A Letter on Stateside Training and Shipping to Vietnam
From Jasper McElwee

8NOV99

Roger Young,

Thank you for your warm response to my exploratory internet inquiry. You and John Dungan have sure helped fill in some missing pieces from that long ago "experience" and, at the same time, supplied some new ones.

I always knew our 3rd/17th AIR CAV was unique but never did I have a clue just how much so. That had made it difficult to express to people over the last 30 some years just what exactly we did and where we did it! It's now very gratifying to see my "memories" of being all over the place all the time validated and some what organized. Just about nobody ever heard of our Squadron and now, thanks to you and your anonymous partner I have that wonderful sticker proclaiming that I am a "Proud Vietnam Veteran" of the Redhorse Squadron AIR CAV! We must have done something honorable.

So, in case I never get another chance, here's some random thoughts and/or foggy memories I'd like to share with all my Brother Troopers:

Roger, when that tragedy at FT Knox occurred, with the two A Troop Hueys colliding and the resulting carnage, we were required to call home to tell relatives that we survived. Shouldn't the names of the fallen be on "The Wall"? Especially since the audience in attendance that sorrowful day were West Point Cadets. Those former Cadets now run the Pentagon and they witnessed the pride of our AIR CAV crash and burn during a demonstration of the future of warfare. Dying is combat. When exactly did that happen? I'd like to read an actual Louisville newspaper report of it.

Somewhere in West Virginia or Georgia I remember someone being killed when the truck he was driving, (a water truck, I think) rolled down a mountainside because erosion from a rain storm collapsed the dirt road. I saw his flesh later smudged across the tank of the truck. Apparently, he jumped out when the truck began falling and it rolled over him, crushing and killing him. Does anyone know if he was a 17th CAV Trooper? If so, can we get him on the honor roll? Also, did not one of our comrades fall and die from a Huey during a rappelling exercise? Possibly the pilot was unaware that anyone was still "dangling" and had taken off and the trooper lost his grip and fell from hundreds of feet up. Anyone remember that?

During most of our stateside training I was in C Troop. My job kept switching as more and more personnel arrived at FT Knox. I believe I arrived there in late January of 1967. It took awhile for the FT Knox Command HQ to figure out where and what the 17th AIR CAV was. The MP's escorted me to a barracks with "starched wing" mechanics. They had no idea why my orders said AIR CAV. "Air" was the only thing we had in common.

A few days later I was again escorted to a virtually deserted barracks area and told, "This is it."

Now I had an entire Company area with practically just me and a young LT (I am a little foggy about his rank, but I was a PFC and who ever he was he out ranked me) keeping a HQ coal fire going in the pot belly stove. In the morning the LT came by my barracks and I stood alone at attention outside and reported, "ALL PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR"!

As more Troops arrived and our unit training began I convinced the Officer, (maybe C-Troops' CO?) whose driver I now was, to allow me to train with the grunts because I had no idea what to do in a war and I wanted to posses the best information available that would help me stay living. It was no secret where Redhorse was going.

One of the most influential Soldiers in C TRP was SGT Chuck Fowler. A WWII Infantry-Glider Vet... Look at it this way, Glider Troops are absolutely in the evolutional development of the AIR CAV. The 17th CAV was in the European theater during WWII. I wonder if they entered Europe via air? There's a possibility that AIR CAV and Glider-Vets are logical steps in the same unique historical lineage that NOW includes the active A TRP, 3rd Squadron, 17th AIR CAV. That Greybeard thing is a good idea.

Anyway, (possibly) Platoon SGT Fowler had plenty of off the record and not by the book actualities to share. He was funny as hell and a genuinely positive entity. Lots of C-Troopers wanted him in Vietnam with us but also wanted him to retire and not go, again. He'd done enough in WWII and Korea. Thankfully, he did retire before we disembarked westward toward South East Asia. Respectfully, I'm convinced his shared combat experience and his poignant delivery saved 17th AIR CAV lives in the shit.

Did you know that Glider-Troops were eventually awarded "Wings"? AIR CAV VETS should automatically be authorized to "wear" the current Air-Assault wings. Have you seen them? There's a little Huey coming head on in the middle of an upwardly curving set of angelic wings.

Now here's something I can't figure out: John Dungan wrote about being in an advanced party that entered RVN sooner than the remaining 17th's Troops. I wasn't in Delta Troop until the beginning of DEC 67 which, of course, is after the entire Squadron was in country... Logic would demand there be an obvious second troop-ship, but were talking about the U.S. Army so logic may not be applicable. U.S.S. George Washington?

Whichever troop-ship I was on went through a typhoon, a genuine puke-fest. Diverted by the storm, we landed in the Philippines at Subic Bay, instead of Okinawa as planned, After one wild drunken night we left for the final destination. Once again, it's important for me to remember there's plenty of fog between here and then, so please excuse any inaccuracies, as unintentional.

I enjoyed "the why we have berets" story from John Dungan. Does anyone recall while in W. Virginia one of our Choppers landing out in civilian land and "capturing" a Special Forces Officer driving away on a weekend pass? Is he the same "prisoner" John Dungan mentions?

The 3rd/17th's D-Troop must have started an AIR CAV tradition because D-Troop, 7th/1st AIR CAV also wore berets, black ones. They were fresh meat when I got transferred to that Squadron. They immediately made me a squad leader because the only piece of paper I had to show them classified me as an 11D and with 6 months "experience", all OJT.

Remember the Christmas Religious service? Somewhere near Nui Ba Den or Sui Da? I've run into the Chaplain that performed the service. He's Pastor at a Presbyterian Church along the Delaware River in Titusville, NJ.

After the service, we "saddled up" and flew away fast and low, out to who knows where. I think the scenario went like this: Although there was a truce in effect, we were out patrolling in order to make sure Charlie wasn't. Technically, if there was a truce we were breaking it. U.S. Army S.O.B.

Thanks again, Roger and WELCOME HOME to you too! If you want to and think it's appropriate, feel free to post this on the web.

PEACE!

Sincerely, J. McElwee
3rd/17th AIR CAV



Update: November 16, 1999

Jasper McElwee's letter jogged some memories and Morris Miller, webmaster at the HHT, 3/17th Air Cav site, adds the following:

The death of Sp4 Larry Stott was at Camp Dawson, West Virginia. He was driving a tanker truck full of JP4 fuel, not water. He was with HHT 3/17th.

Re: Midair at Fort Knox. Seems like it happened on the 4th of July but it was definitely in the summer. A friend (can't remember his name) tried to persuade me to participate but I declined-- as a crew chief I was getting to fly all I wanted.

I went with the advance party. We left Fort Knox on October 9th, 1967 and arrived at Ben Hoa at 12:30 on October 11th.

Signed,
Morris Miller, webmaster, HHT, 3/17th

Update: December 11, 1999

Jasper McElwee responded:

Thank you for clearing up some ancient history. Memories of going over the side onto landing craft and the lack of issued ammunition along with Subic Bay confirm, as you've said, that it was the General Walker that I too was on. The page you enclosed from Morris Miller straightens out my confusion about two ships since the advanced party obviously flew over, leaving Ft. Knox 9 Oct 67 and arriving 11 Oct 99. Fourth of July 1967 was also about when my foggy mind had placed the midair, so thanks for putting that out there and thanks to Morris Miller.



Jasper McElwee's Photo's of Delta Troop in 1968



Jasper

Jasper McElwee - 1968
From the Jasper McElwee Collection



Jasper3

Bunker Duty
From the Jasper McElwee Collection



Soui Da

A Delta Troop flight over Soui Da
From the Jasper McElwee Collection



Bent Bird

From the Jasper McElwee Collection

This last photo illustrates one of the strengths of the alliance among brothers that the 3/17th on the web has been able to create. Jasper thought that this was a photo of an A Troop bird that got bent in a mortar attack when A Troop and D Troop were together north of Tay Ninh. John Dungan, of the 3/17th Reunion Association, sent the picture to the various webmasters. Roger Young, A Troop webmaster, examined it and determined that the fuselage markings were not A Troop, but probably B or C Troop. Skip Davis, over at the B Troop site, sent the picture to Paul Fleming. Paul has a picture just like it. Paul says that it is a B Troop bird. It was damaged one night at Soui Da in early December 1967 in some kind of rocket attack. Paul wants to say it happened in a ground attack, but he is just not sure.





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