Featured Letter: Military helicopters are instruments of life

To The Editor:

Two weeks ago, Mike Mundy wrote an exceptional, emotional letter to the Reporter in which he discussed the upcoming Spur Ride but finished by juxtaposing the joy that he felt in welcoming his son home from Afghanistan recently with the anguish Chrys Kestler must have felt knowing that her son, Lt. Joe Theinert had not been able to make the same trip.

It was a poignant reminder to all of us that there is a terrible randomness to war: some are tragic victims of the everyday violence and some are not.

Both Mike Mundy and Chrys Kestler, whose husband is now deployed to Afghanistan, understand that awful uncertainty.

It would appear that neither Mel Mendelssohn nor Jean Lawless understand the significance of the Spur Ride at all. Ms. Lawless calls the helicopter involved in the controversy “an instrument of death,” thereby displaying a complete lack of knowledge of an H-34’s role in Vietnam.

While I was a young Marine Lieutenant on the DMZ in 1967-68, my battalion was supported by the very squadron in which the helicopter that will land here on Sunday was assigned. That squadron of helicopters brought us food, water, mail, ammunition, repair parts and other necessities. It flew us to Da Nang so we could go on R&R or return home. It came to our aid, often under intense fire, to move our wounded to medical facilities. It brought us reinforcements when we were outnumbered.

While each was armed with machine guns, the helicopters were used for transport, logistics and medical evacuation, not offensive combat support. Far from an “instrument of death,” they were instruments of support, of life, of relief and there is not a Marine who ever served in Vietnam who isn’t full of gratitude and respect for the men who flew them.

I won’t engage in a debate with Mr. Mendelssohn on his view of the Vietnam War. He has a constitutional right to express his opinion, one of many rights that I and every other man and woman in our military swore an oath to defend.

I will, however, argue with his “humble opinion” that landing “a Vietnam-era Marine helicopter” on Shelter Island “constitutes a symbolic insult to the millions of Americans” whose protests allegedly brought the war to a close.

If landing a helicopter one time on Shelter Island is an insult to Mr. Mendelssohn, then surely my very presence, and that of dozens of other Vietnam veterans, must be an unbearable daily insult also.

The Spur Ride is not “a memorial to defeat and disillusion” and it is not “a staging area for further military recruitment,” as he suggests. The Spur Ride is designed to express our respect and gratitude to young Americans, including Lt. Joe Theinert, who volunteered to join our military and then paid a heavy price for it. That is not an insult to anyone.

I wonder if Mr. Mendelssohn finds the very existence of Congress, that noble entity that voted to send our troops into Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, to be as much of a symbolic insult as landing a helicopter on Shelter Island?

Colonel, USMCR (Ret)
Shelter Island

Read more Letters to the Editor in this week’s Shelter Island Reporter available on newsstands or by clicking for the E-Paper.