WOW! What a wonderful day it was Saturday at the Vietnam Veterans and All Veterans Reunion at Wickham Park in Melbourne, Florida.
Dan and I headed out about 10 a.mm on our way to Melbourne. I had donned all my Firebird attire, my various pins (Gold Star, American flag, POW/MIA, Huey helicopter, Vietnam cross, Firebird logo) along with wearing my brother’s dog tag. This dog tag was the one that our family received from the DOD upon his official identification in 2006.
Most of you reading this know the story of my brother, Capt. Herbert C Crosby (MIA Vietnam 1970). I take him to all the veteran events I attend by wearing his Army dog tag he wore the last day of his life. It means so much to me.
We arrived at Wickham Park coming into the memorial area first. It, of course, takes on a feel of reverence immediately. The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall with American flags flying, wreaths from various veteran organizations placed in honor, state flags surrounding the area, and the wall of names for the Operation Freedom, 911, with special tributes throughout the area just touches your heart. The whole area was guarded with continuously Honor Guards from various organizations. We, of course, wanted to see the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall again and pay tribute to all whose name is on that wall. They gave their all…we should never forget.
I laid a memorial patch designed by the Georgia Patriot Guard Riders for my brother’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery in front of panel 14W where Herby’s name is on line 22, along with his crew. I touched their names and prayed. I cried as one just can’t walk up to that wall without crying or feeling the emotion of it. And this is the Vietname Traveling Memorial Wall, a scaled model of The Wall in Washington. Let me tell you, the emotion is still there. It was beautiful. (The patch is black and white at the bottom of the above photo behind the flag. I’ve highlighted in yellow where Herby’s name is.)
Dan and I walked towards the vendor area to visit with Paul. On the way there were various displays and booths. One though caught my attention as it was something I hadn’t seen before. It was Buck’s Heroes memorial. This was for all the war dogs that either lost their lives in service or were left behind when all the troops pulled out of Vietnam. Tears welled up for this one also. That sign on the right reads: “In Memory of the over 4000 US War Dogs that served in Vietnam. After the war was over these dogs were left behind in Vietnam. They were our buddies and we will never forget them.” The names of the dogs are on all those little plaques laying on the ground.
We moved on to the vendor section and as we walked into that area, right in front of us was Paul Bartlett’s booth for the heliplaques. And there he was. I started walking toward him with arms outstretched for a huge hug. He looked up and the biggest smile came on his face as was on mine. He was talking to another Veteran who was in a scooter as he couldn’t walk. Paul was telling him about Herby and me. So when I walked up to Paul and the Veteran, timing was perfect. Paul introduced me to him and I hugged the Vet and he just wouldn’t let go (hmmm!) but he had tears well up in his eyes. I told him Herby’s story was a good story and how proud I was of him and I thanked him for his service. It was a great moment.
What a perfect location for Paul, and for Frank Anton, Vietnam POW (1968-1973) Firebird 90 from the 71st AHC with him signing his book, Why Didn’t You Get Me Out? I had not met Frank before so I was looking forward to meeting him and getting his book. I had heard so much about him from all my Rattler and Firebird brothers so was anxious to meet him. He was a Firebird and from my brother’s unit, although he was there before Herby arrived, and unfortunately became a POW also.
Paul Bartlett served with the 71st Assault Helicopter Co
. Vietnam from 1967-1968. Paul was a helicopter mechanic and pilot serving in Germany, Vietnam, and Alaska. After a brief stint using his flight skills on the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline, Paul had a full and decorated career as a trooper and pilot for the Alaska State Troopers. In “retirement”, Paul earned his Airframe and Powerplant License and worked restoring antique aircraft before applying his passions to launch HeliPlaqueTM
. He made his first Heliplaque for my brother’s long awaited return to American soil. We have this heliplaque proudly displayed in our home. These are great and any helicopter pilot who flew should have one.
We had a great time talking and just being together. Frank signed my book with a special note. It was such an honor to meet him as he ws truly an American hero and as I told him, all the Rattlers and Firebird
s are heroes to me, but a POW, well, words can’t describe it…I’m so happy he’s home. I starting reading his book Sunday afternoon and could hardly put it down. It’s really a good, no it is more than good, it is outstanding. It’s a truthful story of his five terrifying years as a POW.
From the back cover: ” Only after the war was over did he learn that the entire time he was imprisoned, our government
had known exactly where he and his fellow captives were and could have easily rescued them. Anton was shocked to learn that he had been nothing more than a pawn in an international game of power politics and espionage. He reveals why our government didn’t get him out – even when a successful rescue could have been easily completed. He tells of appalling conditions in the jungle prison campus. He remembers his comrades who died while patriotically defending a government that betrayed them He shares the shocking details of torturous deaths endured in the jungle darkness while our government simply looked the other way.” This photo is the shirt he wore while in the Hanoi Hilton.
It’s a great, must read book. If you haven’t read it, get it and read it
. (Or just search Frank Anton on the internet and you’ll find his book.) It’s a must read to understand why a lot of us (me included) believe and know there were men left behind. Are they still prisoners of war? Are they still alive? Most likely yes I believe as do others. Why haven’t we gotten them home? It sickens me to know that our government took such a cynical attitude toward this issue.
We then walked around the area visiting all the vendor booths as I wanted to purchase a few items. While doing this we heard that sweet sound of a helicopter. Sure enough, one was circling around the reunion area. It came around and landed making an awesome show. Of course we were right there to check it out. I got this great photo with the huge American and POW/MIA flags with the helicopter. People could get in it so photo ops were abundant!
We talked with many veterans. One man from central Winter Park area came up to me and gave me a big hug saying to me, “God bless you” as he saw my Gold Star pin knowing what it meant. His duty in Vietnam was to bag up the bodies to send home. I can’t imagine his struggle through the years of this. It was hard for him but he told us he had to quickly learn to have a good/crazy sense of humor. He bagged over 400 bodies himself. His wife sends him to this reunion every year to help get Vietnam out of his system for a while. He camps there for the entire weekend with a friend and just really enjoys it. He says it great therapy.
We talked with twins who served at the same time but were in different locations in Vietnam. They try to come every year. It’s so humbling to hear their stories and to be a part of these warriors reunions. If you’ve never been to the reunion, go next year.
As we headed out for the day we went back to the memorial area so I reflect a little more. By that time more little American flags had been placed around the patch. Herby’s patch had been moved from where I had it and placed on a carnation stem with American flags around it as seen here. I was touched.
As we were standing there we heard again that sweet sound of the helicopter and knew it must be leaving. And oh my, itcame right up over the Moving Wall, hovered there and then bowed/saluted the wall and flew on. Dan and I were standing right in front of it. I can tell you know the goose bumps and chills were all over me. It was breathtaking. What an absolutely lovely day at Wickham Park. Thank you to every veteran and civilian who made this day possible. Never forget our fallen heroes. Never forget our POW/MIA and support a full accounting
. God Bless our veterans. And this I take from the jacket of Frank Anton’s book (think about this and read the book):
SURELY, SOMEONE WILL COME! POW/MIAs IN S.E. ASIA STILL WAIT!