High-Tech Search Yields Downed Chopper
In late June, a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship, permitted in the waters off the coast of Vietnam for the first time, located the possible crash site of a downed U.S. helicopter in the South China Sea. A joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam investigating team from the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Vietnam Office for Seeking Mission Persons was aboard the Bruce C. Heezen. A diving mission will confirm if investigators found the CH-46 transport that had six men aboard.
Name Number 58,261 Carved in the Wall
In early May, the Valdez family finally got its wish: to see its patriarch’s name engraved on the Wall. Following a 14-year wait, the name Enrique Valdez was added on May 5 to Row 51, Panel 17W of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while the four Valdez children looked on. On Memorial Day, their father’s name was read aloud at the annual service at the Wall. Enrique Valdez was a Marine gunnery sergeant who had been wounded by shrapnel in August 1969, leaving him a quadriplegic at age 32. When Valdez succumbed to pneumonia in 1994, Marine Corps officials determined his death to be directly attributable to the wounds he suffered in Vietnam. The Valdez family tried to have his name added to the Wall, but bureaucratic delays stymied the effort.
Rick Valdez was 7 when his father was deployed to Vietnam. “The night he had to go to the bus station for his second tour of duty, that was the last time I saw him walking,” the son recalled. “The next time we saw him was at the Veterans Administration hospital in Long Beach, after they shipped him home,” he said.
A native of Santa Fe, N.M., Valdez was in the Marines for 14 years, serving several tours of duty in Vietnam. He was on his last tour that began in March 1969, when his spinal cord was severed.
The Defense Department sets the criteria for and makes decisions about whose names are eligible for inscription on the Wall. When notification to the family arrived earlier this year from the Defense Department that Valdez’s name would be added to the memorial, there was no explanation with it.
When Jan C. Scruggs, the founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, found out the news, he said, “We will add Gunnery Sergeant Valdez’s name as close as possible to his date of casualty, so he can remain in the company of those he served with.”
When the Valdez children saw the fresh lettering on the Wall this spring, engraved beside other 1969 casualties, they felt that an explanation from the Defense Department didn’t much matter anymore. “It’s OK, because his name is here,” Tina Valdez said.
Tapes Reveal Nixon’s Tough Talk About Thieu
The recent release of 36 Nixon White House tapes contains 154 hours of conversations recorded during January and February 1973, the majority of which center on the Vietnam War. Occurring during the time of the Paris peace talks while National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was in Paris negotiating an end to the war, some of the earlier recorded conversations relate to Richard Nixon’s efforts to end U.S. military involvement in Vietnam following his decision in late December to halt the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor.
Nixon had promised “peace with honor” and pledged to withdraw American forces only when South Vietnam could defend itself, but he worried that President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam would reject the settlement offered by the North. In his January 20 conversation with Kissinger, Nixon considers making threats to cut off all U.S. aid to South Vietnam.
Kissinger: “What we should put in the letter from you is that you must have an answer from him by noon tomorrow whether, even though you have instructed me to seek that change, he will concur in letting us initial it.…”
Nixon: “The congressional leaders…will move to cut off assistance. Is that going too far? In other words, I don’t know whether the threat goes too far or not, but I’d do any damn thing, that is, or to cut off his head if necessary.”
Following the peace settlement, which was signed by Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho in Paris on January 23, the tapes reveal a reflective president sharing his thoughts with aides about the cease-fire and the future prospects for peace in Southeast Asia. Nixon also meets with South Vietnamese dignitaries in the Oval Office to discuss future relations between the two countries. This release includes a number of notable conversations from February 1973 that bear on the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam settlement, including Nixon’s discussion with several wives of American prisoners of war about their husbands’ impending release and return.
This is the 13th release of the secretly recorded tapes, along with 30,000 pages of documents. Some 2,371 hours of tape recordings from the Nixon White House are now available to the public.
Vietnam Veteran Becomes the Oldest American Serviceman Killed in Iraq
Major Steven Hutchinson, a Vietnam War veteran and the Army’s oldest active-duty soldier, was killed on May 10 while fighting in the Iraq War. The 60-yearold Hutchison was leading a 12-man team of soldiers training the Iraqi Army when his vehicle was struck with a homemade bomb.
Hutchison, of Scottsdale, Ariz., joined the Army in 1966 at 19 and served two one-year tours in Vietnam. He then served as a platoon leader in Germany and as a commander of a basic training company at Fort Jackson, S.C., before retiring from the Army in 1988. He received a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Delaware the same year and began a second career as a college professor, teaching at a number of universities in California before retiring a second time, according to published reports.
According to his brother, Richard Hutchison, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the death of his wife from breast cancer, Hutchison re-enlisted and worked diligently to get into the physical condition required to return to active duty at age 57 in Afghanistan.
Hutchison served in Afghanistan for a year before deploying to Iraq with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, based out of Fort Riley, Kan.
Richard Hutchison described his brother as “very devoted to the service and to his country.” His awards include the Bronze Star Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Iconic POW/MIA Flag Designer Dies at 88
One of the most recognized symbols of the Vietnam War era and the late 20th century was the brainchild of commercial artist and World War II veteran Newt Heisley, who died in May at his home in Colorado. Heisley, who was an Army Air Forces pilot, came up with the design for the POW/MIA flag in 1971 while working for an advertising agency. At the time, the black-and-white design displaying the silhouette of a man with head bowed—which was modeled after his son who had just returned from Marine training gaunt and sick with hepatitis—was created for a flag maker that had been commissioned by the wife of an MIA. She wanted a flag to represent the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. Emblazoned with the words “You are not forgotten,” the flag won national attention, and in 1990 Congress adopted it as “the symbol of our nation’s concern” for those missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. The flag has come to represent all missing U.S. troops dating to World War II.
More Five-Stars Headed for China Beach
Vietnam’s China Beach, always a favorite of U.S. troops who went there to relax on R&R during the war, will soon be studded with another 5-star hotel. U.S. developer Starwood Hotels plans to build a 330-room Le Meridien hotel along the touristy coastline. Hyatt and Marriott resort hotels are also reportedly in the works.
Vietnam Vets Escort WWII Vet Honor Flights
With several Vietnam veterans accompanying them, a group of World War II veterans made a trip to Washington, D.C., on June 10 to visit the World War II Memorial, all expenses paid, thanks to Honor Flight, an organization that arranges and funds the veterans’ round-trip excursions. Since 2005, Honor Flights have matched several thousand Vietnam War vets with WWII vets for the journey, an arrangement it says benefits both groups. This year Honor Flight hopes to transport 25,000 veterans from across the United States to Washington.
Joining the June flight was retired Command Sgt. Maj. Eric L. Haney, spokesman for an Honor Flights’ corporate partner, Theragenics. The medical device company will sponsor 10 flights this year. Haney, chosen for his extensive military experience and his instant rapport with vets of all ages, is slated to travel on many of the Honor Flights and will promote the company’s To Honor, To Cure program that encourages vets to keep a healthy lifestyle, and informs them of their medical options if diagnosed with prostate cancer. Haney was an early operational member of Delta Force. His book Inside Delta Force served as the basis for the acclaimed CBS series “The Unit,” which is in its fourth season.
Since 2007, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole has met with every Honor Flight group that has traveled to the World War II Memorial.
Obama Picks Vietnam War Fighter Pilot to Head NASA
Charles Bolden Jr. flew more than 100 sorties in Vietnam and then went on to pilot two space shuttle missions and command two others. The former Marine brigadier general and now retired astronaut, who joined NASA in 1980, was recently chosen by President Barack Obama to head NASA. If his appointment by the president is confirmed by the Senate, the 62-year-old Bolden will be only the second astronaut to head NASA in its 50-year history.
Frederick J. Karch Led First Combat Troops into Vietnam
A veteran of both WWII and the Vietnam War, retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch died on May 23 at his home in Arlington, Va., at the age of 91. For his service fighting the Japanese in World War II, during the campaigns of Roi, Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, Karch was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device. Twenty years later, Karch led the first official U.S. ground combat troops in Vietnam, landing in March 1965 with the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade on Red Beach at Da Nang. This heralded the escalation of the role of the U.S. military in Vietnam.
A United States Naval Acad emy grad – u ate, Karch served in the Marines Corps for 27 years. He retired from active duty in 1967.
Hugh Van Es Snapped Last Copter Out Photograph
Dutch photojournalist Hugh Van Es, whose April 29, 1975, photo of an Air America helicopter on a Saigon rooftop became the signature image representing the end of the Vietnam War, died in Hong Kong on May 15 at the age of 67. Van Es covered the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1975, first for The Associated Press and then for United Press International. During the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, he was on the roof of the UPI bureau when he saw the line of people on a nearby rooftop queuing to board a U.S. helicopter. Speaking to the BBC, reporter Peter Arnett said Van Es was “one of the few Western photographers willing to take the risks of witnessing the war’s end.” Though most noted for the helicopter image, his favorite was of three soldiers, arm in arm, taken at Hamburger Hill.
Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.