This Memorial Day is a fitting time for me to give tribute to a deserving young lieutenant, tribute which is long past due. Forgive me, but I cannot remember his name. There were about 40 pilots in our unit at any given time, and I just don’t remember.

The young man had come into my Air Cavalry unit in the 101st Airborne Division only about two months before his untimely death. Like almost every other pilot already there, he had just completed a combat tour in Vietnam. Some of us had served two or three, but this was the lieutenant’s first, right out of flight school. Like most of us, I am sure he had not volunteered to go, nor was he happy when he received the orders. But in those days, volunteering for flight school meant almost surely, although indirectly and involuntarily, that one would end up in Vietnam.

He was a carefree bachelor. As soon as he reached the States, he used a year’s worth of combat pay and flight pay to buy a brand new 1973 Corvette. With a weekend pass in hand, one Friday he decided to drive from Fort Campbell to his parent’s home in Cleveland. We never saw him again. That Saturday night in Cleveland, he died in a one-car accident.

None of us knew him well, but it did not matter. I obtained permission to load up two UH-1H Hueys with pilots to fly up there for the funeral. He deserved just as much respect and grief as if he had died in combat, in my book. So about 15 of us, warrant officers, lieutenants, captains, and one major, packed our Army green uniforms and jump boots and took off to fly north. I remember that the first fuel stop was at Fort Knox, and as we flew final approach I pointed out the Gold Depository through the left windows, for those who had never been to Knox. I also recall that the final approach to the Cleveland airport was on instruments, at night and in the soup, and took us over Lake Erie, which made me nervous.

One of our more enterprising warrant officers had called ahead to a National Guard armory and arranged for transportation in Army sedans, for which he signed. No government quarters were available, so we stayed in a motel. The next day, we dressed in our green blouses, complete with bloused jump boots, as decreed by the 101st Airborne Division.

Upon arrival at the church, we created quite a stir. I guess we were not expected. The funeral director, obviously impressed, asked if we would line up on each side as the casket was carried into the church. Of course we obliged, as this seemed the thing to do without being asked. We held our hand salutes until the flag-covered casket was inside, then we filed into the church. We all sat together, and we Protestants knelt and prayed right along with all the Roman Catholics, during a service conducted by a priest.

At the end of the service, people were invited forward to pay final respects at the casket. We soldiers went up there one at a time, me first. I stood at attention and rendered a final hand salute in front of that flag, slowly lowering my hand in the respectful order arms gesture used on such occasions. I could not hold back a few tears. Each pilot followed my lead, one at a time. I don’t know about the tears part.

Afterwards, we were invited to the Cleveland home of the young man’s parents.   They were devout Roman Catholics.   Although in grief, they were upbeat in the knowledge that their son was with the Lord. I seem to remember that he had two surviving young sisters, either teenagers or in their early 20s. Lots of cousins were present, also. The family fed us, thanked us profusely, and said that our presence meant a lot to them.

There was not much chatter on the intercom during the long flight home.   I remember one refueling stop at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where they had trouble finding a fuel hose small enough for our Hueys, and another stop at Fort Knox.   Much of the flight was in actual instrument conditions.

The young pilot, whose name, sadly, I cannot remember, deserved every bit as much honor, respect, and dignity as if he had died in combat. I hope we gave it to him. This is what I want to convey on this Memorial Day, as I have never told this story before. When his country called, he did not question why by running to Canada or protesting in the streets. He was every bit a comrade as if we had lost him in a landing zone, unknown name notwithstanding. I remember him.

Chuck Oualline


About Roger Young

Roger "Bear" Young served with the Silver Spurs as a Scout crew chief and Line Chief from Dec '69 through Nov '70. Upon his return to the "world" he served at Hunter AAF as a Cobra Periodic Inspection team leader. He founded the Spur website in Sept 1997.
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