Orange County Walk of Honor
"This memorial plaque is provided to recognize the contributions made by servicemen and servicewomen from Orange County who participated in America's Armed Forces during World War II from December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945. 16,353,659 United States Armed Forces personnel took part in the war effort during which 407,318 were killed, 139,709 were captured or missing in action, and over 671,800 were wounded.
"Korean WarJune 27, 1950 - July 27, 1953Dedicated to the servicemen and servicewomen of Orange County who served with honorand to the 51 Orange County residents who gave their lives during the Korean War.This monument recognize the contribution rendered by our veterans,especially those who became casualties of the Korean War.United States forces lost 55,000 dead, 103,284 woundedand 5,178 captured or missing in action"
"A memorial to Orange County servicemen who lost their lives in the VietNam War Zone.
This was, at first, a confusing stop. I knew the Walk of Honor was here, but I could not locate a single feature - the only obvious memorial effort was this A-4 Skyhawk and a few plaques referring to the Marine Corps. WHERE is the Walk of Honor?
I asked a couple of county deputies as they were walking away from the courthouse. "Oh," they said, "it was moved a long time ago." I seems that somebody thought the remembrances of the fallen should not be at the courthouse... but would be more appreciated at the county fairgrounds. I'm dubious, but took the photos of what remained and filed away the mental notes that at some point I will have to return to Orange County to seek the new location.
The "Tomcats" of VMA-311 have an interesting history stretching from World War II all the way to the current Global War on Terroism. The A-4E represents a 30 year operational history that begain in 1958 and this monument speficially honors its eight years flying with the "Tomcasts" in VietNam.
The squadron was based at Chu Lai and flew almost 55,000 combat sorties, mostly in ground support of Marine grunts. Are you a Marine that lived through the Battle of Khe Sanh from 5 May to 8 May 1968? Those ground attack jets you cheered for were likely flown by pilots of VMA-311.
The squadron had arrived at Chu Lai in June 1, 1965 and the sortie count began early the next morning along with other squadrons of Marine Air Group 12. Ground Marines were engaging the enemy so close to the airfield that the first sortie was only 20 miles from runway.
The first squadron loss was on December 29, 1965. 1st Lt Thomas "Taz" Eldridge died when his Skyhawk crashed while flying a mission with VMA-211. He had taken hits from a ground based .50 caliber machine gun as he rolled onto target for a napalm drop. Even though he had suffered a leg wound, Eldridge attempted to nurse the damaged aircraft back home when it gave up. about 13 miles from Chu Lai.
Marine Corps aviators have been flying ground support missions since the early 1930's. Very often the low level hazards of the battlefield environment complicate their missions. The very nature of these sorties demands the pilots fly in low light conditions, or when the air is obscured by smoke, haze, and ground fog. The second loss occurred on 19 March 66 when 1st Lt Augusto "Gus" Xavier did not pull out at the end of a strafing run in the A Shau Valley. It has been 52 years and the crash site has not been found. Xavier remains "Missing - Presumed Dead."
I made contact with one of the "Tomcats" in an effort to learn more about the squadron. 1st Lt Lyle Prouse told me that plaque includes names of squadron ground officers too, "They were a close, tight-fitting part of our unit and part of our brotherhood."
Prouse left the Corps and went into commercial aviation, eventually retiring as a 747 Captain after a career that had some surprising twists.
Or, CLICK HERE, to view part of his story as told on the CBS show "Sunday Morning."