U.S. Marine Corps Air Facility Futema, Okinawa
ugust 2, 1965: Left for Okinawa at 1100 hours. Got here at 1700 hours. Looks great. [mckee]
From Marine Captain George Boemerman, HMM-365
to Army Captain Jack Johnson, 68th Aviation Company
See also The Stinger Ace
It's a quiet Sunday afternoon and I'm trying desparately to behave myself. Only one week more left in Okinawa and then it's back to the land of the big P.X.
The squadron went back to DaNang for another four months and we were relieved on August first. Things sure have changed there. There are more damn "Jungle Bunnies" (grunts) running around. It's not the nice quiet little war that we had any more. When we went back they even moved us out of the nice buildings and we camped out along the runway. Just like summer camp. Great sport!
On our strikes we had two squadrons of Marine F4B Phantoms. They did a pretty good job, but we all missed the "Raiders" flying shotgun for us. The 7th Aviation Platoon was still there but they did not support us. We also had Marine armed HU1Es. They were coming along OK. But they wouldn't let us fly the "Stingers". The ole Stingers were strictly a one shot affair and by virtue of the enclosed patch we designate you a "Stinger".
We've all got our orders now. Barry [Skinner] is going to the Marine Air Reserve Training Command, Glenview, Illinois. I'm going to MCRD, Parris Island, S.C. That's the Boot Camp. I guess I'll be a Company Commander - what a great job. At least the Marine Air Station at Beaufort, S.C. is right next door and I'll be flying A4Cs and F8Es for my proficiency. Let me know where your next duty station will be and I'll fly over for the weekend.
By the way, at "Happy Hour", Friday, we all gave a toast to you and your old crew.
Take it easy, Tiger, and when you get a chance drop a line. We'd like to hear how you're doing.
Capt. G. F. Boemerman
Parris Island, S.C.
Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?
It felt good to be in Okinawa, to be able to relax, to look out into the night and not see tracers and flares. Much of my leisure time was spent in trying to drink my way from one end of Gate Two Street to the other end of B.C. Street. Some of the bars that I had frequented were still there and so were some of the nei-sans that I used to spend time with. For some reason I didn't go back to the Bar Black Sea in Futema, my old favorite hang-out - at least not immediately after returning to Okinawa.
But one night, wanting a drink, I ended up in that familiar place.
Walking into the darkened environment, it seemed that nothing had changed. The cigarette smoke hanging heavily in the stagnant air, the juke box playing Sukiyaki, the smiling bartender, the rouged women, none that I recognized right away.
Thought I'd sit up at the bar, alone. No conversation. No company. Just a drink.
"Rum and coke?", someone had anticipated my order.
I turned toward the person addressing me. It was Achiko, the nei-san who shared many whisky/teas with me so long ago, last year.
I smiled, acknowledging her.
"Gunjo-san, you come back from Vet-er-am, nei?"
"Yeah, just got back a few days ago," I lied so that she would not think that I had purposefully avoided coming to see her right away. She had been a good woman to spend lonely youthful hours with. Always, when I would come into the bar, she would come to my side and keep me company. Faithful, in her fashion.
She took my hand and led me to a booth, signalling to the bartender that my drink should be brought to us there when it was ready, and to bring one for her.
"You okay, Gunjo-san? You no get hurt? You stay Okinawa now? No go back to Vet-er-am?" she asked questions in rapid succession, not waiting for me to answer each.
"Yeah, I'm back, but only for a little while."
"You go back Vet-er-am?"
"No, not going back to Vietnam," I replied, "going back to the states...in a few days."
Achiko looked at me, not smiling, not frowning, a look of acceptance. She'd heard the line before. Just words, no longer meaning anything special.
The drinks came. "Chin-chin," she raised her shot glass up in toast.
I'm a soldier, a lonely soldier,
Away from home through no wish of my own.
That's why I'm lonely, I'm Mister Lonely,
I wish that I could go back home.
Bobby Vinton was singing through the juke box.
Another familiar smile came to me. It was Michiko.
"Hello, Gunjo-san. You come back from Vet-er-am, nei?"
"Hi, Michiko. Yes, I'm back."
She looked around. She knew someone was missing.
"Willy?...he come here with you, nei?"
"No...Willy is dead."
I heard Achiko gasp when she heard. Michiko just looked at me, her eyes beginning to glaze.
I got up and headed out the door, and never looked back.
Outside, the neon lights looked blurred.
We were making our preparation to leave WestPac (Western Pacific Area of Operation). Almost a year had passed since we had left the United States and soon we would be returning...but not all of us. [delrosario]
8/18/65: Turned in our rifles. [mckee]
Gomen-asai, we must say 'bye to the land we love so well.
But cheer up sport, we're getting short, and we've had our share of glory.
No more to roam, we're ging home, to spread our combat story...
about dem combat-happy Klowns of Koler.
Untitled, uncompleted poem by Enrique del Rosario
Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California
Casual Company, Discharge Processing Center
Some time after the squadron had returned to the States.....
by Enrique B. del Rosario
I heard the library assistant call out a name and it caused me to break away from the book that I was reading. The assistant, a Marine private, was calling to a woman behind the book check out desk. The woman, young, in her twenties or early thirties, attractive in her simple dress, her blonde hair worn in a bun, answered the questions that the assistant asked of her in a hush that I could not hear. Having received the answers, the assistant then returned to his duties of reshelving books. I tried to return to my reading but I could not. It was the name that the assistant called her by that drew my attention from my reading.
Finally, I got up and went to the assistant and asked, "Mind if I ask you what that woman's name is?"
"Oh, you mean her?" he nodded toward the woman at the desk. "That's Mrs. Frye...Loretta Frye," he said with a half smile, half smirk. I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking that I was going to try to make some moves on this attractive woman librarian.
"Do you know if she was married to a Marine who was killed in Vietnam?" I continued my questions.
"Yeah," the private's smile disappeared.
"Okay, thank you." I mentally dismissed the assistant, who then returned to his book shelving duties.
I sat there for a long time, book before me but not reading. I caught myself watching her. Should I go up and introduce myself and tell her that her husband, Sergeant Alfred A. Frye, and I were in the same unit in Vietnam, and that I was there when he was brought in to emergency surgery after being shot, and how he was brought past me on the stretcher, and how I looked into his eyes as he came by, and what I saw, and what I felt? But I held back, partly because I didn't know what to say, partly because I really didn't know "Double A" Frye that well, and partly because I didn't know if she would want to hear about her husband any more.
It was in January 1965 that he was killed and still less than a year had passed. I wondered if she was still grieving, how her life had changed, and if she had decided to put her husband's death behind her and find a way to live without him. I remembered someone saying that she and her husband had two or three boys. How they must miss their father.
Finally, after much thought, I decided that I should at least tell her that I served with her husband in Vietnam, to offer her my sympathy, and to say no more.
"Yes," she smiled.
"Was your husband in Vietnam with HMM-365?"
The smile disappeared from her face. "Yes."
"Sergeant Alfred A. Frye?" I asked point blank.
"Yes," she looked right into my eyes.
I can't tell you the color of her eyes because I only saw the feelings that they tried to hold within. At that moment I knew that I should not have stopped to talk to her. I wanted to be away from there as fast as I could. But I continued.
"I'm Lance Corporal del Rosario, ma'am. I was in the same unit in Vietnam as your husband." I took a deep breath. "I just want to...I...I want you to know that you have my deepest sympathy..." I stammered uncomfortably.
"You knew my husband?"
"My name is Loretta," she extended her hand in greeting. "Would you mind if I took some of your time. I'd like to hear about Al."
"Uh...yes ma'am. I have all the time...but...are you sure...?" I felt very uncomfortable. I was not prepared for any baring of emotions which I knew was about to happen. I am not comfortable in such situations. I did not want to see her cry. Perhaps more, I did not want her to see me cry.
But she ushered me into a far corner removed from others in the library, and she bade me tell her of what I knew. She asked me to tell her everything, of what I saw, and how did it happen, and how did Al look like when he was carried past me. She wanted not to be spared any details and I tried to comply.
As I told her all of what I knew I also tried to stay aware of any signs of her emotional condition. She betrayed none other than cordiality. Perhaps she too was trying not to touch on something that would make me uncomfortable.
We talked for an hour until it came to closing time. Then I had pretty much told her all that I knew of her husband's death and of the men who served with Al. She thanked me for coming to her. We said our goodbyes and I left the library.
After leaving the building, I was met by the library assistant who was also on his way back to his barracks. He told me that he had heard a little of what Mrs. Frye and I were talking about. He asked me the usual things that most Marines would ask. I was polite but I fended off most of his questions so that I could leave.
As I walked away from him I saw Mrs. Frye leaving the library and enter her car. I kept walking but I discreetly watched as she closed her car door and just sat inside for a long minute. She's a stoic woman, I thought to myself, to care for her sons, and to go on alone. I was glad that she did not break down, or cause me to.
And then I saw her bend her head down and her hands came up to cover her face.
LAST FLIGHT OUT OF TAN SON NHUT
It had been more than twenty-five years since I had seen Gene Rainville. Then, he was flying for Continental Air Services in Vietnam and Laos and I was an air transportation supervisor for RMK-BRJ based out of Cam Ranh Bay. Prior to that, we had served together in Vietnam with one of the Marine Corps' illustrious aviation units, HMM-365. We worked together again in the remote Asian Kingdom of Laos, both of us drawing our paychecks from Continental Air Services.
In the years that passed, I had kept wondering what had become of him and whether he was even alive. He was a soldier of fortune in the true sense, trading his skills and willingness to face danger for monetary recompense. Now, many more years later, at our squadron reunion in San Diego, August 2000, we talked about those days and places and people. In matter-of-fact tones he told me of the last day of Saigon.
April 30, 1975
Sounds of automatic weapons seemed to come from all around. Tanks of the Communist forces were closing on the Presidential Palace and a clamorous mob was scaling the spiked outer walls of the American Embassy. In the little Continental Air Services flight shack, Continental Air Services vice presidents Robert "Dutch" Brongersma and Jim Eckes, and former HMM-365 Marine Gene Rainville knew that the end had finally come.
For "Dutch" Brongersma, an ex-Marine pilot and Continental Air Service vice president, this marked the end of almost 25 years direct involvement in Indochina. As a pilot for Civil Air Transport, Dutch had flown resupply and evacuation missions into Dien Bien Phu in support of France's beleaugered garrison even as the small airstrip was being pounded by the guns of the Viet Minh. Afterwards, in and out of airstips no longer than football fields, he flew missions throughout Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. America and the rest of the world, their attention focused on the bigger struggle in South Vietnam, knew and cared little about the "secret wars" in lonely places.
Eckes and Rainville also knew those lonely places. Flying alone in Pilatus Porters or in command of World War Two vintage C-46 Commandos, they accepted the risks of their profession. If they were shot down or got boxed in in one of the numerous unmapped canyons they knew they could not count on help getting to them on time, if they survived the crash at all. They balanced the risks against the rewards then hoped that Luck would deal them a fair hand. On this day, the 30th day of April, 1975, the cards have all been played and it was time to fold and leave the game.
The three Americans climbed into a Continental Air Service Beech Baron, raced it down the runway of Tan Son Nhut and lifted off, just ahead of a crowd of people desperate to escape the inevitable end of their world. Gene Rainville was at the controls of the twin-engine aircraft when he saw an F-5 jet fighter plane with South Vietnamese Air Force markings on it flying toward them. The men inside the Baron knew that some of the South Vietnamese aircraft had already been captured by the North Vietnamese and they were wary of the craft. Their suspicions were confirmed when the jet started firing on them. Using all of his skill learned as a Marine aviator, Gene was able to evade the gunfire.
For one last time they flew over Saigon, a city in its death throes, then pointed the nose of the Baron southwest toward Bangkok. The war that America never wanted to get into was finally over, and Rainville of HMM-365 was there at the very end.
See also Orient Aviation Magazine article
I went to the Memorial to let them know I came.
I walked up to the granite but there were so many names.
I looked until the sky got dark and I couldn't stand the pain -
teardrops falling in the pouring rain.
Copyright © 2002 by
Enrique B. del Rosario, author and webmaster
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