Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Forgotten Mission — Chapter 16

LONDON — Beforeleaving Ho Chi Minh City in October 2008, we met up with the Windfall Filmscrew at the Tan Son Nhat Airport.

Tom Baca; his flightschool roommate, Sterling Essenmacher; my wife, Renee; and I were catching aJapan Airlines flight to Tokyo. We then would return home by way of Dallas-FortWorth.

After arriving at thebrand-new international terminal, we had more than an hour to kill before ourflight left for Tokyo Narita International Airport. Before leaving for Tan SonNhat Airport, Renee and I had eaten a light dinner at the Hotel Caravelle. Ourflight was scheduled to take off just before midnight, so we figured we’d sleepall the way to Tokyo.

I wandered back andforth up the concourse that led to the departure gates. During my wandering, Isaw documentary director Richard Max and cinematographer Stuart Dunn emergingfrom a security checkpoint. Richard had a box containing the videotape shotduring our week in Vietnam.

He and Stuart werereturning to London, by way of Incheon International Airport hear Seoul, SouthKorea. As I approached Richard, I could see the uniformed security guardpointing to the seal on the box of videotape. “It’s been opened,” the guard wastelling Richard.

“No. No. No. The boxhas not been opened. See the seal? It has not been broken,” Richard replied. Icould see he was frustrated.

After several minutesof haggling, the guard allowed Richard and Stuart passed through security andinto the concourse.

“I remember being quite stressedby the airport incident,” Richard said. “We had spent several hours previouslydoing the rounds of various government departments to avoid just this problem.We paid a hefty fee to receive an official stamp and seal on the box, and goneto what I considered some extraordinary lengths to comply with theirregulations.”

Richard said he didn’t know “whetherthe security guy was just doing his job” or wanted a fee.

As their flight wouldleave after ours, Richard and Stuart joined us at our gate. Richard told us hewould be on a tight editing schedule to meet the documentary’s planned releaseafter December 2008.

We told Richard andStuart goodbye at the gate. Though we did not know it at the time, we wouldmeet again in less than three months.

In November 2008, Ireceived an email from Richard, telling me the HelicopterWarfare documentaries wouldbe broadcast on the FIVE Channel in the United Kingdom in January. WindfallFilms planned a screening of our documentary — VietnamFirefight — at the HospitalClub in Covent Garden. The Huey crews were invited. Since we would be travelingthe farthest, Richard asked that we suggest a date in early January for thescreening and party to celebrate.

I sent a note to TomBaca, Larry Liss and Al Croteau. Tom, Larry and I planned to attend, so we cameup with a date during the first week of January; Al had travel plans elsewhere,so he could not attend.

While growing up inthe mid to late 1950s, I had lived outside of London, in Stanmore and NorthWembley, for four years. Aside from spending a week in London shortly afterRenee and I were married in February 1968, I had not been back to the UnitedKingdom, except to change planes at London Heathrow Airport. Renee and Idecided to go early and spend 10 days in the UK.

By coincidence, afriend in the United Kingdom was a subject of the Falklands War Helicopter Warfare installment.

I had met ChristopherParry about a year earlier when he was came to Santa Fe and Socorro, NewMexico, to make presentations to state government, business and academicleaders about how the world would look in the future. Chris was well qualifiedto do this. As a Royal Navy rear admiral, he was the British Ministry ofDefence’s director general of development, concepts and doctrine.

I was a consultantwith New Mexico Tech, which was sponsoring Chris’s visit to the state. Asarrangements were being finalized, university president Dr. Daniel Lopezsuggested the organizers include me as Chris and I had “both served onhelicopters in combat.”

Chris, who was PrinceAndrew’s commanding officer during the Falklands War, had been mentioned indespatches in the helicopter rescue of 16 SAS soldiers from the Fortuna Glacieron South Georgia Island. He also was mentioned for his role in finding anddisabling the Argentinian submarine ARA Santa Fe. Later, Chris would command HMSGloucester, HMSFearless and the RoyalNavy’s Amphibious Task Group.

The rescue of the SASsoldiers from Fortuna Glacier was the subject of the HelicopterWarfare: White Outdocumentary. As chance would have it, White Out and Vietnam Firefight would be the two documentaries shown atthe London screening.

Renee and I arrivedin London on New Year’s Day 2009. Several days later Chris called. Though wehad planned to have dinner one night, he suggested Renee and I take a trainfrom Waterloo Station to Portsmouth Harbor, where he would meet us at the rail station.

After a 65-milerailroad trip, we arrived at the Portsmouth Harbor station just outside theRoyal Navy base. We accompanied Chris onto the base, where we visited LordNelson’s flagship HMS Victory and the Tudor carrack MaryRose, which had sunk withall hands on board before the eyes of King Henry VIII.

Later that day wewould join Chris and his wife, Jackie, for tea in their home, then have dinnerwith the Parrys in a waterfront pub. We then dashed by car to a train stationto catch our ride back to London.

Tom Baca, Larry Liss and me at Hospital Club.
Several days later,we would see the Parrys at the screening in Covent Garden. After watching bothdocumentaries, I recall telling Chris I was glad I had faced enemy fire on the VietnamFirefight mission thanflying blind as his helicopter had done in White Out. His replied he felt the opposite.

Larry and his wife,Celeste; Tom and his wife, Jan; and Renee and I arrived at the Hospital Clubwithin minutes of each other. Cherry Brewer, line producer for Windfall Films,greeted us warmly. “I feel like I already know you,” she told me. Working onthe documentary, she knew our images and our voices from the videotaped interviews.

Cherry showed me to alarge room where a photographer was waiting. He directed me to turn back andforth naturally while he clicked off hundreds of photos on his camera’s motordrive. Tom, then Larry, joined me in the photo session. After individual shotswere taken, the photographer took photos of the three of us together.

Larry remembered arriving at the Hospital Club a littlelater than he had planned. “We had to walk about 20flights of small steps when the tube station’s elevator and escalator brokedown. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”

After the publicityphotos were shot, we were taken upstairs, where a party was about to begin.With a glass of wine in hand, we made the rounds, renewing acquaintances fromfilming the documentary and meeting others who would be attending the screening.About 30 minutes later, we entered a theater to view the documentaries.

Tom, Jan, Larry,Celeste, Renee and I were shown to a row of leather lounge chairs on the firstrow, marked “Reserved.” Jackie Parry sat on the other side of Renee.

David Dugan, WindfallFilms chairman, was master of ceremonies. As our film would be shown first,Richard Max described how he now had met Tom, Larry and me “on threecontinents.” After the introductions, Richard pushed a beanbag chair in frontof Tom, Larry and me. I knew Richard was a stickler for accuracy, so I figuredhe wanted to hear our comments as we saw the documentary for the first time.

Ten minutes into thedocumentary, I tapped Richard on the shoulder and said, “Great job.” I heard aslightly audible, “Whew.” Several minutes later, Tom leaned forward and toldRichard, “This is really good.”

In one of the scenes,my face almost filled the screen. My wife turned to me to say something. Ithought, perhaps, she would comment on my appearance. She did. “Your teeth lookyellow,” she told me.

Larry remembered “the screeningwas a great experience for Celeste and me. We had one of our best friends,Larry Hoelscher, who lives and works in London, come to the Hospital Club. Hewas really blown away.

Larry, too, was familiar withLondon, having worked there one week each month for eight years.

“Meeting the Brits who flew theFalklands mission was a real privilege,” Larry said. “We sat with the WindfallFilms staff at one of the bars and really got to know them well.”

Tom was impressed by the computer-generated imagery — orCGI — in the film. “The technical explanations of helicopter flight were good,as well,” he said. “The music and the reenactments also were very good. Larrystole the show with his wit and humor.”

After thedocumentaries were screened, Richard told us there was someone at the party whowanted to meet us. He introduced us to Alasdair Reid, who had composed thescore for the documentary series. Alasdair is a Scotsman who lives in Berlin.

“I hadn’t planned tocome to the screening until I learned you all would be here,” he told us.

Richardsaid he thought filming our interviews in Vietnam “is what made that filmparticularly stand out from the others in the series, and really brought hometo the audience the humanity of your story.”

Hesaid he already had started editing the film when he and cinematographer StuartDunn left for Vietnam in October 2008. Richard said he had left film editorJustin Badger “in the editsuite to go out filming in Vietnam.”

“Justin’s father had been ahelicopter pilot in the British forces and Justin himself had been at Fort Woltersas a baby in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when his dad was posted there fortraining,” Richard said.

Tom, Larry and I had taken our firstfour months of helicopter flight training at Fort Wolters, Texas, home of theU.S. Army Primary Helicopter Training Center.

The telecast of the HelicopterWarfare documentaries on theFIVE Channel was bumped back until May 2009. A short time later, the four-partseries would be broadcast on National Geographic Network International as HelicopterWars.

Eventually, it wouldcome to the United States as Helicopter Missions on the Smithsonian Network.

The forgotten missionwas starting to resurface.

1 comment:

  1. Hi jack,
    Met you in Starbucks a few days ago, your friend bought us coffee. I've read through a few posts, looks great so far. Looking forward to reading more! Thank you for sharing the DVD with us and your blog.