Fourth Quarterly 2013
Updated: 12 December 2013
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Editor’s Note: Not only to recognize this email received from Ken but I also want to let you know that from many others have come a thank you for doing the necessary work to make our web site what it is. So many of you also have your name associated with all this work that I share this comment with you too. You know who you are. I do appreciate such encouraging comments and that you all appreciate the corporate effort it takes to make this happen on a continuing basis. This Catkiller Communication Center, or CATCOM (so named by John Hillman), is just that—it is a means by which we communicate and share a special period of our lives. “Thank you” is an excellent and sufficient reward, and added to those lifting words is the affirmation that such heart–felt comments serve to make us all realize the world really seems smaller as we age. Don Ricks
Don, Thank you so much for your wonderful coverage of the members of the 220th. I see Roger Putnam who served with the Noncommissioned Officers Association where I served as a counselor for a while. I also read about Casey Castren who was my maintenance officer at AVSCOMís flight detachment. It is so strange because I didnít know either of them were catkillers. Thanks again, and please keep up the great work.
Crewchief of 957
I sent this home October 71. My wife just relocated it tonight going through our old photos. The 101 thought the 220th was housing us and the 220th thought the 10st1 was housing us, so I found some abandoned hootches next the Veternarian unit and just moved us in. A colonel at the 101st asked why we were wearing red caps and I told him the 220th did not want to confuse us with their pilots and crew, then the commander of the 220th asked the same question and I told him it was the 101st that wanted to identify us quickly and not get us confused with 220 personnel. Both said okay:
SP4 Benny J. Rexroad II was a member of the unit as a Crew Chief in 1965 and appears on the oldest roster we have located (Navy Unit Commendation order atop the web roster). Today I spoke with him and his wife who live in [redacted]. They now have our web site and will begin viewing it today. Hopefully we can continue the string of good luck with those early Catkillers and compile more data from that era. Welcome to the site, Ben.
Just found the website. I was attached to the 220th Oct–Dec 1971. 101st decided that full time observers would be better than just grabbing someone everyday to go for ride. There were 2 1LT’s, 1 E 6, and 5 E 5’s meshed into an Observer unit and sent to Phu Bai to live with the Catkillers, train, and fly every day. Primary mission was Intel, then registration of all batteries, and then targets of opportunity. I was one of the LT’s. I got to wash down a lot of Birddogs after landing but was surprised at how good you get when you did it every day for 6, 8 or more hours. [Frank is now listed on the web roster.]
Glad I found the site.
Frank G. Green
MAJ, USA ret
John Hillman was in regular form as we met on 7 October. It was early in the morning and we had agreed to have breakfast together at a local restaurant. I had first met this boisterous young man named John at the Officer’s Club at Phu Bai just after I arrived in the latter part of 1969. He was always an outgoing, in–your–face with a ready smile type, and I never forgot him. I don ’t believe anyone who met John Hillman would ever forget it. We were in the same platoon and after they finished showing me the ropes during my in–country checkout I saw only my alarm clock and bed when not flying. I would see John from time to time in the company area and he was always the same fellow with those deeply searching eyes and sporting a cocky grin on his face. Almost a year later John and I were stationed at Fort Rucker at the same time. I would see him walking around the headquarters building now and then, always with a ready smile and a big, “Hello, Don!” He just seemed to be always on the go.
When I arrived at the restaurant that morning I saw an empty plate, which told me John had already eaten. He said it before I asked. “I’ve already eaten but let me buy you something to eat.” A friend who hadn’t seen John in a few weeks had bought him breakfast. I sat down, ordered and thought privately within the conversation about the things written above. Later, a friend of John’s walked in and sat down with us and I found out a few more things about John from Dan Rhodes. Dan, a teacher, had gone to school with John and knew him well and also knew his military history. Soon than anticipated John said he needed to depart and go back to his home for needed medication. We said goodbye and took the photo seen below. John was apparently weak from his previous travel to Arkansas to stay a while with his daughter Heather. The solo trip driving back to Okmulgee was tiring, but he was asked to return and undergo a biopsy and he was awaiting the results.
On the way up Highway 75 from I–40 I had noted the given name of the highway displayed on a nicely done road sign: “Colonel John L. Hillman Parkway.” I discovered that Oklahoma public law states:
U.S. Highway 75 from the southern city limits of Glenpool through Okmulgee to Henryetta shall be designated the “Colonel John L. Hillman Parkway” in honor of one of Oklahoma's most outstanding military veterans and former Commander of the 279th Infantry Regiment. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation shall cause suitable permanent markers to be placed upon the highway bearing said name.
As I sat there with Dan after John departed, and before I knew about the above statement, and I asked him if that was someone kin to John. He replied, “Oh, yes, that was John’s father, a well respected and liked man in the community. He has a great legacy (speaking of John).” We went on to speak about John and his Vietnam military exploits. I believe at one point I mentioned the three Distinguished Flying Crosses awarded Captain John S. Hillman, Catkiller 46/03, while in the 220th Aviation Company. We talked further about football, growing up in Okmulgee and a few other local matters before it was time to get on the road to Alabama. It was good seeing John again and I wish him well and God’s grace and mercy as he awaits the results of his medical tests. Incidentally, John Hillman wore a hat with the inscription, “NATIVE VETERAN.”
Don, Thank you for your visit and sit rep on John Hillman. He made us all warriors when we flew with him. I spoke to him by phone and he is the classic John. His daughter was also terrific when I spoke with her.
Joe Brett [108th Arty ‘Sundowner Yankee’]
Courtesy of a motivated Kurt Lauer, who finally had a chance and the energy to go through his slide collection from Vietnam, we will soon have numerous early 1st Platoon photographs to view. Dennis Currie has the collection and is working with Kurt to get the most out of them. In the meantime here is a rare photo from the collection of the platoon’s leader, Captain Charles Evans:
UPDATE 13 October: When I posted the above photograph a few days ago I did not have the information regarding the accident that took the life of Captain Evans and Major Theodore Strennen. Finding the accident clipping was possible following receipt of material from Joe Kemper, especially a calling card CPT Evans carried and often passed out. It showed his first and middle initials, so we then knew he was Charles H. Evans. I have added the particulars to the roster line for CPT Evans. If any of the officers who flew with or served under Captain Evans know anything about his qualifications in helicopters before his service in the 220th, please contact me. Don Ricks.
An old photo sitting in the web site’s images folder lacked a correct name for the Platoon Sergeant for 3rd Platoon at Da Nang. Since making contact with Dominick Careccia in July we can now put this photo out for all to see, thanks to Norman MacPhee’s camera. Dominick returned to serve the Catkillers as First Sergeant in 1966–67 and retired from active service as as a Command Sergeant Major. He is alive and well in [redacted].:
As a pleasant surprise but a work–intensive undertaking, Jim Hooper had an interesting period of personal growth on the horizon when he decided to present his brother Bill with a replica of his fated aircraft flown the day he received extensive wounds and was medevaced from Vietnam. Those of us in a tight circle of bystanders who “observed” this long process of acquisition of the model and subsequent expert custom painting were amazed at Jim’s determination and zeal to the very end of the project. The detail was so good that you can see the bullet hole in its windshield. We weren’t present to take a snapshot of Bill’s face but we are informed it was a special moment for him. Here is a photo of the model being prepared for shipment to Bill Hooper:
I drove down to the Orlando area to visit Russ Cedoz last week and met Russ's wife LU and two of his children, which was quite a treat. We shared a lot of our Viet Nam experiences with the family as they had not heard my side of what is was like to fly with Russ.
Russ taught me as much as anyone about flying combat missions, from adjusting artillery and naval gunfire, running airstrikes, and finding the bad guys. I flew more missions with Russ than any other backseater. He was highly intelligent, incredibly brave, could fly the airplane from the back seat as well as anyone, and took the fight to the enemy better than most. His marksmanship with his M16 out the back window was on full display in the battle of KINH MON in October 1968. He poured a lot of courage into me that long day and was as deserving of the same award that Stewart, Hooper and I received. Our backseaters were never properly acknowledged for their service and heroics as we all know.
Russ retired after 20 years from the Marines and had another full career in Lasers with LITTON/NORTHROP GRUMMAN. I believe he will be 77 on his next birthday. He did get his Marine Wings as a pilot and flew a lot in the civilian world. He also did a lot of drag racing.
Russ was not a 12th Marine AO but worked for the 3rd Marine Division S–2. He scheduled his own flights either with the Catkillers or the Fingerprints or the OV–10s. After flying Russ would always go back and brief Major General Davis. The next day Russ would get in the plane full of new intelligence and off we would go hunting. Seems like we always found something, much thanks to him.
Many of you flew with Russ as seen in the photos. The visit was another reminder of how lucky we were to team with these noble combat professionals. The missions I flew with Russ remain some of the best memories of my life. Being able to relive some of them last week with him was more than terrific.
Charles Finch [Catkiller 19]
Photos of Russ Cedoz in Vietnam and more recently with Charles Finch:
After leaving Russ Cedoz, I drove over near Tampa to visit with Clyde Trathowen and his wife Nancy. Both have been school principals and are now virtually retired. Tango retired from the Marines several years ago. Also got to meet their daughter who is pictured below.
Clyde was the third Marine backseater that I have been able to visit in the last several months (Lanny Thorne and Russ Cedoz). Reliving the days at Dong Ha and learning more about what these Marines did besides fly with the Catkillers has been an education. Just hope that we can someday get these backseaters to attend a Catkiller reunion.
Thanks Clyde and Nancy for your hospitality and wonderful bottle of wine.
I usually honor a request to withhold news and information of a personal nature and when Charles Finch informed me that the following was not for publication, my inner struggle was soothed by something I learned in the bible: Seek to lift your brother up, not cause him to fall. Seek to help him, not hurt him. Seek to build him up, not tear him down. Place a stepping stone before your brother's path, not a stumbling block. Romans 14:13. My integrity is still intact when I share with you that Charles Finch spends a lot of his personal time encouraging and assisting others and I admire his determination to give back what he has been blessed with. He is an encourager. One example is the latest award for his community service. Charles was recently honored as Volunteer of the Year for Pete Nance Boys and Girls Club in his home town:
Back in July, Rob Whitlow (Blackcoat 3, 1966–1967), one of our Marine AOs out of Marble Mountain and I visited with Bill Moxley at his home in Camarillo, California. Bill's health is failing but he recognized us and smiled a lot as Rob and I shared some stories of our adventures in the Que Son Valley and the 1st MarDiv TAOR. Bill Moxley (better known to us back then as “The Mox”) was a legend in his own time. He was a “Mustang” Marine who had been a DI and was THE CORPS through and through. He and another Mustang, Jim Sanders, brought institutional knowledge to the Marine AO section that allowed the younger officers like Whitlow to acquire a learning curve that was nearly vertical. We ALL benefited from their professionalism.
Rob shared a particularly funny story that went something like this:
The Marine Birddog section located at Marble Mountain suffered from very poor availability. Their aircraft were C–Models that had some kind of supercharging that gave them a greater max gross weight but made them maintenance nightmares. I do not think that they ever had more than a couple of them flyable at the same time. One one particular day, they had just one of their Birddogs up and Rob was scheduled to relieve Bill on the next flight. As Rob headed down to the flight line for his scheduled flight, he saw Bill ambling along toward him from the flight line carrying all of his flight gear, maps and weapon. When they passed, Mox calmly said, “Your flight is cancelled, the bird is down.”
Rob responded with, “I’ll go on down, maybe they'll get it fixed,” thinking that Mox simply meant that something needed to be repaired and they would fix it in time for his flight.
“No, the bird is DOWN in a rice paddy near Hoi An.”
It seems the engine had quit and the Marine pilot had dead-sticked the aircraft into a rice paddy. The aircraft had flipped over onto its back and they had both managed to crawl out with minor injuries. A Marine helicopter had swooped in, picked them up and returned them to Marble Mountain.
The Bird WAS—DOWN.
The Mox made it sound like just another day at the office—no embellishment, no excited rendering of a story, just a simple “The bird is down.”
THAT was The Mox!
The maintenance problems that the Marines had with their Birddogs is the primary reason why the 220th got the job of flying the Marine AOs. Thank goodness for that, as otherwise we would have just been “another” Army Birddog company droning around looking for stuff and having to call in the local Air Force FAC to do the fun things—like run Fixed Wing and we may never have experienced the close bond that we formed with our Marine AOs.
Only a few Army Birddog pilots were ever awarded Marine TACA orders—almost all of them were Catkillers.
Raymond Caryl [Rainman]
Our efforts to build the memorial are coming to a close. Ft. Rucker has let us place the memorial after November 11. Ingram Memorial is going to place the pads for the memorial and benches first, then the memorial and benches, then we will deal with the pavers. Ingram will give us some notice of placement of the memorial so those in the area can watch. Pictures will be provided by Ingram and others. Burk Blob has sent the Time Capsule to Ingram for insertion into the memorial. Thanks to all of you who have worked on this project.
Norm MacPhee, Birddog Unit Memorial Committee
This set of photos, courtesy of Gene Wilson, are from a Catkiller Mini–Reunion in Savannah. The first photo was taken at the Hampton Inn before the group had dinner The Pirates House.
Gene also met Ed Miler, Catkiller 6 in 1969, face to face for the first time. Ed was a great help to Gene in working with the Catkiller history. Ed and Francine drove down from Charleston on Wednesday, October 23, 2013, and the Milers and Wilsons enjoyed lunch together at the 17Hundred90 Inn and Restaurant. As usual, the entire week was super—as any gathering of Catkillers, especially this group of 1966-67, always is!
For several past Catkiller group email messages sent the one for SFC Rubin Oliver bounced so I called his residence in Banks, Alabama, and spoke with his daughter, Wanda. She informed me that Rubin died after a short illness on 22 June and that he was proud of his service with the 22oth Aviation Company. He enjoyed the message traffic.
I passed our condolences to Wanda and their family and then located this obituary:
Link to Video Tribute, SFC Rubin L. Oliver
Our long awaited installation celebration (not to be confused with the formal dedication) is now planned to be 10-12noon on December 12 at Veteranís Memorial Park at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. Those that live close enough to Fort Rucker to attend this installation are welcome. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS DATE AND TIME ARE NOT ABSOLUTE. ITEMS NEED TO ARRIVE ON TIME FOR THIS TO TAKE PLACE. We will advise immediately if any change is required.
This is our formal announcement and should be forwarded via web sites, etc.
Thanks to all who have made this possible. Special thanks to Hank Collins for putting the celebration together.
DELAYED: AS OF 13 NOVEMBER:
There will be a delay in the installation of the monument. It will not be possible until January at the earliest. We just received notice this morning after planning for a mid–December placement. I apologize for this delay. We will await arrival of all the monument parts before re-scheduling.
Norm MacPhee, Burk Blob, Hank Collins, Birddog Unit Memorial Committee
Just as the 220th Aviation Company was on its way to Vietnam in 1965, I was on orders for assignment to V Corps Artillery, with further assignment to Battery F, 26th Artillery, at Darmstadt, Germany. I worked at Darmstadt Army Airfield as an air traffic controller and an operations specialist. My operations officer was Captain John A. G. Klose.
It is because of men like John Klose and two other fixed wing pilots, Captain Warren and Captain Dennis A. Stuessi, that I became convinced that someday, like them, I would fly the Birddog. Each took me for rides in the unit’s Birddog and Beaver. Captain Warren hooked me good when he demonstrated the thrill of just being in the back seat of a stalled and fast–spinning L–19! I did not care that much for the H–13 rides with CPT Warren.
As I graduated from the 7th Army NCO Academy at Bad Tolz and was promoted to Staff Sergeant, Captains Klose and Stuessi insisted that I should quickly apply when the army began to advertise that candidates were needed to attend officer training school. I was not fully aware of Vietnam at that time and was indeed thankful to have a written recommendation from both officers—who strongly suggested that going to OCS and then flight school was the best course to take. I followed their advice and applied for both, and I got both in that order!
As I looked more closely at the 212th Combat Aviation Battalion annual for 1971 I came across this photo of Major John A. G. Klose:
While this was, as it began, a personal adventure to confirm my initial recollection that the man above was the same officer I knew in Germany, I began to search the internet for a person of this unique name. To my disappointment I first located the obituary located at this link, and although Colonel Klose was never a Catkiller he is somewhat responsible that he encouraged a soldier to become one:
Shortly after reading the information from Colonel Klose’s obituary, I located his wife and spoke with her at length about her husband’s assignments. She confirmed our joint time at Darmstadt, but it was only afterwards that I discovered the forgotten OCS recommendations located in my thick 201 file. I expressed our belated condolences and gave to her the link to our web site.
Those who flew in Lam Son 719 in 1971 might not recall that Major Klose was intimately involved in that battle. The last photo below recently came in an email from Paul Smith, a shot taken at Khe Sanh in 1971. The result of this photo were eventual conversations with both Gary Copp and Rick Gates and has now linked up these three men (anyone recognizing the female correspondent, please advise). To my surprise, Rick lives only about twenty miles from my home!
Here is a link that does a better job at providing additional information to our own warriors who flew overhead during that time (our pilots have numerous DFC medals for that battle):
Amazon.com: INTO LAOS, The Story of Dewey Canyon II/Lam Son 719, by Keith William Nolan
Many thanks to Colonel Klose for helping better and thus forever changing my life. Don Ricks, Catkiller 49
After posting the web page dedicated to Harry I. Kee, I received additional information from Harry’s wife pertaining to the aircraft accident in which CPT Tom E. Murray II was the pilot. I asked Tom to check out the photo again, and considering the writing on the photoi, I asked if he recalled the reason the aircraft crashed. Initially, evidence suggested there might have been a problem with the aircraft’s engine:
No engine problems. Upon landing I lost the ability to steer to the right using the rudders. The aircraft veered to the left and toward a Jolly Green on an entry taxi way. Rather than hit the helicopter I jammed on the right brake and ground looped just short of the helicopter. Air observer was CPT Fitzgerald of the USMC. He weighed about 240lbs. He was out the back window and 50 yards away before I could even turn off the fuel. How he fit through the window I will never know. Sorry I did not remember the tail number or the exact date. Tom
NOTE: It looks like three of the men around this aircraft could be from the 220th. Most are marines.
Additional research findings (Ricks):
I also discovered that the log book discovered in a desk in 1971 by Paul Garin was originally started by CW2 Donovan E. Behny. He sent to me several copies of pages from that book. He does not have a computer and hasnít seen the file posted at our history index, so these are accurate confirmations of that data:
Maintenance Log Book, originally started by CW2 Behny
Additionally, Don Behny, with whom I recently made contact, supplied a hand-written roster of each of the three platoons present in those early days, with individual aircraft and enlisted men assigned to each platoon, plus a roster of company officers by position. I suspect that in days to come some of this information will be useful in reconstructing some events.
Abstract from roster (enlisted men) supplied by Don Behny:
Platoon SGT: SFC Careccia
E-5 Blankenship [Jon D., on web roster]
E-5 Jenkins [Ray D. on the web roster]
E-5 Kee [Harry I.]
E-4 Bradley [Roger, on the web roster]
E-4 Kemper [Joseph C. on the web roster]
E-4 Cluggish [Raymond F., Jr., on the web roster and in contact]
E-4 Kawabata [Harry, info from SP4 Cluggish]
As I have time to work on photos previously posted at the Original Catkiller Web Site, I often run across one that warrants special mention. Scott’s web site requires some moderinization and update but as soon as possible these old photos, many enhanced, will appear on that archived site. If anyone has information regarding a pilot names Robert Brown, please contact the editor: