Feb 202012
 

Joe at the stick of his helicopter, with his door gunner behind him

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 15, 2012 –

BY DARYL FISHER

Amid all the wonders out there on the Internet is a website specifically dedicated to remembering the 58,178 American soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. It is called the Virtual Wall, and on it are countless remembrances, poems, photos, videos and letters honoring those who never made it back home from that long ago war. And from time to time, usually on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, I have left a remembrance or two on the Virtual Wall in memory of some of the fine young men I served with overseas back in the late 1960s, which brings me to my little story.

DARYL FISHER, the author

MADDY HINES: Texas student doing an English project focused on the Vietnam War -- and in particular, on helicopter pilot Joe Vad, who didn't make it home

The other day, while checking my email messages on my computer at work, I noticed that one of them had the name Joe Vad in the subject line.  Henry (Joe) Vad was a very fine helicopter pilot who lost his life back in November of 1969 while providing combat air support for the Aero Rifle Platoon I served in, so I was of course very eager to open up the email and find out who had sent it. And as I began to read, I also began to feel pretty good about this new generation of Americans.

“Hi Mr. Fisher. My name is Maddy Hines and I am a junior at Westlake High School is Austin, Texas. My English III AP class is learning about the Vietnam War. We were each given the name of an American soldier who passed away in the war to create a memorial about. I am honored to have been given the name of your friend, Henry Joseph Vad. I will be creating a video memorial of his life and would love to get some information from you about him. If you have any pictures, stories, or general information about Mr. Vad that you would be willing to share with me, I would greatly appreciate it. For more information about this project, please feel free to contact my teacher, Rebecka Stucky, and if you would like to see some of the memorials her classes have created in the past, you can go to http://www4.eanesisd.net/~Vietnam/. And thank you so much for your help. Maddy Hines.”

PILOT JOE VAD, strolling near the aifield (background) and soldiers' "hooches"

Many years ago, I had written a column about Joe Vad, so I sent off the following paragraph from it to Maddy:

“Joe was from the tough streets of New York City and he had spent quite a bit of time in the Marines before deciding he wanted to be an officer and go to flight school and learn how to fly a helicopter. He liked being in the military, and since he had once been an enlisted man, he was really nice to those who flew with him. He was a very sweet guy with a great sense of humor and he got along well with everyone on the base. As a Chief Warrant Officer with D Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, of the 1st Infantry Division, his job was to fly air reconnaissance and combat air support for the Aero Rifle Platoon I served with on the ground below him. He was a truly amazing pilot who could make his OH-6A scout helicopter do the most remarkable things. He was easy to smile, fearless to a fault, seemingly invincible, and on the day he and his doorgunner, SP5 James Downing, were shot out of the sky by enemy fire and killed, the whole troop had a very difficult time believing, and dealing, with it. He left behind a loving wife and an infant daughter, Lisa, who over the years has contacted numerous members of our troop in an effort to learn more about the father she never knew.”

It turns out that Maddy was already in contact with Lisa, who was providing her with lots of photos and information about her father. I also sent her the email address of Terry Houck, a member of my squad who knew Joe much better than I did, knowing that he would also be able to get Maddy in contact with some of the helicopter pilots Joe flew with before his death.

The next time I heard from Maddy she wrote, “I am so honored to be making a memorial for Joe Vad. My teacher has been giving her students this assignment for years, but I didn’t know hardly anything about the Vietnam War before this project. I knew that it happened in the late sixties and that there was a Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, but that was about it. My parents really enjoy watching me do all my research for this project. They think it is important for me to realize what really happened in the Vietnam War and they are happy that I am coming in contact with people from all over the United States who knew Joe Vad. My friends and classmates are all doing this project, too, and they love it. Everyone is really getting into it and think it’s very interesting. I have learned so much about American culture and the history of that time and it has explained a lot about veterans that I didn’t understand before. I have also learned that war is a very serious thing, and that it should not be taken lightly, and how awful and traumatic it can be for so many people. It has also allowed me to get to know a person in a different way than normal and feel very connected to him. I am so excited to be doing this project!”

  Someone once said that if we are remembered by just one other person, then we never really die. And Maddy’s video memorial to Joe means that many more people will get to know about a good, brave and decent man, who once lived and loved, “felt dawn and saw sunset glow.” And for having done that, Maddy, those of us who served with Joe Vad will always be in your debt.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke