In my blog “This Land Is Your Land” I told you that my husband had been asked to be the guest speaker at a Memorial for his dear friend, Bill Seaborn. Bill and Richard were helicopter pilots and their crew, 4 Special Forces troops, and the ship they were flying was shot down while flying a rescue mission in Vietnam. Memorial Day weekend was the date appropriately set for the tribute and memorial and the 4 days we were in Mississippi were bittersweet as we met with Bill’s fiance, Sharon Bowie, his family, friends, and some of the men that served with Richard in the 240th Helicopter Assault Company … some of the men Richard hadn’t seen since they were flying together over the jungles of Vietnam, 47 years ago.I’ve included some poignant parts of Richard’s speech below and pictures that were taken during the Vietnam war that can be used to depict any one of hundreds of missions our American troops carried out. Although I have excerpted Richard’s speech, this blog is longer than I usually post. However, I hope you will read it all to gain a better understanding of what our American soldiers are trained to do, the hardships they encounter, the physical and mental anguish they suffer, and forever remember.
Excerpts from Captain Richard Toops Memorial Speech May 27, 2017—–
“It is a great honor to speak today about Bill…..my dear friend, a Christian, a soldier, warrant officer and leader of men, an American Hero, a gentleman (the nicest guy you could ever meet) and best of all, just a truly good friend to us all.”
“I flew with Bill, on his last mission in Vietnam, and today I have the honor of introducing to you other men of our unit who flew with us. If you men of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company will please stand as I call you name.”…..”Capt Tom Brown, WO Joe Long, WO Al Roettger, Capt Pat Schmickrath, SP5 Bobby Taylor, WO George Stone, and not a Greyhound but a former Flight School classmate of Bill’s, Bob Shoen….It was a privilege flying with you guys and thank you for being here today. All of you were a part of Bill’s legacy….and I appreciate that you have taken time from your lives to honor Bill today and support me as well. Thank you.”
“This will be my first time to publicly talk in front of a large group of people about Bill and what happened. It has always been hard thinking of what happened and reliving it, let alone talking about it. It may be difficult at times, but please bear with me…..I like to think of myself as just a guy that had the great privilege of knowing a great man, Bill Seaborn. I am not an accomplished or experienced speaker…..” I have read that families and friend of fallen soldiers don’t really care how you say it,…..they just want to hear it. Hopefully, I can do that for you all today.” ……….
“On 22 January 1971 around 0900 Hrs The White Flight Platoon (2 helicopters) the Huey flown by Bill and I, and our other ship flown by Warrant Officer Roger Moyer and his co-pilot, of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company (Greyhounds) 222nd Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade, were refueling at Bearcat Vietnam following a morning mission with the 111th Special Forces (SF) at Long Than North, South Vietnam.”
“On board our UH1 (Huey) helicopter (SN 66-163-56). Our Aircraft Commander was WO William H. Seaborn Jr. (SSN XXX-XX-1786), our co-pilot, myself, Capt Richard D. Toops, (XXX-XX-2474) our crew chief was SP-4 Jimmy Lance, our gunner was SP-4 William (Bill) Barker. Both these guys I had flown with and I liked them and respected them very much, and both I am thankful to say ….. survived our crash….In Vietnam helicopter pilots know the crews are their lifeline and we treated them as equal brothers, they kept our Huey’s flying, and in the field they guided us into tight landing zones, and protected us with their M-60 machine guns…..”“While Bill and I were refueling our Huey after our first morning mission,…..which went great and without a hitch, we received an urgent and life threatening call from the Bearcat tower requesting our assistance to extract the crew of a crashed Light Observation Helicopter (Loach), belonging to D Troop, 3RD SQUAD, 4TH CAV, 25TH INF DIV. The tower operator had received the call from CW2 Hugh McLeod, the pilot of the Cobra gunship accompanying the crashed Loach. He was requesting aid for the crew of the crashed helicopter. The crew was Warrant Officer Rog Johnson, SGT Michael Petty, and SP4 Frederick Vigil. A rescue mission for fellow aviation crew members. Bill and I did not have to think about what we were going to do we looked at each other and just said…. let’s go. Any and all helicopter crews would have done the same thing.”……“As the Assistant Flight Commander and ranking member on the mission I contacted our Operation Office by FM radio and apprised them that we were going on a rescue mission to get the crew to safety”…..”We finished refueling and flew to Long Thanh North to pick up the Special Forces rescue team that would be inserted to rescue the downed crew.”…….. “We picked up 4 Special Forces troops in our helicopter, MSGT Virgil Glenn, SGT Hugh Opperman, SGT Frank Celano, and SGT Kenneth Lovelace. Warrant Officer Roger Moyer and his co-pilot picked up 4 as well. Capt Simpson, SFC Alton Monroe, SFC Martin Bennett, SSG Joseph Hill……”
“While Bill and I waited for the guys to load, Bill looked at me,…..actually he was staring intently at me…..and he asked me to put my chicken-plate on. A chicken-plate is a 22 pound piece of ceramic sheets glued together, with a nylon covering (mine had no cover.) It’s a bullet proof vest sorta,…..I told him ‘I never wear it, you know that Bill, too hot’….many had tried to get me to wear it, but to no avail. After all, I outranked them and could do as I wanted. I told Bill, ‘you didn’t worry about me wearing it on our morning mission’ …….. Well, Bill looked at me as serious as I had ever seen him,…..the truth is….he is staring me down again,….and Bill said in a very somber way ‘do it for me.’……can you imagine that, now using his personality on me…..’do it for me.’……so I did….I knew at this point Bill was truly concerned……”I put the chicken-plate on over my chest resting on my lap underneath my restraint harness, covering me from my neck to my lap. I was a little bothered, to be frank. Bill knew my views on the chicken-plate, we had talked about it before, many times, but hey…. he musta sensed something….he cared more about my safety and he knew….he could get me to wear it…..This one seemingly simple act by Bill, thinking of me as his friend was what I felt saved my life that day.”“We came in and hovered about 30 feet up and over the right side of the canopy opening, approximately 5-10 meters laterally from the first insertion and a few meters closer to the downed Loach, and unbeknowst to us directly above the Enemy. We had lowered our helicopter down into the opening in the trees, go left, go right, forward a bit, go left etc, our helicopter with Bill’s hands guiding our ship through the jungle canopy. We maneuvered through the tree branches as far as we could go down.”“Our ladders had been dropped, and we began to wait for the Special Forces team to descend the ladders…while hovering our 4 Special Forces troops, Glenn, Celano, Opperman, and Lovelace were descending down the ladders when we came under attack, intense and heavy fire from small arms, AK-47s. A weapon that has a very familiar sound. MSGT Verlin Glenn, The only one of the four Special Forces soldiers on our helicopter who survived later stated that we were receiving fire directed at the Special Forces troops on the ladders, fire directed into our cockpit and fire directed at our tail rotor. MSGT Glenn, was shot in the chest and his ladder rung was shattered by bullets and he jumped from the ladder on our helicopter, landing in a thick bunch of vegetation, saving his life. The other three, …..were shot and killed as they were climbing down the ladders.”“Bill and I both knew our crew chief and gunner were in a tough predicament as they could not fire back with our M-60 machine guns unless they could clearly see where the enemy fire was coming from, as we now had 7 American soldiers on the ground and 4 more of our men going down our ladders below us. A total of 11 soldiers. And the chance of hitting our own men was just too great. …..We were hovering in and among the trees and with men going down our ladders and were now a stationary target for the enemy below….”“Bill was at the controls, and I had my left hand on the hot mike switch on the radio control switches located on the center console between both pilot seats and my right hand loosely around the cyclic control as was our normal protocol entering and exiting Landing and pickup zones. At this time Bill and I were not talking to each other, only listening to our crew talking through the intercom in our helmets and keeping us from hitting the rotor blades on the trees on both our sides.”“When the Enemy fire started. Loud, very very loud bullets coming into the cockpit at a heavy rate, it was very violent, everything in the cockpit was being hit and was being shredded and destroyed, my left hand was blown into the air, and off of the radio switch, as bullets started penetrating and destroying the radio console between Bill and my seats. Because of this I was unable to contact Roger’s ship, the Command and Control ship or any of the gunships overhead. We were all,…. now alone. …… The firing continued without letup. Everything in our cockpit, the dash, bubble of the helicopter, radio console, my chicken-plate” [protective body armor made of ceramic sheets glued together, weighing approximately 20 lbs.] “were being ripped apart and spraying shrapnel everywhere. The inside of our cockpit was disintegrating.”“Bullets were ricocheting their way across my chicken-plate and splattering me with shrapnel, but thanks to Bill insisting I wear my chicken-plate, they were not going into my chest…….At what seemed now like an unending attack, with tremendous noise and destruction, something happened, ……Bill and I at the very same time turned our heads and eyes just slightly towards each other and exchanged a quick look……. I know we both needed some comfort from the other…….some form of brotherly reassurance that this nightmare would end soon,… Something, anything to stop the noise and devastation……our communication system was gone and we could not communicate via intercom or radio. …….And as we both caught one another’s eye’s…. Bill was struck and killed instantly……….”
“I knew it, ……..immediately, I knew it, ………..I was looking in Bill’s eyes when it happened, ……..I could not think any differently. …..he did not suffer……. I gasped for air….Oh My…… it was such a terrible feeling, I was so sad with deep sorrow,…. then I felt alone, ……then I was just so mad….very mad…all these different thoughts in less than a second…..my head was exploding with emotion…..”
“Looking back I’m glad Bill’s final moments were with me, his friend, a fellow Christian…..We were not alone……Jesus was with us. We never were alone.”“But time does not stop….my military training took over from my emotions……..The ship was starting to feel the effects of the onslaught. It was getting unsteady. I had taken all the controls now and my mind was telling me ‘keep it together Richard, ……Come on, just get us outta here.’ I was going to try and bring us straight up, I did not know if the guys were still on the ladders or not, but I knew if they were they would hold on. …. Some months earlier we extracted two Special Forces troops from contact with the enemy in War Zone D we had to carry them several miles with them hanging on the ladders, while we escaped the hostile fire. Today I would have to clear the trees before we could go forward and get outta there.”‘The Helicopter then lurched violently, the nose turned down and the ship starting rotating to the right. As this happened the tail of the ship started to rise up. I pulled additional collective and then pulled the cyclic back with my right hand to try and regain some control, I pushed the pedals as I tried giving more power, but I received no response and we started quickly spinning towards the trees on our perimeter. The engine was still operating, and by our helicopter-spin to the right I knew our tail rotor must have been hit by enemy fire and rendered inoperative. I saw the trees we were about to smash into, coming towards us ……and, I knew I was not in control, there was nothing I could do, ….Our helicopter had taken too much damage…. and I then knew….. the controls are gone, my options were gone,….. my friend was gone….at this time I had no idea the fate of Jimmy and Bill Barker. We had no communication equipment, so I could not talk to them …..And as I saw the trees coming, I said ‘Lord…..just make it quick.’ I was resigned to crashing,… We then crashed very, very violently into the trees and I was immediately knocked unconscious. Our ship, Bill, myself, Jimmy and Bill Barton, we fell to the jungle floor as one big awkward, mangled mass of machine and men……metal breaking bones and tearing flesh as we slammed through the trees until we hit the jungle below. Our turbine jet engine still eerily humming away. But our plight was not over. Not yet……we were now no longer above the enemy ……we were now in the enemy’s living room.”“I awoke from unconsciousness lying in the jungle in the middle of a Vietcong base camp not knowing how I ended up out of the ship, and had the fleeting thought that maybe I was wrong …..that Bill was down here with us alive…and that what I had seen was not real, ‘shoot, I thought, I have been wrong many times in my life, Lord…just let this be another one of those times’….Then My concern shifted to our guys in the back….were Jimmy and Bill Barton alive….since our intercom system had been severed when the firing had started….I did not know. I later learned that Jimmy had been thrown out over the M-60 machine gun mount upon crashing and his torso and stomach had been split open. Bill Barton suffered broken bones and other injuries, as he was thrown out of the helicopter as well, ….and he was the one,……although terribly wounded, risked his life to pull Bill and myself out of the crashed Helicopter. While on the ground I groaned in excruciating pain ……….”My body hurt so bad, I could only see shapes and it seemed so dark. I was slammed in the back by what felt like the butt of a weapon, and told in a low but forceful tone to shut up and I went back into the security of my unconsciousness. (the guys from Roger’s ship had come to our aid after finding the Loach crew all dead and were now fighting for us.) The bad guys were still there. ….. I learned from Captain Tom Brown, Maddog 6, our gunship leader that upon hearing of our crash that every gunship pilot and ship available at Bearcat was flying to our location to help us, to help us…to give us security…protection, to rescue us, ….Everyone of them wanted to help us so much any way they could. Tom Brown said our gunship pilots were ready to light up the jungle.”The Special Forces troops and our aircrew performed their mission with great courage, valor, selflessness, and dedication. John Kennedy once said in his book Profiles of Courage “A man does what he must — in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers, and pressures — and that is the basis of all human morality.”“I am proud of all these guys……..And Bill for making me wear my chicken-plate on this mission, he was my friend. And I was his friend and he took great care of me. I know he saved my life….not a doubt in my mind. Not a doubt. Our Gunner Bill Barker saved my life a second time, in spite of his injuries and with the enemy all around us, he at his own risk pulled Bill and I from the helicopter after we crashed and before our chopper was hit by an RPG shell, as our chopper lay in a twisted mass…..My life was saved a third time as the Special Forces troops from Roger’s ship surrounded our crashed chopper to protect us, Capt Simpson and SFC Monroe were wounded as they were hit by shrapnel from the RPG round that struck our Huey on the ground. I was saved a fourth time a few weeks later in a hospital in Japan from internal bleeding.7 American heroes were killed that day and 6 American heroes were wounded… …..three of those killed were from the 25th Division Loach we were trying to rescue, four were killed from our ship, and 4 wounded, and another 2 were wounded from Roger Moyer’s ship. We lost 2 helicopters and I was told the first medivac helicopter that came to get us out for medical attention took fire and was hit and had to withdraw. Ultimately, the 25th Infantry Division sent in a company of 150 to 200 infantry soldiers in a nearby LZ to come to our rescue. Our mission was finally over.”
As I lay there on the jungle floor, my body in pain [my ankle had been shot, my ankle bones were all shattered, …..my toes on one foot were all broken, my tibia in my leg was broken, my femur was broken and twisted, I had a deep hematoma on the inside of my legs that ran from my knee to my upper thigh. My knee was badly damaged, I had been shot through the back, the bullet barely missing my spine] “my chest was bruised and beaten from bullets but nothing….I repeat nothing, got through my chicken-plate, my hand sustained shrapnel wounds from the bullets coming through the radio console, my face was smashed in like it had been hit with a sledge hammer from the crash, my orbital bone, my nose, and my jaw were all broken and flattened. My skin above my brow had been-peeled back. My eyes were both hemorrhaging, my face sustained shrapnel wounds and would take over 50 stitches to sew up. ……But I was alive……God was with me through all those brave guys around me…..For the next 5 1/2 months that I was in the hospital and 2 months afterwards in rehab I learned to eat again, to walk again and then get the news that I would never be able to fly again and my military career was over…..of all my injuries….the only injury that prevented me from flying again was the destruction of my ankle, limiting the movement necessary for controlling the anti-torque pedals in a helicopter. I realized my vision from God some months earlier regarding my ankle injury was not the only injury I would receive in Vietnam as I had thought, but rather the injury that would end my military career. The only thing I ever truly wanted to do in life was now gone. They medically retired me from the Army. But…..I would have gladly traded all that to have my friend Bill back a thousand times over.” “Bill was a fellow pilot, but a friend and brother first of all, he died trying to save others, what greater honor is there. He will forever be missed, always be remembered….and because of memorials like this, never be forgotten. Bill died a hero and for that we can all be very proud. I am always truly sorry for the loss of a great and wonderful person here on earth, but we will be reunited in Heaven, our eternal home, reserved for those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior. Please….before I finish…..there is life and there is death….there is a heaven…..there is a hell, if you don’t know the Jesus, Bill and I know and are not sure you are going to heaven, please talk to me, Brother Willy, or my wife before you leave today. I know I will see Bill again. Please….don’t you leave today without having that certainty.”“In closing……While in grade school my teacher asked me to read a friendship speech at one of our kid/parent banquets. I think I was maybe 10 years old. I was so nervous to get up in front of anybody, but got through it. At the end of that speech was a very simple poem which I will always remember, and have for nearly 60 years……fitting for a bunch of 10 year old’s then and for us older 10 year old’s as well today…..and I close with it. ‘Remember this and bear in mind A good true friend is hard to find So when you find one good and true Do not forsake him for a new’……”Bill, we will never forget you……and we will meet again……”
“I would like this moment to personally give the slow salute to my great friend……Bill Seaborn………… I SALUTE YOU.”
~ excerpts from speech by Captain Richard D. Toops – Guest Speaker for Memorial Service honoring Bill Seaborn on May 27, 2017
Men of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company listed left to right. Bob Schoen, 2nd from right, not in the 240th Assault Helicopter Co. but a Flight School classmate of Bill’s. It was my honor meeting each of the men who served with Richard in Vietnam. Throughout the almost 40 years of our marriage, I have thought and prayed for them and for the wounds I know they may still suffer from … in body and “in heart.”
Left to right: Charles Ray (placement of the wreath) Tommy Gladney, Memorial Master of Ceremony, Charles Clark (placement of the wreath) Willy Weddle – U.S.Congressman Trent Kelly’s staff and formerly Bill Seaborn’s Pastor, and Bill Stewart, soloistOne of our most treasured moments from Bill’s Memorial was getting to meet Bill’s fiancé and soul mate, Sharon Bowie. The love she and Bill shared and the bond they will forever have, made us love her instantly.Richard Toops and Joel Foshee … dear friends and both were dear friends of Bill. This Memorial meant so much to Joel and after suffering with Pancreatic Cancer for 21 months, he went on “to be with the Lord” just 6 1/2 weeks after this Memorial. 3 Sister’s and Bill’s cousins … left to right: Chalie Ray, Fran Harrison, Ruthie Young. After hearing Bill talk about his cousins so much and their “growing up years” together, it was a delight for Richard and I to finally meet them. When Chalie Ray first heard we were coming to Mississippi in March to arrange hotel accommodations for the men coming from the 240th Assault Helicopter Company and to meet with Tommy Gladney about the arrangements for the upcoming ceremony, she drove almost 3 hours just to “get to know us.” The warmth, graciousness, and love she extended to us made what we were about to undertake, much easier and meant so much to us. Each “cousin” portrayed those same characteristics of love and goodness that were always evident in Bill’s life.Sharon Bowie, Bill’s fiancé and Beverly Seaborn Tinsley, Bill’s sister … it was truly our blessing meeting both of these sweet ladies. Richard and I both felt such a kinship and love for Sharon and Beverly. We believe it was God-given … born from our common love for Bill. Richard and I met with Beverly and Bob the night before the Memorial; our hours together felt like minutes and we were all “old friends.”Bob Tinsley (a dear man, I instantly cared for) Bill’s brother-in-law, and Bob and Beverly’s son, Rob Tinsley, Bill’s nephew.Top picture: Left to Right – Ruthie, Fran, her husband Jimmy Harrison, Chalie and her husband Bill Ray … Left middle picture: Bob Schoen, Richard Toops, and Joe Long, seated … Left bottom picture: Richard Toops and Joel Foshee … Bottom right picture: Beverly Seaborn Tinsley (Bill’s sister) and Richard Toops share a special moment at the Memorial luncheon.
More of Bill’s family … joining the Carrol sisters is cousin Roy McGriff, cousin Carol, and Rob Tinsley and his sonBill’s cousins … Ruthie, Chalie, Roy, and FranBro. Willy Weddle and Richard Toops before the Memorial …Bottom picture, left to right – Bob Tinsley, Bill’s nephew, Mrs. Weddle and seated, Pat Ray. Pat was the Official Greeter of the Memorial; she was the perfect person to be given the honor of greeting everyone who came to the Memorial and making sure they had a program. Her sweet Southern charm and her caring nature made us feel instantly at ease and a dear friendship was born.
Police Officer and Escort for the Memorial Procession with Brad Latham, bagpipe player of “Taps”
Bill Stewart – performing soloist of “The National Anthem” and “Friends are Forever”Before leaving for Mississippi, Richard and I … as well as our friends, our family, our Pastor and his wife had “steeped” the whole ceremony and each word of Richard’s speech in prayer. The Lord certainly heard our prayers as each moment we were there seemed enveloped with a endearing connection, a common heartache, a love, and a healing that bonded each of the almost 200 people that attended, together.With a heart full of gratitude for all of our military and their families, thank you for your service; thank you for your sacrifices; thank you for your selflessness.
From my cottage to yours ~ Trenda
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