Today marks the 51st anniversary of the death of Lance Corporal Thomas P. Mahoney III due to hostile fire on Hill 881 South near Khe Sanh Combat Base. It is not only fitting to remember the sacrifice Tommy made, but also of those in his platoon who volunteered to risk their own lives to retreive him. These included Lieutenant Frank Ahearn, Privates First Class Bruce Bird, Richard Delucie, Wayne Sherwin, Richard Patten and Lance Corporal Allen V. Williams. (Bird, Delucie and Williams were wounded in the effort.) This story of their bravery is told in The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited. Although I was not able to locate Delucie, Sherwin and Patten, I did find Ahearn, Bird and Williams (for more information about the extraordinary life of recently deceased Allen Williams please see my previous post). It has been one of the great honors of my life to have known men of such loyalty and courage.
On another note, I recently received this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nk0jEczjZ70 to a video of the 2019 Marine Corps Heritage Foundation Awards dinner last April. Major General Kessler graciously introduced me (in absentia) and The Gunpowder Prince at about 15:20 in. It was a beautiful ceremony; however, what made me regret—even more—not having been able to attend, were the back-to-back, jaw-dropping, speeches given by two former Commandants of the Marine Corps, Generals Dunford and Neller (General Dunford also having held the highest position in the U.S. military as Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Both men are in the process of retiring and so these remarks were their career swansongs. The first begins about 56 minutes in. No Marine, or former Marine, should miss listening to their incredibly poignant, stirring, yet incisive, messages.
What I found personally touching was the way both men spoke about first coming into the Marine Corps just as the Vietnam War was ending with a victory by our adversary, and having to help rebuild that decimated and demoralized organization. Each spoke of the nucleus of battle-wise Vietnam War vets who chose to stay in the service (despite varying degrees of bitterness and disappointment at how the war had played out). Both men credited this loyal cadre of both commissioned and staff non-commissioned officers with having helped them avoid too many (what General Neller drolly referred to as) “lieutenant things,” and to grasp the enormity of the task they faced---made particularly difficult due to transitioning into an all-volunteer military---in order to keep alive the traditions, reputation and high standards of the Marine Corps. The significance of this “torch passing” in those dark years following the fall of Saigon has been too often overlooked.
Listening to them reflect on their careers, and the challenges they overcame, has left me with profound gratitude that, out of the crucible of Vietnam and a shaky postwar America, these wise, evenhanded and very human leaders were there to protect us through such perilous times.