Monday, June 15, 2015

UFO Museum president elected to panel

         NEW YORK — Jack Swickard, president of the International UFO Museum and Research Center directors in Roswell, was elected to the executive committee of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute board.
Swickard
         Swickard former editor of the Roswell Daily Record and the Farmington Daily Times in New Mexico, was elected at the spring meeting of the NCKRI board, which met in the Explorers Club in New York City.
         Bob Brinkmann, professor and director of Sustainability Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was re-elected president of the NCKRI board.
         Ronald T. Green, hydrogeologist with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, was elected vice president of the board.
         The research institute’s board meets each fall in conjunction with the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting and each spring at NCKRI headquarters in Carlsbad, N.M. This year, however, the board met in the Explorers Club at the invitation of executive director George Veni, a member of the club.
Brinkmann in Explorers Club Trophy Room
         Brinkmann said the meeting table in the club’s Trophy Room was the same table used by President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt in drafting the Panama Canal Treaty — or Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty — of 1903.
         NCKRI is a non-profit, government-supported institute headquartered whose goals are to conduct, support, facilitate, and promote programs in cave and karst research, education, environmental management, and data acquisition and sharing.
        Congress created NCKRI in 1998 to:
        • Further the science of speleology;
        • Centralize and standardize speleological information;
        • Foster interdisciplinary cooperation in cave and karst research programs;
        • Promote public education;
Green
        • Promote national and international cooperation in protecting the environment for the benefit of cave and karst landforms; and
        • Promote and develop environmentally sound and sustainable resource management practices.  
        NCKRI started as a federal institute within the U.S. National Park Service. In 2006, NCKRI changed to a non-profit corporation to boost its ability in creating partnerships with other organizations, raising funds, and responding quickly to new opportunities. NCKRI is actually a hybrid non-profit. It is an independent 501(c)(3) corporation but maintains its Congressional mandates, obligations, and funding.
        It was created through three partners: The federal government through the National Park Service, the State of New Mexico through New Mexico Tech, and the City of Carlsbad.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friendship with military legend


ROSWELL, New Mexico — Dick Knowles moved to Roswell around the time I became editor of the Roswell Daily Record in the summer of 1974.

I knew little about Dick, aside from friends describing him as a retired general who had opened an antique shop. “Guess what he named it?” they would ask. Before I had a chance to guess, they would blurt out: “The General’s Store.”

I began to know Dick after a group of Republicans asked him to run for election to the New Mexico Legislature. Dick agreed to seek office. As editor of the local newspaper, I would see him frequently. First, he came by the newsroom to be interviewed and have his photograph — or mugshot — taken. I would see him at political rallies and parties, giving speeches and shaking hands.

Lt. Gen. Richard T. Knowles
He and I also joined the same Rotary club, so each Thursday we joined some 150 other people for lunch.

Dick stood out in a crowd. He was 6-foot-4. He also was very soft-spoken. I noticed Dick was a good listener and I could tell he weighed what he was told. When people talked to him, they had his attention. I’m sure this helped him win the seat in the state House of Representatives.

He did well in the Legislature, earning the trust and respect of fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Dick had served in enough military staff and command positions to know there were multiple sides to any issue.

Dick rose high in the Legislature for a minority member, eventually becoming House minority leader. He treated each colleague the way they treated him and his wife, Betty Kay. Once, after he had voted for the election of Democrat Raymond Sanchez as speaker of the House, I asked him why he had supported Sanchez over the more conservative candidate. Dick’s reply made excellent sense. “The other guy was rude to my wife. Raymond has always been a gentleman to her.”

Raymond also was a shoe-in for House speaker. He never forgot Dick’s support and valued Dick’s friendship. If Dick Knowles got behind an issue, he generally received as much support from House Democrats as members of his own party.

Dick also told me on several occasions a legislative body existed by compromise. This did not set well with a group of partisan Republicans from his hometown and his legislative district. They wanted a barroom brawler in the State Capitol, not a statesman. So members of this group began looking for someone to run against Dick in the next Republican primary election.

After 16 years in the state Legislature, Dick decided against seeking re-election. Though he never said so within earshot of me, I think he was unhappy with the prospect of running in a campaign holding the promise of mudslinging. Dick believed in the political process and did not want to see it denigrated by a nasty campaign.

Over the years I would visit with Dick about his time in the Army. Both of us had been helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War, so we had a common topic we could discuss. Our reminiscing sometimes would lead to other stories about military experiences. Gradually, I learned more about Dick’s background.

One story he enjoyed telling me was how, earlier in his career, he had saved Camp Wolters from being closed. Dick, of course, knew I had trained at the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center at Fort Wolters. This was where all Army rotary-wing aviators received their initial flight training during the Vietnam War.

Dick Knowles and wife Betty Kay
Dick shared other stories with me. Slowly I was learning the major role he played in developing the helicopter’s role in combat.

In the late 1980s, I learned even more from another source. During a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association reunion in Fort Worth, the former pilots and their wives were bused to Fort Wolters to look around and eat lunch. Helping give the welcome was retired Lieutenant General Harold “Hal” Moore. I did not know anything about Hal Moore at the time and thought he might be Colonel Howard Moore, who had commanded the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, to which my unit — the 118th Assault Helicopter Company — was assigned.

After Hal Moore’s welcome address, I approached the stage, introduced myself, mentioned my hometown of Roswell, New Mexico, and asked if he had commanded the 145th. “No,” he replied, then asked: “Do you know Dick Knowles?” When I said I did, Moore told me what a great commander Dick had been when they served together in the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

“Please give him my regards,” Moore said as I walked away.

Hal Moore and former United Press International reporter Joe Galloway later would co-author the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” about the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the major engagement between the 1st Cavalry Division and the North Vietnam Army. Moore had commanded the ground forces in the battle; Galloway stayed with the 1st Cavalry throughout the fighting, covering the battle for UPI.

Later the book would become a major Hollywood film, with the titled shortened slightly to: “We Were Soldiers Once.”

I met Hal Moore again and Joe Galloway, as well, when they came to Roswell on separate occasions to speak before the New Mexico Military Institute cadets. Each time they would renew their friendship with Dick Knowles.

Once, when I visited with Dick about the battle, he told me he had selected the initial landing zone used by Hal Moore and his troops.

When the Roswell Rotary Club and NMMI honored Dick for his achievements in the Legislature, I offered to produce a video. I worked closely with Dick on the project. He would bring me photographs of his past. Then we would work on the dialogue for the video.

The guy who had represented me for years in Santa Fe during legislative sessions, my fellow Rotarian, the former aviator who had swapped war stories with me was a major player in what led to the most eventful year of my life — flying helicopters in combat during the Vietnam War.

On September 18, Dick died, preceded in death 10 months earlier by Betty Kay.

Dick’s son Richard called me several days after to ask if I had photos of his father for use at a memorial service planned for September 26 at New Mexico Military Institute. I attended the service.

Dick and his dog Sarge in Roswell
The next day, Richard sent me a note saying he had found his father’s slides from the Vietnam War while he and his sisters were cleaning up Dick’s home. “Would I like them?” Richard asked me to call the following morning so we could get together and he would give me the boxes of slides.

I called the next day. “Can you come to the house right away?” Richard asked. “I’ll be there in 5 minutes,” I told him.

As Dick’s home, Richard led me to the office. Richard told me to take anything I would like. With the offer of the slides, I had decided to offer them to the Vietnam War Center and Archives at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Now there was a great deal more of Dick’s career and life. Eight boxes more.

Later that day I called my friend and fellow chopper pilot Tom Baca in Albuquerque. “I have a job for you and I know you will love it,” I told Tom, and then explained I had boxes of photographs, records and memorabilia that belonged to Dick Knowles.

“I can think of 5 or 6 museums, as well as the Vietnam War Archives at Texas Tech, that would be interested,” I told Tom. He said he would drive to Roswell on Monday and help me sort through the materials.

Then I sent an email note to Joe Galloway and members of the David Westphall Board of Directors, who oversee support for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Chapel at Angel Fire, New Mexico. One of the directors is Ron Milam, associate professor of history at Texas Tech and a Fulbright Fellow who taught in Vietnam and China. Ron served as a Marine in Vietnam during the war. I also serve on the Westphall Foundation board, so I knew there was a place at the Memorial for some of the items.

Joe wrote back immediately and suggested giving some of the items to the 1st Cavalry Museum at Fort Hood, Texas. Good suggestion.

After Tom arrived at my home last Monday, we began dividing Dick’s keepsakes up among 7 museums and archives. As I had promised, Tom enjoyed the work. I did, as well. We were learning of Dick’s roles at the center of the helicopter war in Vietnam.

We found one document on pink, onionskin paper of particular interest. It was Dick’s invitation to a 1965 briefing on lessons learned from the 11th Air Assault Division. Colonel Dick Knowles headed division artillery.

As Task Force Oregon commander
Later, these lessons would be put into practice after the 11th Air Assault Division became the 1st Air Cavalry Division, which then deployed to South Vietnam with Dick Knowles as its assistant commander.

Tom and I would term the document the birth certificate of the airmobile concept introduced during the Vietnam War.

There was much more, from photographs of General William C. Westmoreland pinning general’s stars on Dick Knowles' uniform to a newspaper article about Dick being shot down while piloting his helicopter.

Paperwork and certificates showed Dick at various points in his military career: Attending the artillery officer career course during World War II, his graduation certificate from the War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, a report on receiving the Silver Star Medal during the Korean War, books of photographs taken when he served as chief of staff at II Field Force Vietnam, commanding general of Task Force Oregon (Americal Division) and commander of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.

Later he would command I Corps in South Korea and then serve as deputy commander of the 8th U.S. Army. A year after beginning that assignment, Dick would retire from the Army and move to Roswell, New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Forgotten Mission — Chapter 46


CAU SONG BE, Vietnam — At the time, each of us saw and heard only a part of the mission.

It was 41 years before I learned Tom Baca and Larry Liss had landed at Cau Song Be Special Forces Camp before me. On the few occasions Tom and I discussed the rescue over the years, he referred several times to landing first. I knew this wasn’t the case. I clearly remembered Tom and Larry landing behind my Huey just before we began the extraction of the CIDG company.

I didn’t consider it important, so I never corrected Tom. Then, one day, I did. We were discussing our upcoming meeting with Richard Max and Bernadette Ross of Windfall Films. Tom again mentioned landing first. Richard and Bernie were about to interview us for the documentary so I thought it important to set the record straight.

“Tom, I clearly remember you landing behind me on the airstrip,” I said.

Driving to site of 1967 extraction 41 years later.
“We landed behind you after dropping off wounded at the camp hospital. Larry and I did a medevac before you arrived,” Tom said.

Clarity exploded in my mind. I recalled something about a medevac, but I had always thought Tom was describing one of the five times we each flew into the landing zone to extract the South Vietnamese CIDG soldiers and U.S. advisors.

A year later in Ho Chi Minh City — the official name given to Saigon after reunification — Al Croteau told me how he had agonized for 42 years about “leaving someone behind.”

“Wait, Al. What are you talking about? We didn’t leave anyone behind,” I told him.

Seated at a café table over lunch, Al described seeing a lone CIDG soldier in a circular firing pit each time we left with our helicopter loaded with his compatriots.

I was stunned. I had never heard this before. How could I have left someone behind? What could I have done to get that last man out? What happened to him after we left that last time?

To Al’s great relief, we would learn several days later Tom and Larry had picked up this lone soldier on their final trip out of the landing zone.

These and other recollections showed me how segmented each of our roles had been during the extraction of the CIDG soldiers. Each crewmember was focused on what he needed to do to survive and get the soldiers to safety. We didn’t allow ourselves the luxury of distraction. Had we done so, our minds might have been overpowered by the battle raging around us.

I remember looking around after our first landing to see how many CIDG soldiers had boarded my Huey. When I saw people being shot in the back of the helicopter I turned back around and began monitoring the instruments. My job was to fly the soldiers out of the battle. I couldn’t risk becoming rattled by the sight of the dead and wounded.

*****

That day — May 14, 1967 — we were able to fly 102 CIDG soldiers and a U.S. Special Forces advisor to safety. Of these, 15 South Vietnamese soldiers and the Special Forces non-commissioned officer were wounded in the battle.

The dead included 2 Special Forces NCOs and 5 CIDG soldiers.

Before the extraction, Tom and Larry airlifted 6 wounded CIDG troops out of the battle on a medical evacuation flight.

Captain Wallace “Wally” Johnson, A Team commander at Cau Song Be, reported that during the firefight, 5 or 6 CIDG soldiers who “got separated during a firefight walked back into camp” the next day. He said the CIDG companies averaged 120-125 soldiers.

Over the years, I thought more of the soldiers had been killed. I’m glad the number was lower. We extracted them shortly after the ambush was sprung and the fighting began, which probably contributed to the relatively low number of troops killed in action.

*****

The crews of the 2 helicopters were unique for the mission we ended up flying.

Tom Baca and Larry Liss had never flown together before May 14. The two pilots did not even know each other until that day.

On the other hand, Tom and I knew each other, though we were flying in different units. Furthermore, I had known Tom’s brother before joining the Army.

My copilot, Ken Dolan, had only been flying in Vietnam about a month; I had been in-country 3 months. Tom only had 12 days left on his combat tour on May 14.

Al Croteau was substituting for the regular doorgunner that day, having volunteered the evening before to fly the mission with Ken and me.

Our 2 Hueys arrived at Cau Song Be on different missions. Tom and Larry were flying a Roman Catholic chaplain to various Special Forces camps in the III Corps; Ken, Al and I were carrying the Special Forces paymaster.

*****

I returned to Cau Song Be on November 21, 2010. The Special Forces camp was long gone. It did not survive the war in Southeast Asia. I would never have found the camp’s site had it not been for my Vietnamese guides — one a former Vet Cong soldier and the other a retired North Vietnam Army officer.

Tom Baca had found a map showing Chi Linh — the name given to Cau Song Be to avoid confusing it with the nearby provincial capital of Song Be — on Highway 14, between its junction with Highway 13 and Dong Xoai to the east. Highway 13 runs due north from Ho Chi Minh City. Our map was rough and gave a general location for Chi Linh.

I rode with my guides, Tran Van Thanh and Dinh Ngoc Truc, in a small, sport utility vehicle from Ho Chi Minh City to Chon Thanh, where we turned east on Highway 14. The map showed Chi Linh near the third bridge we would cross. We soon saw not all the Highway 14 bridges were marked on Tom’s map.

Our driver, Nguyen Tuan Nghia, stopped at various points along the highway so Thanh and Truc could ask local residents about a military camp that existed more than 40 years earlier. One resident told of a military cemetery farther down the highway.

We arrived at a large, stone bridge over the Song Be River about 15 kilometers east of Chon Thanh. This looked like the third bridge on our map. After crossing the bridge — or cau — we stopped in the small village of Nha Bich. Thanh, a retired NVA colonel, and Truc, who had served in the Viet Cong, began visiting with people in the village.

Ken, Thanh, Jack and Truc at camp site.
Thanh pointed out a rustic, outdoor restaurant where we could sit and compare notes. He ordered a glass of fresh coconut milk for himself; Ken Fritz, a friend from the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association; and me. Soon Truc and Nghia joined us. A villager had recalled hearing of the military camp many years before.

We got back in the SUV, drove back across the bridge and turned north onto a dirt road. After encountering a dead end, we found another dirt road that went north. We passed a group of men holding flowers at a house being constructed. After driving a short distance past the group, we stopped. Thanh and I walked forward to a short cliff that overlooked the Song be Rubber Plantation. In the distance, I saw a familiar sight: Tall rubber trees in a line reminiscent of the trees that grew along the Cau Song Be airstrip. Could this be the former Special Forces camp?

As Thanh and I walked back to the SUV to visit with the others, I heard a conversation in Vietnamese and laughter. Truc and Ken had stopped to visit with the men at the house being built. Ken climbed aboard one of their motorcycles, gunned the engine, and took off down the road. He returned minutes later in a cloud of dust. The Vietnamese men had not expected the American to ride the motorcycle and they were enjoying the sight.

Ken and Truc told me they would ride several kilometers on Highway 14 with the Vietnamese men to a turnoff to the old military camp. The men had told Truc they had visited the old camp and knew its location. Nghia, Thanh and I followed the motorcyclists. Truc sat on one bike, facing backwards to film Ken riding down the highway.

When the motorcycles stopped, Ken and Truc dismounted to handshakes and laughter, then they boarded the SUV. We turned north onto another dirt road and drove a short distance. To our left was the site of the former Special Forces camp and CIDG base.

A farmer lived nearby. I asked Truc if the man might remember the camp or know someone in the area who did. “He’s a newcomer,” said Truc, who already had visited with him.

I had hoped to find a one of the CIDG soldiers extracted on May 14, 1967. That would not be the case. The camp was a settlement dedicated to war. After the fighting ended, it had no reason to exist and the soldiers stationed there had no reason to stay.

Only rubber trees — standing in formation as they did in 1967 — remain today.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Forgotten Mission — Chapter 45


BIEN HOA AIRFIELD, South Vietnam — Daylight was fading fast as I shot my approach to the Birdcage.

By the time I hovered the Huey into a revetment it was dark. All the helicopter’s crewmembers were exhausted. The adrenalin charge we had on takeoff from the Cau Song Be airstrip had disappeared 50 kilometers earlier.

Jack Swickard
The main rotors spooled to a gradual stop after the engine had been shut down. I wanted to look at the blades to see how much damage they had suffered during the 5 extractions. After the crew chief tied down the rotors, I looked up. I couldn’t see anything but shadows. I took a flashlight and ran its beam along the blades. I didn’t see anything unusual.

If there were damage, the crew chief would catch it on his inspection later that night. He would get a closer look when he climbed to the helicopter’s roof to wipe down the rotorhead and mast.

Operations told me the company commander wanted to visit with me about the mission. A Jeep had been sent to take Warrant Officer Ken Dolan, my copilot; Lieutenant Al Croteau, my doorgunner for the day; and me to our villa on Cong Ly Street downtown.

Major Howard Hostler, who had taken command of the 118th Assault Helicopter Company the month before, and other pilots in the unit had learned of our mission while flying combat assaults that afternoon. Ken, Al and I had drawn one of the few missions that morning because of a general stand down of U.S. helicopters in the III Corps. While we were performing the extraction, the Thunderbirds had been called into action. Once airborne, the other aircrews could hear us communicating with Warrant Officer Tom Baca and Captain Larry Liss on the Thunderbird radio frequency.

Our calls had piqued Major Hostler’s interest in the extraction, so he wanted to visit. We wasted no time getting back to the villa for my meeting with the commander.

I found him in the Officers Club. “Let’s sit over here,” the major said, motioning toward a table. I described the mission in detail for about an hour. Hostler kept buying me beers and asking questions.

Then I saw a figure moving toward our table with papers in his hand. An operations officer threw the paper on the table in front of me.

“What are those?” Hostler asked.

“Orders relieving Mr. Swickard as an aircraft commander,” the ops officer replied. “You should have seen the condition of his aircraft’s rotor blades … and they weren’t written up.”

Hostler became angry. He ordered the operations officer to return to the airfield and immediately cut orders rescinding the ones he had thrown on the table.

I didn’t hear any more about the mission until a week later, when 5th Special Forces asked me for a narrative about the extraction.

Four months later — in September 1967 — I would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission. Each of the other members of my crew would receive the Air Medal with “V” for valor.

*****

Lieutenant Al Croteau recalled, “When we got back to Bien Hoa that night, I didn’t even give it a second thought. I went back to my office. We never even talked about it the next day. We never talked about it at all.

Al Croteau
“I got to see the rotors, of course. I got to see the whole aircraft the next day. That’s when they told me they were going to court-martial you,” Al said.

“This guy ruins 2 rotors, they’re $10,000 apiece, we’re going to court-martial that guy,” Al said he was told by a maintenance officer.

“I think we were so tired, so mentally and physically exhausted, that we didn’t want to talk about it. Then the next day, of course, it’s a new day and you get busy doing something else. I don’t think we thought it was anything special.”

“There were so many stories in Vietnam and people who did similar things that we did, we just never bothered,” Al said.

Ken Dolan
*****

Warrant Officer Ken Dolan said, “I recall having maintenance personnel ‘eyeballs’ on me for a couple of weeks after the mission, but no retribution. I think I went out the next day on a mission or combat assault and didn’t think much more about the 14th until the awards ceremony.”

*****

Warrant Officer Tom Baca would return to the United States 12 days after the extraction. He would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at his next duty station, Fort Wolters, Texas, where he was a helicopter instructor pilot.

Before he departed for home, his commanding officer assembled the detachment’s pilots in formation and told them not to fly combat missions with the unit’s VIP helicopters.

After the formation, Tom told the commander, “If the same mission came up tomorrow, I would fly it.”
Tom Baca

The commanding officer told Tom: “Well, you would, but you are going home.”

Years later Tom said he checked his Officer Efficiency Report written by the commander for the time of the Cau Song Be rescue. Tom said the report was career enhancing and did not mention the May 14 mission. Tom said he never held any negative feelings about his commander and was unaware of the encounter his copilot had with the senior officer.

Tom described the appearance of his helicopter’s main rotor blades after the mission. “There were 20-30 penetrations of each rotor blade along the outer 5 feet. The widest was about 1.5 to 2 inches. They penetrated the blades about one-half to three-quarters of an inch,” he said.

*****

Captain Larry Liss, Tom’s copilot during the mission, reported being strongly taken to task for his role in the mission by the same commanding officer.

Larry said he previously was severely criticized by the commander after rescuing a downed helicopter crew with one of the detachment’s VIP Hueys. Larry said he was threatened with being kicked out of the Army for violating verbal and written orders forbidding the use of a VIP aircraft in combat.
Larry Liss

After returning from the Cau Song Be mission, Larry said the commanding officer became very angry with him and, during a meeting in the commander’s office, he fell over a chair after being pushed. Larry said he then punched the commander. Headquarters staff officers broke up the fracas, Larry said.

He said the detachment commander wanted to prefer charges against him, but the commanding general of II Field Force Vietnam calmed down the situation.

Larry said the general told him, “It was a bad thing that you did, disobeying a direct order. What you guys did was exceptional, extraordinary.”

He later described the appearance of the main rotor blades as looking “like a giant cat had scraped the cover off and underneath was the honeycomb. That aircraft was a mess.”

Like Tom, Larry would receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the Cau Song Be mission.