June 22, 2024
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  • Source: FreePressers
  • 05/28/2024
FPI / May 27, 2024

[Editor's Note: Columnist John McNabb is a 2024 recipient of the Horatio Alger Award and was awarded the Press Freedom Prize in 2023 by Free Press Foundation. Following are excerpts from his Memorial Day tribute on May 28, 2023.]

Last year on Memorial Day I warned that our nation had drifted into uncharted waters with societal norms and morals being changed. I urged America to “wake up.”

Despite disturbing consequences of policies that confront us daily, including the disastrous surrender of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and fellow Americans still trapped in that medieval nightmare, I am gratified that many of my countrymen now recognize disturbing realities. But too many are still asleep or perhaps more accurately, averting their gaze.

We are witnessing daily attacks on our nation’s oil and gas industry which put our citizens at risk of going without electric power and our country in jeopardy of destruction from our international enemies. And now we are experiencing incredible and self-inflicted record-high inflation impacting everyone. Our citizens are faced with high interest rates, high food costs and the reality of lessened earnings and diminished lifestyles in our America.

The Biden policies of defunding school systems that prohibit boys from using girls’ bathrooms and his increased subsidies for abortions here and abroad are all instructive. I am pleased that more Americans are now paying attention.

The future is daunting, but if we prevail it will be because the path ahead was cleared for us by our relatives and friends who willingly made the ultimate sacrifice so that we and our descendants can live in God-given freedom.

In 1973, approximately 80% of the members of Congress were military veterans; Now that number is about 17%.  Am I alone in seeing a trend in our political class? From an emphasis on serving our country to a self-serving club of elites? Term limits anyone?

Sacrifice and leadership are words that no longer typify “public servants” in Washington, D.C. We literally have elected officials who show disdain for our military. Patriots who put their lives on the line for their country have been displaced by money-grubbing, power-hungry folks who could care less.

Featured in the pages my book “<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Ride-Stories-America/dp/1734238518">A Nice Ride: Stories of America</a>” are friends, colleagues and squadron mates who are not with us today. Their young lives were taken in the spring of innocent youth. Today I bid them all a beautiful sleep through eternity. They have earned that. Every year this is the hardest time for me.

I grew up in the mountains of southern West Virginia in a family with very little education but with plenty of grit and love for America. This was coal mine country. In my family, eighteen of my relatives perished in coal mine accidents and my grandfather’s brother, a mine superintendent, was murdered on his front porch during one of the many mine wars endemic to the Appalachian coal fields back in the day.

One of my great heroes is Joe Green, a West Virginian and a nice young man, I’m told, who walked out of an assembly at Stonewall Jackson High School in my hometown after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and became a fighter pilot flying combat missions over Nazi-occupied France. He was nineteen years old. He survived an anti-aircraft attack over France but somehow kept his aircraft in the air, crossed the English Channel and miraculously crash landed his P-47 high performance fighter aircraft “The Mountaineer” at Lands’ End, England. He was awarded the Purple Heart. He flew sortie after sortie on the “Day of Days”, June 6, 1944. D-Day. As fate would have it, my second Cousin Joe Green would not see the end of World War II. I have pictures with him holding me as an infant, but I didn’t know him. My mother, a patriot and Great American, was very close to her cousin Joe Green. He has always been a role model for me. Just the thought of him, his love of country, his heroism and willingness to sacrifice all. Joe Green and I were honored to both be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross but in different decades.

I played some youth league baseball with a neighbor who lived two blocks from me. His name was Larry Martin. He was a quiet young man who was an Army Platoon Leader during the Vietnam Conflict and volunteered to survey a route of march in Northern South Vietnam. This was just west of Danang Air Base where my great friend Steve Brooks flew the F-4 Phantom jet fighter. While returning to his helicopter landing zone, Lt. Martin’s vehicle was ambushed by a command-detonated mine. First Lieutenant Platoon Leader Larry Raymond Martin succumbed to small arms fire. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, his third. He will always be a hero among heroes. Sacrifice needs to be remembered as we have those in our country today who want us to forget our brave history.

During my time in the U.S. Air Force, I was privileged to meet many courageous heroes. I am not a hero, just a guy who did his job and had some luck.

After upgrade training at Shaw Air Force Base Sumter, South Carolina I was deployed to the 355th Tac Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. As required of all air crew, my first stop was Clark Air Force Base, Luzon Island, The Philippines for Escape and Evasion Training at the famous “College of Jungle Knowledge.” My roommate was a thoughtful, quiet young man named Capt. Thomas Wiley Norman, Jr. who was born in Roper, North Carolina. A great guy. Legendary New York Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter called Tom Norman “the best left-handed pitcher around” while Tom was pitching for the East Carolina Pirates. He later flew 0-2 recon aircraft out of the “Green Hornets” based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon. We talked when we could over several months. Then I didn’t hear from him anymore. I soon learned why. He was shot down and perished. My new friend Tom Norman will always be a hero among heroes. Another American sacrifice at the expense of delusional politics.

My Southeast Asia experience spanned 1969-1971 and featured my new friends, most of whom had no faces but names like Jolly Green, Sandy, Seabird, Blind Bat, Nail, Misty, Yellow Bird, Covey, and the daily/nightly routine of the KC-135 tanker rendezvous.

The tankers came from Andersen AFB in Guam, Kadena AFB Okinawa and U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Force Base in southern Thailand. All destined for eastern most Thailand, the refueling area, where the tankers entered “anchors” or, explained more succinctly, airborne racetracks adjacent to the Mekong River to refuel combat aircraft. The rendezvous became old hat as the tanker and the combat aircraft came screaming at each other with a difference of 500-1000 feet in altitude and an offset of 7 or so miles and at the appointed time the combat aircraft would enter a 60 degree or more bank to come up behind the tanker and climb to engage the refueling mechanism. That was before your combat sortie started or after it was finished at all hours of the day and night. The “anchors” had colorful names like Cherry, Purple and Tan.

I was lucky enough to have the first opportunity in my family to attend college. My good fortune was attending Duke University. I wasn’t recruited due to academics but had been offered numerous football scholarships from around the country. I was a member of the Duke football team from 1962, a year after Duke defeated Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, through 1965. My experience on the “Methodist Flats” was amazing. Those four years saw our Blue Devils win two Atlantic Coast Conference championships and finish second twice. My luck was to join some bright and talented young men and play for many Hall of Fame coaches. Sadly, Duke University is very, very different today as it has become a woke-gorged entity that hardly resembles what I experienced in those wonderful years of my era.

One of my teammates was Jerry Huneycutt, a fierce competitor from Lexington, North Carolina. He was a heckuva football player. His dad was a Methodist minister and Jerry was a devout Christian. I can still see him in his ROTC uniform on campus as we lived in the same quadrangle. His great smile belied his toughness. He flew the F-4 Phantom. He attacked Dong Hoi Air Base in southern North Vietnam just north of the border between the two Vietnams. He was over Dong Hoi in weather and at night, and Jerry Huneycutt didn’t pull up after a bombing run. He was an MIA until after the peace accord when his remains were returned.

Dong Hoi was the southernmost North Vietnamese air base and it was continually bombed. It was also a graveyard of American aircraft. I saw it numerous times and always had Jerry on my mind. Jerry Huneycutt is a hero among heroes. Sleep well my great friend in eternal bliss. You earned it.

One of the most interesting young men I have been around was Drew James Barrett III. We all called him “DJ”. Always with a big smile. He was tough as nails. His dad was born in Logan, West Virginia and was a Marine Corps Colonel who was an instructor at the United States War College. DJ had an amazing game under the lights in 1965 at Carolina Stadium against the South Carolina Gamecocks. It was a big win for the Blue Devils. DJ Barrett had 13 tackles that night out of his cornerback position. He was a fraternity brother of mine and simply a great human being.

His dad pinned on DJ’s gold Second Lieutenant bars. He was a Platoon Leader in I Corps of Northernmost South Vietnam. His platoon was ambushed near the An Hoa Combat Base and DJ was very badly wounded in a firefight. He hung to life and fought his terrible injuries but passed away at the military hospital at Danang Air Base about twenty-five kilometers from An Hoa. Drew James Barrett III had a wonderful spirit about him and was a born leader. A hero among heroes. My great friend rest in eternal bliss. You earned it.

Another Duke fraternity brother was WC Clay III from Henderson, North Carolina. WC was a student leader and a solid and thoughtful young man. He was a Marine fighter pilot and was lost on a bombing run over the western South Vietnam mountains. I always looked up to WC as a mentor. He was a quiet and confident young man just like my other Duke heroes. Rest well my great friend in eternal bliss. You earned it. You are a hero among heroes.

Dick Mallon and I were on a “Wild Weasel” search and destroy sortie just north of the Mu Gia Pass in North Vietnam when he was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery which surrounded all of the Communist surface to air missile locations. Then a North Vietnamese Mig 21 Atoll chose Maj. Holly Bell’s Jolly Green HH-3E rescue helicopter instead of my EB-66E and shot it down with an air-to-air missile. Dick and I had breakfast together prior to our take-off and planned to have lunch after our sortie.

My last training student Lt. Col. Iceal "Gene" Hambleton was shot down by a surface-to-air missile near the DMZ only to heroically survive and be rescued in the most expensive air rescue of the Vietnam War. His story was made into a movie starring Gene Hackman entitled “Bat 21”.

My oil and gas colleague John Wendell graduated from Louisiana Tech with a degree in Petroleum Engineering then flew the F-105 fighter bomber as a member of the 355th Tac Fighter Wing a unit that I would later join. John Wendell was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while attacking a POL (Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants) facility in the Hanoi suburbs and spent 7 years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during which time that pathetic American traitor Jane Fonda posed for a picture on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery at the “Hanoi Hilton.” Later John Wendell and I would serve together in a Dallas-based oil and gas company. We put together a very large deal to successfully purchase Bethlehem Steel's oil and gas properties.

Great men and great patriots who suffered for our freedom.

This Memorial Day, please remember our heroes. Not just the military members but our parents, teachers, clergy and others who nurtured us back in the day. They are all heroes who helped make us who we are today.

Say a prayer for our Great Country which is under attack from within. And remember our fallen heroes who sacrificed all for our freedom. Those freedoms, that too many took for granted and for too long, are on the line today.

The Honorable John T. McNabb II is a contributor to WorldTribune.com and Chairman of the Free Press Foundation. He served two combat flying tours during the Vietnam Conflict and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He co-founded the Trump Leadership Council.

Free Press International
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