[History] On May 18, 1970 Warrant Officer Robert K. Cole, Warrant Officer Nicholas G. Saunders, and Sergeant Carlton C. Gray were killed. They were flying a re-supply mission in the Ripcord area and had made a radio transmission to an infantry unit after dropping supplies. They had a pay officer and his sergeant with them. Easterling, the crew-chief, jumped from the aircraft prior to impact and was found on an adjacent ridge several days later. (Recounted from Phoenix unit history, compiled by Gary Earls)
[Background] Dick Jewell and Robert Kenny Cole attended the same High School in College Corner OH. Dick graduated from College Corner in 1966, two years ahead of Cole. Dick was assigned to C Co 158 Avn Bn 101 Airborne Division In December of 1968 at Ft. Riley Kansas. During the summer of 1969 at Camp Evans VN Dick was transfered to Phu Bai. Dick was unaware Cole was with the Phoenix until a few years ago.
On Sunday, 16 November 2003 at 2:00pm, Dick and Ida Jewell, Butch Doan, Don Mears, Dick Oder, Gary and Janet Sherman, Bruce and Carol Updyke, Dave and Janet Daily, and Jim and Karen Leonard met with Robert "Kenny" Cole's mother, sister, and other family at the American Legion Post in Liberty, Indiana. They presented her with a certificate from the "Pathways of Legends" 101 ABN Museum in Robert Kenneth Cole's name.
The meeting with Kenny Cole's family actually began on Saturday afternoon. Butch Doan arrived at my house around 3:00. Butch and I had never met. In fact I had never met any of those coming in but was looking forward to it. Butch made himself at home immediately, having been assured we did in fact have indoor plumbing "way out here". Remainder of the afternoon being spent getting aquainted with the assistance of "adult beverages". The dog did not bite Butch, so I figured he must actually be alright.
Around 6:00 we adjourned to the American Legion in Liberty to wait on the arrival of Jim Leonard, and Dave Daily. As with any well planned operation (yeah, right) Daily and Leonard arrived nearly simultaneously as I was ordering the first round of drinks. The evening was spent getting caught up (who's who, when were you there,what did you do) . Easy conversation with good folks, a lot of history exchanged, and time for the wives to become aquainted. Two of my friends (Americal and Bear Cat) joined us. Somewhere near midnight (I think) the briefing was recessed until Sunday Morning. Headed home, and Doan and I in our infinant wisdom concluded that "just one more" really, really was necessary. Lights out occured somewhere around 3:30 AM.
Morning came quickly, and after a short prayer........"Lord forgive me and get me through this day, and I PROMISE I will never ever again sit up all night drinking with Butch Doan" .......we headed to Liberty to meet the Phoenix for breakfast. The next few hours were spent renewing old friendships and making new ones. An interesting occurence to me was watching the wives as they gathered, away from us, quickly engaged in their own easy conversation, as if they had known each other forever. Phoenix answering "present" at roll call: Pilots Butch Doan, Don Mears, Bruce Updyke, Gary Sherman, Crewmembers Dick Oder, Jim Leonard, Dave Daily, and myself. Two full crews available for duty. Support personnel in place, Karol Updyke, Janet Daily, Karen Leonard, Janet Sherman, and Ida Jewell.
Arriving at 2:00 were the Cole family members, Mother Ruby, Sisters Roberta, Becky and (?), Brother Bob, and several nieces and nephews, none of whom had been born when Kenny was killed, along with friends of the family. There was the initial uneasiness with the family just inside the door, and the Phoenix already gathered in the hall.........neither group knowing exactly what to say or do. I spoke briefly with Ruby and she recounted her personal dificulties in attending today. The thoughts of a Mother with painful memories of the loss of a Son, combined with an earnest desire that he not be forgotten in spite of those dificult memories. In my own clumsy way I tried to reassure her that today was our way of showing her family that Phoenix shared her loss, and respected the sacrafice her family has made.
With everyone seated and ready, I opened. Honestly, I can not remember a thing I said with the exception of calling the Phoenix present to join me at the front of the room. I asked each to introduce themselves, as I knew if I had to do it, the brain would lock up somewhere along the line. Each, in turn stepped forward and spoke, giving splendid accountsof Phoenix. They represented Phoenix well speaking to the family. They did us proud.
At this point we called Ruby to the front of the room, and presented the framed certificate for Kenny's brick, which had been signed by the eight of us. Each Phoenix in turn then greeted Ruby and spoke briefly to her. last in line was Bruce. I had stepped to the right of Ruby, and Bruce was on her left. She walks with a cane in her right hand to assist mobility. I asked her if she had seen the cake we had had made. She looked at Bruce, smiled, slipped her arm onto his, and said to him "I want to see the cake". As Bruce and Ruby made their way to the cake table it struck me............ we had done something good today.
The next couple of hours were spent with the family. They brought an amazing scrapbook of Kenny's life, which included pictures taken by his father when he visited Camp Evans. Over the years there has been some question as to the motivating factors in Mr. Cole's visit to Camp Evans. Having talked to the family and now having read newspaper interviews with him, I can assure all that he was motivated only by his interest in satisfying himself and the family that the Army was doing everything possible to find the remains of his son. He came away from Evans reassured that everything that could be done, was being done, and expressed just that in a newspaper interview.
After the family left, Phoenix adjourned to the Texas Roadhouse Mess Hall in Richmond, Indiana for the evening meal. There was a small logistical problem with the delivery of Jim Leonard's meal, and Butch's barbecue sauce, and of course, the blame fell on the Mess Officer Bruce Updyke. After dinner, the group adjourned, said their goodbye's, and headed home.
Butch headed home this morning in fog well below minimums. Is that Camaro really IFR equipped?
As I called the guys up front at the presentation, I referred to them as "former" Phoenix. (In talking with the family prior, I always refered to the number of "former" Phoenix attending.) It immediately struck me hard that refering to anyone as "former" Phoenix was improper. Seven men had traveled to Liberty to meet the family of one we lost. Men don't do that just because they are "former" anything. Accordingly, I shall never again refer to anyone as "former" Phoenix, "original" Phoenix, "late" Phoenix, etc. Phoenix is Phoenix.
Doan, Mears, Sherman, Updyke, Oder, Daily, Leonard.......................We could not have wanted a better crew yesterday, Phoenix was represented well..........My heartfelt thanks to all of them for saving my butt. The family was struck that even guys who didn't know Kenny would come. They came away with an appreciation of what being Phoenix means. Awesome is the only word that applies. Thanks, guys.
After getting home last night, Butch said "relax, bud, it's over". It occured to me that it isn't over, but it has sure changed. I will be meeting with Kenny's brother later in the week. He has some after action reports, etc. Official Records. He is going to allow me to take everything and copy whatever I want to. Will also be talking to Becky again this evening. In some ways, it is just beginning for me, and it feels good. The family wishes to remain in contact, and are already looking forward to the dedication of the Pathway of Legends. They plan on attending, and I plan on making sure that is possible.
Personal: A lot of questions were answered for me this weekend. The truth surrounding the loss of 375's crew, and subsequent events can now be disseminated throughout the community. Special thanks to Mayberry and Doan for turning the screw tight enough to make it happen.
Do you think God will actually hold me to that "don't drink with Doan" thing?
One very interesting item was that Daily was a ground ponder in the LZ when one of our birds rolled over and hurt several of their guys. I told him I the kid who had both legs cut off to the evac hospital.
Cole's family arrived (mother, 3 sisters and his brother with several other family members a friends), Dick did a great job of getting things going, having us introduce ourselves and presenting the certificate.
I of course lost it when it was my turn to introduce myself (I flew over to "RVN with Cole and Wilson, all from Ohio and the only one to come home alive) but, was able to compose myself and talk to Mrs. Cole and other family members.
I don't think we told them any thing new about Cole's death, but confirmed he was a friend, fellow aviator, brother in arms and most important a Phoenix member who will not be for gotten, if you new him or not.
I cannot say for anyone else but I'm glad I went it brought some closure for me because I have always wondered why did I make it home and not Cole or Wilson.
Thanks Guys for letting me ramble on.
I've been getting a lot of "attaboys", but believe me..........the other 7 made the day what it was for the family. I wouldn't have been jack without their participation.
I'm working my way through the responses to After Action/Lessons Learned, answering each as time permits.
Glennon said he has spoken to God on my behalf, and assures me I will not be held to the "dont drink with Doan" thing. Can he really do that?
I was good friends with Carlton Gray (the gunner). He and I had big plans to celebrate our May birthdays together. He was killed (May 18) just a day of two before his birthday, mine was the 30th. I've got one picture of him is all.
I'm sure the family appreciated all of the efforts from the whole group. You're right, if you served with the Phoenix, you're part of one big family. Wish I could of attended, and honestly found myself thinking of you guys several times this weekend. A good hangover would probably kill me. We had plenty to drink in Fruita, I made the last beer run and then had to give away a bathtub full of leftovers. All part of the fun... Take care and thanks..