What follows is a paper I wrote for my niece who is in the 4th grade. She is the granddaughter of my best friend in the Army. Ava asked me to write a reply to several questions she posed concerning what it meant to be a Veteran. Here is my reply:.
November 7, 2012
Veteran’s Day Project
Q. The first question is when were you in the service? 1961 -1981
A. I entered the Army from my home town in Mason City, Iowa. I enlisted in the Army in 1961 and went to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri where I received Basic Training. This school was where I learned the basics of being a soldier. My initial rank was the lowly rank of Private E-1. In those days, we referred to the rank as “private e nuthin’”.
I was Honorable Discharged from the Army in 1981 where I was serving my terminal assignment in Key West, Florida,
Q. The second question is what branch did you join and why?
A. In 1962, I volunteered for and was selected to attend the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia. The sole purpose of this school was to train candidates to be leaders of soldiers throughout a career of serving with Infantry units.
Upon being commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in 1963, I chose Infantry as my branch preference because I wanted to go through the toughest training the Army had. I was lucky enough to get what I asked for.
Q. The third question is what was your job?
A. My primary job in the Army was to be an Infantry Officer. The short definition of my job being, “to lead men in combat.”
As I began my career as a 2nd Lieutenant, I volunteered over the years to attend different schools to enhance my operational skills and gain experience. As I said previously, I wanted to go through the toughest training the Army had to offer.
After OCS, I gained skills as a Communications Officer in South Korea. In subsequent assignments I served in various positions; an Aviation Safety Officer, an Aircraft Commander, a Rotary Wing Instructor Pilot, a Rotary Wing Flight Commander, an Aviation Section Commander, a Communications Platoon Leader, an Operations Officer, a Plans Officer, a Training Officer, an Aviation Staff Officer, a Aviation Management/Inspection team leader, and Aircraft Accident Investigator.
Four schools I am especially proud to have attended and graduated from are, the Airborne and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The third and fourth school was the Army’s Rotary and Fixed Wing Multi-Engine Flight training program where I became an Army Aviator and a dual rated Aviation. Dual rated means I can fly both helicopters and multi-engine fixed wing aircraft. I was also dual instrument rated meaning I could fly instruments in both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Q. The fourth question is can you share one of your most vivid or special memories?
A. There were many unforgettable, vivid and special memories over the course of 20 years in the Army as you might imagine. So I’ll give it a shot by listing several.
Incident #1. It’s actually an accumulation of memories as a helicopter pilot, “Aircraft Commander”, flying UH-1’s in the 129th Assault Helicopter Company.
The pics shown above were taken when I was flying on my first tour in Viet Nam. The first pic was taken when I was flying with the 129th Assault Helicopter Company. The second pic was taken when I was flying with the 1st Brigade (Sep), 101st Airborne Division.
Below is an example of UH-1’s getting refueled and ready to fly troops into combat.
Incident #2. Again, an accumulation of three events. I was shot down three times.
· Shoot Up #1. The first time occurred when we were out visiting the various command posts of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. As we were readying to take off, Father Kovachich, the Brigade Chaplain, asked to drop him off at one of the command posts. I of course agreed but on one condition. I asked that he “bless” my helicopter much like Catholics ask their cars to be blessed annually. I told him that I was flying in an assault helicopter company for 6 months and while everyone around me was getting shot up, I had escaped being hit. I figured I needed some insurance so I asked to good Padre to bless my bird.
So the Padre blessed my helicopter. I dropped him off at the first stop, a hilltop in Indian Country. As I was preparing to fly away and about 500 feet above the ground, we started taking rounds, small arms fire from somewhere. I returned to the hilltop as the Huey was damaged and unflyable. Upon landing and after inspecting the aircraft, sure enough, we took rounds in the main rotor just above where I was sitting. Needless to say, it was a close call. Fortunately no one was injured. When we returned to base, I decided to go have a stiff adult beverage. I ordered a scotch and as I was bringing the glass to my lips, my hand started shaking uncontrollably. Yes, I was experiencing a delayed reaction to the fact that I had just be shot at from the bad guys who had come pretty close.
About that time, the good Padre came into the tent and when I saw him, I started calling him some bad names, all in good fun of course, but nevertheless expressing anger and disappointment. So the Padre responded by asking me to calm down and explain what happened. I told him what happened after takeoff after dropping him off at the first stop, the 1/327th Command Post located on a hilltop.
So the Padre calmly looked at me, recalling all the harsh language I hurled in his direction; the Padre simply looked at me and said. “Carlos, I understand that you’re upset. But just think what would had happened if I hadn’t blessed your helicopter!”
With that, I thought a moment and replied sarcastically, “You could have gone all day long without saying that!”
· Shoot Up #2. We were at 1,500 feet, flying to a Special Forces camp when all of sudden, I heard small arms fire. I turned around and saw that one of my passengers took a round in the butt. Fortunately, I had ordered flak vests be placed in the seats to protect the passengers as we were flying in a known hostile environment. My passenger received the Purple Heart for his trouble.
· Shoot Up #3. I had just landed in a Command Post and was in the process of dismounting when I heard small arms fire again. This time, my chin bubble had shattered and struck the floor plate just under my left foot. Simultaneously, several more rounds came whizzing by alerting me to the fact that there was a sniper who was trying to get himself an Army Aviator kill for his list of kills. Faster than you can say lickety split, I moved to the passenger area of my helicopter out of the view of the sniper. Sergeant Major Paul B. Huff, Medal of Honor winner was sitting next to me. He called out to one of the troops who was digging a foxhole and said, “Hey trooper, there’s a sniper shooting at us!” The troop in typical Airborne bravado said, “that’s okay Sergeant Major, the LRRP’s will get him!”
· Incident #3. Again, a recall of multiple events whereby the bad guys were shooting at me. This time, they were shooting mortars and rockets.
· Mortar Attack. My crew and I were inside a command post bunker where my boss, Brigadier General Matheson, was receiving a briefing. I was his permanent pilot. While the briefing was being conducted, the command post came under mortar attack. Very frightening experience despite the fact that we were protected by being inside the bunker. BG Matheson asked me to go up and see if I could spot the mortar position so we could direct fire and eliminate them.
While the mortar shells hit the ground with their distinctive sound, myself and my crew raced out and started the helicopter using quick start procedures, flew out and tried to locate the mortar position. We didn’t find it.
· Rocket Attack. While sitting at my desk at Camp Eagle in the northern confines of Viet Nam, all of a sudden we heard the whistling and then the distinctive “thrump” rockets make when they hit the ground. They were landing all around us. We dove for our small sand bag bunkers just outside the tent and waited out the rocket attack.
Incident #4. While responding to a Special Forces extraction request, I called to the radio man on the ground to tell him we were 10 minutes out, to pop smoke. We did this as a security measure to make sure we were responding to the good guys. The extraction would entail coming to a “hole” in the triple canopy (300 foot trees), hover down thru the hole and pull them out. When we got to within 10 minutes of the area, I called for smoke. The radio operator whispered, "smoke’s out”.
I then asked him why are you whispering? He responded, “they are all around us!”
We went in and got ‘em out.
Incident #5. We were providing helicopter support to a company of troopers from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division engaged in clearing LZ’s in Indian Country. While they were blowing tree stumps to allow for safe helicopter landings making the boarding of troops easier and safer, the LZ caught fire.
About 40 troopers were trapped by a circle of fire surrounding them making it impossible to walk out. We then spent the next several hours, pulling them out. The air was so hot that some sorties only allowed for one soldier to be taken out.
While departing the burning LZ on one sortie, it was my co-pilot’s turn to fly us out. He was new and still quite nervous as he didn’t have much time flying in combat. As he was making a “confined area takeoff”, meaning he had to pull all available power and come out steeper than normal. Consequently, he was right at the limit of available power meaning if he pulled more power to keep the climb steady and ran out of power and we could crash.
We kept climbing out of the burning confined area ever so slowly and I could see the young co-pilot was very nervous. He was gripping the cyclic so tightly that you could see the leather stretched so as it appeared white. When he cleared the trees, I took over for him and told him to relax, that he did a good job flying us out.
Incident #6. We, a flight of 9 helicopters, were inserting troops into an open area one morning, the size of the area being about 5 miles square, big area. As we approached the area from 1,500 feet and began our descent, we noticed there was something strange about the area but couldn’t quite decide what it was.
Then we noticed that the place where we were going to land was gray for some reason. It was flat area, like landing on a wide open green billiard table with the gray section in the middle
As we got to 150 ft and began our flare to slow down and land, the sky all of a sudden turned gray. We couldn’t see a foot in front of us. There was real concern that we might have mid air collisions and people could die.
So we all broke out in a cloud formation, meaning we broke our flight formation in a predetermined manner and flew to clear skies. We later determined that the area we were landing into was ashes as the result of a recent fire. It was a very scary scenario for seconds until we broke out of the “cloud of ashes” into clear skies.
Incident #7. This particular mission involved inserting the entire 1st Brigade, 3,000 troopers, into a valley area surrounded on three sides by mountains. We taped over the bottom of the aircraft’s running lights, which were set on “dim” so we could fly formation and see each other for spacing, but also so the enemy could not see us from the ground.
We flew all night inserting troops into the valley, hot refueling at night; all without incident. I had a newspaper reporter riding with me that night who was doing a hometown news article on me. He stated that the ride in the helicopter was one of the most unbelievable experiences of his life. The helicopters flying in a pitch black night seemed like fireflies at night bouncing up and down because of the high wind drafts.
It was truly a memorable night.
Incident #8. This story is a four hanky memory for me every time I think of it. We had just inserted a company from the 101st into Indian Country and I was flying in “beans and bullets” into the unit. This was standard practice after our helicopters conducted combat assaults on a daily basis moving troops around the Brigade area of operations. So as I land the helicopter, a young trooper come over to my helicopter and stood on the skids and asked me to “mail their letters” when I got back to their base camp area. Very moving for me as that was the least I could do for a fellow soldier.
Incident #9. This is my “five hanky memory” that I thought I would share with you. I was serving in Korea as a “butter bar”, 2nd Lieutenant with the 1/32nd Infantry “Queen’s Own”, 7th Infantry Division at Camp Hovey. Camp Hovey was named after Master Sergeant Howard Hovey who was killed in action at Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War. As was the custom of units in the Division, our battalion had adopted an orphanage from the local area. Each Christmas, we would invite orphans to our Battalion mess (dining room) for Christmas dinner. Each of the officers would have a gift for each of the orphan children sitting at their table. When it came time to give the gifts, I gave my gift to a little Korean orphan girl sitting next to me. When I gave my gift to her, she swooned and was so surprised and happy. I will never forget that moment!
Q. The fifth question is did you form any special friendships in the service?
Q. The fifth question is did you form any special friendships in the service?
A. The answer is very definitely yes! One of my best friends is “Wild Bill” Reynolds, a scout pilot with the 1/9 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division. Others: Tom Larson, John Parrish, Joe DeFloria, “Doc” Gilroy, Frank L. “Gunslinger” Dietrich, Salve H. “Iron Duke” Matheson – WW II vet and member of “E Company” from Band of Brothers fame, John “Rip” Collins = POW in China, Paul B. Huff – Medal of Honor winner, Ed “Black Panther” Abood, Ed “Bear” Burch, Gerald Morse – Pork Chop Hill, Ben Harrison, John P. Lawton, Carl Midkiff, Gary Sauer, William P Frank, Reynel Martinez.
However, the best friend I met in the Army was Jim Allen. He was one of the best friends a man could ever have. I truly miss him!
Q. The sixth question is what are you the most proud of?
A. I am most proud of being a combat helicopter pilot who had the honor of flying troopers from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division into combat and bringing them home safely.
To get an idea of what “grunts” (soldiers who were fighting in the jungles of Viet Nam) think of helicopter pilots, go to this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_gJTsRSd38.
As a combat helicopter pilot, I am most proud to be known by “grunts and troopers” as someone they could always count on to come get them when they were in trouble and needed help, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of day or night. The Army combat helicopter pilot was known for this one thing alone: that he would always try!
Q. The seventh question is when you look back, what did you learn during the service?
A. Easy to answer:
· Ranger training – “Don’t forget nothin’”.
· “Don’t quit, can’t quit, gotta’ be Airborne Ranger!”
· Check, double check, and recheck.
· Pay attention to detail.
· If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.
· Do not tolerate mistakes, ever!
· There is no substitute for being prepared!
· Always have Plan A. Then have Plan B ready to execute when Plan A fails. Then know that in combat, all the best made plans are faulty and will likely fail as you cannot foresee the unforeseen. This makes it paramount that everyone knows their jobs.
· When asked what “combat” is like, we have an old saying that says it best. Combat is hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of “stark terror!”
· After an attack, your first priority is to make a “headcount”. Determine your casualties, dead and wounded, count ammo and prepare for counterattack.
· In combat, there is no substitute for “Victory!”
· Lead, follow, or get out of the way!
· Stay physically fit at all times.
· Exercise self discipline at all times.
· Do Not Lie Cheat or Steal or Tolerate anyone who does.
· It doesn’t matter how impossible the task may appear to be, you can and must find a way to accomplish the mission.
· Do any job, regardless how menial, but do any job the very best you can. If your job is to paint a rock, paint that rock better than anyone could do.
· A soldier must have a sense of “humanity”.
· Always take your duty seriously.
· When engaged in school, learning, education, training; whenever you are in a school environment, make sure you learn the subject material as well as you can possible do.
· If the Army wanted you to have a wife, they’d have issued you one!
· Nothin’ is to good for the troops and that’s what you give them, “Nuthin’”
· If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you!
· A complaining soldier is a happy soldier. When he stops complaining, something’s wrong so find out quick and fix it!
· In the “Airborne”, you hear “How far?” The answer is “All The Way!”
· The key to successful flight is never run out of airspeed and altitude.
· The most important key to successful flying is “always” make the same number of safe landings as you do takeoffs!
· A Leader always eats last!
· Always take care of the troops!
· Always keep the troops informed.
· Make sure your men have clean dry socks!
· Do not allow yourself to be surprised.
· We have a saying in the Army for a reason. That saying is “No Excuse Sir!”
· Always have a positive attitude.
· When you’re tired and haven’t had anything to eat or the chance to sleep, just remember, you can go easily for another 36 hours.
· The enemy is waiting for you to go to sleep!
· There is nothing you can’t do.
· Be a good follower. This prepares you for being a good leader.
· You have to know how to take orders which prepares you to give orders.
· Keep it simple, stupid!
· Always be prepared to lead two levels above you.
· When asked, always give your best answer to a question when preparing for a team mission. Speak your mind. Once the decision is made, do your best to be a team player and support the leader to make it happen.
· Always be flexible and ready to change course when it appears necessary.
· Don’t be afraid. Everyone has fear. Learn how to control fear. An intelligent person knows the difference between fear and being a coward.
· Don’t be late, ever! Show up 10 to 15 minutes early. This helps you be prepared.
· Never show up to do a task unprepared.
· Do “Something”, even if it’s wrong!
· No one can beat you. Only you can beat you!
· Always keep the mission foremost.
· Never let your fellow soldier down.
· Be LOYAL to yourself, your fellow soldiers and most of all to your mission.
· Don’t quibble.
· Respect life.
· Never give up!
· Duty, Honor Country.
· It is my duty to protect my country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
· Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Q. The final question is what do you think is important for a fourth grade student to know about Veteran's Day?
A typical fourth grader is usually 9 or 10 years old. You’re beginning an adventure growing up in America that is wonderful and exciting. So when you see a Veteran or you ask about Veteran’s Day, remember one thing.
He showed up!
The American fighting man did what he was asked to do. He didn’t back down. He may not have been too happy with some of the things he was asked to do but he did it anyway.
He has spent many a time away from family during holidays. He’s been cold, alone, outnumbered, out of ammo, out of food, tortured, wounded and left for dead. You don’t have to be a hero. You do your duty each and every day you’re asked to do so.
You are proud to be an American!
I hope this answers your questions Ava.
The man in a wheel chair standing as the colors pass is a VETERAN!
Carlos J. Melendez
Major U.S. Army (retired)
1st Brigade (Sep), 101st Airborne Division
Vietnam: first tour - 1966 -1967. second tour - 1969-1970