Friends on the Wall

From our Nation’s birth there have been people, men and women, who have given their lives in service to their country. Some of them in their serving, like John Adams or Thomas Jefferson, have lived to a ripe old age.  Others have died at a very young age; some would say too soon, but these people have all been patriots, full of courage and faith, who heard a call to serve. From our Nation’s earliest days there have been differences of opinion and politics that forced us to compromise and sometimes forced us to agree to disagree.
During the Viet-Nam era, the 1960’s through the 1970’s, the United States of America was deeply divided, more divided than any other time in our nation’s history, except for the time from the run-up to the civil war through reconstruction following the civil war. In the years after World War II, Viet-Nam had experienced civil war between communists and nationalists opposed to them. By the time the U.S. was involved, the country was divided into North Viet-Nam and South Viet-Nam, with the Communists ruling the north and their opponents the south.

People in the U.S. who were opposed to the Viet-Nam war voiced their disapproval in very radical means, ranging from outright violence at anti-war demonstrations to humiliating and degrading treatment of the soldiers who fought in the war.

People in favor of the war were somewhat more subdued in their support. President Richard Nixon called them “the silent majority” in a speech he gave in November of 1969. (For the full text of the speech, and to see our Nation from President Nixon’s view, see  Some supporters did so at the ballot-box, others through letters to the editors of newspapers. Some were in favor of the war because they hated communism, and many of those volunteered to serve in our Nation’s armed forces.

You’re going to meet three patriots and see them through a friend’s eyes. They volunteered to serve in Viet-Nam and lost their lives. You may have heard the phrase “Freedom isn’t free.” These men’s lives and deaths attest to the truth in that saying. Their names are HARRELL SAMUEL MEFFORD, STEPHEN ANDREW YOUNG, and GENE JOHN OLSON. The friend who wrote this is Steve Collinsworth, and he served with them in Viet-Nam. All four men were U.S. Army Warrant Officer Aviators who served in Troop A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, , part of the air cavalry reconnaissance unit of the First Air Cavalry Division.

WO – W1 – Army – Reserve
Length of service 1 years
His tour began on Apr 6, 1969
Casualty was on Jun 29, 1969
Non-Hostile, died of illness/injury, HELICOPTER – PILOT
Body was recovered
Panel 21W – Line 34
There’s a phrase from Hegel that comes to mind when I think of Harrell Mefford, “the futility of war.”  His service in A Troop, 1st of the 9th Cav, was that of courage and commitment to our mission. It’s funny the things you remember about fellow soldiers.  Harrell’s nickname was “Worm,” if I remember correctly.  I have no idea where it came from, and my recollection may be wrong.  It may have had something to do with the thin, dark brown mustache he was growing when I last saw him.

Though I’m unsure of the source of his nickname, I know it took guts to be a scout pilot in 1st of the 9th Cav. You had to fly an OH-6A “Loach” scout helicopter at treetop level over the jungle as part of a hunter-killer team, hunting for enemy soldiers moving through the jungle below. And every day Worm flew these missions, taking his hunter Loach and two crewmen, flying over the jungle, covered by a Cobra gunship, the killer, flying above them at about 3,500 feet.

On the morning of June 29, 1969, Worm took off in a Loach with his crew, headed for the area of operations where we searched for the enemy. As he turned downwind after climbing to traffic pattern altitude he heard a loud bang from the tail section of the Loach, and he brought the helicopter back around to land at A Troop’s strip. As he slowed the Loach to near a hover it started spinning counter-clockwise – something had happened to the tail rotor, and it wasn’t working, wasn’t counteracting the torque.

The Loach’s left rear skid hit the airstrip, and then it tilted more to the left, the rotor blades striking the ground. The Loach seemed to be beating itself to death, and then I saw Worm jump from his door, trying to get clear.  One of the rotor blades struck him from behind, just where his neck and head joined, just below his flight helmet, and he fell to the ground motionless. He was pronounced dead a short time later at our local MASH hospital. Back to Hegel’s phrase, “the futility of war.”  Worm’s death seemed so futile. Had he and his crew been “taking fire,” (getting shot at by enemy ground forces) then it seems his dying would have meant something. But you see, his door gunner and observer, both enlisted men, sat in the Loach until the blades stopped turning, unhooked their seat belts, got out, and walked away without a scratch.

Shortly thereafter, our executive officer, Captain Paul Funk, talked to me and another new pilot about volunteering for scouts. I volunteered and learned scouting from the next guy.

WO – W1 – Army – Reserve
1st Cav Division (AMBL)
Length of service 0 years
His tour began on May 10, 1969
Casualty was on Aug 9, 1969
Body was recovered
Panel 20W – Line 120

He was my best friend in our scout platoon, and taught me all he knew about how to fly this very dangerous mission. Steve was a very good scout pilot, one of our best. He and his crewmen died on a mission over very hostile territory, too close to Cambodia. Our Division, The 1st Air Cav, had a job. We were assigned to an area where North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops came out of Cambodia, off the Ho Chi Minh trail, into South Viet-Nam, and they tried to get through our area of operations and go to the city of Saigon to attack it or support Viet-Cong guerillas operating in and around Saigon.

There were large enemy base camps close to Cambodia, staging areas, the heart of where you didn’t want to take fire or pass from the view of the Cobra pilots watching your Loach. Both happened to Steve and his crew. There was some low cloud cover, early morning cumulus, and just as clouds hid Steve’s Loach from the Cobra crew’s sight, the Loach took fire and went down in the middle of an NVA staging area.

The Loach was burning when it hit the ground. Whether the fire was caused by NVA tracer rounds or a white phosphorus grenade in the Loach exploding, the fire destroyed the Loach and took the lives of those three young men. It took our infantry platoon and other 1st Cav infantry companies a couple of days to fight their way into the crash sight and recover their remains.  Here’s how “The Virtual Wall” website describes it.
“On 09 August 1969 three men from “A” Troop, 1/9th Cavalry, were conducting a recon mission in the area between Nui Ba Den Mountain and the Cambodian border. As they approached the border at a point about 18 kilometers northwest of Tonle Cham Airfield their helicopter, OH-6A tail number 67-16269, received heavy fire, began to burn, and crashed, killing all three men:

WO Stephen A. Young, Las Cruces, NM

SP5 James C. Dine, Granite City, IL

SP4 Michael R. Seibert, Parkersburg, IL

According to comments recorded in the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots’ Association database, there was a 48-hour dispute over access to the wreckage, with both the NVA/VC and US forces attempting to gain control of the area. One comment states the US Air Force lost an F-4 during the fight, but there’s no record of an F-4 loss in South Vietnam between 09 and 14 August 1969. Alpha 1/9 did lose another soldier on 09 August – Corporal Virgil L. Castle of Athens, Ohio was killed by gunshot. It is possible that he was in A/1/9’s aero-rifle platoon and was killed during the recovery effort.”
The time from when that Loach was shot down to when we recovered their bodies was a time of anguish and grief. We were so frustrated at not being able to recover our friend’s bodies without losing more of our own troops. We felt rage and bitterness toward the NVA soldiers who caused their deaths, and wanted vengeance. But we had to learn to wait for the right time and the right plan until we could recover their bodies.

WO – W1 – Army – Reserve
1st Cav Division (AMBL)
Length of service 0 years
His tour began on Jun 4, 1969
Casualty was on Jan 3, 1970
Body was recovered
Panel 15W – Line 123

Gene was a Cobra pilot, an aircraft commander on a hunter/killer team to cover a scout ship. The “hunter” Loach had taken fire from a .51 caliber machine gun, and Gene was diving on the .51 cal. position, engaging it with his rockets and guns. And the unthinkable happened.  You see, Cobra pilots usually did not get hurt! They normally flew above the range of small arms fire, just diving towards enemy machine guns, firing their guns and rockets when needed.  A .51 cal. round came through the side of the Cobra, took off the top of Gene’s cyclic control (the stick that lets the pilot control the aircraft’s directional movement), and tore open Gene’s femoral artery.

His copilot in the Cobra’s front seat was somehow able to recover the aircraft from the dive just at treetop level and fly back the MASH hospital’s helipad. But in those few minutes Gene bled to death. He was so young, had just been married before coming to Vietnam, and his wife had recently given birth to their first child.

This was the kind of guy you wanted covering you when you were the low bird in a hunter-killer team. He was conscientious, serious, young, full of life, and such a good, good pilot!  One of the top students in his flight school class, he went from flight school graduation to Cobra transition school, then to ‘Nam. He had it made, driving a gunship up there out of danger, keeping his eyes peeled for us in our Loaches, but an NVA gunner got, well, lucky.

So what’s the point? We were all in South Viet-Nam because of something we believed. Our nation was trying to help the people of South Viet-Nam live free of a communist dictatorship.  We believed freedom was not free, that someone had to step up and bear arms against this enemy, so we volunteered.

Today our nation is facing an enemy that claims to represent a religion which they say teaches them to do vile, hateful acts of murder and destruction. You may have parents, uncles or aunts, older brothers or sisters, or friends serving in our armed forces. You may be thinking of enlisting in the military after high school or college.  From our nation’s beginnings, we have needed people with courage and faith to face our enemies, and to grow strong and robust as a country. These three young men, HARRELL SAMUEL MEFFORD, STEPHEN ANDREW YOUNG, and GENE JOHN OLSON, were such men of courage and faith. Learn from their example, their service, and their love of country.

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