By Zach Sparks l [email protected]
On July 4, 1968, US Marine helicopter pilot Joseph Scholle was shot in the neck while rescuing a man with a broken leg in Vietnam.
“This guy came out of a hidden tunnel with his AK-47 and started shooting,” Scholle said. “Then there was this sting. I felt like someone was pulling out a hot poker and stabbing me in the back of the neck.
Scholle lived to tell the story, one of the many stories the Severna Park resident shares with other members of the American Legion Post 175. Two of those members, William Vincent d’Arnold and the Post Commandant 175 Ambrose Cavegn of Pasadena, also have vivid memories of their army. days.
The 4th of July parade is a reminder that their sacrifices are not forgotten.
“The parade is a good thing and it’s nice to be there because a lot of people are waving at us and there are other vets waving at us,” Cavegn said. “It’s our one day a year other than Marine Corps birthday, Army birthday or Veterans Day.”
From enrollment to deployment
Scholle and Vincent served in the Vietnam War. Cavegn joined the U.S. Army shortly after high school and served for 23 years beginning in 1974. He spent most of his time as a combat medic after a few years as an instructor who taught skiing, mountaineering, kayaking, hiking and abseiling.
Cavegn’s father served in the Navy during World War II, but that was not the reason he joined. The military offered an alternative to college.
He originally planned to join the Marine Corps, but when the recruiting office closed for lunch, he instead went to the nearby US Army office.
“It was a little intimidating with the drill sergeant at first,” Cavegn said of his basic training, “but I enjoyed the camaraderie and the sense of independence and accomplishment.”
Vincent enlisted after college and later became a member of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He continued a proud family tradition that began when his grandfather served in the United States Army in World War I and continued when his father served in the Navy in World War II.
“I got my flight orders and went to Da Nang,” said Vincent, who toured Vietnam twice from 1968 to 1970.
Scholle entered the Marine Corps Platoon Leader Class program which placed him as a Lance Corporal.
“I’ve seen ‘Flying Leathernecks’ with John Wayne a few times and always wanted to be a pilot,” Scholle said.
During his final two years in college, Scholle spent his summer weeks at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, attending officer candidate school. After graduating in 1965, the 22-year-old received his commission as a second lieutenant.
The flight school in Pensacola, Florida presented new challenges.
“For six months I threw up every morning because of the nerves,” Scholle said with a laugh. “Especially with formation flying. I was awful. I was the pits. Then, instead of having a deadly grip on the stick, all of a sudden I started thinking, “I can do this.
Two years later, in 1967, Scholle began a year-long tour of Vietnam, where he earned the nickname “Crazy Joe”. Just before the start of the Tet Offensive, Scholle hung two microphones outside his hut to capture the sounds of battles on a reel tape recorder. He then took refuge in a sandbag bunker. When he realized he had forgotten to turn on his recording device, he ran to the hut to hit the record button. All around him, rockets and mortar shells explode on the base.
“When I came back, one of the captains, Joe Clark, said, ‘He’s a crazy Joe,'” Scholle recalled.
Crazy or not, the three Post 175 veterans have been recognized for their vital contributions. Vincent was honored with four air medals and a silver star. Scholle was twice awarded the Purple Heart Medal and he was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1968.
Writer Carlos Bongioanni detailed the May 1968 incident in a 2014 article in stars and stripesa military newspaper.
As Bongioanni wrote, Scholle flew the UH-34D Seahorse helicopter into a field near a demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam to resupply troops engaged in heavy fighting. Enemy troops were hiding in tall grass and started shooting. Despite the gunfire, Scholle remained patient as the team leader unloaded supplies before taking off. But there was a problem: his co-pilot was injured.
Scholle then realized that bullets or shrapnel had severed a cord to his helmet, which provided communications on the plane. He later learned that the helicopter was also leaking hydraulic fluid. As his Distinguished Flying Cross citation explains, Scholle “withdrew from the danger zone and skilfully maneuvered” to the nearest medical facility despite all these severe obstacles.
Life after the war
These and other memories sometimes elicit laughter and provide a sense of accomplishment, as Cavegn said, but not all memories are happy.
As a line medic with the 101st Airborne Division, Cavegn traveled with the infantry and cared for soldiers in their difficult times.
“I’ve seen my fair share of dead people,” Cavegn said. “Listening to their last words is something I carry with me.”
Some scars are emotional. Some are physical.
“A lot of Vietnamese veterans have been exposed to Agent Orange,” Vincent said. “I had it and I had prostate cancer. It makes bones brittle.
Scholle suffered from ischemic heart disease, which can be caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
All three veterans said they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD will strike during routine activities, which will prevent them from completing projects, such as the restoration of Cavegn’s two 1968 Cadillac Coupe DeVille convertibles.
Therapy dogs sense their owner’s anxiety and calm their nerves. This is not the only coping mechanism veterans have.
“American Legion is a way to let off steam,” Cavegn said. “I call it a brotherhood, but it’s more like a family, because there are also women who have served. As Toby Keith says, I love this bar.
Scholle attends occasional meetings hosted by Pop-A-Smoke, formed by helicopter pilots who were curious about the whereabouts of their former Vietnam War comrades.
Beyond these events, they talk to high school students about their military escapades and offer advice to loved ones of deceased veterans.
While on a trip to Home Depot, Cavegn met a woman who didn’t know what to do with her father’s flag and awards, so he accepted the items on behalf of the American Legion Post 175.
“It’s our way of giving back to the dead,” Ambrose said, adding that the respectful action is to burn the flag after a flag ceremony if it’s no longer fit for display. “To us, that means something.”
Appreciation from strangers and fellow veterans — on July 4 and throughout the year — also means something. These moments remind them that their scars and traumas allowed American citizens to enjoy their freedom at home.
“I know I made an impact,” Cavegn said. “I’m a biker and I’ll go to events where Gold Star moms will come up to me and say, ‘We love our combat medics’.”
Scholle said, “I thought it was good for society that you were doing your part for the country as a whole.”