Semper Fidelis

4 Min read

On patterns

On Vietnam and Memorial Day

Operation Frequent Wind

1 Book rec

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We had not met before though we had met in other ways, I suppose. We laughed in short order, having teared up moments before. But, first let me say this.

The third time is a charm. At least for me it has been, because it often takes three times to get my attention. Repetition helps me see patterns, so here’s a pattern I want to share for its timeliness.

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THE FIRST. At the end of April in 1975, my father left with U.S. Ambassador Martin in the last helicopter off the roof of the embassy in Saigon. By staying until the absolute end, they hoped to evacuate as many Vietnamese allies as possible. They wanted to–they hoped to–get everyone out, as promised. But, America was done. Marine Captain Gerald Berry had his orders to get Martin out, period. Berry flew the CH-46 Sea Knight that lifted off with its final Americans to end the U.S. Mission in Vietnam.

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THE SECOND. On September 2, 2009, my father had fallen next to his bed in my home. By the time we got to him, his body was warm with no pulse. My husband tried to resuscitate him while we waited for the paramedics. Officer Rex Sprosta arrived on the scene. The medics told us what neither of us wished to believe. My father was dead. Sprosta’s presence calmed me in this dire and tragic hour. He waited near my father’s room at the stair, his back to the wall.

Until the funeral home workers put my dad’s body on a gurney and wheeled him out of my house and my life, Sprosta stood ready, a sentinel and a guardian on that day, hour, and moment of irrevocable change. His haircut, his bearing were unmistakable. He was a Marine veteran and he was there with us, with my father on his final departure. His decency and his kindness sustained me. Sustain me still.

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THE THIRD. Brian arrived on time. Pressed shirt and pants with saddle shoes, he breezed into the cafe. He was about my height at five-foot-nine with a firm handshake. We talked about stuff he said he told no one. We laughed and I sipped my cappuccino. Then he talked about his tour in Vietnam in Hue City. He told me how beautiful it was, hospital and university, everything there. It was the imperial city, he explained.

I asked him to say the name again. Hue. He was there during the Tet Offensive when the city was destroyed.

Then I said, I have been there. My mother is from Hue. I blinked and looked away.

I took out my folder and showed him photos from our town’s high school in the sixties, of those who served in Vietnam. He looked at them.

That’s David. He was my friend.

Brian’s name is engraved on the Town Hall memorial plaque of residents who served in Vietnam and his name looked familiar. Brian learned my maiden name is Brewster, when asking about my father in Saigon. He told me he was very familiar with the name.

We realized around the same time that Brian buried his father’s remains in the cemetery near my father’s grave. We’ve lived parallel lives, I say. We’re related. We know each other in this intimate yet most universal way: the care and love of a parent.

Brian was a U.S. Marine and his father was a U.S. Marine.

My father and the Marine are buried in this eternal resting place, their final repose. By an old horse path, in a New England cemetery, next to the maple tree.

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My father’s headstone at bottom, Brian’s father’s headstone at top, a US Marine

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My father always said this about the last day, “The Marines got me the hell out of there.”

The marines got him out of Saigon. A marine stood by when he died. A marine joined him in eternal rest.

It’s a pattern which sustains me.

Semper Fidelis.*

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FOOTNOTES

*Third time: I met Brian during a meeting with another amazing man, the local commander of the VFW. Both Vietnam veterans came to chat about the upcoming Memorial Day parade and festivities. They asked me to speak at the event and I wanted to learn about their experiences, especially Brian who grew up in town. As part of my research, I have been learning about local residents who died during the Vietnam War and Brian knew David well. I have been learning as much as I can about these residents and wish to be worthy of this humbling request. I will share details on the event and will highlight what I learn online for readers and listeners to know their sacrifice is not forgotten.

*Semper Fidelis is the motto of the US Marines. Often shortened to Semper Fi, the Latin phrase means Always faithful. True to the word, Captain Berry, Rex Sprosta, and Robert V— embody the motto.

Latin for “Always Faithful,” Semper Fidelis is the motto of every Marine—an eternal and collective commitment to the success of our battles, the progress of our Nation, and the steadfast loyalty to the fellow Marines we fight alongside. Established in 1883, this motto distinguishes the bond developed and shared between Marines. It goes beyond words that are spoken, as it is a warriorhood that is lived.

Marines.com/about

*Operation Frequent Wind (media.defense.gov Aug 23, 2012, Vietnam Evacuation by Daniel L. Haulman). This was and remains the largest aerial evacuation in history, which involved phases of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and made my father’s evacuation possible on Captain Berry’s CH-46, Lady Ace 09. I lived with my family in Saigon and my father sent me, my mother and brother home shortly before this in 1975. During the final phase, helicopters helped in the escape of “1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third country nationals.”

The aerial evacuation of South Vietnam was the largest in history. More than 50,000 people fled by air, the majority on USAF aircraft. Almost all U.S . citizens left by air. Operation FREQUENT WIND ended more than twenty years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam

Haulman, page 11.

*Wiki souce page: “The total number of Vietnamese evacuated by Frequent Wind or self-evacuated and ending up in the custody of the United States for processing as refugees to enter the United States totalled 138,869.” This number is consistent with the number cited by Historian Thurston Clarke’s recent book on these final days, below.

Honorable Exit: How a Few Brave Americans Risked All to Save Our Vietnamese Allies at the End of the War by Thurston Clarke, 2019. I read this slowly, the pain of one war flooding back as I read each chapter and the country pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, making costly and abhorrent mistakes as it had made in Vietnam. The painstaking details and substance in this book, finally shared in 2019, vindicate what my father-the last cultural attache of South Vietnam– had spent decades telling us.

Thank you, Thurston Clarke. Thank you to Marine Pilot Gerald Berry and to so many courageous and disobedient Americans who in those final days took severe measures and did everything they could at great risk to help our allies. We did not get them all out, yet the spirit of Ambassador Martin’s will and resolve helped to get as many as possible out in spite of the directive and mandate from Washington, D.C. to abandon the U.S. Mission.

May 2, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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