Back at Holloway
One particular mission was my last for FOB-2 for a medical reason. I was flying at about eight thousand feet in mountainous eastern Laos monitoring a team’s AO and had been ordered back to the company headquarters to take care of some administrative stuff. As I descended to land at Holloway (at an elevation of about 2500) feet the cold I had been unsuccessfully nursing caused a severe ear blockage. I refueled and quickly climbed back to eight thousand feet to equalize the pressure in my head with the altitude and began a very slow descent, clearing my stuffed ears as I came down. This alleviated the pain but the flight surgeon grounded me until the cold cleared up. I never went back to FOB-2.
My first mission after recovering from the cold was to fly security for the Bob Hope Show that took place at the Fourth Division base camp at Dragon Mountain. While the show was going on a couple of other pilots and I flew around the area looking for enemy activity, especially for evidence of rocket positions that could have put an end to the festivities. The closest I got to the show was about five miles away. The guys who went said it was great.
My hooch was adjacent to the Officers Club, and my bunk was only eighteen steps from the door of the club. That’s where most officers went almost every night for cheap drinks and sometimes entertainment. Every so often female singing groups were brought in to perform. One memorable group was from Korea, and they always ended their performance by singing a favorite song. However, it came out with their Oriental accents as, “God Bress America, Rand That I Rove”.
American groups, often very talented enlisted men, would also perform. The hands down favorite that we would request was, “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”, originally recorded by The Animals. Of course everyone shouted out the chorus every time:”We’ve gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do!” - and we really meant it.
If there wasn’t entertainment provided we made our own. A favorite of mine was to shoot champagne corks at helicopter pilots at their tables. One of us would stand on a chair and direct the “fire” of the others, and this often ended up in a semi-good natured, drink-tossing brawl. A favorite target was Boyd Clines, a good friend and fellow Georgia Army National Guard Mohawk pilot, who lives close to me in the Atlanta area. Boyd flew into very hazardous areas to extract Special Forces soldiers and crashed air crew members. He and other helicopter pilots and crews are real heroes.
On the calmer side there was a group of four guys who often played cards together – another Headhunter pilot Tim deBord, two flight surgeons, and me. The chaplain somehow talked us into being the choir at the chapel. (Alcohol could have been involved). This ecumenical bunch (two Protestants, a Catholic, and a Jew) couldn’t sing very well at all but for a time we did show up regularly on Sundays. Being reminded on Saturday nights by the chaplain that the next day was Sunday and that we needed to practice was really the only way, except taking malaria pills on Wednesdays, that I could keep track of the day of the week. They all ran together otherwise. Days of the week didn’t matter, but the day of the month did, since we all knew how many days we had left to go before we were to go home.
|I'm showing Tim deBord how many days I have left before I go home.|
|My close friends over the years |
(plus Steve Butler in a later photo).
L-R Garry Forrest, Tim deBord, and John Elmendorf
One of my habits was to take pictures of sunsets. I figured the more sunsets I saw, the closer I was to going home.
|Holloway tower and hooches silhouetted by a monsoon-caused sunset|
Some didn’t get to reach that end date though. One day in June, 1968, Don Jacobs violated the basic rule of not flying up a valley. The result was that his airplane rammed into the side of a hill. When word came back that he was missing, a search found his airplane with his body inside. While other Headhunters were killed before and after, Don was the only Headhunter killed while I was there. And the accident could have so easily been avoided. Rest in peace, good friend.
|Happier days in the hooch. L-R. Donald Wayne Jacobs (KIA June 1968), |
Steve Butler, me, Tim deBord, and Wilson Campbell
Back Home Again
Although I had met Linda in Hawaii for a six-day R&R (rest and relaxation) leave in April 1968, I of course looked forward to returning to the States for good in early October. My orders came through, assigning me to the Army Aviation School at Ft. Stewart again, this time to train helicopter pilots how to fly real airplanes.
I left on the DC-8 “Freedom Bird” to McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington, with refueling stops in Japan and Anchorage, Alaska. I took a commercial flight from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and stopped in Dallas to see my mom and dad on the way to Columbia, SC where I reunited with Linda to resume our lives together. And nowhere along the way did I ever receive any of the negative reaction that many guys did. I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have taken care of the situation in my own way.
I was, and am, proud of the job I did.
Some time ago during a business trip to Washington, DC, I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It was a very moving experience finding the names of Don Jacobs and others I had known carved into that beautiful and chilling black granite. But a somewhat different and more moving experience came when I casually looked up the last name “Beckwith” on the roster of those whose names are on the Wall. Not being a common name, there are only a few, but the one which jumped out at me was “William A. Beckwith” – my name! He was a Marine from Oregon and was killed in February 1968 when I was there. I can hardly describe the feeling of seeing “me” on the wall.
But what came to me later was the realization of what the effect to the family would have been if my name had actually been on the Wall. No forty-nine years with Linda, no three wonderful sons, no daughters-in-law or granddaughters. No joy or love among us all. Thinking back on the close calls that I know about: a slightly faster swing of the machine gun by the North Vietnamese soldier who fired at my airplane over Laos, the shot fired just a few hundredths of a second sooner at my airplane and just missing me and the engine, or a couple of degrees difference in the settings of the mortars and rockets fired by the Viet Cong into Camp Holloway could easily have put two William A. Beckwiths on the wall.
It’s almost too much to think about.
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To those of you who have hung in there through all the posts, thanks for reading my memories of a defining time in my life.
“Headhunter One-Four. Out.”