Always My Brother

It's all about readjustment and healing. No matter how long you have been home, I find out there are things in my life that still help me feel better about those times of war.  I tell you this because something happened to me a few weeks ago that made a big difference in my life. I thought I had finally readjusted pretty well from my Vietnam experience but found out that there was still some healing to do. That healing came about with a visit to a friend (brother) who served with me in Vietnam. After I came home from a surprise visit with my Army buddy, Hernan Jaso, in his home state of Texas, I sat down to write a short article about what happened and how it made me feel to see one of my best friends, who I hadn't seen in almost forty years. I titled the article Always My Brother.

ALWAYS MY BROTHER              

It all started in 1965, at Fort Eustis Virginia, where I was about to start my AIT, which is an Army acronym for Advanced Individual Training.  Hernan Jaso had just arrived from Fort Polk, Louisiana, and I had come from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, also known as little Korea. They were two of the most miserable basic training sites in the United States. Jaso was a self-proclaimed Tex-Mex and I was a kid from rural, small town Wisconsin.  Jaso and I hit it off shortly after we met. He liked to entertain and I liked to laugh and agitate a might bit when I got the chance.

When you first meet someone, you talk about where you're from, where you went to basic training and your family. And, oh, by the way, what you were doing when Uncle Sam asked you to join him and serve your country. I was working at Oscar Mayer and Hernan told us he was working for a group that worked as entertainment agents for people like Freddy Fender, a country and western singer.  At the time, we had never heard of Freddy Fender so needless to say the fun began.  I said "Freddy Fender?  We had a singer where I come from named Johnny Bumper," after which my buddy from Kansas jumped in with "That's nothing.  We have one named Eddie Taillight," and on and on it went. My buddy Jaso never forgot that day as you will find out later in my story.  Jaso did a great impersonation of President Jack Kennedy.  He would pretend he was Jack talking to his brother Robert, or he would do the famous line from his inaugural speech "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."  If you didn't see him standing there, you would swear it was the President himself.

We had some great times together in those cold November and December months in Virginia, working to complete our schooling and waiting to see where we would be stationed next. Finally school was over and our assignments were given out.  Wow, what a surprise, I thought.   I'm going to Germany and I have been granted leave to go home before I go overseas. I thought for sure I was headed to Vietnam. I was excited, but it bothered me that some of my school mates from high school and AIT were going to Vietnam and I wasn't.  I told myself that it could have been the other way around but that still didn't help much.  The next day my feelings changed when I was informed that I wouldn't be going to Germany and I wouldn't have a thirty-day leave. What I would be doing is joining the 604th Transportation Company, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division, to get ready to deploy to Southeast Asia, and that meant Vietnam.  I told myself that was the breaks in life and the guilt of not going where my friends were going was long gone. I still had a three-day pass and that wasn't all bad.  Next they pulled our three-day passes and gave us "KP," or kitchen patrol, which meant working in the chow hall and going nowhere.  LOVE THAT ARMY!!!

Jaso, I, and our buddies Hanna, Valdez, Jimmy Finch, and a few more from our class, headed for Fort Campbell to join the 604th Trans Company, which became known as Cotes' Angels.  We were a combination of Mash and McHale's Navy.  If you've seen the television shows, you'll know what I mean.  If you haven't, just forget about it. We were young, free spirited, still together, and making the most of it.  We were going to Vietnam, and things like curfew or inspections weren't high on our list of important things to do. Why we had curfew was beyond me, but we found out that if someone set off the fire alarm, by the time all the commotion was over we could slip away to the club and not be missed for a while.

After a couple months at Fort Campbell, we were given a ten-day leave and shipped off to Vietnam.  They flew us to San Diego, California, where we were put on the USS Nelson Walker, a troop ship that would be our home for the next fourteen or fifteen days. I remember it so clearly; it was like a John Wayne movie—but not quite.  You know that part where there are hundreds of men and women lining the pier and the band is playing?  Well our send off wasn't quite like that. I remember seeing the four women, the old man and the dog. The dog was the only one I ever saw wave goodbye.  The band you ask? Just before we were pushed out into the harbor by some tugboats, a blue bus came flying down the dock and out jumped ten or twenty members of the Army Band, which began by playing the Air Force hymn, then the Marine hymn and last but not least, we could just barely hear, "As the caissons go rolling along," as we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on our way out to the Pacific Ocean.

After fourteen or fifteen days at sea, I have a whole new appreciation for the Navy. Anyone who can live bouncing up and down all day and night while trying to shower, eat chow and write letters home, not to mention doing your job, is someone I admire. I'm just glad it's not me.  Go Navy!!!

After a lifetime on the ocean, we finally arrived in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, on a sunny, 102-degree day with no breeze. Our leader wanted us to storm the beach just like good old John Wayne did.  You're right, by this time I wasn't so fond of good old John Wayne. Being highly trained and motivated soldiers, we didn't ask where and how many Viet Cong or other enemy soldiers would be there to greet us, we just climbed over the side and into one of those WWII or Korean landing crafts where the front drops down and you jump into the South China sea up to your chest and take things as they come. War is full of surprises, some good, some not. The surprise we were about to get was one of the last good surprises I think I ever had while I was a guest of the Vietnamese people.  When the front of the landing craft dropped I was thinking what a great family I had, how lucky I was to have the friends I have, and wondering what the hell John Wayne would do – when I saw a whole bunch of GIs laying in the sun on the beach. I looked at my buddy and said "Just what in the hell kind of war is this?"

Shortly after we stormed the beach, we found out that Qui Nhon was a secure area and we wouldn't be there very long. They told us we were going to the Central Highlands, to a place called Pleiku. Pleiku would be my home for the next fifteen months, with the 604th Trans Co,  or flying with the 119th Aviation Co as a door gunner. We were told the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese wanted to split the country in half, and Pleiku and An Khe were where the split was to take place. We were going to Camp Holloway, Pleiku, to help with the aviation units.

I spent fifteen months in Pleiku because I had a three-month extension while my buddies were going home after twelve.  Yes, you're right; they were smarter than I was. Where was John Wayne when I could have used a little good advice?  It was a long twelve months with not a lot of good memories, except for the camaraderie of some of the most special people I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with.

The next thing I know, January, 1967, is here and my friends, like Jaso, Valdez, Jimmy Finch and the rest, are going home. My other close friend, Don Hanna, who extended with me, got messed up on a bunker one night in November or December and had been shipped back to a hospital and, hopefully, home shortly after that.  The last time I saw Jaso and the others was that day in January when they climbed on a UH60-D helicopter and headed back to the "land of the big PX," also know as the United States of America. Though I was happy to see my Vietnam brothers going home to their families and the safety of the USA, it was tough to see them leave. It was like the time my brother Bill left home for the Air Force when I was in grade school, or when my brother Ted left for the Army with his tank unit when there was still a Berlin Wall.  Though these guys weren't my blood brothers, they were STILL MY BROTHERS, and things weren't the same when they left.

The next ninety days seemed like ninety years as I counted my time on what seemed like death row on some days. But finally that day came where I climbed on the Freedom Bird and took my turn going back to the land of the big PX.

I was discharged from the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington, and headed back home to beautiful Wisconsin, where there was fresh air, green grass, trees, family and friends.

What happened to my buddies? Well when they came home they still had time to serve so they were stationed at different bases in the US and eventually left the service.  I didn't have any addresses for them because I don't think they had been given their assignments when they left Vietnam.  Then, about fifteen years later, my life changed on a cold, white Christmas Eve night when my phone rang. When I answered, the operator asked if I was Dave Hosking. I replied "Yes, Ma'am".  She then asked me to hold and told a person on the other end that she had located a Dave Hosking in Black Earth, Wisconsin. I heard the voice say "You haven't put him on yet?"  I knew immediately the person behind the voice that was asking me "Do you know who Freddy Fender is now?" "Yes Jaso, I know who Freddy Fender is," I said. He'd been looking for me for fifteen years.  He said, "Every Christmas Eve, I'd call that Mazomanie town and they'd say you didn't live there any more so this year I told that operator she better look a little further because I'm not hanging up this phone until we find you. How about that buddy?  We did it!!!" Since that time, Jaso has called me every Christmas Eve, and we talk about our families, Valdez, Hanna, Michael Army Taylor, and any other brother we can think of.

One night I sat on my bed from eight at night until two o'clock in the morning looking for my other Vietnam brothers.  I called every state in the Western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. I located six of them. Guys like Jimmy Ford in Hawaii, and Johnny Swallow in Alaska. No, we haven't gotten together.  When you're in Vietnam and you don't have your own family around, Texas or Kansas doesn't seem that far, but when you get home there is always tomorrow and those places seem like a long way to travel.

Then, a couple months ago, while planning a trip to Lackland Air Force Base to see my youngest stepson graduate from Air Force basic training, my wife and I knew it was time to meet my brother Jaso.  At one time Jaso's daughter Katrina e-mailed me to tell me how important I was to her father and how he looked forward to our Christmas talks, that we were brothers and hoped that some day we would see each other again and how much it would mean to all of us.  My wife e-mailed Katrina to tell her we were coming to Texas and wanted to see her father for a long overdue reunion.  She was so excited and wanted it to be a surprise.  She let us know that she and her brothers and mother would get her dad to a restaurant in San Antonio, and we could have the surprise reunion there.  I had dreamed of this day, and now the time was dragging. We flew to Texas on Sunday October 22nd.  We went to a restaurant called Steers and Beers (our friends in Black Earth and Mazomanie would like that place).  Was I a nervous wreck?  You can say that again! As the time grew closer, I was having trouble keeping my emotions in check. Over and over, I thought about what I was going to say when I saw Jaso.  Katrina called me from her cell phone and said they were running late, and not to do anything until they arrived.  Jaso and his wife were already right outside the same restaurant waiting for their kids to join them for what they thought was a family lunch.  Katrina wanted us to delay our reunion until she and her brother arrived so they could take pictures and enjoy seeing us together after forty years. I told her it wasn't forty years; it was thirty nine years, ten months and somewhere around ten days. Not quite as long as we thought. After a few minutes, through the door came Katrina and her brother, Jamie, who came over to tell me how much I meant to their father and how excited they were. Meeting those two was emotional in itself. I told them we'd better get started while I could still make it.

We were sitting off in a corner when Hernan and Julie Jaso came in and sat down at a table near the front of the restaurant. The time had come, and my heart was in the process of a stress test, whether I liked it or not. The time had finally come. I walked up behind his chair and after all my planning, all that came out was, "How are you doing buddy?" He stood up, quickly turned around and said, "Oh God, is it you David? Oh my God, oh my God." Tears were streaming down his face and mine weren't far behind.  We hugged, laughed, cried and just looked at each. Brothers, together again like it was yesterday.  We sat down to lunch and remembered our other brothers we hadn't seen in a long time and how it was time to hunt them down with computers or telephones.  We would take turns bringing up a name and then would laugh and tell a story about them.  I would say, "Do you remember Michael Army Taylor?" and he would say in a slow voice "Michael Army Taylor." Then a story would follow and the happy laughter of brothers who weren't related except for a war that made them value a kinship that only those who were there in those types of places can understand.

He was my brother, is my brother and will always be MY BROTHER.

A month after writing this article I got in touch with my Vietnam bother Ron Glass who I hadn't seen in 40 years. Life is good!!!

Dave Hosking, 66-67

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