would be forgotten. I wear the bracelet randomly, but always on days that are acknowledgments of the freedoms we are afforded in this country and for those who pay the price by their sacrifice to defend us.

By stark contrast this time last week, I was in Miami attending my 40th HS reunion reconnecting with friends and classmates I have known for most of my life.  It was an amazing weekend full of laughter and reminiscing of our youth and the adventures of growing up in a much simpler time.

It struck me the difference between two 40th year events separated by only a weekend and how dramatically different they are from one another.

In honor of my soldier who in fact did not make it home – you have not been forgotten for your name is etched into this bracelet and for all the years I have hoped and prayed for you, it has been etched into my heart.

Name:

Calvin Walter Maxwell

Rank/Branch:

Major/US Army

Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
6th Battalion, 14th Artillery
52nd Artillery Group,
1st Field Force Vietnam Artillery

DOB: 06 November 1943 (Atlantic City, NJ)

Eddy, NM

10 October 1969

South Vietnam

Missing in Action

2

O1G “Bird Dog”

Franklin L. Weisner (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Cessna O1 Bird Dog was primarily used by the Army as a liaison and observation aircraft. It brought not only an aerial method of locating targets, but the rudiments of a system of strike coordination between different types of aircraft used in the air war as well as with the different branches of the service who were operating in the same area. The Bird Dog was also used very successfully as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) since it could fly low and slow carrying marker rounds of ammunition to identify enemy positions for the attack aircraft.

On 10 October 1969, 1st Lt. Franklin L. Weisner, pilot assigned to the 219th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade; and then Capt. Calvin W. Maxwell, observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery; comprised the crew of an O1G Bird Dog (serial #51-11942). Their assignment was to fly as the “high aircraft” in a flight of two Bird Dogs on a high/low search mission. A high/low search involved a “low” aircraft moving slower and closer to the ground looking for targets while the “high” aircraft confirmed the location and identification of the target.

The low aircraft made radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner as they were proceeding down a valley about 6 miles northeast of the city of Dak Pek and 30 miles north of Dak To, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. About 10 or 15 seconds after this radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner, the crew of the low aircraft received a radio transmission in which they heard screams and moans. No further contact could be established with the crew of the high aircraft. Immediately a search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated.

On 13 October, search aircraft found the wreckage of the Bird Dog lying inverted in a fast-flowing river running through the hotly contested and extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles south of a primary east/west road and 5 miles east of a primary north/south road that branched off of the first road northwest of the crashsite. Roughly 6 miles east of the crashsite, the east/west road made a 90-degree turn to the south. This location was also 12 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and 33 miles northeast of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia joined.

Ground search teams were brought into the area by helicopter the next day and confirmed the tail number as being that of 1st Lt. Weisner’s and Capt. Maxwell’s aircraft. By examining the crash site, the search team established the aircraft hit a cliff above the river and slid into its present position. They also found barefoot tracks of four people in the area, but no bodies of the missing crew were located in or around the crashsite or downstream.

Military scuba divers were brought in to examine the wreckage for remains.

The team reported that both seat belts and shoulder harnesses were still hooked together in the cockpit, but no seat pads remained in the aircraft. One seat pad and an aviator’s helmet were located approximately 100 meters downstream of the crash. Further, two 30-caliber holes were found in the aircraft, but because of their location, neither one would have caused the aircraft to go down nor would the bullets have hit either crewman. For unknown reasons those individuals who visited the crash site before the Americans arrived carried an 8-inch thick tree to the site and left it there.

All searches were terminated on 18 October. At the time the military believed there was a reasonable chance both men could have been swept out of their seats and the aircraft by the swift current without unbuckling their straps, Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell were listed Missing in Action.

If Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is little question that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

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