Memories at the wall – For & About Members – Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Memories at the wall – For & About Members – Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Brief Article

Richard R. Teipel

We have just finished our last performance at the big annual DoD Air Show at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. All of our aircraft are refueled and ready for the trip home to Tara Field south of Atlanta. As volunteer members of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, we fly at air shows.

Using airplanes and helicopters from our fleet of 20-plus vintage former Army aircraft, we completed our mission, which is connecting the American soldier to the American public as an admired, accepted and active member of the American family through the story of Army aviation. We do this with actual veteran Army aircraft with names like Huey, Cobra, Cayuse, Mohawk, Bird Dog and Caribou. Ours is the only civilian organization of its type.

The 20mm cannon and machine guns installed on the aircraft along with the use of pyrotechnics provide the realism to make our re-enactment a crowd-pleaser. This is just one of many shows we will do this year. The memories from this one, however, will be different.

Now that the gates are closed and the crowds are gone, we finally have some free time to discuss where we are going to eat. It’s Al Eason who first suggests we drive across the river to D.C. to visit the Vietnam Memorial–the Wall, as it’s commonly known. The eight of us load into two vehicles and head for the nations’ capital.

Most of the day a light rain has been falling. All eight of us are veterans of Vietnam and I guess the lousy days there during the monsoon prepared us for this one. It is Sunday evening around 7 p.m. when we arrive at the Wall. Because it is a Sunday and raining, I think we will be alone at the Wall. That is not the case. Hundreds of people are filing by the black granite wall of 58,226 etched names. Most of the visitors are considerably younger than our group. The silence is eerie, but I assume this is a gesture of reverence on the part of the visitors.

Eight men each carry memories of friends to the Wall. One will show us where his name should be engraved.

Bob Schrader, better known as “Dakota Bob” to those of us in the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, is a farm boy. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that, too. Although I did not know Bob well until this trip, I have since learned much about this man. He’s back working on the farm in his home state of North Dakota. After retiring from Qwest with 32 years of service, Bob spends much of his free time helping neighbors plant and harvest their crops. No longer a boy, the story shared with seven friends at the wall is a man’s story, and will never be forgotten.

In 1961, at the age of 18, Bob and his twin brother Richard enlisted in the Army for a three-year hitch. It was during this enlistment he saw the world and began a relationship with an airplane, a DeHavilland Caribou.

Bob goes to the memorial index of names to search for the panel on which his friend’s name is located. Our group works its way down the Wall, occasionally pausing, for each of us to view the names of friends. The rain finally stops, and a little sun filters through the clouds. Reaching over his head, Bob points to the name Donald Nelson and says, “This is where my name should be.”

It was 5 May 1964. That was the day the Army CV-2B Caribou 593 crashed at Tan Hiep, Vietnam. All 15 aboard the aircraft perished–nine Americans and six Vietnamese. It went down in flames. Bob Schrader was the crew chief assigned to 593, but that particular day, by a quirk of fate, he was not on it.

The night before the crash of 593, Bob was asked by fellow crew chief Don Nelson to swap aircraft the next day. Bob was scheduled for a short day while Don’s aircraft was expected to return late in the evening. Don was experiencing back pain and needed to see the flight surgeon before the dispensary closed. So the agreement was made, although it meant a longer day for Bob Schrader. According to Bob, it was a very sad day for members of the 61st Aviation Company assigned at Vung Tau. The Fargo Forum listed the crash as, “The Worst Military Air Disaster in Vietnam.” Until now, with the telling of this story, the state of North Dakota never knew it almost lost another one of its own.

At age 57, Bob still flies as a crew chief on the Caribou. He makes several trips a year at his expense from his home in Kindred, N.D. to Tara Field, home base for the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. Coincidentally, the Caribou 4149 he now crews is the very one he was assigned in Vietnam as a replacement after the crash of 593.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Reserve Officers Association of the United States

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