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News > Commentary - A Vietnam veteran's experience shared
Story at a Glance
 After 45 years, retired Army Col. Bill McPherson returned to the Vietnam crash site of his Huey gunship.
 Col. Kathleen Flarity, commander of the Air Force Reserve's 34 AES, accompanied her honorary commander on this journey of closure, peace.
Vietnam veteran visits crash site decades later
Retired Army Col. Bill McPherson, smokes a cigar in remembrance of his comrade, 22-year-old co-pilot, CW2 John Grow. After 45 years, the colonel returned to the Vietnam Huey gunship crash site where his co-pilot's life was taken and McPherson was seriously injured. McPherson is the Air Force Reserve Command's 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Honorary Commander and was accompanied by Col. Kathleen Flarity, commander of the 34th AES during this journey back to Vietnam. (Courtesy photo)
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A Vietnam veteran's experience shared

Posted 11/9/2011   Updated 11/9/2011 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Col. Kathleen Flarity
Commander, 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron

11/9/2011 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- It was an honor for my family and me to travel to Vietnam with retired Army Col. Bill McPherson our 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron Honorary Commander this past September. It was certainly a trip we would never have undertaken were it not for our relationship with Colonel McPherson. I have always been interested in the history of the Vietnam War. I think that for better or worse, it was an extremely important event in the shaping of our Nation.

On this military history tour we had the honor of traveling with our nation's heroes; WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans. The experience was enlightening for my children, Patrick and Tori. We hoped that by seeing what it would be like to live in a third world country, they would be more grateful to live in the best country on Earth. I definitely think we accomplished that goal. Both kids seem to have a much better appreciation of the things we so easily take for granted. I think they also have a much better understanding of the incredible sacrifices made by American service members, and the debt we owe them for our freedom. Those concepts are priceless, and cannot be taught easily. For this alone, the trip was well worth it.

Moving Towards Healing and Closure
Being with Colonel McPherson, a mentor to me, and an honorary grandfather to my children was a once in a lifetime experience for us and healing for him. These sentiments are from Colonel McPherson regarding the experience shared:

"Words can't express my deep gratitude and appreciation for both you, and the children, going to Vietnam with me. What could have been a very traumatic experience was turned into a pleasant tour. That's not to say that there weren't some traumatic moments, but with all of you supporting me, I was able work through them without anyone noticing. I think?

We have been back nearly two weeks, and I have been processing the tour, in my mind, every day and night since our return. I believe that I have placed everything in the proper prospective and now I can put many things to rest."

The Memorial at Colonel McPherson's Crash Site
Pleiku was a big Air Cav base during the Vietnam War, and where Colonel McPherson was stationed. In 1965, while flying a tense close-air support mission from Pleiku to Plei Mrong he and his Huey gunship were shot. In the mist of chaos he was able to maneuver his helicopter to the Special Forces camp in Plei Mrong. He sustained three AK-47 rounds to his abdomen and his 22-year-old co-pilot, CW2 John Grow was killed.

Our guide managed to get permission for us to make a special visit to the crash site. We picked up a local guide in Pleiku who took us to Plei Mrong where we were met by the town chief. He walked us about a mile from the road through a very quaint, poor village and fields of coffee and bananas. By the time we got to Colonel McPherson's crash site, we had accumulated a gathering of local villagers -mostly kids, but some adults, and a couple of people that looked old enough to remember the war. At the crash site, there was a small clearing, and a small temple where the locals worship.

It was Colonel McPherson and John's tradition to share a cigar together after each mission. For this visit 45 years later, Colonel McPherson brought John's dog tags, and two cigars. He buried John's dog tags at the crash site, and smoked a cigar in remembrance. He then buried the cigar he brought for John. It was a very moving experience for all who were present. I felt a sense of peace and it allowed Colonel McPherson the chance to have some closure, with a proper memorial service for John at the Plei Mrong crash site. It really seemed like the place was waiting for him to return. To still have a small clearing after all those years, and the presence of the small temple, nearby -- it really seemed like a good place to put old memories to rest and to re-focus on the future.

After the memorial to honor John's memory, Colonel McPherson pulled out a plaque that he had carried with him from the States that had my promotion orders from the President. Colonel McPherson read my promotion order and presented me with his last pair of Colonel's Eagles that he'd saved from his own promotion ceremony 40 years ago. This was a special honor for me, especially in a place that holds so much meaning to Colonel McPherson. I honored his request to wear his wings on my shirt for the remainder of our visit in Vietnam.
This tour was very educational for all of us; however it was very hard for me to see how the American military is portrayed. I will be eternally grateful to our military men and women who came before me and sacrificed so much.

6/15/2014 10:45:28 PM ET
My husband Don Baldwin and I happened to meet Col. McPherson today for Father's Day while visiting Wings Over the Rockies flight museum in Denver. We were fortunate enough to be there when one of the Colonel's Huey gunships was brought for display and Don spoke with him for a bit. My husband served in Pleiku as well being in the Army Signal Corps there and he'd never before met another Vietnam Vet who'd served there. It meant a lot to him. Because Don had flown over Saigon at night in a Huey gunship it was initially the helicopter that caught his interest. The Colonel' name seemed familiar to me perhaps from my own time working on certain operational systems with Raytheon and upon looking it up online Don was even more honored to have been able to thank the Colonel for his service. We're glad to have met him if only briefly.
Karen Baldwin, Denver CO
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