Black Cats First Reunion
After two years of men talking about a reunion, the 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company and 329th Technical Detachment had their first reunion. In the early months of 1999, Tom MacDonald along with 1st. Lt. Al Niles who was in the Alpha Co. 2-52nd Aviation in Korea, the now (Black Cats) tried to organize a reunion. Trying to locate men and organize a reunion in a short time frame was found to be an impossible task. Lists of names and e-mail addresses had to be found and updated so flyers could be sent out. After trying, Tom came to realize that a 1999 reunion was not possible. The talk of a possible Black Cat reunion was still posted on some web sites of other Vietnam Chinook Units. One of the web sites was Ed Faught's 213th A.S.H.C.
Then Dave & Paula Hughes came along. Dave was in the 213th A.S.H.C. in 1969-70. His tour was working in the arms room and making ammo runs back and forth from PHU-LOI to Long Binhn. In the arms room, Dave had a chance to make contact with everyone in the unit. Upon returning home from Vietnam, he made a vow to himself that someday, somehow, he would do something "SPECIAL" as a tribute to his friends; Michael Boat, Robert Ketelaar, Art Johnson, Moses Kuahiwinui, and to the others, who gave their lives so that he and others could return home. Dave, for many years wanted to re-unite with fellow 213th comrades and do a tribute to the men who didn't return home with us. Dave's family seemed to understand all that he went though. They knew his desire to attend a 213th reunion. The problem was he couldn't find one. Dave mentioned that the 205th is having a reunion. Surely, somewhere, there has to be a 213th reunion, but he couldn't find it.
Dave's daughter Lorinda and son-in-law Eric Boyle has a travel agency called Sunset Cruises and Tours. Eric being much more experienced with a computer went "Web Surfing". Eric found Ed Faught's web site listing the name of Mike Brown. Eric sent Mike an e-mail asking about a 213th reunion. Mike directed him to Tom MacDonald. On the 2nd of June 1999, Dave e-mailed Tom about a reunion and any list of names he may have. Dave's daughter, Lorinda suggested that a reunion cruise might be a good means of getting the guys together. His family hit the Internet asking men from the 213th about trying to have a First Reunion Cruise. The response was (GO FOR IT!)
Dave and his family worked diligently for months trying to collect lists with names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of Black Cats from the 213th. Eric set up a web site for the Black Cats with information about the reunion. They mailed out flyers to all the addresses and called the phone numbers in hopes of setting up a First Reunion Cruise for the men of the 213th A.S.H.C. and the 329th TC. Det. The hard work paid off! The First Reunion of the 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company and the 329th Technical Detachment was going to become a reality!
The reunion would be a 4 day cruise on Carnival's "Fun Ship", The Imagination, leaving from Miami Florida on the 14th of September 2000. The first stop on the 15th would be a day in Key West, Florida. After departing Key West, it would be an all night sail to Cozumel, Mexico. On the 16th of September, it would be a day in Cozumel, and a relaxing sail back to Miami, Florida on the 17th. On the 18th the ship would dock in Miami completing our first reunion.
ALL ABOARD! Itinerary in hand, along with T-shirts with the logo 213th A.S.H.C., First Reunion 2000, nine members of the 213th A.S.H.C. started their cruise. The shirts were compliments of Sunset Cruises & Tours.
On board were Richard & Barbara Blake, Richard was a Black Cat from 1968-69.
Mike & Nancy Brown, Mike was a Black Cat from 1966-67.
Roger Ervin & Charlotte Mullenax, Roger was a Black Cat from 1967-68.
Thomas & Linda Farley, Tom was a Black Cat from 1969-70.
George & Catherine Haley, George was a Black Cat from 1967-68.
David & Paula Hughes, Dave was a Black Cat from 1969-70.
Thomas & Cheryl MacDonald, Tom was a Black Cat from 1971-72.
Foster & Allene Sexton, Foster was a Black Cat from 1968-70.
Donald & Kathy Skipper, Don was a Black Cat from 1970-71.
Eric & Lorinda Boyle, from Sunset Cruises & Tours
A sign of " WELCOME HOME" greeted us as we first entered our cabin. We then found a Gift Basket from Sunset Cruises & Tours with an invitation to a Cocktail Party, being held in our honor, in the Mirage Piano Bar. Now you know, on a cruise ship, you can't leave the dock until you have a LIFEBOAT DRILL and so we obliged. After the drill, we went back to the cabin and then off to the cocktail party.
Upon arrival at the cocktail party, Eric and Lorinda gave nametags and Black Cat patches to everyone. They had an on-going slide show in progress, showing the Black Cats at PHU-LOI. To start off the cocktail party, an emotional toast was given by Mike Brown. " TO ALL THE MEN WHO DIDN'T MAKE IT HOME AND TO THE ONES WHO DID, BUT DIDN'T MAKE IT!" After the toast, the nine members of the 213th A.S.H.C. stood up and gave their names and their tour of duty in the BLACK CATS. There was a man representing each year the 213th was in Vietnam. After the introduction, Mike Brown gave each man a 2-CD Photo Album (First Reunion Edition) of the 213th and 329th from the years 1966 through 1972. The photo albums had been his project for two years. Mike also gave an 8X10 picture of PHU-LOI taken in 1967. The negative came from the album of Ben Andrick. Mike also gave an engraved tag saying (PHU-LOI) for each frame.
The men also received a book, composed of the UNIT HISTORY, The Last Days at PHU-LOI, The Legacy Continues (The Black Cats in Korea), and a current Roster of Black Cats. Tom MacDonald presented each man with a document from the Black Cats in Korea. The document said, "This certificate recognizes (the person's name) as a genuine Blackcat patriot of the past. The Blackcats of Company A, 2d Battalion, 52d Aviation Regiment would like to recognize you for your dedicated service to our country and the Blackcat heritage. Your contributions and willingness to fight wherever and whenever for your country reflect greatly on your pride as a Blackcat. The Blackcats of the present would like to thank the Blackcats of the past. "Hook'em up Blackcats!" The document was signed by Michael A. Fleetwood, Major, Aviation Commanding. Along with the document was a Unit patch and a beautiful two-sided coin. Foster Sexton had a photo album of the GUNS-A-GO-GO "Easy Money" Dedication Ceremony. The dedication was at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, on May 1st, 2000.
The cocktail party was to be from 6:00P.M. until 7:00 P.M. Well, we were there for quite some time. At 7:00 P.M., Robbie, the piano player came in. Robbie sat with us and talked for a long time while looking at our slide show and listening to our stories of Vietnam. By the end of the night, Robbie had a Blackcat patch! He wore the patch with great honor. Every half-hour or so he would announce our presence to his audience and do a song in our honor. He dedicated several songs in our honor, but the one he dedicated the most was John Lennon's, "IMAGINE" which just seemed to touch everyone. Any night we were in the Mirage Piano Bar, Robbie made us feel at home. At the end of the cocktail party, some of us went back to our cabins and some of us went to the El Dorado Casino. "OUCH", should have gone to the cabin!
The next morning we arrived in Key West and docked at the Old Navy Pier. Lorinda and Eric treated us to a 213th Key West Trolley Tour. The tour departed at 9:00a.m. "WEAR YOUR SHIRTS" was the order of the day! We had a beautiful day for touring and shopping on Duval Street. Everyone passed "Sloppy Joe's," Earnest Hemingway's favorite bar. Yes, we saw Diamonds International, Key West Pearl Co, Colombian Emeralds International, and The Blue Cat, a cat and dog boutique. YES, DEAR, I SEE IT. It was apparent that everyone is getting old. No one went into "MARGARITAVILLE" and we were all Black cats from Phu-Loi?
The ship departed Key West around 2:00 p.m. headed for Cozumel. Later that afternoon, Don Skipper, Tom MacDonald and Mike Brown met on the Promenade Deck to look at each other's scrapbooks from Vietnam. That night dinner attire was formal, and everyone looked good. Before dinner the nine members met in the Atrium for a group picture. After dinner we retired back to our cabins to find a gift waiting for us from Lorinda and Eric (Sunset Cruises & Tours). It was a gray golf shirt with the 213th logo and 1st Reunion 2000 on it. The men greatly appreciated them. Later that night we caught the tail end of what the Captain called Tropical Depression #11."Oh yeah","Hurricane Gordon"! Some of us had to leave the El Dorado Casino early that night. Thank God. You had to take your pills that night! It was rough.
Saturday, September 16th, by noon we were at Cozumel, Mexico. Cozumel has the most popular tour of the entire cruise, the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. The Tulum is a walled fort consisting of about sixty structures. It is located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Cheryl and Tom MacDonald took the tour. Some of us went to town for shopping. The recommended shops in Cozumel were, The Jewelry Exchange, Tanzanite International, Diamonds International, Touch of Gold, Emeralds Marquise, and Jewels of the World. "Darn!" I forgot my wallet. Nancy and I went to Bye Bye T-shirts Shop. I will have to say Cozumel is a place for shopping. After a tour through the Duty Free Shop, we went back on board the MS Imagination. Dining that night was casual and the food in the Pride Dining Room was delicious. One thing you never hear of is someone starving on a cruise ship, and don't forget the Midnight Buffet.
The ship departed Cozumel at 10:00pm that night. It was a long day! Returning to our cabin we were surprised to find a Cap with the 213th logo and the words 1st REUNION 2000 on it. The cap was another gift from Sunset Cruises and Tours, Lorinda and Eric. Mary Kay Cosmetic gifts were provided to the ladies by Leigh Hobson, a good friend of Lorinda and Eric. She was very excited to be able to contribute to the reunion. It was a good day had by all.
Sunday, September 17th was "Fun Day" at sea. Sunday was an all day sail back to Miami. Mike Brown asked the men to meet in the Pinnacle Club at 1:00pm. They were asked to wear their nametags and bring their scrapbooks. Other then the cocktail party and dining, this would be the first time the men would be together with out their wives. They would talk about their days in the 213th and Vietnam. This would turn out to be the first meeting of the Alumni Association of the 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company, (THE BLACK CATS FROM PHU-LOI).
As the meeting started everyone looked at each other's scrapbook and talked about the times they had in the 213th. Don Skipper was telling a story about flying one day in Vietnam when Tom MacDonald said, "THAT WAS MY SHIP!" They looked at each other then looked at each other's scrapbook and said, "Hell, I Remember You"! I am glad I still look the same!! As I said before, we had someone representing each year we were in Vietnam. The best part was, we had someone who overlapped each year also. We had the unit's history sitting in the room. The meeting went on for hours. Finally Mike Brown asked the men, "where do you want to go from here?" Everyone agreed this was such a great experience, that we had to keep it going. We all knew and could see it took a lot of work to get the first reunion off the ground. If we were to go on, we would all have to do our part. Everyone agreed to form an Alumni Association, Don Skipper said he would work on it.
So on Sunday, September 17, 2000 aboard the cruise ship M.S. Imagination, in the Gulf of Mexico, the 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company Black Cat Alumni Association was formed. Donald Skipper of Stone Mountain, Georgia was elected President. The attending members ratified the selection of the president for a two-year term. In addition to the president, a board of directors was established to support Don with the formation of the association and organization of the 2nd Reunion planned for the 19th of July 2001, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The following members were elected for the board positions:
Director Public Relations; Tom MacDonald, Costa Mesa, Ca.
Reunion Novelties; Richard Blake, Redding, Ca.
Historian; Mike Brown, Kent, Ohio
Secretary; Roger Ervin, White Sulphur Spring, WV.
Alumni Registrar; Tom Farley, Palmetto, FL.
Treasurer; George Haley, Plymouth, MA.
Entertainment Coordinator; David Hughes, Kansas City, MO.
Corporate Sponsorship; Foster Sexton, Huntsville, AL.
Honorary membership was granted to Eric & Lorinda Boyle of Olathe, Kansas and Janie Garvey of Philadelphia, PA. She is the sister of Michael (Doc) Dougherty. Janie has done a lot of work for the Vietnam Veterans in Philadelphia. She lost her boyfriend in TET and her brother was a casualty of the Vietnam War. At the end of the meeting we all agreed to meet in David Hughes room. Mike Brown had a VCR tape given to him by Robert Lostraglio from St. Petersburg, FL. Robert was a Black Cat in 1968. The VCR tape was made from an 8mm tape taken at PHU-LOI. As the meeting adjourned, I couldn't help but notice that there were nine Black Cats sitting in a lounge for a long period of time, and we only had 4 or 5 cans of beer on the table. We are getting old!
That night was to be our last dinner together. The cruise was too short. We could use two more days. At dinner Richard & Barbara Blake presented each table with a bottle of wine for the last toast. Everyone gathered at Lorinda and Eric's table for a toast. Don Skipper, the newly elected president said the honors. We all gave a toast to them. Don told Lorinda and Eric we appreciated everything they did for us to make this reunion possible. Don also thanked them for all the gifts they bestowed on us. Don told them about our newly formed Alumni Association and our plans for the 2nd reunion. We asked them to be our Official Travel Agency for the 213th A.S.H.C. and we made them honorary members of the 213th. Lorinda was overcome with emotion. She knew how much this reunion meant to her father. Her dad David Hughes gave our final toast. David, remembering the vow he made to himself so long ago, gave it the way he always hoped he could one day, " I would like to do a special toast to the fallen members of the 213th. This is for you guys."
We sat down for the last meal we would have together. Lorinda and Eric had preplanned a bottle of wine to be at each of our tables. We enjoyed the wine and our last meal.
We retired back to our cabins to find an 8X10 group picture of the First Reunion. The note attached said, "Hope you had a wonderful time," Eric & Lorinda, Sunset Cruises & Tours.
We certainly did! Before the night was over, Nancy and I took one last walk around the ship.
The ship arrived in Miami at 8:00am Monday. By 10:00am we were off and headed to the airport for the flight home.
On our flight home, thoughts ran through my head about the reunion and how I arrived at my decision to go. I was one of the last men to sign up to go and one of the first men who wanted to go. I have gone for over 30 years with out talking about Vietnam. For people who knew me then and now knows me, talking is not hard for me to do. I do not know why I didn't talk about Vietnam. Everything I have done in my life I have talked about. I have always been proud of what I have done in my life. In work, I have always tried to do things right and do the best I could, but still I never talked about Vietnam.
Over two years ago my son introduced me to the world of PC and the Internet. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Lately I have been thinking about the men I served with in Vietnam and the task we were asked to do. We were sent to War to do a Job. Everyday we did the Job the best we could no matter what the unknown outcome would be. For the first time, I realized I was proud of what the others and I had accomplished in Vietnam. Starting with the beginning of the 213th at Ft. Benning, GA. in 1966 with a hand full of PFC, to arriving in Vietnam and setting up an operational camp at PHU-LOI in six-month's time. Everyone had to work together and do his JOB. I told my wife, "BY GOD I OWE THIS TO MYSELF GET THE TICKETS!"
This reunion was the best thing I have done for myself in years. It helped bring everything into perspective for me with some kind of CLOSURE.
(GOD BLESS ALL VETERANS AND HELP PUT THEIR MINDS AT EASE.) I strongly recommend to all Black Cats-Attend At Least One Reunion. You Owe It To Yourself!
Your Unit Historian, Michael A. Brown
(A PROUD BLACK CAT FROM PHU-LOI)