I enjoyed the June 2006 issue of Vietnam. As a proud charter subscriber to this excellent publication, I read each article and learn many facts about the inner doings of that elongated war. The “Perspectives” column by Richard D. Hartwell caught my instant attention. I read on with sympathetic pain, recalling my own gunshot wounds and medical evacuation from Vietnam.
On two counts, skytrooper Hartwell was incorrect. The first is that his medical ship out of the country was not a C-5. It would have been, like my own transport, a C-141 Starlifter jet.
The other discrepancy was on the second page of Hartwell’s great article, where he mentioned our mutual brothers, “Hawthorne” (Butch), who “would forever question why he was never hit,” and “Chief” (Chief Hendricks), who lost his legs. Hartwell also mentioned me, writing of “Breen, whose mind would die but not his body.”
This is why Vietnam Magazine is so fabulous! Even misinformation can facilitate contact with my old brother and fellow warrior Hartwell. I did not mentally die, my brother. Yes, I got shot to hell trying unsuccessfully to resuscitate brother Marcus D. White from Barea, Ky. And I did place a combat dressing on Chief before I myself took a three-round burst of AK-47 fire. All of this was during the Hard Core’s violation of the February 11, 1967, Tet cease-fire.
Yes, indeed, trooper Hawthorne and I suffer from delayed stress from all of the action we witnessed and participated in, but both of us endured. Hawthorne was (like Hartwell) one of Delta Recon’s M-79 grenadiers. Later, he took over a family RV sales and rental business in Murray, Utah, and has never missed a day’s work since Vietnam. Me? After a 36-year career as a high tech machinist, I’m now working general maintenance for a large local nonprofit organization and plan to stay there for a while.
Brother Hartwell was still going strong when I left Vietnam. It was great to read his story and know he lived. God bless you, my brother, and stay well.
James F. Breen
Editor’s note: James F. Breen was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for heroic actions in Vietnam on February 11, 1967.
I served in D Company, 2-12 Cavalry, in Vietnam with Hartwell, along with Breen, Hawthorne and both Chiefs, as well as our company commander, Captain Gatanas. I was wounded shortly before Breen in early February 1967, but I am in contact with him and Hawthorne and a few of the other old war dogs, and most of them have expressed interest in hooking up with Hartwell if he isn’t hiding. And thank you for a magazine that tells it like it is/was.
Palm Sunday Sergeant
I was interested to see W. Grimes Byerly Jr., M.D.’s article (“Personality,” June). I was the agricultural adviser who was among those recruited for our O negative blood. I remember walking into the operating room with my first unit, and seeing Master Sgt. Lane on the operating table. Dr. Byerly just turned and said, “I need another one.” And then again, while closing up the patient, he said, “I need another one; you’re a big guy.” So I was happy to provide a third unit and part of a fourth. Each year on Palm Sunday at our church, I sit and think, “What a way to observe this day!”
The nurses made sure I got plenty of beer and a steak, and it was gratifying the next morning to see Sergeant Lane awake. This small contribution was one of the most rewarding things that has ever happened to me, and I was thankful to hear the rest of the story.
Reflections on the Ia Drang
Enjoyed the article about the Ia Drang campaign veterans (August 2006). General Moore spoke to us at Infantry Hall when I was in Infantry Officer Basic at Fort Benning (during the days of Comanche raids and various dinosaur scares), but we didn’t yet appreciate the job he’d done in Vietnam. Mel Gibson’s movie was all right, although melodramatic in spots. Of course, Moore and Galloway did a fine job in their book, which sets a standard for literature about the Vietnam conflict. I especially liked the side-by-side pictures of the soldiers then and now. Nice work.
Your August issue was most appreciated by many of your readers. I, for one, am very proud of the fine job you and your staff have done on the Ia Drang piece. What a great cover design! Your interviews were outstanding and true to the word. I am most honored to have been included, and also honored by the way everyone was quoted and by your use of the “coin” as a graphic. My buddies love your magazine and read it regularly, as do I.
Thanks for a fine spread on the Ia Drang boys….
Tony Poe Controversy
I am a regular purchaser of Vietnam Magazine, and appreciate its content and the efforts the authors put into its diverse articles. However, the article by Peter Kross about Tony Poe (“Personality,” August) is a disappointment. For one thing, Kross confuses the “Ravens” as being a general term for the various spooks who operated in and out of Long Tieng. The Ravens were USAF FACs operating in “mufti,” assigned the job of improving air support to General Vang Pao and other friendly Laotian commanders. Vang Pao was an NCO in the French relief column that was nearing Dien Bien Phu from the south when the French surrendered there.
Kross repeats an allegation that has been passed around for years—that the Apocalypse Now character, Colonel Kurtz, “was modeled on the persona of Tony Poe.” I would like to know a source for that claim. Do the screenwriters acknowledge it? How did they even hear about Tony Poe, who operated in a rather confined area?
Finally, Kross overlooked the tributes Tony Poe received from the Hmong. He was a tough fighter, but they knew he was on their side, and they revered him.
Kross did one thing well, and I would be remiss in not giving him due credit. He summarized neatly the roles the Hmong played in the American war in Southeast Asia, though he might have pointed out more than he did that it was their war too.
Having known and worked with Tony Poe, I have a different perspective about him. In 1965 I commanded the Helicopter Combat Rescue Detachment out of NKP, Thailand. Around the first of July, I got orders to take two H-43s and crews to Udorn for a “classified, destination unknown” assignment. On arriving there, we were briefed on going into Laos to evaluate the Lima Site system setup for Air America to extend our rescue coverage into North Vietnam. At this briefing, there was a rugged-looking, unshaven individual in khakis, no insignia, wearing a beat-up Marine drill hat. He was introduced as Tony, who worked for the “Company,” and would be our guide into Laos for the survey.
Tony wasn’t very impressive at the start—on the way to Lima Site 98 in overcast weather, looking for a place that was not on our maps, he got us lost. We had to be guided in by Air America pilots. But our opinion changed over the next few days as we were introduced to General Vang Pao, USAID, Thai Border Patrol and some Air America guys, one of whom called Tony “Lawrence of Laos”!
Tony was far more than a guide and adviser; he knew and filled us in fully on what they now call the “geopolitics of Laos.” His knowledge of what areas to avoid was far better than the USAF and USN briefs we got. Tony was definitely a mercenary, and a boozer. It only took me once to never try to drink, one on one, with him again! Yes, I saw the ears they mentioned hanging by his hooch, but he only paid 500 kip ($1 U.S. in ’65) for two ears, so they didn’t cheat! And I did hear that he stopped that when he found a boy without ears.
But we needed more guys like Poe. Do you think a psycho type like [the fictional] Kurtz would marry a local girl and work with Father Bruchard and Pop Buell helping the Hmong refugees in Thailand after our government had washed its hands of them? From what I have heard later from my Air America friends, I do believe he rebelled against orders at the end—but understandably, in frustration against our political policies toward those who fought and helped us “not fight a war” in Laos—much as T.E. Lawrence did in Saudi Arabia.
Major Joe Ballinger
U.S. Air Force (ret.)
In the article about Tony Poe, the place name “Phu Bai” (which is in Vietnam) should actually be “Phou Bia” (which is in Laos).
Send letters to: Vietnam Editor, World History Group, 741 Miller Drive SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175; or e-mail to [email protected] Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.