If you’ve never been there and done that, then you really don’t have a frapping clue what it is like: and neither would I.
I’ve flown combat missions over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I’ve lost the best friend I ever had on a combat missions over North Vietnam, and I’ve lost my roommate on a combat mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
But I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to lose the person I love in combat.
That’s what “The Reluctant Sorority” by Dana Chwan is all about.
The National Alliance of Families describes “The Reluctant Sorority” by Dana Chwan as a faction - fact seamlessly mixed with fiction to tell the story of three women whose husbands died in Vietnam on the same day, at the same place during a bombing raid on a strategic bridge in North Vietnam.
Dana Chwan’s husband, Michael Daniel Chwan, was a young pilot, a GIB (Guy in the Backseat); of an F-4 fighter-bomber assigned to the 47th Tactical Fighter Squadron, at Ubon RTAFB, Thailand.
You can find Michael Daniel Chwan’s name on Panel 02E Line Panel 099. That’s 99 lines down from the top of the second panel on the right from the center of the V of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. That’s early in the war, really early. Long before the rest of us realized what was going down.
The other two men who were shot down during the same raid that day are Chwan’s aircraft commander, Captain C. M. Chesnutt, and Lt. Col Melvin J. Killian, an F-105 pilot stationed at Takhli, RTAFB.
“Have you ever sat in some quiet time and wondered just how in the heck your life had ended up as it has?”
The opening words to The Reluctant Sorority by Dana Chwan
On September 30, 1965 a combined force of F-4 and F-105 aircraft from Ubon RTAFB and Takhli RTAFB in Thailand struck the road and railroad bridge at Ninh Binh, North Vietnam.
During the strike, two aircraft were shot down:
An F-4C tail number 64-0660 from the 47th TFS, Ubon, crewed by Captain C. M. Chesnutt and 1st Lt Michael D Chwan, was hit by large caliber AAA fire and crashed immediately; neither crewman escaped the aircraft.
An F-105D, tail number 61-0117, from the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Takhli RTAFB, flown by Lt. Col Melvin J. Killian, was hit by a surface-to-air missile, caught fire, and exploded. Lt. Col Killian, Commanding Officer of the 334th TFS, did not eject from the aircraft.
I was stationed at Takhli, and I can vividly picture the site of the bombing mission
The remains of all three men were repatriated on March 20, 1985, with positive identification announced on April 8, 1985.
In Chapter 1 of “The Reluctant Sorority,” which is titled, The Heart remembers – Dana’s Story, Chwan writes about what it is like for her to go to The Wall.
“Some things you just have to face alone.”
You’re wife and children cannot possibly comprehend what it’ s like to walk along The Wall looking for the name of someone who meant so much to you.
It’s impossible. They can’t possibly understand what it’s like to get up in the morning and go to work knowing you could be shot down and disappear from the face of the earth forever.
But that’s the way it is when you fly combat missions.
That’s the way it was for Michael Daniel Chwan, C. M. Chesnutt, and Melvin J. Killian.
Never forget, never forgive; and never believe a politician.