Special to WorldTribune.com
By John McNabb, May 30, 2021
It’s Memorial Day again. The day seems to come faster each year, and 2021 is especially poignant because our nation is in uncharted waters. For me and many of my friends, Memorial Day is not a holiday. It’s a time to remember and be thankful for our relatives and friends who willingly made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free this May 31.
Sacrifice is a word that is now uncommon in Washington, D.C. We literally have elected officials who show disdain for our military. Sacrifice has been replaced in the DC Swamp by money-grubbing, power-hungry folks who could care less. America, wake up.
I have just finished my book “A Nice Ride: Stories of America.” Featured in its pages are friends, colleagues and squadron mates who are not with us today. Their young lives were taken in the spring of innocent youth. Today I bid them all a beautiful sleep through eternity. They have earned that. Every year this is the hardest time for me.
I grew up in the mountains of southern West Virginia. Coal mine country. One of my many heroes is Joe Green. A nice young man who walked out of an assembly at Stonewall Jackson High School after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and became a fighter pilot flying combat missions over Nazi-occupied France. He was nineteen years old. He was almost shot down over France but somehow kept his aircraft in the air, crossed the English Channel and miraculously crash landed his P-47 high performance fighter aircraft “The Mountaineer” at Lands End, England. He flew sortee after sortee on the “Day of Days”, June 6, 1944. D-Day. As fate would have it, my second cousin Joe Green would not see the end of World War II. I have pictures with him holding me as an infant, but I didn’t know him. My mother was very close to her cousin Joe Green. He has always been a role model for me. Just the thought of him, his love of country, his heroism and sacrifice.
I played some youth league baseball with a neighbor who lived two blocks from me. His name was Larry Martin. He was a quiet young man who was an Army Platoon Leader during the Vietnam Conflict and volunteered to survey a route of march in Northern South Vietnam. This was just west of Danang Air Base where my great friend Steve Brooks flew the F-4 Phantom jet fighter. While returning to his helicopter landing zone, Lt. Martin’s vehicle was ambushed by a command-detonated mine. First Lieutenant Platoon Leader Larry Raymond Martin succumbed to small arms fire. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, his third. He will always be a hero among heroes. Sacrifice needs to be remembered as we have those in our country today who want us to forget our brave history.
During my time in the U.S. Air Force, I was privileged to meet many courageous heroes. I am not a hero, just a guy who did his job and had some luck.
After upgrade training at Shaw Air Force Base Sumter, South Carolina I was deployed to the 355th Tac Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. As required of all air crew, my first stop was Clark Air Force Base, Luzon Island, The Philippines for Escape and Evasion Training at the famous “College of Jungle Knowledge.” My roommate was a thoughtful, quiet young man named Capt. Thomas Wiley Norman, Jr. who was born in Roper, North Carolina. A great guy. Legendary New York Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter called Tom Norman “the best left-handed pitcher around” while Tom was pitching for the East Carolina Pirates. He later flew 0-2 recon aircraft out of the “Green Hornets” based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon. We talked when we could over several months. Then I didn’t hear from him anymore. I soon learned why. He was shot down and perished. My new friend Tom Norman will always be a hero among heroes. Another American sacrifice at the expense of delusional politics.
This simply gets more difficult. I was lucky enough to have the first opportunity in my family to attend college. My blind luck was attending Duke University. I wasn’t recruited due to academics. I was a member of the Duke football team from 1962 through 1965. My experience on the “Methodist Flats” was amazing. Those four years saw our Blue Devils win two Atlantic Coast Conference championships and finish second once. My luck was to play with some bright and talented young men and play for many Hall of Fame coaches.
One of my teammates was Jerry Huneycutt, a fierce competitor from Lexington, North Carolina. He was a heckuva football player. His dad was a Methodist minister and Jerry was a devout Christian. I can still see him in his ROTC uniform on campus as we lived in the same quadrangle. His great smile belied his toughness. He flew the F-4 Phantom. He attacked Dong Hoi Air Base in southern North Vietnam just north of the border between the two Vietnams. He was over Dong Hoi in weather and at night, and Jerry Huneycutt didn’t pull up after a bombing run. He was an MIA until after the peace accord when his remains were returned.
Dong Hoi was the southernmost North Vietnamese air base and it was continually bombed. It was also a graveyard of American aircraft. I saw it numerous times and always had Jerry on my mind. Jerry Huneycutt is a hero among heroes. Sleep well my great friend in eternal bliss. You earned it.
One of the most interesting young men I have been around was Drew James Barrett III. We all called him “DJ”. Always with a big smile. He was tough as nails. His dad was born in Logan, West Virginia and was a Marine Corps Colonel who was an instructor at the United States War College. DJ had an amazing game under the lights at Carolina Stadium against the South Carolina Gamecocks. It was a big win for the Blue Devils. DJ Barrett had 13 tackles that night out of his cornerback position. He was a fraternity brother of mine and simply a great human being.
His dad pinned on DJ’s gold Second Lieutenant bars. He was a Platoon Leader in I Corps of Northernmost South Vietnam. His platoon was ambushed near the An Hoa Combat Base and DJ was very badly wounded in a firefight. He hung to life and fought his terrible injuries but passed away at the military hospital at Danang Air Base about twenty-five kilometers from An Hoa. Drew James Barrett III had a wonderful spirit about him and was a born leader. A hero among heroes. My great friend rest in eternal bliss. You earned it.
Another Duke fraternity brother was WC Clay III from Henderson, North Carolina. WC was a student leader and a solid and thoughtful young man. He was a Marine fighter pilot and was lost on a bombing run over the western South Vietnam mountains. I always looked up to WC as a mentor. He was a quiet and confident young man just like my other Duke heroes. Rest well my great friend in eternal bliss. You earned it. You are a hero among heroes.
I have through the grace of God, Duke athletes and great friends who survived Vietnam. To name just a few I am still very close with Steve Brooks, Dick Havens, Bob O’Kennon and Jim Hysong. God bless you.
This Memorial Day, please remember our heroes. Not just the military members but our parents, teachers, clergy and others who nurtured us back in the day. They are all heroes who helped make us who we are today.
Say a prayer for our Great Country which is under attack from within. And remember our fallen heroes who have sacrificed all so that we can be free.
The Honorable John T. McNabb II is a contributor to WorldTribune and Chairman of the Free Press Foundation. He served two combat flying tours during the Vietnam Conflict and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He co-founded the Trump Leadership Council and received a Presidential Appointment to serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council (Board of Trustees).