NEWS | Sept. 9, 2014

Vietnam vets lay wreath at JB Charleston

By Senior Airman Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

The Pleiku Air Base Association held a wreath laying ceremony Sept. 5, 2014, at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., to honor the fallen service members stationed at the Pleiku Air Base in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The group meets annually to keep the memories of their fallen comrades alive.

This year's ceremony, at JB Charleston, welcomed Lt. Col. Warren Brainard, 628th Air Base Wing Security Forces Squadron commander. "We're honored to have the heroes of Pleiku Air Base here with us today," said Brainard. "To the Pleiku veterans, we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and thank you for all your sacrifices."

Brainard, along with Harry Beam, Pleiku ABA president, laid a ceremonial wreath at the base flag pole during the ceremony which was attended by the more than seventy members of the Pleiku ABA and their families. Tom Rushnock, Pleiku Air Base Association secretary, read the World War I-inspired poem, "In Flanders Fields" as a tribute to the fallen service members.
 
"We are the dead," Rushnock read from the poem, referring to the fallen. "Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved, and were loved and now we lie in Flanders Field."

For the men of Pleiku Air Base that are still missing in action, their "Flanders Field" remains the jungles of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The identified fallen service members were brought home to grieving families who never got a chance to see their loved ones again.

A ceremonial bell tolled and echoed far into the distance as each fallen servicemember's name was read during the memorial. A member of the group placed a single carnation by the wreath after each name was called. The carnations represented the fallen members that never returned from Southeast Asia.

But, these were more than names; these were the friends and the brothers-in-arms of the survivors who could feel their presence and see their faces in today's military members. While looking back on the horrors of war this group endured, many of the veterans openly showed their emotions as they dealt with the painful memories and losses as tears fell from their faces, only to find solace in knowing the memory of their comrades was being kept alive, and their names were more than letters etched in granite.

Names like Staff Sgt. Rodney Gott, who along with nine others, lost his life in the jungle-covered mountains of Laos after their EC47Q aircraft crashed. Names like Capt. Robert Middlebrooks, an Alabama native who lost his life after his A-1E Skyraider crashed in the dark hours of Jan. 13, 1966. Names, more than 70, belonging to men of all ages and ranks, all honored equally and remembered for their sacrifice.

A particularly poignant moment occurred when Rushnock read the name of Maj. Bernard Fisher, a Medal of Honor recipient who passed away Aug. 16, 2014. His name is permanently honored at JB Charleston at the base flag pole on the Medal of Honor tribute, along with other Air Force Medal of Honor recipients from American conflicts. While stationed at Pleiku AB in 1965, Fisher displayed heroism during the battle of the A Shau V alley by landing his A-1E Skyraider onto a shrapnel littered runway under intense enemy fire to rescue a downed pilot. It was an assignment he volunteered for. In 1967, Fisher became the first living Air Force Medal of Honor recipient when President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Fisher the medal at a White House ceremony.

"What Bernie did was absolutely amazing," said Tim Meighen, Pleiku AB veteran. "It's important we remember his actions today, along with the heroism of our other fallen members."

In closing, the group thanked the members of JB Charleston for their hospitality and took a moment to pray for the safety and wellbeing of today's military, fighting their own modern wars.