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Memorial Day Letter

Posted by Jolly on May 22, 2014

oriskany.jpg

Here's a great letter forwarded to me that I need to share for Memorial Day weekend.  

This just in from a F8U Crusader Flyer, Dr. Dick Schaffert, (call sign "Brown Bear").  He is famous for an extended solo dogfight with four Migs back in the Viet Nam conflict.   

Once a year he sends a letter (like the one below) to his Naval Aviator squadron mate who died aboard the USS Oriskany.
 
It's a touching yet heartwarming story of the friendship developed between men who put their lives on the line for one another in combat.
  
His letter is too good to be overlooked.  GBU, Norm Levy, Dick Schaffert and all who've gone in harm's way for the freedoms too many take for granted.
 =======================================================
 [Memorial Day]
 
Norm was killed on 26 October '66. Exactly one year later, we were again back on Yankee Station. After flying my 4th mission against Hanoi in 3 days, I rose from a restless night to scribble a note to Norm. I folded it into a paper airplane; then walked back to the Oriskany's fantail, lit the paper on fire, and launched it into the darkness above the ship's wake. Norm and I would both have turned 80 this year ... so, due to natural causes, this will be the last of the 47 annual letters I've written to him. With the help of friends and mutual acquaintances over the years, my original note has expanded into a perhaps "too lengthy" letter.   
---
To: Lieutenant Commander Norman Sidney Levy, US Navy Deceased (1934-1966)
 
Good morning, Norm. It's Memorial Day 2014, 07:29 Tonkin Gulf time. Haven't talked with you for a while. That magnificent lady on which we went through hell together, USS ORISKANY, has slipped away into the deep and now rests forever in silent waters off the Florida coast. Recall we shared a 6' by 9' stateroom aboard her during McNamara and Johnson's ill-fated Rolling Thunder, while our Air Wing 16 suffered the highest loss rate of any naval aviation unit in the Vietnam conflict. Three combat deployments, between May '65 and January '68, resulted in 86 aircraft lost from the 64 assigned to us; while 59 of our aviators were killed and 13 captured or missing from Oriskany's assignment of 74 combat pilots. Our statistical probability of surviving Rolling Thunder, where the tactics and targets were designated by combat-illiterate politicians, was less than 30%. The probability of a combat pilot being an atheist approached zero!
 
Seems like a good day to make contact again. I've written every year since I threw that "nickel on the grass" for you. For several years, it was only a handwritten note ... which I ceremoniously burned to simulate your being "smoked." With the advent of the internet, I shared annual emails to you with some of our colleagues. Unfortunately, the net's now a cesspool of idiocy! Much of it generated by those 16 million draft dodgers who avoided Vietnam to occupy and unionize America's academia; where they clearly succeeded in "dumbing down" an entire generation which now controls the heartless soul of a corrupt "Hollywoodized" media. This will be my last letter. I'm praying Gabriel will soon fly my wing once more, and I look forward to delivering it to you personally.
 
This is the 47th year since I last saw you, sitting on the edge of your bunk in our stateroom. You remember ... it was the 26th of October 1966 and we were on the midnight-to-noon schedule. There was a wall of thunderstorms over North Vietnam, with tops to 50,000 feet, but McNamara's civilian planners kept sending us on "critical" missions all night. At 04:00 they finally ran out of trucks to bomb, in that downpour, and we got a little sleep.
 
Our phone rang at seven; you were scheduled for the Alert Five. I'd bagged a little more rack time than you, so I said I'd take it. I went to shave in the restroom around the elevator pit, the one near the flare locker. The ordnance men were busy putting away the flares. They'd been taking them out and putting them back all night as McNamara's "whiz kids" continually changed the targets. I had finished shaving and started back to our room when the guy on the ship's loudspeaker screamed: "This is a drill, this is a drill, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!" I smelled smoke and looked back at the door that separated the pilot's quarters from the flare storage locker. Smoke was coming from underneath.
 
I ran the last few steps to our room and turned on the light. You sat up on the edge of your bunk and I shouted:  "Norm, this is no drill. Let's get the hell out of here!" I went down the passage way around the elevator pit, banging on the sheet metal wall and shouting:  "It's no drill. We're on fire! We're on fire!" I rounded the corner of that U-shaped passage when the flare locker exploded. There was a tremendous concussion effect that blew me out of the passage way and onto the hangar deck. A huge ball of fire was rolling along the top of the hangar bay.
 
You and forty-five other guys, mostly Air Wing pilots, didn't make it, Norm. I'm sorry. Oh, dear God, I am sorry! But we went home together: Norm Levy, a Jewish boy from Miami, and Dick Schaffert, a Lutheran cornhusker from Nebraska.
 
I rode in the economy class of that Flying Tigers 707, along with the other few surviving pilots. You were in a flag-draped box in the cargo compartment. Unfortunately, the scum media had publicized the return of us "Baby Killers," and Lindberg Field was packed with vile demonstrators enjoying the right to protest. The "right" you died for!
 
Our wives were waiting in a bus to meet our plane. There was a black hearse for you. The protestors threw rocks and eggs at our bus and your hearse; not a policeman in sight. When we finally got off the airport, they chased us to Fort Rosecrans. They tried interrupting your graveside service, until your honor guard of three brave young Marines with rifles convinced them to stay back.
 
I watched the TV news with my family that night, Norm. Sorry, the only clips of our homecoming were the "Baby Killer" banners and bombs exploding in the South Vietnam jungle ... although our operations were up North, against heavily defended targets, where we were frequently shot down and captured or killed. It was tough to explain all that to my four pre-teen children.
 
You know the rest of the story: The vulgar demonstrators were the media's heroes. They became the CEO's, who steal from our companies ... the lawyers, who prey off our misery ... the doctors, whom we can't afford ... the elected politicians, who break the faith and the promises.
 
The only military recognized as "heroes" were the POW's. They finally came home, not because of any politician's self-aggrandized expertise, but because there were those of us who kept going back over Hanoi, again and again ... dodging the SAM's and the flak ... attacking day and night ... keeping the pressure on ... all by ourselves! Absolutely no support from anyone! Many of us didn't come home, Norm. You know; the guys who are up there with you now. But it was our "un-mentioned" efforts that brought the POW's home. We kept the faith with them, and with you.
 
It never really ended. We seemed to go directly from combat into disabled retirement and poverty, ignored by those whose freedoms we insured by paying that bloody premium. Our salary, as highly educated-combat proven Naval officers and fighter pilots, was about the same as what the current administration bestows as a "minimum" wage upon the millions of today's low-information, unmotivated, clueless graduates. Most of them lounge at home on unemployment rolls and feed off the taxes that we pay on our military retirements; which are 80% less than what the current All Volunteer Force receives and from which we have already lost 26% of our buying power to pencil-sharpening bureaucrats who "adjust" the economic data.
 
Do you remember, Norm? We got 55 bucks a month for flying combat; precisely $2.99 for each of the 276 missions I flew off Yankee Station. Can you believe America's new All Volunteer Force, which recently fought a war with a casualty rate less than 10% of ours ... and only 1% of WWII ... , received more than $1,000 a month combat pay from a guilt-ridden Congress, which trusts paid mercenaries more than old-fashioned American patriotic courage. The families of those of us who were killed in Vietnam got $10,000 of life insurance. Today's survivors get $100,000! Unfortunately, the gutless liberalism of today's elected officials has created the worst of all possible situations: Our socially engineered, under-funded, military couldn't presently fight its way out of a wet Chinese paper lantern!
 
The politically adjusted report, issued for the 100th Anniversary of U.S. Naval Aviation, confirmed that we and our brothers who flew in Korea have been written out of American history. Norm, I only hope that today's over-paid bureaucratic "dudes" who cook the books, scramble the facts, and push the propaganda for their political puppet-masters, will not be able to scrub your name off the Wall. The Wall and our memories are the only things many of us have left. We hold those memories dear! We band together in groups like the Crusader Association, which is now holding its 27th "Last Annual" reunion. Some say the association has to do with flying a peculiar aircraft, I say it has to do with a peculiar bunch of guys. We're damned few now! After 5,000 hours flying simulated and actual combat, and pulling at least 5 g's more than 25,000 times, those who are still around have ultrasounds resembling haunted houses on Halloween; with nerve bundles sagging like cobwebs, leaking valves, and ruptured pipes. We'll all be seeing you shortly, Norm. Put in a good word for us with the Man. Ask Him to think of us as His peacemakers, as His children. Have a restful Memorial Day. You earned it.
 
Very Respectfully,
Your Roommate Dick (Brown Bear) Schaffert 
 14 May 2014

Blue Four

Comments:

Posted by Wadds on
Brown Bear,

While mourning Norm's passing, I must take the strongest exception to your shot across the bow of today's warriors.

I assure you, Sir, that they are of the highest quality! They have been at war zone the world for 15 years. That is 7 more years than any of us did in Vietnam. They go back time after time some serving on their fifth or sixth deployment. They serve with the same valor that generations of American who preceded them.

I dare say that I could issue our young Fighter Pilots a Cessna 150 and a .45, and they would kick our old butts. I know, I trained some of them.

Better to say: God Bless you, Norm, and the young warriors who defend us, today.

Very Respectfully,

Wadds
USN (Ret.)
Posted by acsunrize on
Dear 'Brown Bear'

I may not be in a position to comment about Naval Aviators (being of the AF persuasion).

I must however agree with Wadds. Today is a different time and both War, the Warriors, and the Machines are much different than during Vietnam, where I also served. The level of sophistication of weapons, ability to maim and kill, and hostility of environment has increased substantially since Vietnam.

I believe that not only our Fighter Pilots, but all flight crews, as well as all the men on the ground have been serving as loyally and as bravely, if not more so in some circumstances, as at any time in our history.

I am not trying to diminish your feelings for your comrades, as I have very strong feelings for mine as well. I feel very fortunate to still be enjoying the kinship with some of my own former brothers in arms.

I believe that our current contingent of young and aging warriors are serving us as honorably as you and I did during our time in the fray.

God Bless You, and all our Brothers, past, present, and future.

Yogi
USAF (Ret.)
Posted by jmuxen on
Very touching to say the least. ALL of you guys are heroes in my book.
Never served in a "shootin" war, but had plenty of friends that did !
Some came home and some didn't.

I was a Corpsman on an Air-Sea Rescue chopper team in the USCG,and I'm still in awe of all of you pilots and what you did for the USA.

It still makes me sick to see any remembrance of those "kooks" throwing eggs and screaming obscenities to the guys who put their lives on the line for those same trash-mouthed bums do all the hollering.

Jim Muxen HM2
Posted by ViperPilot on
A lot of anger and lament in Brown Bear's letter: Certainly not uplifting. I hope that when I'm 80, I do not look upon the military in which I served on active duty and still am serving (currently) as a civilian for with the same displeasure as Dick. I understand the distain for the McNamara/Johnson administration, but not for the all volunteer force and the compensation they receive. The paradox w/in the letter is the complaint about the low level of compensation for soldiers during the Nam era, while criticizing the increased level of compensation for today’s soldiers. Is he not glad the U.S. fixed that problem-or should they still receive $2.99 for each combat mission flown? Also, what’s up w/that “mercenary” comment- and hinting at the lack of patriotism from our current men and women in uniform? Hmm..He's sounding a tiny bit like those rock and egg throwing protesters with that statement. And believe me Dick; we can fight our way out of a wet paper Chinese, Japanese or even Taiwanese Lantern. Anyway: Thank you for your service and sacrifice ‘Brown Bear’. You too have a restful Memorial Day-as you have earned it as well.
F16FTRPLT.
Posted by Jerry on
Hi Brown Bear--Just thought I'd let you know how I got even with those Berkeley assholes.

Once, I was an EW instructor flying TC-54D's out of Mather AFB in Sacramento. They still had coal dust in them from the Berline airlift and without a doubt had no excrement 'holding tanks'.

Commensurately, in the middle of all the anti-war demonstations in Berkely, we overflew Berkeley just as I 'happened' to to use the relief tube--kinda 'pissed them off (on)" so to speak. My brother, a VA chaplain, loved to this true story to his vets.

And, BTW, Happy Memorial Day, and thanks for your service.

Jerry Stiles
Posted by NealJ on
CAPT Schaffert (c/s Brown Bear): Sir, I hope you are still checking in and reading the site. I remember with fondness your days as my C.O. at the University of Missouri NROTC unit (MIZZOU Navy). Thank you for your part in instilling in me the values I took from MIZZOU for my career in the Navy. My classmates and I went forth from Columbia, MO. to serve around the world, in a number of capacities. Two of the twenty-nine that graduated in that class of 1979 are on permanent duty at Arlington National Cemetery, having lost their lives in service to this country. I wish you well, and thank you for all you did for me. V/R, Neal Jefferis, MIZZOU Navy '79
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