This past weekend I had the opportunity to do a book signing at the American Legion State Convention held in Rochester, MN. After Governor Dayton spoke to the Ladies Auxiliary members he stopped at my booth. We visited for a few minutes and I presented him with a copy of my memoir. He thanked me and said he would cherish it.
(Written by Patt Rall, Bemidji Pioneer Previews, published Sunday, April 20, 2014.)
•Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning continues their spring season of talks with “A Healing Journey with Wendell Affield,” who is the author of “Muddy Jungle Rivers.” Affield will talk about his life after publication of his book, and his speaking engagements when he listened to hundreds of veterans and witnessed the devastating long-term effects of posttraumatic stress disorder. The program will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Gonvick Community Center. This NELL program is offered free of charge, however, donations are gratefully accepted as is membership in the organization.
The first clue, another picture of Sergeant Thomas at an awards ceremony. Picture taken by Army Veteran, Ray Pineau, sent to me by Loren Salzman.
The second clue came from the sister of an army helicopter door gunner who went Missing In Action when his chopper was shot down during the Vietnam War. Donna Elliott’s brother is honored and remembered through the Facebook page she maintains in his name.
“Jerry W. Elliott
11:28am Apr 13
Wendell – I find a SGT Kenneth Leon Thomas in the National Archives d’base who died on 08/18/68, although it says from disease, these records are not always exact. This SGT Thomas was an African-American with the 199th Lt Inf Bdge. His mother’s name is Juanita E. Thomas, last known address 104 Northeast Shaver St, Portland, OR 97212. Hope this helps. Donna Elliott”
For more than four decades this man has haunted me. Few of us have the honor to witness actions of a true hero. I did. Yesterday I received my second clue to locating him and his family. Here is a message I just posted in a veterans chat room that is specifically for Army and Navy veterans who served with the Mobile Riverine Force in Vietnam.
Do You Know This Man?
Loren Salzman, an infantryman with Delta/Echo Company, 4th & 47th, Ninth Infantry Division, from Dec. 1967 to Dec. 1968, just emailed me, “I have attached my photo of Sgt.Thomas who was our senior NCO or First Sargent as I recall. I remember him being out in front of our formations, calling us to attention, etc. I will double check with our c/o Echo Six.”
On August 18, 1968, Sergeant Thomas, in the middle of an ambush, stuck his head up through the hatch leading to the cox’n flat on Tango 112-11. “Do you need any help,” he shouted. I was driving the boat and pointed to our unmanned Port 50 cal. Without hesitation Sargent Thomas crawled into the turret and began shooting. Moments later he took a direct hit from a B-40 that had burned through the armor. I was medevaced that day and for the past 46 years I have been troubled about Sergeant Thomas. I learned his name from Cleve Chick at the 2013 MRFA Reunion. Thanks to the article titled “Ambush Survivors reunited 45 years later” in winter edition of River Currents I just received another clue. In visiting with the other survivors at the Reunion, they all agreed, Sergeant Thomas had just been transferred to 3rd platoon, Co. D, 4/47th Inf Bn.
There was so much chaos on that day in the welldeck of Tango 112-11 ( 1 KIA, 27 WIA) that I believe Thomas’s act of heroism went completely unnoticed. I’ve checked the Wall and do not find him so I am assuming he did live.
Sergeant Thomas deserves proper recognition. If he is gone, his family deserves to know of his actions.
Anybody how might be able to add to this information—please contact me.
David Quam, a local Bemidji, MN, resident, has a mission: to document on film World War II veteran’s stories. David’s home page: http://www.ww2bji.org/
I felt honored when he asked to record my Muddy Jungle Rivers experience.
David recently learned of my plan to bring our Mobile Riverine Force Museum to Beltrami County Fair. He has filmed this 2 minute video.
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning (NELL)
Program will be in Gonvick Community Center:
Coffee at 9am, program at 9:30 and wrap up around 11 or so. depending on questions.
Open to the public
(From NELL Newsletter)
In January 1968 Wendell Affield went to Vietnam as the cox’n of Armor Troop Carrier 112-11 with the Mobile Riverine Force. Part of his tour of duty was in the Mekong Delta with the Army 9th Infantry Division and, for four months, with the 3rd Marine Division on the Cua Viet River. He was wounded in an ambush and medevac’d home in August 1968.
Forty-five years later he reconnected with four of the ambush survivors after one of them discovered his book on Amazon. Affield will talk about his journey since Muddy Jungle Rivers was published in 2012. During book signings and speaking engagements he has listened to hundreds of veterans and witnessed the devastating long-term effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“As we age, we hope to make peace with the past; to make sense of long ago traumas. PTSD is not unique to Vietnam Veterans,” Affield says. “World War Two Veterans have broken down when they shared their story with me. We need to educate the public. PTSD is a normal human reaction to violence. And it’s normal not to burden loved ones with those memories. With this new generation of young men and women returning from combat zones it is our responsibility to listen to them and not judge. It is our responsibility to help them reintegrate into the community they left.”
Books will be available for sale at the NELL gathering
Tamara Edevold, NELL coordinator
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning (NELL) is a 501(c) (3)non-profit organization, created to enrich the quality of life in our local communities through lifelong learning and the arts. Our goal is to inspire people to learn, to grow, and to give to their communities.
Northern Exposure to Lifelong Learning provides programs in humanities and the arts, including a series of lectures in the spring and fall that are free and open to the public. NELL also offers performing arts and intergenerational programs in local schools, the Evergreen Reader program in area assisted-care facilities and special cultural events.
Minnesota’s Historic Northwest
March 26, 8 PM
Mobile Riverine Force Vietnam
For those of you who have read Muddy Jungle Rivers, or are interested in the river war in Vietnam, this History Special will add a new layer of understanding. See the trailer at: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/episodes/brothers-in-war/
Through gripping first-person accounts and digitally remastered archival footage, including the soldiers’ own home movies and personal audio tapes, Brothers in War recounts the harrowing combat experiences of the men of Charlie Company one of the last American combat infantry companies to be drafted, trained and sent to fight together in Vietnam. The two-hour special is fittingly narrated by Charlie Sheen, who rose to stardom after his 1986 performance as a Vietnam soldier in Platoon.
I’ve been busy working on my next book and neglecting my web site blog. I hope to get more active again.
(To put this blog post in context, please read the August 18 post.)
Reunions can be poignant, frightening, illuminating. This past week my wife, Patti, and I attended the 2013 Mobile Riverine Force Association Reunion held in Indianapolis. I was saddened to see how age and Agent Orange illnesses have ravaged our ranks. One of the founding members of the MRFA stoically told me, “The doctors give me about twelve months.”
But there were moments of disbelief, too. About a year ago, Larry Reid, Nashville, Tennessee, an army veteran who had been riding our boat when we were ambushed on August 18, 1968, discovered “Muddy jungle Rivers” on Amazon and purchased it. Over the past twelve months we’ve been in touch. On the first day of the reunion he introduced himself. We compared notes on how our lives have evolved over the past four decades. The second day of the reunion Larry came up to me and said, “I found three guys who were in the well deck on August 18.”
It was an intense experience.
Larry R. McCormick, Amarillo, Texas, looked at me, frowned, and shook his head. “I thought you were dead these past forty-five years.”
“Why would you think that?” I said
“Because of all the blood dripping down from your cox’n flat above me. And the boat kept running into things.”
“Each time rockets hit my armor plating I kept getting knocked down,” I told him.
He asked an unusual question then—one I’ve never thought about. “How many times were you hit?” I have always considered the ambush one action—not multiple injuries. I thought back for a time and told him, “Four, I suppose.”
We all visited then and recalled that hot Sunday afternoon and I thought again how each of us remembered differently yet there were some memories held by all. David L. Cowley, from “The Great State of Texas” brought up what we all remembered most vividly.Blood splattered everywhere. Blood trickling across the welldeck deck. Heroism of already wounded men, cradling smoldering crates as they struggled across the slick deck to throw grenades and ammo overboard before it exploded.
I brought up the black army sergeant who had come up to man our abandoned .50 caliber machine gun. I told again how he had been severely maimed when a B-40 rocket burned through the armor and he took a direct hit. Cleve Chick, Elkridge, Maryland, recalled that he was a career man who had recently joined the platoon. Most of the men didn’t know him. “Thomas,” Cleve said. “His last name was Thomas.”
Larry gave me a list of twenty-three army men who were on ATC 112-11 who received a Purple Heart for wounds received on August 18. Two names are missing: Hector Lugo-Mojica who was Killed in Action, and the black sergeant named Thomas.
I wonder if Sergeant Thomas was the senior man on board ATC 112-11 on August 18. I believe in the chaos of the day his act of heroism went unnoticed and unrecorded. I would very much like to identify the sergeant. If he did not survive his wounds, his family deserves to know of his actions. If he did survive, and is still alive, I would very much like to meet him.
I am humbled that “Muddy Jungle Rivers” was the catalyst that brought us together. Each of these men has a story of that afternoon and if they would like to write it, I will post it on this blog.
A black army sergeant manning this 50 caliber machine gun was severely maimed when a B-40 rocket burned through the one inch armor. He was a true hero. I was medevac’d that day and have never been able to learn his identity. I’ve heard conflicting stories–that he died, that he lived and received the Silver Star.
Two rockets struck the cox’n flat. The first tore the bar armor aside, the second burned through, spraying me and the radioman with shrapnel. Usually when this happened, the sailors inside were killed.
Forty-five years have passed since that Sunday afternoon. This evening I sit in my meadow and reflect on the years I’ve been gifted. Evening rays pierce gray clouds as dry west wind rattles reed canary seed heads. In the distance two bald eagles spiral on thermals, high above an angus carcass decomposing in the neighbor’s pasture. And again I wonder why I am here when men a few feet away were maimed or killed. It was just another monotonous operation. Travel up another narrow river, search for the elusive Viet Cong.
Five men died–four sailors and one army corporal. Eighty-two were seriously wounded.
For the full 18 August 1968 Operating Report go to: http://www.mrfa.org/rpts/aug68/R181530Z.pdf
Killed In Action that Sunday afternoon:
08/18/68 – Stephen C. Brunton, BM3, Ukiah, CA – ASPB-112-2 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Billy D. Roy, BM3, Oklahoma City, OK – ASPB-112-1 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Edward R. Darville III, GMG3, Hialeah, FL – ASPB-112-2 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – Patrick J. Griffin, RM3, Topeka, KS – ASPB-112-1 (Dinh Tuong)
08/18/68 – LUGO-MOJICA HECTOR CPL Toa Baja, Puerto Rico E Co 4th Bn 47th Inf Dinh Tuong
Mobile Riverine Force Association website provided the details for this post; http://www.mrfa.org/
We will remember all who have gone before us at the Mobile Riverine Force Association Reunion, August 28-September 1, 2013. For more information go to: http://www.mrfa.org/2013.Reunion.htm
This past year, after I published Muddy Jungle Rivers, I’ve been humbled by the comments I’ve received from the men who served on the boats. Thank you.