Letter from Frans, a Vietnam Veteran
Frans VandenBroek is one of the brave soldiers who served with Captain Scott Alwin in Vietnam. He recently wrote a letter of support for a foundation grant. We'd like to share a few excerpts from his letter here.
I am a Vietnam veteran. In 1968 I served as a 19-year-old helicopter crew chief assigned to the 68th Assault Helicopter Company, Bien Hoa, Republic of South Vietnam. By the time my tour ended, I’d accumulated one-thousand helicopter combat flying hours, many under the command of Chief Warrant Officer Scott Alwin. This letter summarizes my experience with this unforgettable pilot.
My helicopter was configured as a gunship and our mission was simple: find the enemy and engage him. These engagements required extraordinary teamwork between pilots and crews, all of whom were handpicked for the job. Scott Alwin and I flew numerous missions in my gunship which was armed with rockets and machine guns. Scott triggered the rockets from the cockpit, and a gunner and I fired machine guns from the cabin doorway.
Scott was the archetype of a gunship pilot. He was calm and calculating when scouting for the enemy but once he’d found him, he’d morph into a ferocious aggressor, attacking with a commitment that sometimes made me doubt I’d survive. And yet, through skill and experience, Scott would find a way to complete the mission. Then he’d turn to quiet introspection and concern for his crew. Once, after a particularly traumatic engagement, Scott took a despondent gunner aside and quietly offered comfort and counsel. After the war, the two became friends.
Helicopter combat in Vietnam was dangerous and unpredictable. In March 1969, an engine malfunction ended in a crash that destroyed my helicopter. Miraculously, Scott, the copilot and the gunner were uninjured, but I suffered a broken arm. That night, in an Army field hospital, Scott came to see me. He felt responsible for the crash and expressed remorse, but I reassured him that the incident had done me a favor. It was my ticket home. And the arm would heal. We made our goodbyes and that was the last time I saw him.
In July 1969, I left the Military and moved on with my life. Vietnam became but a distant memory. But as the years turned into decades, I would wonder what had become of Scott Alwin. There was no easy way to find out until the Internet came online. Through Google, I learned that Scott spent five years in Vietnam, had married a Vietnamese woman, was promoted to Captain, and started a family in Wisconsin. Only to be killed in an automobile accident in 1976. The discovery broke my heart.
Of all the pilots I flew with in VN, Scott Alwin was the one I most wanted to see again. In the brief time we flew together, he demonstrated what commitment, courage, duty, and honor looks like. He set an example that shaped my life.
Ultimately, the story of Scott Alwin isn’t a story of conflict and war; it is a story of love. Love for the country of Vietnam, love for a young Vietnamese woman, and love for the pilots and crews that he’d flown with. Sadly, like so many love stories, his ended in tragedy.
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