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The Founding of the TLC Brotherhood

It started with Jimmie Butlers book "A Certain Brotherhood", then several members of the old 23 TASS managed to find each other through the book, internet and phone calls. They decided to meet and take a trip to the "Wall". Little did they know how far reaching that initial meeting would take them. From this the TLC Brotherhood was formed.

This Brotherhood's Initial Visit to The Wall

June 7, 1997

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The Wreath for NKP's own.
[photograph contributed by Paul Lee]

      On June 7, 1997 I felt as though a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Myself and four other alumni of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB (NKP), Thailand placed a remembrance plaque at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington DC. Our offering was in memory and recognition of our brothers from NKP who didn't come home. The group included myself an O-2 mechanic; Dick Anderson, an OV-10 engine mechanic; Kermit Wilkins, the OV-10 engine shop supervisor; Chic Randow, Nail 68, and Jim Young a munitions specialist. All were members of the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron (TASS) except Jim who was assigned to the 456th MMS.

What had brought us together? What made this the right time? For several years I had no interest in discussing or even trying to recall my brief involvement in the Vietnam War. When memories did begin to surface I felt a terrible guilt. I rationalized that this was due to being assigned to the safety of a base in Thailand instead of being "in country". I felt I hadn't done my fair share, that someone else had suffered in my place. In the summer of 1995 I read a couple of books about the air war in Vietnam. These dealt mainly with action in the Delta, providing air cover for Army and Marine units. I began to realize that those of us in support positions did make a contribution. I became interested in contacting old friends from NKP and placed an ad in the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Journal, but received no response. I kept searching and finally found one old friend, Paul Krysiak, who had also been an O-2 mechanic at Ubon and NKP. It had been 26 years. We still keep in touch, occasionally visiting www.onlinecasinosaustralia.org to pick a new Australian online casino where we can then play and chat in the meantime.

Last summer I saw an ad in the VVA Journal from Dick Anderson. He was trying to locate people who had been assigned to the OV-10 engine shop at NKP. I hadn't been, but decided to write him in case he had heard from other 23rd TASS members. When we discovered we were both on-line we began writing on a frequent basis. Dick told me about the Air Commando Association (ACA) and suggested I join, which I did. The first ACA Newsletter I received contained a letter from Col. Jimmie H. Butler, Nail 12, and a critique of a book he had written called A Certain Brotherhood. Jimmie had included his email address so I wrote and ordered his book. I was excited that someone had written a book about the 23rd. As soon as I started it I wrote Dick and told him this was a must read, he needed to order it. He got the same message from Jim Young.

A Certain Brotherhood may be a novel but it is heavily based on fact, the experiences of the Forward Air Controller (FAC) over Laos and North Vietnam. In reading it I realized I had made a contribution, my time at NKP and Ubon did make a difference. Now when I go to the WALL I know that it would have been a much larger monument if not for people with call signs like Nail, Sandy, Nimrod, and others and the airmen who provided support for them. If all those trucks full of supplies, troops and ammunition had completed the trip down the trail the toll would have been much greater. We did make a difference. Our efforts saved a lot of American lives.

October 5, 1996. Dick, Jim and I met in Morgantown, West Virginia. Kermit was to have joined us but because of illness he had to cancel. We shared stories and pictures, it was a great weekend. A lasting bond was formed between us. Jim mentioned that he had not been to the Wall and didn't think he could handle it yet, not alone. A plan was immediately put in motion for us to meet at my home to give Jim support on his first visit to the Wall. As plans were put together the idea surfaced to mark the occasion with some sort of presentation. Dick came up with the idea of making a plaque listing the names of the Nail FACs listed as KIA and MIA and the 23rd TASS "Cricket Patch". As a reference he used a plaque located at Hurlburt Field, Florida that is pictured in the back of A Certain Brotherhood. I suggested we should also recognize those from other units at NKP and volunteered to make a wreath. The wreath included ribbons in red, green and yellow with the unit names. The ribbons were held in place by a Vietnam Service Medal.

The TLC Brotherhood's Initial Visit to The Wall
June 7, 1997
Jim Young, Paul Lee, Dick Anderson, Chic Randow, and Kermit Wilkinswall1.jpg (31718 bytes)

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      June 7, 1997. We met at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A safe distance from the Wall. This was Dick, Jim and Kermit's first meeting with Chic. While we were standing around, Chic told some stories of his time at NKP and of his friendship with Jimmie. Finally the time came for us to do what we had come to do. Time to walk the Wall. We hadn't really talked about how we were going to do this, no ceremony had been planned. We walked along not really sure where to place our memorial. We had forgotten to check some of the panel locations against the names on the plaque. We came to a place where the tourists had thinned out a bit so I said, "How about right here?".

Dick, Kermit, Chic and I placed the wreath and plaque against the Wall. Jim held back, the sight of all those names had had its effect. The first visit is a difficult one. We each had our private moment of silence, nothing needed to be said out loud. Pictures were posed for so we could remember this day, though pictures will not be needed for that to happen. Chic told some more stories including how he and Jimmie came to be O-1 FACs at NKP. No one wanted to be the first to say it was time to go. Chic finally broke the ice, he had to leave for a dinner with his son. We had all held up pretty well until Chic gave us each a hug and thanked us for including him. Then as he left he turned to the Wall and snapped a salute. That action moved us deeply, the tears came.

As we were getting ready to leave I happened to look at the names just above where I had placed the wreath. The first name on the line was Maj. H. V. Andre. I thought it was familiar and pointed it out to Jim. He took a list out of his pocket and there it was. Maj. Andre had been a Nimrod pilot at NKP, shot down on July 8,1969. Without realizing it we had stopped and placed the wreath and plaque at the bottom of the panel containing the names from 1969, the year the four of us were at NKP. Dick and I had both commented over the past several months, while planning this meeting, that we felt it was something we were meant to do. A feeling that was reinforced that evening. Before we left we visited the Vietnam Women's Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. We each purchased a pin that had the Vietnam Service Ribbon and the words, Brothers Forever. So true.

You wouldn't think something as simple as a novel could have such a profound effect on your life. Reading A Certain Brotherhood has brought back so many memories. Memories that I can now enjoy. I have started a scrapbook relating to my time with the 23rd and through the internet made contact with other veterans who shared the same experiences. I no longer feel guilty, but am now proud of my small contribution.

After a bad experience at the Wall in 1992 I had decided to never go back there again. But I did. On Veterans Day 1996, accompanied by my brother, Steve, who is also Vietnam Veteran. That was another step in the healing process. Without Steve's support I wouldn't have gone. It was a good day. I'm glad I was able to provide the same support, along with Dick, Kermit and Chic, for Jim on his first visit. The first time you see all of those names in one place can be very overwhelming. It helps to have a friend to lean on.

To Colonel Jimmie H. Butler, USAF Retired, I say, thank you for reminding us that what we did make a difference. And, that the Brotherhood is intact, providing aid and support to those in need.

MSgt Paul C. Lee USAF Retired

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Our time at "The Wall"

     The weekend of June 7th has been the culmination of a long time objective of mine. I had previously been to the Wall but never with people who understood what we did at NKP. Like Paul Lee, I had always felt a bit ashamed that I spent my tour in relative safety in Thailand, while others were dying in Vietnam. There was never anyone around for me to swap "war stories" with. It began to seem like those twelve months in 1969 and 1970 were all a dream. For many years I wondered what had happened to all "the guys" in the 23rd TASS engine shop. I decided to try to find them and to research the war of interdiction as it was fought from Thai soil. Information was slow in coming, numerous ads were placed in various veterans publications. I received some responses but many people were reluctant to share their experiences with me, I still don't know why. My sources were drying up until one of the last ads I placed drew a response from Paul Lee, of Fredericksburg, Va.

Paul answered the ad in the VVA locator, and was the only response to the ad I received. At first we got to know each other by letters, then found we were both on-line and continued corresponding via e-mail. For the past few months Paul and I have forged a bond with Jim Young, and Kermit Wilkins. This bond had a lot to do with a book called A Certain Brotherhood. Jim and Paul both told me that I had to get this book. It was so good they couldn't put it down. Finally, I bought the book and read it in three evenings after work, I couldn't put it down either. I gave copies of ACB to three friends I was in Thailand with, and to Rick Kettler, a good friend and local municipal court judge. Rick was an O-2 pilot and flew FAC missions in South Vietnam. After that, things started falling into place. Jim, Paul and I met at a motel in Morgantown, W.Va., and had a great time just reminiscing about the good old days. It turned out Jim, Paul, Kermit and I were all assigned to NKP in 1969. I told them it was so great just having someone else to verify my stories. Since then the group (which I refer to as "the Jimmie Butler Fan Club") has grown to include Don Brown, Darrel Whitcomb, Chic Randow, Rick Kettler and Jeff Glasser.

ACB and Jimmie Butler are responsible for this weekend, the opportunity to meet Chic Randow (Nail 68) in person, and the changes I have seen in my comrades now regarded as brothers. We shared experiences in 1969 & 70 that no one can ever take away. We shared something even greater on Saturday, June 7th that I will cherish for the rest of my days. Finally, I have been able to pay homage to those brave members of the brotherhood who didn't come home. Tears were shed and a healing took place. I no longer feel ashamed of spending my tour in Thailand, and I know now that our contributions to the war effort at that remote air base in northeast Thailand made a difference. Without the many dedicated pilots and support troops, there would have been a lot more names on those black marble slabs in Washington, D.C.

If not for Jimmie Butler and his superb writing skills, this weekend would not have been possible. Thank you Jimmie, for being there, for remembering it, and for writing it so well. A Certain Brotherhood is a book I will value among my greatest treasures.

Dick Anderson 23rd TASS, Engine Shop NKP 1969 - 1970

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     I was the beginning of another day, not unlike any other day. The morning sun was hidden by an overcast sky, the damp air had a certain chill that was to last all day and not go away. For it was this day that five souls were to meet at a point of fear and sadness, emotions were building as the day grew on. These men were well seasoned, harden by their grief and the passing of time. These men were tough as they came, having made their marks in this world.

Zero hour was getting near. The planning, the thought of attack was put into play. It is now or never. Its the wall, name upon name, row upon row, it goes on and on. Fear now takes hold. What are we doing here? Four from the 23rd TASS, Forward Air Control, Nail, and one from the 456th MMS, Weapons Specialist. Looking at a wall of names, so many, oh so many. One backs away while the offerings are set in place by four brave souls, not sure if one wants to be part of this. It is then it is realized that this is why we were there, for we are all brothers and brothers we shall be. If it wasn't for what we did, as it was told, the wall would have been much longer than it is. As these souls gathered their strength and as some weep, others cried freely, for now there is peace in ones self.

Its now the ending of another day, these few where there and paid homage to brothers that have follow before them. No one knows they were there, just those who were there with these few. It was not unlike years before when they were at a place that no one knows existed.

It was as though it didn't happen, no one was there, the place didn't exist. But they know and they carry it with pride in their hearts, for no one can take it away from them. For that day was not like any day that any of these men had ever spent, for there was a force for greater than any that these few had ever faced.

The offerings to be placed in their proper place with no knowledge of where to put items, the wall with all its names could have been put anywhere. But it was put in its proper place, the proper time. A lone name of a brother who has gone before appears on the wall above the offerings. It's only right that it is there. Everything has fallen into place. We may now go in peace for we now know that it was ordained to be done by a select few, why were these chosen, it is not clear.

No, it is not over yet. As these souls parted the next day to go their own way, an object was picked up off the ground, just a cold piece of steel, but this little chunk of metal can hold a building, a home, and yes a small group of Comrades together. It was just a nail, just a nail.

Paul Lee, Dick Anderson, Kermit Wilkins, Chic Randow and Jim Young, Jr. one of the few. I dedicate this to the Brotherhood and my family for making me strong and for what I have become today.

Jim Young, Jr. Check - 6

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June 7, 1997

     Today was a special time for me. I never thought that coming to the Wall would be so rewarding. The feeling was just great, especially when Chic gave us a salute. It really struck home at that moment just how important my being with my fellow Airmen really means. I would not have missed this moment for anything.

My friends Paul, Richard and Jim really made the visit worth while. I look forward to our next get together. In fact I insist we continue this tradition. Jim Young really made me feel good this morning just before he left for home by letting me share his thoughts. The influence that the first meeting had on him was the most positive in a long time. Richard and Paul really deserve a lot of credit for the way he feels about himself now. Thanks fellows.

My pride in being in uniform all those years was never in question, but I feel a special bond now as a result of A Certain Brotherhood and these meetings.

Thanks,
Kermit Wilkins

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      Even in early Spring 1997, my contacts with Paul Lee, Dick Anderson, Jim Young, and Kermit Wilkins had convinced me that something special was happening. Their pride in serving at NKP had been stirred, and they were talking about a special visit to The Wall. Dick and Paul had been working up tributes to leave at The Wall in memory of some NKP vets whose names are etched on The Wall.

Regrettably, I couldn't join them in June. However, I called my NKP roommate, Chic Randow, who flew as Nail 68 for most of 1967. Chic and his wife, Judy, were enthusiastic about joining Paul, Dick, Jim, and Kermit and their families.

At the time, I had a lady friend who was a free-lance writer, and I thought she might work up a story on this special camaraderie that had been reborn as a result of A Certain Brotherhood. So, Paul, Dick, Jim, and Kermit sent me some notes to help document what that June visit had meant to them. I thought you all would enjoy sharing their experiences.

They came away convinced that the camaraderie and brotherhood shouldn't end that day at The Wall. Some of them joined up again at the Air Force Museum in September. Jeff Glasser has some pictures to document that gathering on his excellent web site: The Secret Vietnam War: The United States Air Force in Thailand, 1961-1975 From those two visits, this brotherhood is growing. I predict that next September, we'll have trouble fitting everyone into a single picture.

Happy holidays, Jimmie H. Butler Nail 12/59 NKP: Feb 67- Jan 68

"This year in Dayton."

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The Second Visit

July 18, 1998

At first there was no place for us to go until someone put up that Black Granite Wall. At first there was no place for us to go until someone put up that Black Granite Wall.

Now, everyday and night, my Brothers and my Sisters wait to see the many people from places afar file in front of this Wall.

Many stopping briefly and many for hours and some that come on a regular basis.

It was hard at first, not that it's gotten any easier, but it seems that many of the attitudes towards that war that we were involved in have changed.

I can only pray that the ones on the other side have learned something and more Walls as this one, needn't be built.

Several members of my unit and many that I did not recognize have called me to the Wall by touching my name that is engraved upon it.

The tears aren't necessary but are hard even for me to hold back.

Don't feel guilty for not being with me, my Brothers.

This was my destiny as it is yours, to be on that side of the Wall.

Touch the Wall, my Brothers, so that we can share in the memories that we had.

I have learned to put the bad memories aside and remember only the pleasant times that we had together.

Tell our other Brothers out there to come and visit me, not to say Good Bye but to say Hello and be together again, even for a short time and to ease that pain of loss that we all share.

Today, an irresistible and loving call comes from the Wall.

As I approach I can see an elderly lady and as I get closer I recognize her... It's Momma!

As much as I have looked forward to this day, I have also regretted it because I didn't know what reaction I would have.

Next to her, I suddenly see my wife and immediately think how hard it must of been for her to come to this place and my mind floods with the pleasant memories of 30 years past.

There's a young man in a military uniform standing with his arm around her... My God!... It's has to be my son.

Look at him trying to be the man without a tear in his eye.

I yearn to tell him how proud I am, seeing him standing tall, straight and proud in his uniform.

Momma comes closer and touches the Wall and I feel the soft and gentle touch I had not felt in so many years.

Dad has crossed to this side of the Wall and through our touch, I try to convey to her that Dad is doing fine and is no longer suffering or feeling pain.

I see my wife's courage building as she sees Momma touch the Wall and she approaches and lays her hand on my waiting hand.

All the emotions, feelings and memories of three decades past flash between our touch and I tell her that it's all right.

Carry on with your life and don't worry about me......I can see as I look into her eyes that she hears and understands me and a big burden has been lifted from her.

I watch as they lay flowers and other memories of my past.

My lucky charm that was taken from me and sent to her by my CO, a tattered and worn teddy bear that I can barely remember having as I grew up as a child and several medals that I had earned and were presented to my wife.

One of them is the Combat Infantry Badge that I am very proud of and I notice that my son is also wearing this medal. I had earned mine in the jungles of Vietnam and he had probably earned his in the deserts of Iraq.

I can tell that they are preparing to leave and I try to take a mental picture of them together, because I don't know when I will see them again.

I wouldn't blame them if they were not to return and can only thank them that I was not forgotten.

My wife and Momma near the Wall for one final touch and so many years of indecision, fear and sorrow are let go.

As they turn to leave I feel my tears that had not flowed for so many years, form as if dew drops on the other side of the Wall.

They slowly move away with only a glance over their shoulder.

My son suddenly stops and slowly returns.

He stands straight and proud in front of me and snaps a salute.

Something makes him move to the Wall and he puts his hand upon the Wall and touches my tears that had formed on the face of the Wall and I can tell that he senses my presence there and the pride and the love that I have for him.

He falls to his knees and the tears flow from his eyes and I try my best to reassure him that it's all right and the tears do not make him any less of a man.

As he moves back wiping the tears from his eyes, he silently mouths, God Bless you, Dad...

God Bless, YOU, Son... We WILL meet someday but meanwhile, go on your way... There is no hurry... There is no hurry at all.

As I see them walk off in the distance, I yell out to THEM and EVERYONE there today, as loud as I can, ... THANKS FOR REMEMBERING and as others on this side of the Wall join in, I notice that the US Flag that so proudly flies in front of us everyday, is flapping and standing proudly straight out in the wind today, ...

"THANK YOU ALL FOR REMEMBERING"... For he today, that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.

Author Unknown

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     Another great day that has reinforced being apart of this group. John Pierre-Benoist, Darrel and Chris Whitcomb, Bill Tilton, Gerry Frazier, Bill Gardner, Jim Henthorn, we had a blast!

     Standing at the apex of the Wall telling stories of friends and comrades named on the Wall, some folks pausing to listen. A few thanked us, most were respectful and helped us with our picture taking. John speaks some obscure South American Indian dialect- he says- we weren't sure if we were being teased. But "Jim Kirk" prevailed with his "universal translator" and the Klingon Empire lived to see another day. (Just teasing John, no one can speak Latin anymore). Jim "Dusty" Henthorn had more photos to show us always a value! Bill Tilton had personal photos from the HCM, quite special, a fine man.

     Darrel and Chris as always had history and tidbits to give more meaning to those days, and a special perspective of the "Fair" Force. Bill Gardner, Mr. Encyclopedia, had more documents, books, articles, and general knowledge to share.

     What a great time, special as always when the TLC gets together. And a good way to commemorate my enlistment on July 21, 1970. The Thai-Lao Restaurant managed to bust my gut! Good food and like John, I ate too much!

David
The Regular Diet Busting Crewchief

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     Folks, a super time had by all. I find it quite humbling to be in the presence of such great guys. Each is unique in his own way and adds so much to the collective group.

     And an amazing thing happened. As we would move along the Wall and remember a certain guy or particular event, other visitors would stop and quietly listen. One man was clearly moved just listening to it and took our picture.

     A special "Hand salute" to Dave Cook for doing the leg work to set this up for us. He has my vote for east coast coordinator for the TLC if such a position exists.

     If any of you happen to be traveling through the DC area, let us know. We could do more gatherings like this very easily since so many of us live in this area.

     One thing which personally grabbed me. Bill Tilton pulled out some old pictures of the Ho Chi Minh Trail from his days in 1966. I recognized many of the areas because I had flown over the same ones in 1972. He and I will get back together and compare in detail. There is some real history there.

     One last thing. Jim Henthorn has the BIGGEST motorcycle that I have ever seen. I did not check closely, but I suspect that he has gun mounts on there somewhere.

Best to all of you.
Darrel
Nail/Raven 25

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     I missed the restaurant part, but this morning's rendezvous at The Wall was really very special for me. The tourists start early at this memorial, and particularly on a day as perfect as this was. (Damn, but I do love July!) Our little group came together quickly--I think we mostly recognized each other before we knew it--and when I next looked up there was a river of tourists flowing past us! I am stunned and gratified to see how many people, including large numbers of children and foreign travel groups, who still consider our memorial such an interesting destination!

     The only person I saw who was so overcome by emotion that he could scarcely speak was a guy who was listening-in to our conversation as we looked at the names that were added to the Wall during the rescue of Bat-21, and asked if we had all been in the war. He looked to be about the age of the older of us (won't say who THOSE were). We asked if he had been, too. "No," he said, his chin trembling; "prison." That's about all he said, except that his name is Jack.

     Anyway, it was terrific meeting everyone, and just the sort of thing I had hoped it would be, except better. These messages are great, but nothing can substitute for face-to-face conversation. For one thing (as we noted) you can tell when someone is joking!

     Special thanks to the Regular Crew Chief for initiating this and staying on it till it happened! I propose that would do it again! I know there are others who would join us on occasion, including some who don't even have computers.

Bill Tilton

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     The Brothers who made the trip to DC for the mini reunion have tasted it. They only had a half a day and they want to go back and do it again. September is fast approaching and many of you are still sitting on the fence about Dayton. Some of the new Brothers may not even know about Dayton. As I read the posts about the mini I feel like I was left out, as I couldn't make it from Oklahoma, but you can bet your ass I won't feel that way on the ides of Sept., as I will have been a part of the great joining of a hundred kindred spirits, a thousand toasts and a million memories.

     Get your butts in gear. Make some minor adjustments to your schedule and give this fantastic opportunity to yourself as a gift of renewal. Let's make the reunion in Dayton the one that sets the standard for the many TLCB reunions to come. We have special showings of aircraft at the Museum, we're flying-in war birds in all their glory, we have slide shows, photos, memorabilia, Singha, pooyings, jokes, real stories and lies, t-shirts, hats, memories and sorrows. WE NEED YOU!

NKP Nail 32 '67-'68
U-T Anchor Tanker '71
JUSMAGTHAI '75-'77
VFW post # 10249, Udorn, Thailand
ICQ # 5579065
Anticipatin' Dayton

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