As we all know, war is an unscripted exercise in mayhem. During this kind of unpredictable event, all kinds of bizarre situations can arise. These situations can range from tragic to odd to humorous. Springfield’s veterans, like all veterans, have plenty of such stories to relate. I have taken all of the information I have obtained in the past and gleaned some of these stories and put them together in a narrative that the reader should hopefully find stimulating. The stories need not necessarily occur in combat, but are related to the war in some way.
In 1967, the First Marine Division had been conducting operations in the dangerous I Corp area of Vietnam. Larry Talsma was busy driving a truck through the area and Dan Mejstrik, as a medic, was busy patrolling with his platoon in the same area. On a day in November of 1967, Larry was leaving the Marine base camp at An Hoa in his truck bound for Da Nang. At the same time, a marine unit was patrolling the road out of An Hoa. Without any warning, Larry found a bearded Dan Mejstrik on his running board. Dan had spotted Larry driving by in his truck, jumped on the running board, and had a quick reunion while Larry’s truck passed Dan’s platoon.
War movies and books about men in combat often depict the plight of new recruits and their tendency to quickly become casualties. Combat relies on instincts that come from experience. Lee Merchen was keenly aware of this as he spent most of his tour in Vietnam, honing his skills and instincts as a helicopter pilot. As the war receded, a surplus of helicopter pilots developed and Lee was assigned to his detail branch, the artillery. He was then attached to an infantry unit as a forward observer. This new position required Lee to develop an entirely new set of skills and instincts; something that was rarely required of the troops in Vietnam.
Harvey Kastein’s first deployment, after finishing his initial Navy school, was as a Seaman on the USS Collett ship. The deployment was highlighted on February 10, 1969, by being part of a naval gunfire support team anchored at Da Nang Harbor providing supporting fire for friendly forces inland involved in combat operations twenty miles south of Da Nang. Months later during a redeployment back to Vietnam at a stop in Okinawa, Harvey felt a tug at his sleeve and turned around to face a battle hardened Marine. Not knowing what the Marine had in mind, Harvey was startled until the Marine, having seen Harvey’s Collet patch, thanked him profusely for the fire support that February 10 that the Marine said saved their rear-ends.
Where was Daryl Heusinkveld from May 11, 1969 until May 13, 1970? The Air Force has always confirmed that he was an officer and a pilot during that time. His family confirms that he was nowhere close to home. The rumors are strong that he spent the entire year dodging enemy anti-aircraft rounds flying 213 secret combat missions in a prop A1 Sky raider into Laos. But don’t ask the Air Force about Daryl’s whereabouts because they, officially, have no knowledge of any activity in Laos. Better to ask Ho Chi Minh or General Giap as Daryl and his fellow pilots were taking a terrible toll of the enemy on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and in support of the Laotion Army.