All Airborne Days
By Stephen “Tower” Johnson
The Midwest All Airborne Alliance held their seventh annual gathering in the Twin Cities on August 16-17, 2002. The Alliance is made up of anyone who has jumped from a military airplane while in flight. What is so special about this annual is the Airborne Memorial Stones Dedication on Saturday, August 17 at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul, MN? This group usually does only social gatherings and has no dues.
Two Minnesota Moms received Gold Stars as a special part of the Dedication. These special Moms each lost a son while serving in Vietnam. Both sons served in Airborne Ranger units as LRRPs. According to information provided by Angie Magruder, the Gold Star tradition began with President Wilson’s suggestion that American women wear a black band on their upper left arm with a gold star. Each star would represent a family member who had given his or her life for their country. The Gold star tradition began in WW 1 and continues to this day. The headquarters are at American Gold Star Manor in Long Beach, California (for further information on this org., access www.goldstarmoms.com).
The Friday night event began with a gathering on the “Magnolia Blossom” paddle boat on the Mississippi River with a banjo band, lots of liquid refreshment, a superb meal, and shared glider and jump stories. (I have to admire these members for doing more than my five-military jumps). There were Silver Wings from many countries including Russia, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel, and France, to name a few. One special gentleman, Mr. Flatten, was packing not a chute on his back, but a hospital-provided IV food backpack. This he obtained before making his getaway from his hospital bed on this day so he could attend the festivities. His story about one Russian jump from a helicopter piloted by a “questionable Ruski crew”, kind of reminded me of some our Nam helo rides. Glad I had a designated driver after that boat trip!
On Saturday everyone gathered for the Airborne Memorial Stones Dedication. This major collaborative effort was started by Emmit and Sandy Rouse. Posting of the colors was lead by SSG John K. Weber, Chapter XV, 173rd Airborne. These guys were sharp!
The Gold Star Families led us in the Pledge of Allegiance and Chaplain Patrick Morgan gave the Invocation.
Emerson Gates, RICA, Chairman of the Midwest All Airborne Alliance welcomed us all and reflected on the importance of brotherhood (Airborne) as an equal regardless of what unit or country we served.
The main speaker, LTC John E Goetze, AUA (Ret), left us with a reminder: it’s not the politician, poet, nor the college student organizer who fights for peace, but the soldier. The Soldier!
There were many such soldiers representing their Airborne Units’ Unveiling: Tom Eckhoff -75th Rangers; Special Forces- Roger Albertson, Jerry Schroepfer; 187th- Jerry Hunting; 11th- Jack Running; Korean Rangers- Emerson Gates; 101st- Brad Nichols; 82nd- Bud Ollum, John Anderson, Al Porter, Jim Flowers, John Hinchcliff; 173rd- Harry Persinger; 503rd- unknown; 17th- unknown (I apologize to the spelling and omission of names).
Each Airborne Unit had its flag permanently mounted on a stone platform with a unit plaque that now makes up what is known as Airborne Circle. According to Robert McCollum, Director, Fort Snelling National Cemetery, this was the first collaboration of military groups to dedicate a monument in any national cemetery.
The finale of the Ceremony was the presentation of the Gold Star Award to two Minnesota Moms.
Mrs. Pruden, Robert’s mom, was awarded a plaque and Gold Star by Stephen Johnson, a former member of Company G 75th Rangers in Vietnam. Robert (CMH) gave his life on November 20th, 1969, when as a Team Leader, realizing that his team could be destroyed, charged into the face of death, and saved his men before he fell mortally wounded. “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This; That He Would Lay Down His Life For His Friend.”
Mrs. Colleen Brizius, Raymond Reeves’ mom, was awarded the second plaque and Gold Star by Dave Gowen, a former team member of Raymond’s when he was killed by a burst of AK-47 fire while serving in Company N 75th Rangers in Vietnam, during November 1968. Dave was also wounded by the same burst of fire that fateful day. “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This; That He Would Lay Down His Life For His Friend.”
We would personally like to thank the Midwest All Airborne Alliance, Gold Star Moms and family members, and all attendees who made this weekend a special one. Your hard efforts establishing the Airborne Memorial Stones for future generations to see will forever be honored.
Also, a special thanks to Tom Eckhoff and many of his friends who provided all of us with information that allowed us to find the right LZ and feel right at home.