Stories about my family

Day: August 23, 2020

Finding Pickle, Chapter five, Pg 3, “We Family”

 FINDING PICKLE

I came home a changed man, seldom talked of Viet Nam until the summer of 2016.  As explained in the last story, after being diagnosed with PTSD, Phyllis suggested that I should confront the memories that had been suppressed for years.   She convinced me that writing could be therapeutic.  And it was.  After talking to Pace, I felt confident that I would find Sergeant Pickle.

Phyllis and I attended the 1/35th Infantry Battalion annual convention in Springfield, MO, September, 2016, to question attendees about Sergeant Dill, (AKA, Pickle). But to no avail.  Although two fellow soldiers knew that he was ill but did not have an address or phone number.

I got a call four months later

Pickle was a nickname given Sergeant Dill by the men of B Company.  His bravery, integrity and friendship was an example to everyone.

In picture, I’m talking to the soldier with a weapon on his shoulder.  Sergeant Dill is leaning against a tree in the background, talking on the radio, a Captain, Artillery Forward Observer, front right and a Lieutenant ,Platoon Leader, right rear (Summer, 1969).  

 We needed a Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) to replace the one who rotated home.  Because the RTO was a position especially important to the success of the Company, Sergeant Dill was chosen.  He was the most competent Non-Commissioned Officer In the Company.   

We became friends and worked together for the remainder of 1969.  Sergeant Dill returned to the States and was discharged.  He served the Army Infantry with honor and distinction.  Forty-eight years later I started looking for him.  The medic who was in B Company called and us gave Donna Dill’s telephone number.  I called and spoke to Donna.

She spoke of Eddie (his given name) explaining, he recently had a stroke and subsequently two brain operations.  He was put on hospice care and not expected to live much longer. 

My wife immediately said, “ we are going to North Carolina.  The next morning we left.   After driving two days, we met Donna and other family members at the nursing facility.

Donna, explained, her husband obtained a theological degree and had worked as a layperson in a local church.  He seldom talked of his time in Vietnam.  There had been no improvement in his cognitive abilities since the operations.  Donna told us that Eddie did not respond either physically or verbally to family members.

After relating stories about Eddie to the family, how brave he was and how he served his country honorably, I went to Eddie’s bedside and told him what an outstanding soldier he was and how much the company had depended on him.   Discussing what we did together in Vietnam and asking him questions, knowing he could not answer.

Phyllis and I left later in the afternoon and returned the next day.  When we walked into his room, Donna handed me a letter written 48 years earlier.  I didn’t remember writing the letter of appreciation but, but it was my signature.

Walking to Eddie’s bed, I paused and looked at the Sergeant for few minutes before talking to him as if he would understood every word said.  Then I took the letter, braced myself, and addressed Eddie directly, placing my hand on Eddie’s arm and reading the letter of praise, pausing at times to gather my emotions.

About half way through the letter, Eddie reached with his other hand toward me.  Grasping his hand, I noticed a tear had dropped from his eye and ran down his cheek.  Finishing the letter, we said goodbye to the family.  They thanked us profusely.

 A few hours went by as we were driving to Fort Benning, GA where we had arranged to meet Pace and Dot.  Pace was another veteran who fought in the war with me. 

Donna called and told us that Eddie had passed away.  It was a sad time.  But we were fortunate to have been able to talk to Eddie before he was taken home to be with the Lord.  But most of all, we were a blessing to Pickle’s family.

As we look back at the unlikely circumstances that fell into place allowing old soldiers to be reacquainted, we are heartened to know that Sergeant Dill’s family had experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior.

Thank you, Phyllis for encouraging me to write and being a partner in doing what we are doing.  Writing has been both therapeutic and liberating.  Soldiers written about, contacted me and ultimately led us to Eddie.  We believe that God has used this endeavor to further His purpose.   Perhaps He is not through with Phyllis and I yet.

Sergeant Douglas Edward Dill received the following awards and decorations:

Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal w/2 Bronze Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Air Medal, Letter of Appreciation (3), 1st Class Gunner (M-60MG), Sharpshooter, Rifle.

Pace, Chapter five, Pg 2, “We Family”

 PACE

We were camping on the Guadalope River, about 35 miles Southwest of Austin in August, 2016..   My son-in-law, Ben and I traveled up and down the river looking for good fishing places, finding several.

When we returned to camp, I decided to continue my research about what my father did in WWII.   Going from one military site to another, I came across an email addressed to me sitting on the 1/35th Infantry Regiment’s web page.   It read:

“I am looking for Lt Burr, 3d Plt, B Co, 1/35th Infantry.  He saved my life on Jan 20, 1967.  (he added other details).  Anyone who knows where he is, please contact me.”   Signed, Pace Caldwell.   He provided a phone number and email address.

What are the odds of such a thing?  It had been placed there 16 years earlier.

Having served in 1/35th Infantry for two years in South Vietnam, I hurriedly read the note.  I didn’t recognize the author, Pace, but I did remembered the battle he spoke of.  The day was January 20, 1967, five months short of 50 years ago.   We lost 3 men.  PFC    Julian Martinez Alvarez, PFC Henery Earl Robbins and PFC George William McGhee gave their lives.  All Brave men, worthy of being remembered.

I was a lieutenant leading a Reconnaissance patrol.  Along with 14 men, we were dropped off  in a landing zone (LZ) just before dark.  Our orders were to find an observation point and report enemy activity to headquarters.  Only one problem.  The helicopter pilots dropped us in the wrong landing zone.  The next morning we found that we were in big trouble.

We did not know where we were, but we were deep in enemy territory without air support or supporting artillery fires.  No one knew our location.   Not even me.

We were on our own, greatly outnumbered and fighting a losing battle.   Finally, I was able to use artillery smoke rounds to determine our location, which was about 8 kilometers from the intended LZ.  I knew exactly where the enemy was and called for Artillery and lots of it, on target.

It turned the tide and we were able to stabilize our position and extricate our casualties.

A CH47 Chinook (similar to this one) Pilot heard my desperate call for medivac and responded.

He hovered over our position and pulled up four casualties.

Sergeant Pace had been severely wounded, but the medic said he could make it and I released the medevac pilots with our other casualties and two KIA’s aboard.   

Some of the description above was in Pace’s email.  He added this account of that ill fated day,  “As the helicopter was leaving our position, I looked at the Lt and told him I wouldn’t make it off this mountain.  He got on the horn and pleaded with the pilot to return and pick me up.  And he did“

The pilot returned and Pace was fasten into a stretcher and pulled up just as the others before him.

Burr on left, I don’t remember his name, on right

Without Phyllis’ perceptive and compassionate help, I never would have conquered PTSD, researched my father’s history, would never have seen Pace’s email and all that followed.    

How this metamorphosis came about is easily explained but was difficult to achieve.  My wife suggested that I write about my experiences and she helped me deal with the past to do so.  And it let to this.  Such coincidence. 

 After reading the email, I called Pace.  Phyllis knew this conversation was going to be special and asked if she could invite our family, camping next door to listen.  Of course, I said yes.

It was a gripping and emotionally charged conversation.  We talked for about an hour but we were silent at times because we could not cut through the emotion that bound us together.

During the conversation, Phyllis and I arranged to meet Pace and his wife, Dot , at a 1/35 Infantry Regiment conference to be held in a few weeks.

In all of this, I owe my wellness to my loving and compassionate wife, Phyllis who understood my dilemma and helped me overcome the tentacles of PTSD holding me in its grip.

God guided people, so that He might bless them.  Pace gave Him full credit for this miracle.  He talked frequently about God working our lives.  Pace passed away in November, 2018 due to complications from Agent Orange, a toxic chemical used to defoliate  forested areas.

Broken Arrow, Chapter Five, Pg 1, “We Family”

            BROKEN ARROW

Upon returning from our trip from North Carolina to see Pickle, we stopped by Ft Benning, Ga to meet Pace and his wife, Dot.   We visited the miniature wall to honor the seven soldiers who were killed in battle while serving in the 1/35th Infantry Battalion, Plieku, South Vietnam,  Brave and honorable Infantry soldiers each.

           Arrow Heights Baptist Church

Phyllis and I felt especially blessed to be able to affect the lives of two families in a positive way.   By the Grace of God we do what we do.  We bought a house in Broken Arrow and joined Arrow Heights Baptist Church and renewed our faith in Christ in a more committed way.

Then we were caught up in the Coronavirus Restrictions like everyone else.

Because of our health and age, we decided to be very cautious and stay home except to buy essentials.

Phyllis and I had started a project to catalog the church archives that had been stored since the church was founded in 1955.  Like many Institutions, documents, directories and other items are placed in storage waiting for a time to organize.

       I wanted to get our flag in the picture

We started about the first week in October 2019 and temporally halted our work in March 2020 until the health threat had lessened.   We probably need another month or more to finish the project when we get back to work.

I was teaching a Bible class on Wednesday nights and finished 8 weeks of a 19 week course when the virus hit this area.  So I began classes on-line using ZOOM.  Although it doesn’t come close to teaching person to person, it served the purpose.

We have started a ZOOM family discussion once a month.  The third such gathering is August, 2020.  I hope it continues.  Families need each other.  The only way that can happen is if we know what’s going on in each others lives.

Phyllis has been working on a quilt for each of our three children.    

Recently she purchased a keyboard and has started taking lesson online from her daughter-in-law, Donna, who lives in Maryland.  My wife is not afraid to tackle anything.

 

Why God Spared Me, Chapter 3, Pg 8, We Family”

WHY GOD SPARED ME 

58,220 Americans were killed in the Vietnam War.  As I reflect on the two years I  served in Vietnam as an Infantry officer, I wonder how I escaped unharmed. Most of the battles fought by my units were against North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units who are ferocious fighters.

I sometimes ask myself, why was I spared and the next man was not?  I know I’m not alone when I ask myself this question.  Many soldiers, perhaps most, reflect after a battle or at the end of a war as they struggle to understand this quandary.  Some find answers and some do not.  There may be as many answers to the question as there are survivors.

Bottom Left, Mike, Bethany. Evan, Kimberly, Melissa, Cynthia, Vanessa (baby), Cynthia Nicole, Donna, Susan, Phyllis, Jack, Rick, and Randy

I can recall several instances where I escaped injury when in close combat with NVA fighters in circumstances that cannot be explained or understood in a rational sense. For example,  an enemy soldier threw a hand grenade that I saw in the air before it hit the ground about 8-10 feet in front of me. I was flat on my stomach when I first saw the grenade and watched helplessly as it bounced toward me. I covered my head with both arms and hugged the ground. Miraculously, the grenade exploded after it bounced side- ways into a ditch.

           Jack Burr Platoon Leader on L,         Artillery Forward Advisor on R

There is no rational explanation for how I escaped obvious jeopardy. 

Like many fellow soldiers I was a changed person after Vietnam.  Life became more precious. Small things such as watching a sunset or listening to the chirping of birds in the morning took on new meaning.

My family became more important, particularly in matters of faith and practice of biblical teaching.   After a while life fell into a routine as Phyllis and I became more involved in church activities.

I had not thought about the question posed at the beginning of this story for some time, but the question and the answer came to me suddenly.   After Sunday School Class,  a young man asked a question about being saved.

As I was explaining God’s plan of salvation in the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit interceded and the young man was saved.  At that moment I knew the answer to the question, “why me”. In God’s eyes, One soul is priceless.

As I reflected on this matter I realized there were many reasons why I returned from Vietnam uninjured.  Let me numerate a few:  help Phyllis raise three great kids, love and provide for my family, in short be a good husband and father.  Be a Godly person by helping others and being a good neighbor.

I could list others but the point is this:  Living is more fulfilling and rewarding because I recognized my purpose in life.

Inside Mexico, Chapter 4, Pg 7, “We Family”

     LOS ALTARES MEXICO

It was the second winter we were spending at Victoria Palms.  We really, really enjoyed living in the valley.

We heard about this trip into Mexico, we thought it would be fun.    It was.  Crossing into Mexico at Brown-ville, TX border to tour along Hwy 48 or  Los Altares, which means dangerous highway.  Our destination was a small isolated village in the Tarahumara Mountains.

The Spanish established silver mines in the region in the 1600’s.  I don’t remember the name of the village, but it was one of the few isolated communities that survived in the Sierra after the silver mines closed.

As I recall we went on this trip with another couple but I don’t remember their names.

The guide took us to a cemetery and explained that the elaborate  above ground tombs were for the wealthy and had religious after death advantages but most in the cemetery were just markers for common folk.

  Along this route there’s a famous rest area called

“Los Altares”, where a series of aztec murals depicted in the rock formations. 
About half of the trip was through dry flat are with sparse vegetation. 

Los Altares is known for its scenic drive between forest and rock formations.

We stopped along the way to walk around a tourist town.  As you can see we are dressed appropriately.

 This high mountain road  is bounded on

 

the north and northeast by the United States.  As we approached. The mountains the road became treacherous.   

Finally when we reached the end of the wide road, the driver stoped and talked to another driver of a smaller bus who agreed to drive us on to our destination.

This road and the road above are similar to the ones on the last leg of our journey.   The passengers loaded onto the smaller bus. 

As we drove thru a tunnel carved out of the mountain, we understood why a smaller bus was necessary.  As we exited the tunnel we found ourselves on a very narrow village street.

It seemed that the driver was in a hurry.  So much so that he paid little heed to the awnings covering the vender’s   wares along each side of the very narrow village street.  The venders were waving and shouting at driver.  Again, the driver paid no mind, taking us to our destination outside the village,  an amphitheater that appeared to be several hundred years old, like the one pictured here.

Our guide told the history of Northern Mexico in the 17 century when Silver was discovered in the Mountain range we drove through on our way to this village.  The amphitheater shown here is similar to the one just outside the small village.As the guide spoke, his voice was understandable even to us standing across the other side of the amphitheater. It was an interesting story of how the locals were forced to mine the silver from the rock.

The rails constructed to deliver the ore out of the mountain, was also a way of escape for the locals who suffered the tyranny of the Mexican Army.

Scenery on the drive back was not as interesting as the way there.

We returned to our original transportation and started back to Brownsville.  We had one adventure remaining, The Chicken Train.

On our trip back to Donna, TX, the bus driver diverted our route to a railroad crossing where he stopped and instructed the passengers to disembark and stand by the tracks.  He explained a train (called the Chicken Train) would be coming by this spot and would stop for us.  About an hour later the Chicken Train stopped and we climbed aboard.The train was fully loaded already so we found a place to stand. A quick look around revealed how the train got its name.  Apparently this was the high market day for chickens.The train started and maintained a slow pace as we were jostled around by the un                                                                                            Waiting for the Chicken Train A Mexican lady explained that the tracks were loose and the conductor must go slow.  As she was talking the conductor came to us and asked if we would like to go up front.  We did.   I think there were four of us chosen to go forward to the conductors cabin.  The way forward was along a metal mesh walkway on the outside of the train.  A hand rail kept us from falling to the ground.

Inside the cockpit was a blast and was the highlight of the trip.  The conductor described each of the control handles and showed us the loose rails we were riding on. He slowed down frequently and explained that certain portions of the tracks were worse than other loose areas and  required a speed of less than 10 MPH.  We asked if it was dangerous riding on loose rails.  He chuckled and replied, “yes”.  Phyllis got to toot the whistle, a fitting end to this adventure.

 Los Altares means dangerous road Highway 48.  To that we might add, ” and  Crazy driver.”  Both the bus driver and train conductor.

© 2020 Possum Hollar

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑