On Mother’s Day fourteen names will be added to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
The 2014 Name Addition Ceremony will be held on Sunday, May 11 at 10:00 am for these men.
- Jerry Leon Antrich
- Frederick Joseph Baum
- Henry John Drozdowski, Jr.
- Michael Noel Faherty
- Gregory Jackson Franklin
- William Arthur Gabrielsen
- Ronald Hall
- Robert Kroptavich
- Thomas Charles Littles
- Paul Luther Loidolt
- Walter Hugh Mauldin
- Alan Leslie Seamans
- Chester Statun
- Danny Joe Wilson
The Name Addition Ceremony has particular significance for me, because the name of one of my best friends, Tom McCormick, was left off The Wall when it was dedicated in 1982, and I could not go to The Wall until Tom’s name was added in 1986.
It was early in the morning when Tom McCormick dropped me off at the aerial port at Travis Air Force Base. It was early in the morning when I arrived in Washington to return the favor.
For the most part, we went to war alone. There was nobody there to say goodbye. We'd said our good byes at home, before individually making our way to the West Coast.
Everyone waiting for that plane was in uniform. Their faces were tense, their voices hushed, and they all looked tired. Many had spent the night on benches in the waiting area. The transient quarters on base were overcrowded with replacements following the TET offensive.
The motels outside the base were second rate, and everyone had to share a room with a stranger, but that was okay. Privacy was a scarce commodity and they were willing to take what little they could get.
Thanks to Tom McCormick, I'd spent a quiet evening with friends.
Tom and I had been classmates in navigator training at Mather AFB. We didn't have much in common -- he was from Southern California, I was from New York; he had a family, I didn't-- but none of that mattered. Tom was one of those people who always found the common thread that makes a friendship.
When UNT class 67-19 graduated, we went our separate ways. Tom went to electronic warfare school, and then on to Castle AFB for more training, before being assigned to a B-52 crew at Travis AFB. I went to navigator/bombardier school and got assigned to an EB-66 outfit stationed in Takhli, Thailand.
A lot of us from that UNT class were headed for Vietnam. As our port calls started coming in Tom spread the word that he and Carolyn had an extra room, and they wanted each of us to spend the night with them. They didn't think there was any sense in our staying anywhere else. One by one we passed through, used the guest room, and went on our way.
Seeing an old buddy again is one of a soldier's few joys. On my last night before going to Vietnam, Tom and I talked about old times and old friends. We ate real food around a real table. We watched television and I played on the floor with Tom's infant son. More than anything else, I wasn't alone.
We were supposed to get together when I got back, but it didn't work out like that. That summer, Tom was transferred to Fairchild AFB in Spokane.
On paper, going to the Strategic Air Command was a stateside assignment. In reality SAC's B-52 and KC-135 crews were hardly ever home. As often as not, when they weren't pulling alert for seven days at a clip, they were in South East Asia.
Unlike the other aircraft in Vietnam, the B-52's and KC-135's weren't assigned to PACAF. Throughout the war SAC maintained control of the aircraft and the crews who flew them.
The crews were always assigned TDY, (temporary duty) and they were always rotated home before they could accumulate the 180 consecutive days in the combat zone needed to qualify for a tour in SEA.
Officially, they never showed up in the statistics because they were only supposed to be there on a short-term supplemental basis.
The system served two purposes. From a public relations standpoint it reduced the number of men officially in the combat zone, and from an operational standpoint, it enabled SAC to maintain its highly-trained nuclear alert force while conducting bombing and refueling operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
For the crews it meant six months in South East Asia six months at home, year in and year out, over and over again. They got combat pay for those missions. But at any time they could get a permanent change of station and be sent to Vietnam for a full year's tour with no credit for the missions they'd flown or the time they'd already served in combat.
In March 1969, Tom's crew was deployed TDY to Anderson Air Base on Guam, home of the 43rd Strategic Air Wing and the 72nd Strategic Air Wing (Provisional).
The missions out of Guam were exhausting 12 hour long monsters. With a full load of bombs, the BUFF's were so heavy that they could barely make it off the ground.
On hot days, it wasn't unusual for a plane to use every inch of the runway on takeoff roll, then skim low over the water before gaining altitude. Every sortie required inflight refueling prior to hitting the target, and many required another inflight refueling on the way back to Guam.
Most of the missions were flown over suspected enemy troop concentrations in the South, but almost every day the B-52's bombed targets, such as near the Mu Gia Pass on the border of North Vietnam and Laos, that were heavily defended with SAM-2 missiles, early warning radar, and other antiaircraft defenses.
At Takhli, we were briefed daily on how many planes had been lost, where they'd gone down and what the status of the crew was. One after another fourteen of my friends and classmates showed up on that briefing board. Tom's name came up on May 10 1969.
His bomb-laden plane had crashed on takeoff from Anderson Air Base on Guam.
Tom and the rest of the crew (Captain Larry I. Broadhead, Master Sergeant Harold B. Deel, 1st Lieutenant Maurice E. Lundy, Captain Russell L. Platt and Major James L. Sipes) were killed.
Like Tom, many of the men I knew who died in the war had been stationed outside Vietnam. Some had been on Guam, others had been in Okinawa, the Philippines or Thailand.
When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982, I didn't know if their names would be on The Wall. I didn’t even know if anyone considered us Vietnam Veterans.
That Memorial Day I saw two of their names on television during NBC's coverage of the dedication. Later I read Jan Scruggs' book To Heal A Nation and found that the names of all of my friends who had died in Vietnam were on The Wall, except Tom's.
His had been the last friendly face I'd seen before I went to Vietnam. No matter how much I felt drawn to go to Washington, I knew that I couldn't visit The Wall if his name wasn't on it.
Four years after the formal dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the names of 95 men who had been killed on combat missions technically outside the war zone, and 13 men who had died of wounds received in Vietnam were added to The Wall.
Tom was on the list. It was time for me to go to Washington.
On Memorial Day 1986 I arrived at The Wall with my family only to find that the sidewalks next to The Wall had been closed to the general public, so the families of the 95 men whose names had been added could have privacy when they viewed the names for the first time.
There was a long table set up by the sidewalk near the west end of The Wall, and the staff manning the tables were asking family members to sign in before they walked down along The Wall.
I didn’t know what to do. I had waited so long and travelled so far. I could barely breathe and my heart seemed to be beating a thousand times per minute.
I didn’t want to intrude on the families during this special moment for them, but I had to see Tom’s name on The Wall, and I had to find out if Carolyn was there.
So I walked up to the table and told a woman who was working there that my friend Tom’s name had been added to The Wall.
I didn’t know what to expect, since I wasn’t a family member, but she just smiled at me, waved her right hand toward The Wall, and said, “Go on in.”
I waved to my family, and started that long walk along The Wall for the first time, looking for Tom’s name.
I found Tom's name where it had been added to Panel 24W - Line 10. His name was much brighter than the rest.
I ran my hand over Tom’s name, and experienced for the first time the feel of the name etched in the stone.
For some reason I don't have a picture of Tom, and yet I was able to recognize his brother as he stood next to The Wall.
When I noticed him standing there, he was looking straight at me, and he had obviously seen me run my hand over Tom’s name.
I introduced myself by saying, “You must be Tom’s brother. Is Carolyn here?”
I met Carolyn again, and I met Tom’s son who now towered over me. After eighteen years, I was finally able to say thanks.
Twenty-five year old Air Force Captain Thomas R. McCormick was born on November 14, 1943. He was from Santa Monica, California and he graduated from Loyola Marymount University.