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Vanished Soldiers: American Heroes Come Home

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Commentary: Fallen brothers found - and lost
By Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

As with so much in life and in death, there was news this week that was joyous and sad and bittersweet all at once for the small community of the Vietnam War’s band of brothers of the Ia Drang Valley.

Early in the morning of December 28, 1965, a U.S. Army Huey helicopter, tail number 63-08808, lifted off from the huge grassy airfield at the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) base at An Khe in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam.

Two experienced pilots, CWO Jesse Phelps of Boise, Idaho, and CWO Kenneth Stancil of Chattanooga, Tenn., were at the controls. Behind them in the doors were crew chief Donald Grella of Laurel, Neb., and door gunner Thomas Rice Jr. of Spartanburg, S.C. All four were already veterans of the fiercest air assault battle of the war, fought the previous month in the Ia Drang.

Huey 808 was one of 10 birds in a platoon of A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, led by Capt. Ed (Too Tall to Fly) Freeman. It was bound on a short, routine flight down Route 19 to an infantry field position just over the high pass between An Khe and the port city of Qui Nhon.

It was what Army aviators called an "ash and trash mission," hauling cases of C-rations, ammunition and other essential supplies to a company of grunts preparing for an air assault mission.

Normally, all missions were flown by at least two helicopters, but this one was so brief and so routine and along a route so well known and marked by the center white line of a familiar highway that Capt. Freeman and his boss, Maj. Bruce (Ol' Snake) Crandall, already at the Landing Zone with the rest of A Company's 20 helicopters, agreed to waive that requirement and let 808 fly alone.

With that, 808 flew off the face of the earth. It disappeared without a word on the radio of distress or trouble. The helicopter was gone, and a massive search effort began almost immediately and continued for months, both as an organized and methodical search and by individual Huey pilots who flew anywhere near that route.

For weeks, they combed the rugged jungle hills on both sides of the road and on both sides of the mountain pass. Choppers hovered over every break in the tree cover peering down if they could see or sending crewmen rappelling down ropes to look around clearings that were not easily checked from the air.

They found nothing. The Huey and its four crewmen had vanished.

The families of the crewmen joined the ranks of those who wait for news, for hope, for some closure of an open wound. More than 1,600 American servicemen are still listed as missing in action in Vietnam.

This week, the Department of Defense liaison officers who work with MIA families called Ol’ Snake Crandall and surviving family members of the four missing crewmen to confirm that after 43 years, search teams following one of thousands of leads had found and positively identified the wreckage of Huey 808.

In what amounts to almost an archaeological dig the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC-MIA) team assigned to this lead also recovered dog tags, other personal artifacts and some human remains. After so long a time in the acid soil of Vietnam, that usually means bone fragments and maybe a tooth or two. Often that adds up to no more than will fill a small handkerchief.

The remains will now be flown to the Central Identification Library in Hawaii and every effort will be made through DNA testing to identify them and attach a name to them.

"They told us it could take several months to complete that process," said Shirley Haase of Omaha, Neb., the sister of crew chief Don Grella. "I only wish my mother was here for this news. She waited for so long."

The men of Huey 808 will be coming home at last. Grieving mothers and fathers have died waiting for news that never came. Siblings have grown old. Their buddies have never forgotten and never rested in pressing for a resolution to this case.

Too Tall Ed Freeman and Ol' Snake Crandall, his wingman and boss, never missed an opportunity to ask questions or get a little pushy with a government official, even a president of the United States or a North Vietnamese Army general, in seeking an answer to the mystery.

Too Tall Ed died last summer in a Boise, Idaho, hospital. In their final farewell visit, he and Crandall, both Medal of Honor recipients, talked about Huey 808, and Bruce promised Ed that he’d keep pushing the search as long as he lived.

A week ago, the Ia Drang fraternity buried Doc Randy Lose at the National Cemetery in Biloxi, Miss. Doc was the medic of the Lost Platoon of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry at Landing Zone X-Ray in November 1965.

Doc's old company commander, Col. (ret.) John Herren, was there. So was Sgt. Earnie Savage, who inherited command of the Lost Platoon after Lt. Henry Herrick and three more-senior sergeants were killed in the first 10 minutes of battle after the 30-man platoon was cut off and surrounded by hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers.

In all, nine men were killed and 13 were wounded in the opening minutes of a struggle for survival that lasted 27 hours for the cut-off Americans. Doc Lose used up all the bandages and kept plugging wounds with small rolls of C-Ration toilet paper. He crawled from man to man under intense enemy fire, was wounded twice himself and kept every one of the 13 wounded alive during the longest day and night of their lives.

Doc earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, and his battalion commander, Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal Moore, and I did everything we could to get that upgraded to the Medal of Honor we think he deserved.

Doc Lose died last month, killed by the Vietnam War just as certainly as if he'd been shot in the head by a sniper during those 27 hours with the Lost Platoon. You see, my friend Doc Lose came home from Vietnam a different man. He carried wounds no one but other combat veterans could see. Doc carried the battlefield memories of suffering and death and killing, and they never let him rest.

All that's over now. Doc has crossed the river to be with some other great soldiers. The rest of us will be along soon enough, Doc, so pop smoke when you hear us inbound. The goofy grape (purple smoke) will work just fine.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Leonard · 9 years ago
    I am so glad those kids finally made it back. My friend richard Worthington is still missing, god willing he will return before I die.

    Trust me, you are never the same ...ever!

    The Other Things We Carry


    By-Ron Leonard


    It's been 35 years since a Huey's whine
    And midnight missions in the nick of time
    It's been 35 years since a claymore mine
    And ground attacks so clear in your mind.


    And only yesterday it was 69


    We carried Ammo, and Rockets, and beer, and mail
    We carried body bags that would make you wail
    We carried friends in our arms, as we turned pale
    We carried buckets of water to wash out blood stale


    We carried medals of valor for feats unbelieved
    We carried purple hearts for wounds we received


    But most of all we carried each other


    Today we carry other things, some real, some imagined


    We carry cancer of every kind known to man
    Agent Orange poisoning,
    and malaria,
    and Lymphomia,
    and Diabetes,
    and Hepatitis C,
    And many still have PTSD.


    We carry arms with no hands,
    and legs with no feet,
    and scars both mental and real.
    We carry crutches and walkers,
    and wheelchairs and canes,
    with honor its no big deal.


    We carry horror stories of the Veterans Administration,
    of six months waits,
    and lack of funds,
    and shoddy care,
    of indifferent employees,
    and crummy food,
    and broken promises
    and downright lies.


    But we still carry each other


    We carry memories from the past,
    and pictures of our youth,
    and through it all still have our dignity.
    For many it is all we have.

    Now and then, there are times when panic will set in
    and we have hideous dreams,
    And people squeal, they twitch and make moaning sounds,
    and cover their heads and say "Dear God",
    and hug the pillow and cringe and beg for the dreams to stop,
    and make stupid promises to themselves and God and their wives,
    hoping they will all go away, but they don't.


    But we still carry each other.


    We carry the weight of shattered dreams,
    and broken marriages,
    and deformed children with insidious wounds,
    and twisted faces,
    and deformed legs,
    and broken spines, lost for all time.


    We carry the thoughts of the future,
    of honor and duty,
    and pride, and tradition.


    We carry fear for our children in far off lands,
    The outcome can only be in Gods hands


    The midnight runs as the Huey whines,
    The rescue missions in the nick of time,
    The muffled blast of a claymore mine,


    And only yesterday it was 69.


    But we still carry each other.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tracy Early · 9 years ago
    I have been a longtime Michael Yon reader, but have, in recent months, been so preoccupied with "life" that I haven't taken the time to comment; that is, until now.

    Thank you, Mr. Galloway, and you, Mr. Yon, for publishing the story of these "vanished" soldiers, who are thankfully vanished no longer.

    And to Ron, whose comment and poetry I also read, I would like to say that I am endeavoring to finish my B.A. (this is my last quarter) in order to serve veterans. I am applying to the V.A., and you have my word that I will not become one of those indifferent souls, somehow changed by years of sitting at the same desk, allowing brave men to turn into mere numbers before their eyes. If you come in, I'll listen. If your buddies come in with a question, I'll hunt down the answer. Next year I plan to apply to the MSW program at UW Seattle, in order to go into PTSD and mental health care work with veterans. There remain many who do still care a great deal. You have served me; now, it is my turn to serve all of you.

    Take care, everyone.
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    Ray Esquivel · 9 years ago
    Just wondering if any details are available on the final location where the remains were located vs. the search area, and if any evidence of what happened to Huey 808?

    My dad served with 5/7HQ Air Cav in An Khe 8/66-8/67.

    Thanks for Mr. Galloway's update, and for the great work you do!

    Sincerely,
    R. Esquivel
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Talbott · 9 years ago
    As always, Joe, you continue to bring the most important news home.

    John Talbott
    3rd Platoon Leader, Co. A, 1/7
    1969-1970
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mark · 9 years ago
    Thank you Joe, Mike.
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    Steve Smith · 9 years ago
    I was in similar situations in Vietnam and this brought back memories that were very touching. Thanks for sharing the story of 808 and the return of four of our brothers.
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    Sheryll Sanderson · 9 years ago
    Thank you Joe for reporting this and Michael for always being faithful to our military. I just wonder whether this bittersweet news will make the headlines. God bless you both.
    Semper Fi!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marjorie Harris · 9 years ago
    Michael, thanks for bringing us Joe's story of the lost that are finally home.


    Ron Leonard, your poem brought me to tears. My husband was in VN during the Tet Offensive and died in 1975 at the age of 42. He had pancreatic cancer and fought a battle of a different kind against that disease for 5 years. They finally admitted about 12 years ago that it was from Agent Orange. He has been gone almost 34 years now - will be on May 9th. He had also served during the Korean War (yes, I know I'm suppose to say Conflict - but to me war is war.)

    Michael I'm so grateful for all the truths you bring to us through your writings. You are a hero in my book for going to places on your own that other journalist dare not go. Thank you.
    Marjorie from NC
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    David W. · 9 years ago
    Oliver Daniel Waller, US Army, Infantry, Vietnam, 63,65,66. Died of Agent Orange 1973 (?).
    The Brother I Never Knew.

    I was only a kid when my half brother came to visit... 5 or 6. It was the only time I saw him except a year earlier when we travelled down to Ft Polk LA before he went over the first time. I only remember this big black haired GI Joe. He gave me a really cool stiletto, which I promptly stuck in shin trying to stick it in a cereal box.

    I don't know what unit he was in, or where. I do know the volunteered for the 2nd and third trips. I wish I'd known him more. I never had a brother till I met him... he was from my dad's first marriage and they lived a long ways off.

    Now I'm old, and I recently made email contact with one of his full brothers. But was my hero as a kid. Got my sense of duty from what I imagined his must have been. Joined the navy at 17, in 77. Only did 20 though. Never had to fight, but would have then, and would now if needed. I work here in the middle east, doing what I can to support the real heros.

    God Bless all you who served when it wasn't easy, or popular.

    DDW
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jari salo · 9 years ago
    Michael, THANK YOU for this.
    "Garry Owen", God Bless those brave men.
    I have read both books, written by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.

    Here in Finland the story of Ia Drang battle bacame known beside the movie.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    The Clinger · 9 years ago
    No Words... Just tears... Amen
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    Roy P. Shelton · 9 years ago
    As I was reading I felt unparalled admiration for the bravery and above all the loyalty of the men the unit, most specially the commander, Capt Ed Freeman. To his last days he never forgot those men on that Huey.

    Most leaders try hard to gain the respect of the men they lead. They do all the wrong things to gain their loyalty, when all it takes is very basic. TAKE CARE OF YOUR MEN, AND THEY WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU!! Show them you care for their welfare, stand up for them come hell and high water, and you will have most most loyal men under you. Capt Ed, and his Jr. officers and NCOS had the formula.
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    Jeffrey Blue · 9 years ago
    What a great story.
    Home for Easter.


    Thanks Mike
    Take care
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    Marylou · 9 years ago
    Beautiful story.
    I know exactly how the families are feeling as my brother Capt. Herbert C. Crosby, MIA 1970, Firebird 91 of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company of the 501st Battaltion at Chu Lai (Huey gunship pilot) remains were officially identified Nov. 2006, buried in Arlington May 2007.
    These brave men and women are and never were forgotten for their courage and for some, the ultimate sacrifice.
    God Bless all who continue to faithfully work to find and identify our fallen heroes, and their families. Marylou
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommie L. Williams, · 9 years ago
    I'm sorry 'Too Tall' wasn't there to see them come home, but I'm sure he knows they're back. I wasn't a groundpounder, but I was there. All I can say is 'Welcome home, brothers"
    Tom Williams, Jr
    USN, VietNam '67-'68
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jamn2dblues · 9 years ago
    GOD BLESS THESE MEN WHO SERVED SO BRAVELY! Amen.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 9 years ago
    I worked with the Vietnam Veterans of Brevard County in Melbourne, Florida for many years. I was on their Drill Team and took photos during their Annual Vietnam Vets Reunion. During that time I met and talked with men and women from around the country who had different chapters in the same story called, Vietnam.

    One thing held true throughout and I saw it on their eyes when they recalled their experiences. It was just like you described Joe, the horror, the horror of war shone through. It made think about all the men women who have taken on the mantle of warrior so that we may never have to know the horror of war in own backyards. Even though I was in the Air Force for six years I do not consider myself a member of this group of heroes.

    I never understood the military until I joined in '75 and began meeting and talking with folks that experienced that horror. There were still plenty of active duty veterans of the Vietnam War at that time and many where loath to speak candidly about their experiences, but somehow I seemed to bring it out of them if I took the time to really listen to them. They always wanted to recall the good times they had, the crazy stunts and antics people do when under such great stress. But invariably you see dark clouds roll over them when they recalled the demise of a friend or team member.

    It was those experiences that got me to thinking about how much this country owes to every man and woman who takes on the duty of warrior. Average people with extraordinary will who take on the horror and face it down! We as citizens of this great nation owe these people a debt that has never been paid in my humble estimation!

    Hooah, Semper FI, Damn the Torpedos, and Let'em Fly

    Peace be unto you and yours, fellow warriors!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ramona Stolee · 9 years ago
    Thank you for telling this story about our Vietnam heroes!!!!! So heart felt!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ron Lemke · 9 years ago
    Bravo Zulu
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    Jack Peek · 9 years ago
    The movie about these men was so well done, its a great tribute to warriors of this era.

    GOD SPEED THOSE GONE.....GOD BLESS THOSE LEFT!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevin · 9 years ago
    These men and women, and the men and women of our forces deserve better than we have given them. We train them (at great expense) to handle the harshest the world can throw at them and build them up into teams bound together in blood and spirit then spend pennies to decompress them and return them to society. They deserve better, far better... they risk everything and many people in our societies have no comprehension or respect for this.
    Tell me why people not prepared to die or risk for their freedom are allowed to vote and choose a government that might give away or allow its power to protect its people to wane. A governments first duty is to its own people first and foremost. Yet in Canada or the US we give everyone by virtue of being born here or immigrating the right to chose the government of the day. What have we done to deserve it or defend it?
    Give to your country, serve your nation, which means to others, your people... then you will have earned the right to vote.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    truthisgold · 9 years ago
    Thank you for this piece. There are not enough words to express how deeply it touches me, or anyone that reads it. All have been in my thoughts and prayers and shall ever remain, in their honor and those who went before and after. I have read the books these men were kind enough to write, in continuance of their brave service to our country and they should all have the MOH.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kenny komodo · 9 years ago
    A great story and tribute posted by one of our generations greatest Americans, Michael Yon. I was there too, not in-country but out in the Gulf of Tonkin, mostly at Yankee Station. We used to laugh and call it the "Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club. It was usually 45 days on station and a couple of weeks at some liberty port or other or in Subic Bay undergoing some needed repair. It's hard to believe that so many years have gone by now, and a new generation of brave American men and women both serve with pride and honor. Too bad that Obambi doesn't know that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ardith ford · 9 years ago
    Appreciated this story as so many have not been told yet and there are still so many mia's with waiting families.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 9 years ago
    Joe is still making sure we, who are now in the rear, get word on what's up out front. He's a great American and true friend to all in the military family - but specially VN vets and their families. I remember asking him last year his opinion on our guys being left behind after 1975 and if many were kept captive for decades. He felt then that many were kept in SE Asia, but mostly in Laos. He thinks the handling of the mess is the most shameful stain on our countries long history.

    Whenever there are happy/sad stories like this that need telling - Joe will tell them. To the families of these four fine Americans, I send my sympathy and respect.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jbad04 · 9 years ago
    Thank you Joe and Mike, for keeping letting us now about this. We need to know, remember and honor those who have fallen. The same with those who made it home. Thank you, gentlemen and ladies who have served, and God Bless you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Clark Adams · 9 years ago
    I read the Look Magazine article about this battle while in the 7th grade. The story of the Medics like Doc Lose convinced me that I wanted to be a Medic in the US Army. Five years later I joined the Amy and spent 25 years as a Medic.My major regret was that I never served as a Medic in combat.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    coastdaze · 9 years ago
    Thank you Michael for posting Galloway's story. It was moving as I am always moved by stories of our military sacrifices. Thanks from my heart to all of our military serving here or abroad. May God bless you all.

    Interestingly, I just finished reading the biography of George Washington by Washington Irving. It seems that the U.S.A. has a long tradition of not taking care of our military like they should be taken care of...let's, one by one, change that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A grateful American · 9 years ago
    Unworthy to say anything... but so grateful & proud to be walking on soil kept free by men and women such as this!
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    John M · 9 years ago
    Are there really any words...?
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    Sue · 9 years ago
    For me, the sister in law of a 4 year p.o.w., the tears still flow when I read an article such as this. As much for the men as for the this once great country where men, real men, were allowed to develop and become the bedrock of this nation. Now we have males who pretend to think they know what true men are and make fools of themselves.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Harp · 9 years ago
    When ever people ask me about VietNam I always end my story by saying " Let's keep a light on, there is still a lost patrol out there." Yes, there are others of whom no trace has ever been found.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maddy · 9 years ago
    Michael thank you for your service and your Band Of Brothers of the Viet Nam war. It's sad to think these men could not be located and the acidic soil ov Viet Nam keeps them there, but it is wonderful for their families to finally have some closure. You are to be commended for reporting their story and remembering their committment to their country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SGT Madden, Johnny T · 9 years ago
    Its ALWAYS good news to hear my fellow soldiers, brothers are coming home. Even though I didn't go to fight as you ALL did in that conflict. Your still Family to me...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Nicosia · 9 years ago
    Thank you Michael for this.... I'm a regular reader because this is where the 'news' is at.
    God Bless those fine crewman who flew the slicks and those who pounded the ground in the jungles and fought charlie as a great brave team!. I will never forgot your sacrifice.
    The news today of the Navy Seals rescuing the American sea captain.... the bravery and dedication continues and I'm so proud!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Jorgenson · 9 years ago
    There it is.
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    Tom Rains · 9 years ago
    I flew a couple of years as an army gunship and FAC pilot '67-71 timeframe....don't know why some of us came home in such great shape....but I believe that we're supposed to be strong and be the best Americans we can...we all know what that means.... As an infantry captain after last tour in Vietnam, I commanded a company under then Major General Hal Moore...he personally took great care of this ol' gun pilot doing his "ground time"....but his care an feeding didn't stop there....he "followed me" until he retired years later....since then I've been blessed to see him and talk on the phone from time-to-time....just this last Jan we talked briefly...he told me that he continues to be really "crippled-up" and doesn't get around much...but his mind, I can tell you, was as sharp as ever! Why do I tell you about this...because Hal Moore and that band of warrior brorthers were a special group of men....he, and they, taught me, by example, that we fought for a cuase that didn't go away in the mid '70s when we left the mountains, valleys, and paddies of Vietnam....those of us who came home in pretty good shape are to honor them all by doing our diligent best to be good Americans....and we all know what that looks like...look at Hal moore....then and now! Blessings, To All, Tom, Raider 27, Shotgun 13, & 3.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom · 9 years ago
    John M - you are right..."Are there really any words"
    We never forget - God bless you Doc Lose.
    Semper Fi
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Gilmore · 9 years ago
    There are no words to suffice.

    HAND SALUTE!
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    Dolly Martineau · 9 years ago
    Thank you so much Michael for your dedication to our troops and their successes, including my grandson just back from his third tour in Iraq. I know an awful lot of people that really appreciate our freedoms, and unfortunately some that do not, including the media. My heart goes out to all the families of the Fallen, POW's and MIA's. May God Bless them and help them, and know that their loved ones are still watching over us and their troops. God Bless and Love to All from a very proud grandmother and american. Dolly Martineau
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ · 9 years ago
    Godspeed to those men, home at last in God's loving arms....their families free at last to grieve and heal.

    I work with many retired veterans, from Vietnam to the current war, and it never ceases to amaze me the quiet strength and deep bonds these men and women carry within themselves.

    God Bless our Armed Forces.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike · 9 years ago
    Kevin,

    In all due respect, to find your answer you need only to look to the US Constitution.

    The government does not own it's citizens.
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    Bill Tillman · 9 years ago
    A grand salute to our comrads in arms who gave it all for their country and freedom.
    May God bless their families.
    Brings back old memories from the 11th Air Assault to my pre-deployment and later sleeping with our guns ships on the perimiter at An Khe for the arrival of the 1st Calvary Division.
    May God bless one and all.
    Raider 23/24 64-65
    68/69 1st Cav in Ashau Valley
  • This commment is unpublished.
    argonaut · 9 years ago
    Amen
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    Gerard T Lingner · 9 years ago
    Michael, this article is just one example of the valuable information you and your associates can bring to our attention. Keep up the good work, all of you, and stay as safe as you can. I tried to volunteer for a free-lance writing assignment in Iraq or preferably, Afganistan, based on my years of experience as a reporter and free-lance writer on many topics in the 'states, but because of some spinal surgeries I can't be totally mobile and I don't want to endanger anyone in a combat situation (where I have never been, by the way). "If you can't run, then you can't go," said a friend of mine, a retired 82nd Airborne officer. I'll do all I can to encourage the kind of articles that Michael Yon and company provide for all of us. Gary Lingner (formerly, Captain USAF Reserve).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JS · 9 years ago
    With Bush gone and the Iraq war declared a success, even by Obama, looks like Joe is done railing against Iraq and bashing Bush every turn of the way. Funny considering Obama is picking up Bush's Iraq and Afghanistan policy and running with it practically verbatim. I wonder if Joe will write a blistering article criticizing President Obama over Afghanistan when it starts to look grim, which all wars do at some point or another.

    I wait with baited breath...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bluejammy · 9 years ago
    After reading the article and posts from people I started to get emotional. I though to myself "How do I thank these warriors, past and present, for what they have done." The best answer I can come up with is "Remember Them".

    To those that have served and suffered a dear cost, thank you. I will always remember and honor your sacrifice.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sarah Bates · 9 years ago
    A very poignant account. Your writing brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for caring so much about the fallen heros whose names have faded with time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MSGT CARL MCKENZIE, · 9 years ago
    HEROES, EVERY ONE. MAY GOD BLESS THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES, AND PEACE BE UPON THEM.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Marries · 9 years ago
    Welcome Home guys. Welcome home.

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