Sunday, June 8, 2008

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Congressional Medal of Honor Winner

When I lived in the Cleveland area, I was on my way home on Tiedeman and Brookpark Road when I noted that the car in front of me was rather old and rusted out but had a license plate that identified the driver as a Congressional Medal of Honor Winner. I drove up to the side of the car and asked him if I could talk to him. He pulled over.

So you know how amazing it was just to meet such a man, there were only 13 Medal of Honor Recipients from the entire State of Ohio for the Vietnam War!

Civil War 195
Campaigns against Native Americans 53
Spanish American War 4
World War I4
World War II 32
Korean War3
Vietnam War13
Other conflicts and peacetime 15
Total 319

"The criteria for the award changed over the years since the Civil War, but the common theme has been extraordinary courage demonstrated through actions taken despite great danger and against all odds. Many of the men who received the Medal of Honor made the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives to protect and defend not only their fellow soldiers, but also the Americans ideals of freedom and justice for all." (Ohio Historical Society)

What made this even more amazing is that most recipients died earning the medal! Here I was, privileged to shake the hand of a real American Hero! He drove a rusted old car and seemed, well, quite average.

Yet, I knew that I stood in the presence of one of the greatest men in the country that had ever lived. I told him humbly how much I appreciated his sacrifice and his amazing accomplishment. He humbly replied with a quiet "thank you". I then asked him if he would grant me the honor of buying him dinner at a nice local restaurant. He politely declined.

He then turned around and walked back to his rusted old car, opened the door, and said:

"You don't owe me anything buddy, but thanks for saying thanks!" Then he drove away.

In our litigious society it is amazing to think that this man; who hadn't spilled hot coffee in his lap; or found a toenail in his chili; still felt that I didn't owe him anything. God Bless the good ol USA and the military men that serve and have served her!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Shrapnel Protection...

I was good friends with a high ranking officer in the Air Force that flew recon missions in Nam. His job was to fly in a "one seater"; along the winding rivers; "low enough to see any gun installations or other signs of the enemy. High enough to stay out of the water.

He said he was issued a "flack jacket" that he refused to wear. When asked why, he explained that the enemy always "shot up" at his plane so he learned it was a good idea to use the jacket as a seat cushion. I think he called it earning a purple heart "the hard way."

The Hunter... By Paul Drockton

When I was in my 20s I went "hunting for pheasant" with a friend of mine. He brought another friend. As we walked through the barren corn field looking for pheasant I laughed to myself as I watched this guy swinging his shotgun from left to right...with every footstep. He walked fast. But he also walked carefully...looking from side to side for any sign of movement.


Excitedly, I walked towards him. I had never seen anyone shoot a pheasant without a dog before. I looked down and saw a dead rat.

Suddenly, my mind pictured the three of us, walking through the jungles of Viet-Nam with this guy at point. Hoping that we would see the snipers and the booby traps and the trip wires before they blew up in our face. I stopped laughing.

"How long were you in "Nam", I asked him a little later.

"Long enough." he replied.

It was a quiet ride home.

Ronnie Zelinka's Brother is Dead

Ron was a friend of mine that lived down the street. Like me, he was a "skinny kid" that lived in a small bungalow on Kenilworth Avenue in Parma, Ohio. I remember walking down the street and seeing the small American Flag decal on Ronnie's window that meant his brother was serving in the military.

One day, Ronnie was crying. He explained to me that his older brother had died in Viet-Nam operating a crane on the waterfront. The crane had been overloaded and apparently fell forward and killed him.

I never could be mean to Ron after that. No matter what he said or did, I knew that I didn't want to add anything else to his pain. I remember his mom and dad yelling at me for something or other. I couldn't say anything. I felt they weren't really angry at me at all.

A freak accident, that played itself over and over in my mind. Ronnie Zelinka's brother was dead. He wasn't coming back home ever again. His name is on "The Wall". To me, he was a hero I never knew. His mom and dad and Ronnie, were the heroes I did know. Carrying the one burden that no-one should ever have to carry. The whole neighborhood carried it. It never went away. I will always remember that, every time I walked past Ronnie's home, with the little flag decal in the window, that Ronnie Zelinka's Brother was dead.

The Honor of a Marine:

The Meaning of IS

Lance Corporal John C.Calhoun

Written By Ed Driscoll

Our training had just ended. Our training had just begun. In a few months some of us would be dead, others crippled and seriously injured. In the parking lot below the barracks waited the wives, girl friends and beloved family members of the young marines who in a few days would be fighting for the freedom of a people they did not know in the remote jungles of South Vietnam. We were from all over the United States but those marines who had loved ones close enough had this one last chance to have one last weekend together before we left. The marine barracks was old but spotless. There were four squad bays in the barracks. All squad bays had been released except ours. The order had been given that we would not be released until Lance Corporal John Calhoun’s stolen wallet was returned.

Staging Battalion was lonely duty. It was final training before we left for South Vietnam. We came and left not as members of a marine unit but as individuals. We were all marines but were together for only a few weeks. We were trained by Vietnam veterans. Some had long ghostly silent stares. All had the desire to give us the skills needed to come home alive. Unlike boot camp we were not harassed. We were treated with the respect we had earned in becoming Unites States Marines. In boot camp we learned to shoot straight. Here, we learned to shoot fast from the hip at pop up targets as we walked along dirt trails. We learned how to avoid capture if separated from our unit, how to trap and kill food. We learned how to identify east then travel south so as to stay out of North Vietnam. But, the most important thing we learned in boot camp and had reinforced at every duty station was that the actions of one could get many killed. Therefore, we understood that while it seemed totally unfair to the non-military minds of the loved ones waiting in the parking lot on this beautiful California day, we were going nowhere until Lance Corporal Calhoun’s stolen wallet was returned.

Wisdom prevailed. The thief did not have to confess. The wallet could show up in the head or in any common area. The order was it had to be returned. The method of the return was not specified. Tension mounted as the hours passed. The heels of boots hit the clean polished floor just a little harder as if troops were marching. The squad bay doors swung open with more force than necessary as marines entered and exited. The sudden sound of footlockers slamming shut, punctuated the passing minutes. We all wanted to be released for the weekend but those with loved ones in the parking lot were really uptight.

John Calhoun was my best friend. We left for basic training from the South Boston train station and had been together ever since, partly because his name began with C and mine with D and the importance of order, partly because of chance, but mostly because we grew to love each other. It was not how much money I had but how much we had. Not what I was going to do but what we were going to do. Not if I was going to pass inspection but were we going to pass. Therefore, we volunteered for Vietnam. John was an award winning artist, a gentle marine. I once saw him struck repeatedly by a drunk he could have easily neutralized. He made not a motion to strike back. He was a squared away marine. He always had starched utilities and spit shined boots. John Calhoun loved the Marine Corps.

John was not comfortable at the center of this problem. His face usually happy showed the stress. His shoulders usually straight slumped forward. Though he had searched his locker a number of times, he searched again. This time he pulled his duffel bag out of the locker and placed it on the floor. When the bag hit the floor his wallet appeared in the back of his locker. I told him his wallet must have been returned. He did not even look at me. I said, John, don’t be foolish your wallet has been returned. His shoulders regained their marine posture. He walked with purpose toward the sergeant in charge. The sergeant yelled, “Listen up Lance Corporal Calhoun has something to say to you all”. John spoke softly but deliberately. “My name is Lance Corporal Calhoun. It is my fault you have not been released for the past two hours. I found my wallet. It was in my locker. I am sorry. I will be here in the barracks if any of you want to talk to me more about this. I am very sorry”. No one could have put a hand on John Calhoun that day. We all knew what we had seen.

Mrs. Virginia Calhoun received John’s body, an American Flag, and the Navy Cross for John’s heroism in battle. Somewhere his courage in the last moments of his life is recorded in an official military citation. Find it and read it if you wish. I don’t have to.

Edmund R. Driscoll Jr.
Phone 1800-874-1660
email Ed

I only knew you in death.


Norman Franklin Ridley
DOB 02/03/50
DOC 01/08/69
U.S.S. Coral Sea

I never knew you in life.

We may have passed each other at sometime on the ship or in port and never knew it. We met on the flight deck the day you died.

We had just armed the plane on the catapult and were waiting to launch it. For some reason they kept it on the cat for a long time and we started to recover the aircraft from the earlier flight and they started to bunch up on the deck. I kept thinking, "just scrub the damn flight, what the hell different will one more plane make." Then the plane was launched just as you were pulling the fuel hose across the deck. My back was to you and I saw part of your ear protectors and goggles blow down the deck, I knew that something terrible had happened. You were lying on the deck about 20 feet from me. The wing had hit you in the head as the plane was launched. I looked down at you as I walked by. I did not stop, I had planes to de-arm, I just walked by.

When I finished my job I went below deck to the ordnance shop and thought about your death. Where was God this day, why did this happen, what purpose did your death accomplish. It happened it was over. Another sacrifice had been made to the "Prince of Death" and it wasn't me. That may sound crass to those who weren't there but I know that you understand. I went down to dinner and on with my life, but I never prayed again.

You have never been far from me, sometimes I wonder about what your hopes and dreams were, what you wanted to do in life. At 18 we think we will live forever. In 1979 I cried for you for the first time, I cried again when I went to the Wall in 1987, I was back on the flight deck I could hear the Jets and the Helos, I could smell it, feel it and I could see it. You will be in my memory till the day I die.

I only knew you in death.

Michael L. Murphy
Attack Squadron 153, Ordnance
U.S.S. Coral Sea
Vietnam 1967, 68, 69