THE VIETNAM VETERANS "WELCOME HOME CELEBRATION" AT BRANSON, MISSOURI
By Dave Klimek
NOSTALGIA AT BRANSON
The week-long celebration began in Branson and ended with a ten-band concert on a 100-acre mountain-top outdoor pavilion 10 miles north. There were Welcome Home signs everywhere downtown and the merchandise venue was next to the Moving Wall. Of all the things for sale I thought the 15-inch hand-crafted made-in-Vietnam Cobra Gunship and a t-shirt that read "PTSD, Can't Leave Nam without It" were the neatest. I did not attend the parade they had in town, but I understand ...everyone was happy and friendly.
The Saturday concert on the mountain-top started at 2:00 PM. A crowd of some 63,000 attended. Most of the people sat in their lounge- chairs in an arc around the stage to get the best view, while many others stayed in the shade inside several open tents to pace themselves. The musical theme was a tribute to the 1960's and the early 1970's. Although the first five bands were a little lesser known, the songs they played were not and many sang along with the bands.
And then it happened and I wasn't ~ the same. It was quiet after an intermission was announced. Everyone was moving around, or stretching out, or going to the restroom or getting a drink or getting something to eat. Then Gary Linderer, a Vietnam Vet who helped put the event together, got on the microphone and said he had a treat for all of us to watch up in the sky.
First some jets in formation did a fly-over our position. Most saw only the tail-end of the jet's low-level fly-over, but everyone heard the sonic boom of their afterburn. Everyone thought it was nice that they did a fly-over for us, and it became quiet again after they were gone.
Several rather quiet minutes had passed and the crowd was back to doing their business, when, from off in the distance, we began to hear the faint sound of an in-coming chopper. After hearing the sound get closer, we quickly identified the rotor-sound of a Cobra gunship.
About that time the speakers on the stage came on with the sounds of the Cobra pilot identifying himself in-coming to the troops on the ground. In response, the troops on the ground announced they were on the move and being chased by Charlie.
I closed my eyes for a moment to think about all this, and when I opened them I felt a big adrenaline rush and my thoughts were back in Nam. After the Cobra requested them to pop smoke to identify their position, we saw red smoke rising from the valley directly in front of us. My jaw opened a bit and my mouth got a little dry as I stood there watching and listening to the action. The Cobra confirmed the color of the red smoke grenade before diving and shooting his various weapons to south of the smoke to cut- off Charlie and protect the troops.
As the Cobra rose from his second pass, the voice from another pilot came on-line saying he was three mikes away and asking for a sit-rep. As he and the Cobra pilot were communicating, we heard the high-pitch, lawn-mower sound of his LOH arrive from our rear. A LOH and a Cobra working together we called a pink team. The LOH flies at a tree-top level to draw fire or to identify other targets, then the Cobra sweeps in to blast away. After the Cobra's first sweep, a second Cobra came on-line and joined. Two Cobra's and a LOH working together we called a blue team.
The sound of pilots calling their shots over the radio and the noise of the Cobra's and the LOH working-out put me in awe. For sure G.I., this display, together with sound, was better than any fireworks I ever saw. A cloud of smoke from firing all their weapons rose from the valley and the smell of gunpowder was in the air after they finished.
Last, we heard the sound of a Huey approach before we watched that red-crossed dust-off dive to land and extract the troops from the valley. The troopers on the slick waved back to us as their slick made elevation and left with the others.
Wow, I thought as I stood there shaking. I was asking myself if this was the way I remembered it happening. A few seconds later I was about to answer myself by saying yes when my friend next to me tapped me on my arm to get my attention. His face was white, but it started turning red as he told me the last time he felt this way was back in Nam. Now that I've had the chance to think about it more, I feel as though I've gotten my ticket punched and everything is OK.
Oh sure, I enjoyed the rest of the concert, and I felt some piece of mind when the next band started to play. The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Beach Boys and Credence Clearwater Revival Revisited were great and easy to sing along with. The Doobie Brothers ended the show and I thought they were the best. But still, the memory of that chopper-fight and extraction will remain in my mind for a long time. It may not have happened just the way I described it, but it's close. I just wish you were there with me to see it all and watch your dreams come alive.
David Klimek, Secretary of the LRRP/Ranger Chapter of the lst Cav