Mike Brown, Rick Humke, Jocko Trimble and Tommy Thompson
In the groups above there are multiple metal hips and knees, hypertension and delusions of grandeur (extreme), unconquerable spirits and cancer survivors. Truly a part of the cadre of Winded Warriors. Support the drive, donate for the cause! Jocko
Tommy Thompson’s wife Cookie [above] started jogging a little bit after retiring and someone asked if she could swim. Now she is ranked nationally for her age group in triathlons and competing at Kailua-Kona in the Iron Man in August. Team Member Ted Coulson's wife Jeanne has done the Hood-to-Coast Relay twice and is signed up this year as a team alternate. Team Member John Stringfellow's wife and Lance Ammon's wife are both accomplished athletes. Other wives don't run or lift weights, but they've conquered a thousand moves and other challenges way beyond our ability to thank them. Thanks so much, anyway, Ladies!
NOTE: Jocko here re: "70 Battle Flag":
I made the flag after all the local commercial outfits whined and made lame excuses. I actually tried to use the emblem in our class yearbook Polaris. But I think I finally found one on the AOG website. I enlarged it, retraced the lines, printed it on iron-on paper, essentially melted it into the heavy red material (same with USAFA!). Added fringe with the help of a Vietnamese seamstress whose son is at USAFA now. It looks pretty good. On the back will be a picture of Ron Volkmar [note: see below] on his Trans-National bike quest and the four classmates (Trimble, Thompson, Brown and Humke) who challenged Kilimanjaro. I called it our Battle Flag because I knew we already had a formal flag and this one is meant to go, folded against a classmates’ breast into the fray. Hopefully a photo with it and all classmates involved will exist. lso, it’s meant to document our individual or group achievements after we entered our seventieth year. Volkmar being the only exception because of the nature of his achievement. Running marathons, playing 36 holes of golf, climbing Pike’s Peak even walking the entire Hadrian’s Wall (though close) don’t make the cut. [ha, ha] The Hood to the Coast run sounds worthy. The Centennial bike race would be. Mick’s 70 mile race near Waco would have been. There are lot’s of you guys who are planning phenomenal feats and should be proud. Try to get a team. Also, sometimes the battle flag cannot be a part of every endeavor. Bruce French is a member of a Sierra wilderness rescue team. If you have a shot and a story, submit it. Photo shop works.
Get the word out. I’m CIC [Cadet-in-Charge] of the flag and it is OURS so please just let me know when and where. BJ should get it for the Coast run. Questions?
May the wind be at your back and the road rise up to meet your feet.
As to Jocko's BIO ... for more of his awkward silences and slapdash excuses ... click READ MORE ► for the Real Story
I’m Jocko, a very proud member of the Class of 1970 ”Red Tags” and a Seagram’s Seven Pub Hound and the father of a Class of 2003 grad who also served in Iraq in 2005. His little sister is flying the F-16C in my old combat fighter squadron the 13th Fighter Squadron.
It’s been a tradition in the family for awhile. My Great Grandfather was a Trooper with Gen Wheeler’s cavalry; his son, my granddad, was B Troop commander in 14th Cav with Gen Pershing on the Mexican border in 1916 and U of Ga PMS in WWII while his son, West Point ‘41, flew P-38s in Africa and Europe and later, RB-26s in Korea.
Redtags Class of 1970
Please accept this address to the VFW and all American veterans I was honored to give a few years back:
Thank you very much VFW Post 1848 for giving me the opportunity to talk today: it is truly a great honor to see you all at this Veterans Reunion. Especially thanks to the Rolling Thunder group who support the Wounded Warrior and Nam POWs and almost any other veteran group as visual ambassadors. It’s awfully hard to ignore 500-plus roaring motorcycles.
As a group we are special; even though we come from all walks of life and situations; ancestry and creeds, we share one common thread of service and dedication to our nation’s security from threats on foreign shores or between our own. It didn’t matter how long we were in the service or just why we joined; for some it was boot camp and two years, for others it was much longer and under very difficult times.
Also, for a majority of us, though our military tour is clearly in mind, we served a long time ago. Let me put it into perspective. Now I can see most of you are younger than me but go with me.
When I had been in the military just two years I listened to a WWII hero describe the mission that won him the Medal of Honor. It was Gen Jimmy Doolittle and his story was about his raid on Tokyo just 25 years earlier. It seemed like a story from some distant past to me and he looked very old. It was 1967.
Fast forward. Earlier this spring (2014) I was lucky enough to address a group of brand new F-16 pilots at their final graduation before going off to the world. I wanted to tell them about flying combat as I had done in Vietnam with some timeless lessons.
They looked so young. In fact, the commander of the 56th Fighter Wing hosting the ceremony, BG Scott Pleus, a great guy, was a new 2nd Lt when I retired from the AF in 1991. And I was talking to these kids about something that happened over 40 years earlier. Interestingly enough, the Phantom II, like I flew in Vietnam is still being flown at the base these kids were at. HaHa , Forty years from when I was flying in Vietnam, at their same age, the Army Air Corp was flying bi-planes.
But I’m not here to tell you lessons about combat. I’m sure we are all veterans fighting the arthritis and other aches in the war of getting old. I want to tell you a little bit about the journey I have made over the past 43 years. No, it’s not going to be that long. Specifically about the start and the end of my Vietnam experience.
As a young WSO (navigator), hanging in a parachute over North Vietnam, I realized the cold beer I imagined waiting for me was going to go stale and life as I thought it would be was suddenly changing forever. The Vietnam War had already lasted eight years and unknown numbers of our soldiers were being held captive in the North. The purpose of the War for US had changed from whatever objective may have been to virtually Get Our POWs home. In that endeavor, I had reluctantly become one.
In the years since, I have read and listened to first hand accounts of American flyers being captured in Vietnam. They are almost exactly alike and involve the initial shock, the traumatic chute landing. For some capture was immediate. For others, like my good friend Pete Camarota , surrendered came only after evading for twelve days, he was starving, dehydrated, and hallucinating. I evaded for about two hours until a farmer and his elderly mother tripped on my hiding place and sounded the alarm.
Similar, too, was the trip to wherever the government officials could take control of us. I was hog-tied and required to walk from village to village. Fjord small rivers with a rope around my neck and face rocks and spit and pinching from the people. Yeah, they were mad. Who wouldn’t be? Our B-52s had been pounding them for almost two weeks. They had been fighting this war for twenty years and had lost fathers, husbands and sons. Strangely, I didn’t particularly feel any anger at the way they were treating me. Mostly, I was numb and in shock. I was just glad they hadn’t killed me right off.
In about 24 hours, I was taken to the Hanoi Hilton and placed in a cell with three other pilots. One of them was my pilot from the Phantom. I’d thought he’d been killed and was very glad to see him. Together we figured we’d be there for at least four years. In the next few weeks, that prospect changed. First of all, there were no more sirens or air raids; we and about 19 other POWs were moved to another camp; and the interrogations stopped. Then, we were informed by the Vietnamese the Peace Accord had been agreed upon and would soon be signed and we would all be released “soon”.
You see, I was shot down on the very last day of combat operations over N. Vietnam and was a POW for just over three months. The luck I had is amazing. Yet I knew full well that there were other POWs who had spent years in solitaire confinement and subjected to horrible torture. They are the heroes. They are the ones I honor. I was just a 1st Lt.
Coming home was hard for a couple of reasons. I was not ready for the attention and I seriously felt I didn’t deserve what the nation was offering. Many of the soldiers who had fought the hardest of fights were not getting parades or recognition or the help they deserved. You see, unlike the Old timers, I’d been in the USA in the Sixties and Seventies. I knew the country had split apart and the old way of doing things was over; for better or worse. For most of us in the military then it seemed a sense of betrayal. Those issues began to carry into our politics and our educations and our psychic.
But that was a long time ago and exciting things were in store. Happy things. I got married and had kids. I became an USAF pilot and traveled the world. I rose to the rank of Lt Col and at 22 years retired. It was a good life. Next, I was ever so lucky to get a job flying for Mr. Fred Smith at Federal Express. I did this for another 20 years and then, a few years ago, I retired for good after 47 years since I enlisted in 1965.
In the early Spring after I retired I asked my wife Rachel to accompany me back to Vietnam. She was British and was a teenager in England when our country was in the throes of the Vietnam War. What she knew of it only came from her association with me and the endless tales about Vietnam Vets. She said yes.
I really wanted to get back. During the eight months I’d been flying over the country in 1972, I saw wondrous landscapes and shorelines. I remember saying to my pilot one day. “I sure hope we win this war because this place is going to be a beautiful resort country.” Of course, we didn’t and I had little hopes the communist would develop it. Besides, I was sure they hated us for destroying the landscape.
Our trip took us to Hanoi on the 26th of December, 2012. Forty years to the day from when I was shot down. The last time I saw Hanoi, it was a bleak communistic bloc city with decaying French architecture ravaged by war. Only official vehicles and bicycles were in sight. Needless to say it had changed very, very much.
Almost everything was thoroughly modern, the entire population rode motorcycles like you’ve never seen. Believe me it was Rolling Thunder everywhere. We traveled to the northeast coast to Ha Long Bay and closed the bar in the evening listening to an Italian piano player sing Sinatra. In the morning we rode junks to the bay with 2000 islands. Then Returned to Hanoi.
There was industry here. High rises, businesses, shopping malls worked their way into the agrarian countryside. I was a little un-nerved. It was still a communist country but it didn’t fit the stereotype I believed in. Mac Donald”s was not there; but Kentucky Fried Chicken was. I guess that was because the Col looked a lot like Uncle Ho Chi Minh. Our guide was, of course in the communist party, the Ministry of Information. However, the things he was telling our group would have gotten him shot in the old regime. He was 41 yrs old. He was an infant when I was shot down. Here is what he told us.
His first 18 years, life was very hard in the country. The Chinese invaded in 1979 after the VN eliminated Pol Pot in Cambodia.. Vn sent the chinese army packing after a minor penetration and told them not to come back. Few in the west were aware of that. Then, in 1989, the Soviet Union went away. His government asked the question: What should we do, be like Cuba, or North Korea? There were enough parliament members from the south who remembered the old days and offered another solution. Open up the country for foreign investment and expand and modernize the infra-structure.
This changed the country. Japan and the Arab states poured billions into the country in the 90s before the Dotcom bust and in this century, the Europeans and others have developed manufacturing and energy-related industries. Yeah, clothes and oil. Its similar to the Chinese model. Red Capitalism.
Do they harbor animosity towards the USA? 65% of the population is under 30. Half were allies of ours, anyway . Increasingly, I realized they were beyond the anguish of the Vietnam War. Their neighbor to the north is a threat and we are the best hope they have for staying Vietnam.
The high-light of my visit was not showing Rachel the few rooms left of the old French prison Wau Lo. NO, it was with the help of a Vietnamese TV production company and some Vietnamese and American veterans, I was able to debrief the last mission I flew with the MiG pilot who shot me down. BGen Tran Viet was just a 1ts Lt like me on that last day of the war.
We shared a bittersweet toast to the friends we both had lost because that is the way of old warriors. I dined with another MiG pilot, Hong My and met his family and toasted his health. American Major Dan Cherry shot him out of the sky in April of 1972 and ended his flying career.. I recommend Gen Cherry’s book “Mine Enemy, My Friend” the story of forgiveness between warriors.
So here we are, Veterans of a Foreign War celebrating our brotherhood in arms. Since Vietnam we have fought in Kuwait, Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Yeman, Syria and all over Africa. Most of those veterans were too young to know much about Vietnam. For those who served in the Delta or the Highlands, in III Corps or I Corps, the memories are as clear today as they were then, but the enemy of that time is gone, for us and for the Vietnamese. I think they know that better than we do. They have moved on. It’s time for us to start healing the deep wounds of that war and move on ,too.
In closing, I’d like to talk briefly to the future.
We have a much greater threat to our beliefs and way of life growing in the Middle East. To those of you who have fought there, I salute you. You understand things I can only get from news reels. For these times, I become simply the parent who watches a child go off to war, just as my father, a veteran of three wars himself, watched me.
But mostly, I am aware of the other half of the family. Our mothers raised sons who went to war. Most never voiced the concern they probably deeply felt. In my generation it was a very gender oriented thing to do, to be a soldier. Sweethearts and wives faced the same stoicism. But that has changed now. Now our daughters can also go, not just to serve but to fight. Its asking a lot of the mother who imagined her little girl being a ballerina to see her in the cockpit of a fighter or a Bradley armored vehicle.
While it aches my heart that we have to face a foe, I am proud of a new generation of men and women that are ready to stand up. I am also proud to know each and all of you who have answered, with me, the nations call. To Veterans all, I salute you. Thank you.
The "Winded Warriors" Team
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