County VietNam Memorial
The story behind this VietNam Veterans Memorial is unique. It tells of one veteran's struggle against PTSD, his desire to honor those that served with him, and the support of the warriors around him that carry on years after the tip of the spear is broken.
John Reno was a VietNam veteran struggling with depression and PTSD, although at that time the concept of PTSD was fully appreciated. In that respect Reno was very much like his fellow veterans of Korea, World War II and World War I. Rather than whack just any nearby and available person when the dark moments overtook him, Reno found a remnat piece of quarried rock and began to chisel out a vision.
Reno was remembering those that fell during his tour in-country. It may have been a way to keep idle hands busy, a form of self monitored therapy, or thele burgeoning desire to honor those in his memory. Reno kept chipping away, hitting the chisel with a sculptors hammer as his vision began to solidify.
Reno never got to finish his work. He was killed in an accident after a year of effort with the stone. The image to honor the fallen seemed to have died with Reno. But friends and fellow veterans that knew of the project picked up the tools, the rock, and his vision - and worked steadily to have the artwork finished and eventually installed as the centerpiece of a local monument to the sons and daughters of Rutland County.
Twenty-one sons of more than 325 did not return alive. The story of the first to die perfectly frames the devotion that others develop when a young man or women dies in uniform.
SA David Underhill, US Navy, was a very junior sailor serving with he Black Lions of VF-213 aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). His squadron was flying the F-4B Phantom, the supersonic big bad ass in the early days of the war in VietNam. Underhill was on the flight deck of Kitty Hawk during the morning of April 15, 1966.
During the "Flight Quarters" evolution the entire 1,000 foot long deck of an aircraft carrier has hundreds of ways to maim or kill a sailor. Everyone one deck, with the exception of the flight crews, wears a colored vest to let others know what their job is. Their job defines where they should be, where they can go, and when they can move around. Every aircraft launch and recovery is strictly coreographed and everyone looks out for others - but the number one rule is to watch out for yourself.
BuNo 150162 "Angel 38"
LtJG Michael Zerbe was a helicopter pilot flying with HC-1, the Pacific Fleet Angels. The aircraft they flew wasn't a big bad ass, but the downed pilots being hoisted aboard Kaman UH-2B's Sea Sprites didn't care. The Angels flew a lot of search and rescue missions. It was satisfying duty.
Helicopters require lots of maintenance to fly reliably. Some models need almost 10 hours of work for every hour flown. Each time a critical component is worked upon it must complete a satisfactory flight check before it returns to the squadron. Just before 1000 hours Sea Sprite Bureau Number 150162 was lifted from the hangar deck to the flight deck for one such maintenance flight check. An engine had been replaced and the aircraft was to be flown to ensure that all of the parts had been returned to their proper spots.
Zerbe was flying with Lt Richard Cline and ADJ1 Hugh Coleman, a jet engine mechanic serving as the flight engineer. At 1017 hours "Angel 38" lifted into a routine hover. The hover did not stabilize as expected, instead in rolled slightly left as it slowly drifted backward. Something probably broke at that point. Angel 38 violently pitch forward, its rotor blades splintering as the struck the deck while the aircraft continued to roll to the left, off the deck and it the sea about 60 feet below.
Mr. Cline and petty officer Coleman managed to escape the aircraft and reach the surface as the Kaman sunk below the water. Zerbe had been claimed by one of the ways an aircraft can kill a sailor - falling from the deck. His body was never recovered.
The splinters of the rotor blades went scooting through the air like so many razor blades looking for a target. Most of the pieces went harmlessly off into the air without hitting anything. Some struck various pieces of equipment on the flight deck, and a few pieces hit some of the busy sailors. They had encounted another of the ways that sailors die on an aircraft carrier - flying debris. Four men were hit, SA Underhill did not survive the hit to the chest.
You might think Underhills story ends here, but it doesn't Years later a childhood friend was visiting the VietNam Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was unable to find the name of David Underhill, but he did see that of LtJG Zerbe. Confused, he began to ask questions of the US Park Service and learned that Underhill was among the 18,000 men that died in the fight for VietNam but are not inscribed on the wall. They did not die "in the combat zone."
Underhill's friend, Albert Marro, started making telephone calls and writing letters. It took some time, but eventually the scope of "the combat zone" was expanded to include the flight decks of US Navy aircraft carriers conducting fleet operations in support of the VietNam war.
Note: The helicopter shown in this article is Bureau Number 150162, known as "Angel 38" on the day of the crash. The shot was taken not long before the fatal flight.