One organization worth joining

Thursday, October 14, 1999

I'm not big on joining organizations.

Being a member of an organization implies a certain degree of commitment, and I'm usually unable to make any kind of sustained commitment.

It's mainly because, being in the news business, I'm largely out of synch with the rest of the world. In this business you tend to work odd hours. Our workday doesn't conform to the traditional workday. It's not a nine-to-five job.

That limits my membership in organizations to ones that meet very late at night, which is my evening, or very early in the afternoon, which is my morning.

There aren't many organizations that fit that bill. In fact, I can't think of one, so that renders me memberless in a sense.

Wait. Let me rephrase that.

What I meant to say is it renders me without membership in any organization, except, of course, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. It meets only once a year, and attendance isn't mandatory, so I don't have to worry about making much of a commitment.

Therefore, I really don't have a good excuse for not filling out and submitting a membership form that has been lying on my desk for more than a month.

It's a membership form for the USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association.

It meets only once every two years, and attendance isn't mandatory.

Its purpose is to establish and maintain contact among former Marine helicopter pilots, crew chiefs, gunners, hospital corpsmen, flight surgeons, chaplains and other support personnel who served in the 27 Marine helicopter squadrons that saw duty in Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1975.

Mine was VMO-6, Marine Observation Squadron-6, part of Provisional Marine Aircraft Group-39 based at the Quang Tri Combat Base near the Demilitarized Zone. It was a Huey gunship squadron, and I was a crew chief.

The association has more than 4,300 names and addresses on its rolls, and among them I found and contacted some men with whom I served a long time ago when we weren't much more than boys.

There's M.C. "Red" Trivette, a red-haired Virginia kid who was always quick with a joke. We were hooch-mates, a hooch being the plywood huts with the corrugated metal roofs in which we slept, eight or 10 to a hooch.

One night in late January 1968, Red's helicopter came to the aid of a Marine ground unit that was locked in battle with a North Vietnamese Army force on a hill near Khe Sanh.

The helicopter landed in the midst of the fight. Red directed machine gun fire at the enemy and helped get wounded Marines on board the chopper, actions that earned him the Silver Star for bravery.

And there was Arthur G. Friend, another hooch-mate and fellow crew chief. He went by the name Alpha Golf, the military alphabet equivalent of A and G, his initials.

Alpha Golf had been wounded on three different occasions by the time I met him. That third Purple Heart entitled him to a reassignment out of the combat zone, but he stayed with the squadron and continued to fly missions. He was a rock-steady crew chief, and I looked up to him.

Our squadron, VMO-6, no longer exists. It was decommissioned after it left Vietnam. The Marines no longer use Hueys as gunships. They've been replaced by sleeker, faster, more heavily armed Cobra gunships.

But it's nice to know that many of us who served in VMO-6 are still around and now can get in touch with one another.

Back then, we were kid helicopter fliers in history's first and probably last helicopter war, young rock 'n' rollers, rotor heads, putting the close in close air support.

Now we're older, fatter and grayer. We're fathers and grandfathers, and most of us fly helicopters only in our dreams.

But we lived through it all, lived to tell about it, if only to each other, and that's not bad. It's a whole lot better than what befell not a few of our friends.

So I guess I'll fill out that membership form and mail it in. After all, they meet only every two years, and attendance isn't mandatory, so it's not like I have to make a big commitment or anything.

We already made the commitment a long time ago.


Lou Sessinger's column is published Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be contacted at The Intelligencer, 333 N. Broad St., Doylestown, PA 18901; or The Record, 145 Easton Road, Horsham, PA 19044; phone (215) 957-8172; fax (215) 957-8165; e-mail,

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