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Serving with Uncle Mel

One of the rewards of a career in the military is the opportunity to serve with truly great people up and down the chain of command. That was certainly the case for me. This is a story—part of the story—of one of those genuinely great people, Melvin W. DeMars, Jr.  On October 18, 1983, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (HMM-261) and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) was underway on the helicopter carrier USS Guam (LPH-9) for a deployment to Lebanon as part of its Mediterranean deployment with the U.S. 6th Fleet. The squadron had already been to Lebanon after the Israelis invaded in June of 1982, so they had every expectation that the plans to return there were pretty firm. They were at sea for about a day, headed east toward the Mediterranean when, at around midnight on October 20, 1982, the Guam turned south. There wasn’t a lot of information circulating around the ship that indicated that anything had changed, but the Marines in the squadron knew that when you’re headed for

Yellow Footprints: An Anniversary Reflection

Hurry Up and Wait... I grew up in a small community in southern Illinois–Newton, Illinois–where people generally knew each other or at least knew   of   each other. It was–and still is–a nice town. It’s the kind of town that still holds a fall parade where tractors and marching bands own the streets. People sit along the curb in their chairs while the kids play along the street. The people there cherish the tempo and lifestyle, quietly aware that if everyone lived that way, it would be a much better world. I wasn’t exactly setting any academic records in high school, so I needed a change of pace and some way to transition to a successful track somewhere, somehow. I had thought about the military, but I hesitated to follow through. I wasn’t sure I would be cut out for the military life, and I didn’t know which branch of the service to enter. I was very certain that if I did join the military service, it wouldn’t be the Marines because I was pretty sure I couldn’t make it there. However,

Fuji

I think we all have had times when we did something, or thought about doing something, that didn’t seem like much of a big deal at the time, but then later its importance grew over time, and the decision you made to either do that thing or not turned out to be more meaningful than we had imagined at the time we made the choice. One such time for me was the time some friends and I climbed Mount Fuji in Japan. We were deployed to a camp at the base of the mountain from Okinawa. It was July 4, 1976 and we had a military parade in honor of the 200th birthday of our Nation and about a dozen of us thought it would be cool to climb it to celebrate the day after the parade. Mount Fuji isn’t a difficult mountain to climb, there’s just a lot of it: a little more than 12,000 feet of it. A lot of Japanese successfully make a pilgrimage of the climb every year. You can climb it in about eight hours if you follow a trail. It’s certainly no Denali. We wanted the climb to be special though, so we

The Silent Legacy of James Henry Harris

James Henry Harris was born near Creedmoor in Granville County, North Carolina in 1832. He apprenticed as a carpenter as a young man before starting his own business in Raleigh. When laws in North Carolina regarding free people of color became more aggressive in the 1840s, he moved to Ohio[1] where he attended school for two years. Within a decade, he traveled to and taught in Liberia and Sierra Leone where over the previous twenty years, thousands of freed slaves from the United States had resettled. Harris then moved to Terre Haute, Indiana where, in 1863, he was asked by Indiana Governor Levi Morton to help raise a regiment of U. S. Colored Troops for service in the Civil War.  After the war, he returned to North Carolina where he became a teacher for the New England Freedmen's Aid Society.[2] Harris soon saw a need to ensure that freedom for blacks included legal and political equality, so he entered politics. In 1865, he was elected to the North Carolina Freedmen'

Sometimes Better To Ask Forgiveness...

In early 1996, I was a member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162 (HMM-162), the aviation element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) on board the USS Guam (LPH-9). We were operating in the Adriatic Sea and ashore in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania as part of the peace enforcement force, the "implementation force" (IFOR), during Operation Decisive Endeavor. We were wrapping up our work in the Adriatic in early April, preparing to head to Israel for some exercises, when we received an order to prepare to redeploy to the west coast of Africa for potential operations in embattled Liberia. As we steamed toward the southern end of the Adriatic, we were either going to turn left toward Israel or right toward Liberia. By the time we reached the Mediterranean, it was a right turn. We arrived at "Mamba Station" off the coast of Liberia early in the morning of April 20th. When we arrived, fighting around the U. S. Embassy was pret

Birds of Paradise

I was relatively new to offshore flying when I picked up an assignment to spend the day supporting an oil company in a field of oil platforms more than 100 miles off of the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. As I landed on my first platform after that long overwater flight, my passenger said that he would be only a few minutes so I decided to delay a needed refueling until I could take him to his next stop. If I took off to get fuel on another platform right then, I'd need to shut the helicopter down to refuel and wouldn't be able to return for a half hour or more. I didn't want to keep him waiting if it wasn't necessary. It turned out that I waited on the deck at idle for about half an hour for him to return to the aircraft, so I was really needing fuel by the time he was back on board. He boarded the aircraft and I dropped him off at the next stop, and then went looking for a refueling platform. With all of those gas and oil resources out there, you would t

Rescue from Mogadishu (Part 9): "Muscat"

Each of our aircraft passenger manifests told a story. One listed the names of Kuwaiti and Soviet diplomats.  Another roster included the name of a woman who had been shot, another named a man who had suffered knife wounds, and another named the Sudanese ambassador’s wife who was about to give birth. The manifest of LtCol Wallace’s aircraft included the name of a woman who boarded a helicopter with a parachute draped around her, the only personal belonging she had salvaged. [1] She reassured crew chief Corporal Tommy Sheffield that she wouldn’t jump out of the aircraft during the flight to the Guam. [2] The evacuation in Mogadishu ultimately extracted 281 people from 30 nations, including sixty-one Americans, thirty-nine Soviet citizens, seventeen British citizens, twenty-six Germans, and various numbers from twenty-six other nations. That included twelve heads of diplomatic missions: eight ambassadors and four charg├ęs d’affaires. [3] U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Karen Aguilar

Rescue from Mogadishu (Part 8): "An Eastern Exit"

At just before 11:00 PM on January 5th, ten CH-46E helicopter crews, five from HMM-263 and five from HMM-365, began bubbling up to the Guam’s flight deck to man their aircraft. The plan called for the mission to be completed in four waves of five aircraft. Five of our HMM-263 aircraft—callsign “ Thunder ”—would go in for a load of evacuees first. As we departed the Embassy grounds and headed back to the Guam , mission commander LtCol Wallace would radio a code word that would signal the five HMM-365 aircraft—callsign “ Rugby ”—under flight leader LtCol Bob Saikowski to launch toward Mogadishu. That would happen twice. As we walked across the dimly lit flight deck toward our aircraft, the Guam’s flight deck speaker system, which was normally active with calls and instructions dedicated to controlling the movement of aircraft, instead grabbed the attention of the Marines and sailors on the flight deck with the familiar strains of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA . We stopped and took