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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Country Boy - Hero - Vietnam Veteran

MSgt Frank Short (standing left)

Each year so many Americans reflect on our American War Hero's honoring those who have fallen on November 11th as it is known as Veterans Day. I too reflect as I peer upon the American Flag as she waves alluring thoughts of what this day means to myself. What today means to a nation.

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations"spoke President Wilson proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day in 1919.

His speech honored those who had fought the "Great War" World War I. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. Although, the fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

I reflect on many thoughts. First, my second oldest brother every Veterans Day. Charles did not serve in the Armed Forces, but he was born on the day. Each year growing up was a celebration of his birth. I always remember his birthday first. I lost him to cancer several years ago but never have forgotten a moment of his life or his influence over me.

However, Veteran's Day also has my mind reflecting on many Hero's which I have had the privileged to serve with or meet in a 24 year career. Men like Army Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez from Cuero, Texas who received the Medal of Honor during Viet Nam. His heroic actions would nearly be forgotten receiving the highest award of heroism in 1981.

I reflect on great leaders like General Colin Luther Powell. I met him personally after conducting Color Guard services for the opening ceremony of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas where he shook my hand, thanking me for doing my job along with other members of the Armed Forces Color Guard. Several years earlier, he had also awarded my former Unit with the Presidential Unit Citation, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Navy Unit Commendation, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for "Operation Just Call."

Although as I peer upward, there waves the stars and stripes high into the sky. A gallant symbol I so proudly served. Each time, the rifles volley, the bulge calls the sound of Taps, my body seems to tremble, I refrain the tears, my throat seems to dry as I swallow peering into the heavens at our flag of Red, White and Blue.
As my mind wonders, I think about so many who served which I will never meet. So many serving today to protect freedom. So many more I hope that will come to the aid of a nation.

As my mind wonders, I reflect back on an acquaintance Master Sargent Frank Short. He was continuing his career with the US Army Reserves during the 1990's assigned to the Army 549th Unit out of Austin, Texas. While Frank was the MSgt. it was apparent that in many ways, he was a good ole country boy. He enjoyed the outdoors, camping, fishing and cooking Texas Style barbecue.

While I would see him with his assigned unit, one day he offered to assist our Naval Units that were getting ready for conducting training with real world operations. Navy Units which provide communication services, Satellite Systems, Advance Combat Supply, Fleet Hospital Units and Construction Battalions who often are first to go ashore and stage forward base camps assisting various combat units from the Army and Marine Corp.

Frank liked to cater food an offered to provide a Barbecue lunch for approximately 500 military service men and women during that training exercise. I thought this would be a great change to the normal routine and collected a few dollars to cover the cost and Frank's expenses.

Frank showed up the night before the exercise setting up his huge BBQ Pit mounted on a flat bed trailer hauled behind his old truck. He moved mesquite into the smoker and began the process of slow cooked, mesquite smokes Barbecue. Along the side of the trailer, it had the skull of a longhorn with a sign "Road Kill Barbecue."

The training being conducted was providing perimeter securing with night patrols, land navigation and security post for the make shift training headquarters at Camp Swift, Texas. Master Chief Petty Officer Joe Spellman, Senior Chief Petty Officer Randy Dobbins, along with Todd English, Al Barber and a hand full of others made up as instructional staff along as acting also as Op4 known as opposing forces. Our job, train the reservist for real world operations where I believe these men did a great job. Many of these reservist had served in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Some later would serve in Bosnia while even others continue to serve in the latest conflicts in the middle east.

"Wow, this is the best lunch I have ever ate in the field," said Petty Officer Al Barber. The traditional Brisket and sausage was serve with all the sides of Beans, Potato Salad, onions and pickles. I certainly agreed with Al, as MRE's (Meals Ready To Eat) never were that good. This was not set up as a picnic, but to give appreciation to these reservist who highly deserved something even if it was merely a special meal in the middle of an exercise. Frank to desired something extra as we collected a few extra bucks to tip him for all he had done to make that day special for this group of warriors.

However, there was something familiar about Frank that I could not place. That mystic look in his aged eyes. A quietness about his mannerism as I observed. Something I seem to question in my mind for days until a bell rung in my head when it hit me. Who was Frank Short?

I had previously been assigned to Special Boat Unit Twenty-Six in Panama. The unit worked directly under Naval Special Warfare conducting area operations both in Central and South America. I recall reading just about anything on Jungle Operations I could get my hands on. One references was stories about the Class of 1966 Cu Chi Vietnam.

Frank was assign to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, 25th Regiment ID with one of the most dangerous jobs ever performed to any squad patrolling the jungles. Frank was a "TUNNEL RAT." His duties were to crawl into the mast tunnel systems which ran over 240 square miles of complex underground dug out tunnels which hid underground cities, ammunition and logistical supplies. It also village the North Vietnamese Army and Charlie, guerrilla jungle fighters who supported the NVA.

Weeks after our Navy exercise enjoying some of the best barbecue I ever ate, I walked out of my training office over to the Army battalion office and asked Chief Warrant Officer Valentine what he knew about Msgt Short?  CWO4 Valentine was happy to share some information taking me to their Staff break room where a newspaper clipping was posted on the bulletin board. Valentine said, "Roger, read this clipping. This might answer some of your questions." The newspaper clipping written by Tom Tiede, The Muncie Evening Post, Radio City Station, New York, NY.

The article starts out talking about the discover tunnel. ( Frank Short, Albuquerque, New Mexico asked for volunteers to follow him into the subsurface tunnels. "Well, he urged." "Not me Frank" "Me neither," replies a second soldier. "Hell then, I'll go alone." Frank remarked. The story continues discussing the challenges of the tunnel rats working in Vietnam and the extreme dangers the men of the US Army faced daily.

On this particular day, the reporter wrote; Frank enter the tunnel carrying his choice of weapon, using the .38 Hush Puppy known as a 38 Revolver with a silencer attached. Most used the Colt .45 but not Frank. The tunnels are dark. Using a flash light was with extreme caution as this would give away your position. Frank moved crawling through the dirt of the carved mountain side of Núi Bà Đen (Black Virgin Mountain) narrow for one person to squeeze through investigating and explore. Tunnels were heavily booby trapped states Norman "Butch" Petit who served in Bravo Company. Often filled with Red Fire Ants, snakes and numerous dangers that even to this day, current Vietnam Army do not enter in fear of the many dangers.
As Frank's body trembled, he found an old man wearing rags hiding. The old man begged for his life as Frank held the weapon out towards him. Frank slugged the man down, drugged him back out and turned him over to soldiers outside the tunnel as a prisoner. Although, not all days operating in the tunnel went as smooth.

Not mentioned in the newspaper clipping was another event which the Warrant Officer shared. Frank was always alone to perform his job as a tunnel rat. No one wanted to crawl down into those holes. It was death. The young country boy from New Mexico was then a skinny - tall redhead that would had loved to be any where else in the world rather than Vietnam. However, he was serving his country, fighting communism and doing his job as an American Soldier.

The tunnel was muddy as Frank crawled through. He had moved likely around 50 or 60 yards of curves, drops and interior compartments. Often these compartment areas would be filled with needed ammunition and weapons along with intel items that Frank often carried items back out to understand movements, strength that (MI) Military Intelligence could analyze. Often, Frank would be told to go back in to the dark tunnels and set explosives running a blasting line out where they would attach the detonator and firing device known as the clacker. Calling out "Fire in the Hole, Fire in the Hole," they cleared tunnel after tunnel. However, this day, the tunnel had him going many different directions with sub-tunnels. After not finding anything, he began his crawl climbing back out.

Frank suddenly realized movement. The sound not behind him, nor in front. He laid still in the dark. Holding his breath his heart raced as the muscle pounding from with in him became the only sound Frank could hear in the dark maze. To no avail, all remain quiet. Frank began to move once more when this time he looked upward immediately feeling a sharp pain in his neck and a bright flash from the point blank 7.62 x .39 SKS rifle fired. The shot rang through the tunnel as the bullet just missed. Frank unknowing he had a bayonet stab through his neck lifted his hush puppy firing back several rounds killing the enemy. Unable to move, Frank had to remove the bayonet from the rifle leaving it in his neck where it missed his jugular vain.

Frank crawled out from the tunnel with blood covering his body. Mud covered him front and back. As Frank poked his head from the entrance, the other soldiers from his unit immediately helped to get Frank out.
"Dust-Off, Dust-Off this is Alpha Mike Two-Five, over" called the radio operator. The radio crackled with no reply. "Dust-Off, Dust-Off this is Alpha Mike Two-Five, over" once more called the radio operator. This time raising his voice. The field radio again crackled but then with a replied "Alpha Mike Two-Five this is Dust Off, over." As the unit radio operator requested medivac explaining the situation, dust off responded stating they where not in the operating area of LZ. A second radio call came from a different helicopter performing Dog and Pony show carrying some VIP's.

They were in the general area and answered back the radio call questioning if the area was a hot LZ. "Negative, LZ secured. Request immediate assistance, over." Cried the unit radio operator. "Roger, Alpha Mike two-Five, you mark, I'll identify" as the helo replied. "I've got green smoke, say again, I've got green smoke, is that affirmative" questioned the helo. Charlie was known to try an intercept radio calls laying out markings to try and sucker G.I.'s and Helo units into ambushes. Often the terrain would be heavily covered with triple canopy of the jungle. "That's a Roger, Roger."

Frank Short was lifted during that day. The Helo was General William C. Westmoreland, who commanded American military operations in the Vietnam War showing the combat zone to some American personal.
Frank Short served in Vietnam. A war that receive much criticism. A war where he return to the United States not as a hero, but a target of protest. Years later the area of operations confirmed the use of Agent Orange where many of these hero's later died from Cancer.

Master Sargent Frank Short retired from the Reserves awarded numerous medals, citations including 3 Purple Hearts from Combat Vietnam, 2 Bronze Stars for heroic acts and I could not remember if he had received the Silver Star or not. Remembering my thoughts about Frank, I thought I would look him up and see how he is doing. It has been years since I spoke with him. He was a likable, good ole boy. Tall, full chested, and surely added some weight since being the young man serving in Nam.

As I searched the internet, I found his name under the Class of 1966. Norman "Butch" Petit who had an email address posted was also a tunnel rat. He replied to my email after just returning from a Veterans Affair conference. Butch apologize, informing me that Frank had gown to meet his fair winds late 2004.

Butch confirmed as much as he could remember as he too is an American Hero. Butch volunteered after high school at 18 becoming a squad leader by 20 only serving a two year hitch. The New Yorker today makes home with his high school sweetheart Pat in Tennessee as a disable Vet. He also is an activist who has returned as a tourist to Vietnam twice and plans to return once more in 2012. "They share a greater respect for us there than they seem to remember here" as he commented on his visit referring to the People of Vietnam and forgotten hero's of our Armed Forces here in the states.

On the Eleventh hour of this Eleventh Day, Veteran's Day I will be remembering. I'll remember my grandfather who served in WWI, I'll remember my brothers birthday, I'll be remember his son Jonathan who is currently serving in Afghanistan with the US Navy sending my prayers for his safe return home along with all our members of the Armed Forces. The Men and Women who proudly serve so I can just be a cowboy. I will be remembering so many who I came across paths with wishing I had once expressed perhaps a greater sense of appreciation for their contributions they so serve. I will also be remembering Master Sargent Frank Short, United States Army with regrets wishing I had try to seek him out a few years earlier. To those who serve and have served, I salute you and God Bless.

Story by Roger Edison
News Clipping Frank Short

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