Origins of the Rattler/Firebird Association
In the fall of 1990, Larry Smith, an old gunner of mine from '66-'67, called me and asked if I was aware that the 145th Aviation Battalion had an association. I told him "No". He then told me they were having a reunion at Ft. Rucker in June of '91. Larry and I agreed to meet there.
We talked Dennis Hand and Donnie Profitt into attending also. At this reunion, we rediscovered feelings long suppressed from Vietnam. We had no interest in battalion level people, because we did not know them. The four of us stayed in one hotel room and let the memories fly. From that four person meeting, the spark was lit to get the guys back together as best we could.
Nineteen months later, February 1993, found us at a Ramada Inn in Memphis, TN. We had about ninety some odd men on our mailing list and forty eight of them attended this reunion. These men were primarily from the '66-'67-'68 era. The electricity in that room was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. It was a room full of men that had "been to the well" together. Many hearts were affected as we came to the realization of the genuine love we had for each other. Tears were shed as we conducted our first Memorial Service, honoring thirty-six men who died with us in Vietnam. At that time, we were unaware that the total should be fifty-five men.
Vows were made at this reunion that another would be held in two years. In the meantime, attempts would be made to contact ANYONE that had ever served with us.
Chuck Carlock told me, "I'm going to get us a Firebird Gunship"! I thought, ok, we'll see about that!
In 1995, we met in Dallas at a Holiday Inn near the DFW Airport. One hundred and seventy one men got to see what a real Texas storm was like. On the Friday night of our reunion, softball size hail pelted parts of the area while howling winds roared, forcing us to adjourn to safer areas inside the hotel. The reunion was to be a Friday, Saturday, Sunday affair.
On Thursday night, we had 55 men there with no place to put them together. Lesson learned. The reunion will start on Thursdays from now on. These 55 men were so excited at the prospect of a reunion that they could not wait until Friday to arrive.
The same feelings that had occurred in Memphis were rekindled. We were really on to something. Chuck Carlock's Firebird Gunship had arrived only three days before the reunion, but all that wanted to, got to see it at Chuck's place south of Ft. Worth. Plans were made to go three years before the next reunion in order to get us off the same year as the 145th Battalion Association, who met every two years also.
Chuck Carlock told me he was going to write a book and get a bunch of guys to tell their stories from his time frame (Sep '67-Sep '68). I thought, ok, we'll see about that!
In 1998, Orlando, FL. was the setting for another wonderful reunion again at a Holiday Inn. The pattern from previous reunions was very much in evidence. New men were the most fun to witness, as they did not know what to expect. One hundred and forty five men attended this reunion.
By this time the book "Firebirds" by Chuck Carlock had been selected by the Military Book Club as a 'Book Of The Month' and the book was into it's second printing. I now realize that if Carlock says a rooster can pull a freight train, I go to looking for a harness. The man does not make an idle boast.
In the year 2000, our Association traveled out west to reunion at the famed "Frontier" Hotel and Casino. One hundred and forty one men attended this gathering of 'Silver Eagles' along with the families of two of our men killed in action. The pleasures of Las Vegas were lost to most of the men who only wanted to be together again.
2002 saw our largest ever reunion at the St. Louis Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel. One hundred eighty one men came together, bringing family and friends to witness 'old soldiers' reliving those battles, sorrows, laughs, and stunts that only a bunch of kids in a war can remember.
We held our first Saturday night banquet with the guest speaker being Mr. 'Good Morning, Vietnam' himself, Adrian Cronauer. We had to commit to sell one hundred fifty banquet tickets, in advance. This is scary when you have never tried it. Three hundred and ten people made known their preference at having a banquet by attending this affair.
Plans were made to hold our 2004 reunion in Washington, D.C. This D.C. trip has always been on the horizon, because of "The Wall". Our Memorial Services have become a standard of our reunions. The men can cry openly now and say their last farewells in a setting far removed from the horrors of war. They have a chance to speak for their friends and comrades from so many years ago by answering "here" when their name is called. This is good. This is long overdue. As long as we draw a breath, we will never forget the men who did not come home alive.