View Full Version : Viet Vet Don Wilmot recalls rescue missions

06-26-09, 09:18 AM
Viet Vet Don Wilmot recalls rescue missions

By Tammy Compton
Wayne Independent
Thu Jun 25, 2009, 05:07 PM EDT

Sterling Township -

Sgt. Don Wilmot of Sterling Township served with the Marine Corps Aviation detachment from January 1963 to January 1967.

He landed in Vietnam on October 13, 1965.

Four best friends
“When I got in to Vietnam, having no combat experience, you’re green,” he said. Nobody wanted to be near a new guy, because he made mistakes. “You just didn’t get near him for about a month, until he got experience,” he said.

He’ll never forget fellow crew chief, Sgt. Benjamin Brooks of Hollister, CA, He was like a big brother. “At night, him and I would have conversations. He’d tell me how to string a carburetor, how to do all this. He was very good to me,” he says about a mentor who kind of took him under his wing. “ Thirty days later, he got shot in the head and killed,” Don says. The first of four good friends lost to war.

“My next friend that got killed was (SSgt.) Thomas Walsh. He was from Wisconsin. He was an E6 in the Marines,” he says. He was 30 years-old when he died. “He got killed on my helicopter. He was a window gunner. And he got shot through the chest and got killed. It was one of those freaky things. It was so hot over there. Even at night, it would go down to 80 degrees. You’re just so hot. Well, in the helicopter, you had to wear a flak vest. Well, at night time, a lot of times, we’d open up our flak vests to get that cool air in. Well, this was during Operation Colorado. And we went in for medivacs, and he had forgotten to close his vest.

“That same night, (Pvt.) Richard Skinner was killed on the ground,” Wilmot says. They’d gone to boot camp together. “Twenty-one years-old. He was from Greenbelt, Maryland. My fourth friend on the (Vietnam) Wall was (Cpl.) Homer Hollister. Homer Hollister was from Hollisterville ...He was four years younger than me. His tour of duty started in March. He died February 2nd. He was less than a month from coming home,” he says.

If no one wanted to be near the new guy, the same was true for the guy whose tour was nearly over. Labeled short-timers, “when you only had 30 days left in country, nobody wanted to be near you. Because all of sudden your thoughts are back home, the girlfriend, the wife, I’m coming home. I’m going home. You just kind of let your guard down,” he says.

The rescue mission
One of the hardest rescue missions involved the loss of nine Marines.

Two amtracs, amphibious tractors, were trying to cross the Ca De River near Da Nang when they sank. A yellowed newspaper clipping tells the story. Written at the time of the tragedy by Joe Schneider, S&S Vietnam Bureau Chief, the article reads, “The amtracs, carrying 15 marines were making their way back from a troop-ferrying mission with one tractor towing another which had lost power. The tow cable broke, and one amtrac sank after it was swept into Da Nang bay by the onrushing tide. The second vehicle sank during the rescue operation.”

“It was a monsoon,” Don remembers. “It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see. Well we attempted to rescue these guys. They were corks, bobbing in the ocean. We managed to rescue six. There were 15 marines on the amtrac.”

Visibility that day was nonexistent. “We would consider it 0-0, which means your ability to see up was zero, to see in front of you was zero. Six were rescued by helicopters and the coast guard. I managed to be in on the rescue of three. We practiced sea rescue before we went to Vietnam. A nice sunny day, we went down to the ocean, you hovered over, you dropped your cable, you practiced. Well, here all of a sudden you’ve got swells 15 feet high. You’ve got the rain hitting the rotor blades. Once you got down near the water, the rotor wash was bringing more rain up into your face. You couldn’t really see. You couldn’t hover over somebody, because they were going up and down. You had to drop your cable and you flew around in a circle. And you swung by, hoping they would grab the cable ...The last one, we were coming around, and I could see him. We come right close to him. We were like four feet from him. He went under. That was it. He just never came up,” he says. “To this day, I can’t go swimming in a swimming pool. If I flush the toilet, with that (movement) going around, I’m in Vietnam. Anything to do with water — it’s a trigger,” he says. “It’s called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”


06-27-09, 06:30 AM
BETHANY ON THE MOVE: The Strongman Family

By Margaret Freeman
Wayne Independent


Once upon a time a man had a dream and the forest primeval was cleared, and land in the newly formed Wayne County became known as Bethany.
Bethany, “a sweet name, suggesting rural refinement, domestic peace and affection”, so wrote Jason Torrey, who was the surveyor and had aptly named the clearing . Gentle thoughts may have prompted the sweet name, but rough and hardy men cleared the land of the 999 square acres that would eventually become the County Seat of Wayne. Henry Drinker and his family owned thousands of acres of wild land of this new County. It was good business to give away some land if the gift would serve to raise the value of nearby property and encourage its sale. After the land was surveyed, Henry Drinker gave the gift of land to the newly elected trustees who were to sell lots to individuals and use the proceeds for erecting the Court House and clearing the lots for public use. And that was the birth and the beginning of Bethany in 1800.
Today there are approximately 117 residences in Bethany, 94 owners and 23 rentals. Republicans outnumber Democrats and at one time, almost everyone belonged either to the Methodist or Presbyterian Churches, the only two churches in the town. Much later, when cars were on the road and roads were built for travel, the Gresh family lived in the Wilmot Mansion, and they, with their eight “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” children, attended the Catholic Church in Honesdale. But the Methodists claimed their dog who walked every Sunday to Church with me, and at times when the front door was left opened, entered to listen to the service.
The Stromgman family
One wonders how Bethany would have grown and prospered without the generosity of the John Strongman family. They originally had a summer home in the early 1930s, and acquired more acreage surrounding Bethany to create Bethany Homestead Farm with 450 acres. They acquired homes to house their employees in the village. Bethany became “Camelot” for a lot of people. The “Big House”or Mansion had 55 rooms and looked over a nine hole golf course, a play house with swimming pool and many changing rooms, a theatre, bowling alley, soda fountain, and skeet game. It was exactly that.,,a play house. There was also a tall but small laundry building nearby for the laundress to work, and also adequate for the cook to do canning of the farm’s produce.
After Hortense Strongman married Byron Miller, a Woolworth executive, they made Bethany their home. Mrs. Miller in later years spent her winters in Miami. They had one son, Byron Miller , and he married Peggy Hart, a “New York actress”, and they had three children, Linda, Byron, and Gail. They made their home in Miami and New York, but spent summers here and the children even attended Stourbridge School for a year. They rode to and from school in their chauffer driven limo, thus avoiding the school bus ride.
One summer the Millers had a roller coaster constructed on the tennis courts for the children to play with. They needed friends so I was invited to come down to play. Only a paved path separated our home from the “Big House” with many shrubs and trees and fence. Can you imagine the thrill for a little girl who could ride on a roller coaster as many times as she wanted to! I was in “seventh heaven”! I was always instructed to “not say anything”, but I didn’t know what my parents meant when they said that. One afternoon I rode down the path on a wagon to play without being invited. I remember stopping abruptly and seeing Byron Miller’s brightly shined brown shoes. As my eyes gazed past the shoes and up the legs to his face, he looked down at me and said, “scram”. To make matters worse, I had borrowed from my neighbor, Jack Blake’s homemade wagon which really clattered and was made out of barn boards. I don’t think I ever told my parents that story.
When the Millers went south for the winter, the mansion was kept open by one maid, Rose, who kept good care of it all. The Bethany Homestead Farm ran smoothly with the employees to manage the daily milk routes of Guernsey Milk and the prize herd of cattle, the poultry farm and the greenhouses. It was probably a lonesome time for Rose. My Dad checked every day and kept all the plants well cared for. And there was always men to fix whatever went wrong. I remember Rose once took me on a tour of all the rooms and let me see Mrs. Millers closets for just her shoes and hats. I tried some on.. they were only size 3. All the high heels fit me exactly. There were more there than a little girl could ever imagine and I was like Cinderella getting ready for the ball!
Sold her Girl Scout cookies
Mrs. Miller invited me down twice to sell her Girl Scout Cookies. I sat in her lovely blue oval “sitting room” with windows all around. Again I was warned not to say anything. I couldn’t have been too entertaining, because she only bought one box each time. I always expected a bigger sale. But she was charming and gracious. Years later she had a gray poodle named “Bonnie”, and it wouldn’t stay in a child’s play pen that she had purchased just for her. So she asked her gardener, my Dad, if I would like the playpen for my new baby daughter, Beth. So it came to Cherry Ridge and Beth had the distinction of sitting in Mrs. Miller’s gift of the playpen. She didn’t like it any better than Bonnie did. And neither did Scott or Ned when they were big enough to sit in it. But we were honored to have it!
The John Strongman/ Miller Family, provided homes for all the employees. The apartment building on the south side of the park housed four families. At one time, the families consisted of Orvis Eldred, Walter Kimble, Millard Clemo and Elwin Monington. Orvis had his plumbing and tools office next to the Poultry Farm building. Mr. Hearns, the Poultryman, had successfully hatched two turkey eggs in an incubator and asked Orvis if he would like to take them home to his house for his son, Richard, and Walter Kimble’s son, Bob. Orvis built a pen on the side of the apartment building adjacent to the park area and the boys fed the turkeys and cared for them. However, a distraught neighbor called Mrs. Miller and reported the distinct obnoxious odor and noise were very distracting to the entire neighborhood. Mrs. Miller was driven up by her chauffer to view the situation of the turkeys in the pen. According to Orvis who liked to tell this story, Mrs. Miller then called him into her oval sitting room and discussed the matter.
When he “confessed” the story, she then said to Orvis, “Mr. Eldred, from now on, I want you to get your feed from my poultry house to feed your turkeys”. Those turkeys then grew to be 26 and 27 pounds and graced the tables of the Eldreds and Kimble’s home on Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Miller showed not only her generosity, but her humorous side as well. Orvis chuckled when he told me that the turkeys had been raised on Bethany Homestead feed right along, but now it was legal! And the end of the story was, that even the neighbors lived happily ever after with nary another discontented word. This tale was told to me by Orvis just last year. And there are more stories to tell!
Some people stay in our hearts forever. Think of all the friends you have made in the course of a lifetime. The memories can bring smiles or tears, but it is a healing time for the soul to remember the good times. Small acts of kindness may mean more than you ever dare to think. The “halcyon” days of Bethany Homestead Farms are no more, and it is sadness for some. The “once upon a time world” will never be again,, but it is hoped that the Bethany Community of today can preserve their world as they want and strive for and pass it on proudly to future generations. Bethany is on the move!
- Margaret S. Freeman, mayor, Bethany, Pa.


06-27-09, 06:31 AM
All he could do was hold dieing GI’s hand

By Tammy Compton
Wayne Independent


Time fails to heal all wounds. Some feel like yesterday.
A crew chief/door gunner with the Marines HMM-361 helicopter squadron, Don Wilmot of Sterling Township was all of 21 when he landed in Vietnam. Now 65, the Wayne County native talks about his ongoing battle with PTSD.
“If I’m outside and a helicopter goes over, right away — having been in a helicopter war — I’m back to Vietnam. I don’t have to think about going there. I’m there. I would say, everyday, at least 30 times, I have flash backs of the war,” he says.
“They’ve learned that, if they take the veterans today, as they come out of combat, they de-program them. They process them. And they’re hoping it will help ...In our case, we’ve gone too long with the war memories. I was in a major battle one day. Two days later, I’m sitting home drinking coffee, watching the war on TV. There was no de-programming. They just yanked us out and sent us home. And we’ll never be cured, some of our conditions can be controlled,” he said. “You see your best friend shot in the head and he’s dead, there’s no way of taking that memory out of your mind.”
The hand of comfort
As he examines the past, another memory surfaces. It’s pain-filled, steeped with sadness and a feeling of inadequacy.
“On one of my medivacs, we got a call— Marine shot. It took us like four minutes to get there. When we landed, they had six Marines that had been shot,” Don says. “We had to get out of the zone, we’re under fire. They’re just throwing them in. Well, when we lifted off, as soon as we got airborne, we could leave our guns. Both the gunner and I left our gun and started doing what we could to help.”
“This one fellow laid right by my feet on the floor. And we’re flying. He looked up and made eye contact. And I looked down and I could see he had a chest wound. And every time he breathed, you’d see the air and the blood coming out. And we put a compress on it,” Don said. But it didn’t look good.
“He looked up at me and he just kind of raised his hand up. And I raised my hand down. We’re flying. Well, here I am with a helmet, I can’t talk over the noise of the aircraft,” he says. The noise of the rotor overhead canceled out any chance of being heard. He felt helpless, wanting to do more for a dying soldier. “Looking at him, and all of a sudden, he just died. My worst thought is, here this man dies in this world. What does he see? Ugly me, with my flight helmet on. You can’t talk to him and you can’t converse. That’s the last thing he saw in his life. War is so tragic,” he says.
“I wasn’t his mother. I wasn’t his girlfriend. I wasn’t his father. At least he had a hold of my hand when he died,” he says.
What Don doesn’t realize is how much of a difference he made that day. How the warmth of one man’s hand transferred strength to another, to let him know, without words, that he wasn’t alone.