May 25 2015

WorWorto: Remembering Hotshot

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May 25 2015

“Hotshot”, War Hero

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forestMy son’s granddad, “Hotshot” or “Hots” (at left), was awarded a Silver Star after World War II. He fought in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. My son wrote:

“Dad told me that when he and Hots were traveling across country sometime in the late 90s they were eating breakfast at some roadside diner somewhere in Wisconsin.  At that point Hotshot began to describe what was likely the circumstances surrounding the medal.

As you figured out, Hotshot was in charge of very large long range guns.  They were huge and unwieldy.  They were constantly getting hopelessly stuck in the mud while his superiors were imploring him in no uncertain terms to move faster.  There were forward observers who served as the “eyes” of the big guns.  These guys would forward coordinates back to those manning the guns.  If the shot missed, the forward observer would correct the coordinates and send them back to the guns for revised firing.

One night Hotshot’s battalion came under tremendous fire from the Germans (big guns).  The first barrage overshot them.  When another barrage fell just short, Hots knew that the Germans were “bracketing” him and that they were just about ready to have the shit blown out of them.  Before he had a chance to think another thought, they took a direct hit.  I can only imagine the force of it and what it did to him.

When Hots got up, he saw that every single person around him was dead.  It seemed that somehow Hotshot was the only survivor.  When he took another look, he noticed that there were other survivors.  He gave them orders to get up and man the freaking guns.  The remaining men were all terrified; shell shocked and whatever other descriptors you can come up with for their situation.  They would not or could not follow orders and get up.  Meanwhile they are still coming under heavy fire.  So Hotshot climbs up on the guns and begins the multi-person task of firing the big guns all by himself.  The old boy stood up there in the middle of all that and proceeded to fight the Germans single handedly.

That’s about all I know.  He didn’t tell anybody about it because he felt tremendous survivors’ guilt –he just wanted a nice quiet life.


May 25 2015

Captain John West’s Last Letter

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John sent a letter to his father-in-law on December 14, 1969.

The war over here, i.e. Laos, is serious…. I feel that I need to let you know that things are a lot more active than I project in Donna’s letters… What I want to point out is that aircraft loss in Laos has been heavy…

On my 7th mission I had to make a pass only it was along a river with high karst (very jagged stone formations) on both sides. This pass is extremely well protected by guns as it is one of the main routes from North Vietnam to Laos. The lead airplane went through and as he called off the target … he excitedly warned me of the AAA fire. I had a little over 500 knots with 900 of bank and dodging karsk in order to get through. Finally I leveled off only to see air bursts to my right and tracers going by. After we landed I had a nice hole in the right leading edge wing flap and one of my bomb stations was missing.

…Two days ago we were in a flight of four F4’s up in northern Laos going after NVN storage areas and AAA guns. I was number 4 in the flight and “#4” always seems to be the best target. I was delivering special anti-AAA ordnance and the bad guys decided that since I was last one in “on the gun’ that they’d discourage me.  Well, after all the air bursts of 37 mm AAA going off my right wing, one gun position is no longer. My leader had to continue to tell me to junk (take evasive action) as the gunners were still tracking me as I was climbing through 10,000 feet.

The day after I took a hit, a 558th F-4 … was shot down in the exact area I traversed. The two pilots were able to eject but they landed right where they were most vulnerable. The AC couldn’t get to cover and the gunners simply shot him. The back seater took cover and 52 hours later after every AF strike mission was diverted to the recovery operation, he was finally rescued. One para-rescue man was killed and 4 rescue droppers were shot up…

His F-4 Phantom II was shot down over Laos on January 2, 1970 and he was never recovered.  His wife, Donna (my husband’s sister) was expecting their son in April and she delivered without his support. A life and future were cut tragically short.