GJ man gains recognition of brother’s sacrifice in Vietnam War
The tale of U.S. Army Warrant Officer Thomas Doody, his short life and fiery death is almost completely written.
It remains only for the Army to complete its bureaucratic work for Doody to be recognized for his part in the largest airborne invasion since Normandy.
Doody was among the first casualties of an operation known as Lam Son 719. His unit, Company C, 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, was known as the Phoenix.
It was only recently, though, that Jim Doody, a Grand Junction resident, came to fully appreciate the extent of his brother’s actions and the heroism of the Phoenix squadron.
The Phoenix was awarded a presidential unit citation two years after the fact for its involvement in Lam Son 719, but Jim Doody became aware of that only when reading the unit’s history on a website, http://www.phoenix158.org.
Thomas Doody died on the first day of Lam Son 719, an operation that eventually cost the Army 107 helicopters in the days between Feb. 8 and March 24, 1971, when U.S. forces invaded Laos in an effort to close off the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the communist supply route from North to South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
The heroism required for a presidential unit citation to an Army unit is the same as that which would warrant awarding the Distinguished Service Cross to an individual.
Working with the office of U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., Jim Doody started the process of obtaining recognition of Thomas Doody’s contribution to the war effort, a task that is complete but for Army paperwork.
Once it is complete, Jim Doody will receive a copy of the citation and the solid blue ribbon in a gold frame to accompany his brother’s other medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Thomas Doody’s contributions, as well as those of the servicemen with whom he died on Feb. 8, 1971, will be remembered today at the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park in Fruita.
One person who will remember Tom Doody today is Joe Kline, who served with a sister helicopter squadron that day.
“I actually saw them crash right below me,” said Kline, an aviation artist and public information officer for the city of Gilroy, Calif. “There are some things that you experience or see that you never forget.”
Kline eventually learned who was aboard the Huey helicopter that carried pilot Paul C. Stewart, crew chief Charles G. Bobo, door gunner John E. Robertson, as well as Doody, the co-pilot.
Each of their names is inscribed on the doors of the Huey mounted at the memorial park.
Doody, according to the book, “The Price of Exit,” by Vietnam veteran Tom Marshall, had volunteered for the fatal flight when he learned that another pilot, Ralph Moreira, a new father, was scheduled to make the run. Doody was single and told friends he had a “strange feeling” about the mission, Marshall wrote.
Moreira died in another helicopter when it was shot down 25 days later.
The burned bodies of Doody’s crew weren’t found for a month, a length of time that was “like an eternity” to Doody’s family in Grand Junction, which had been told he was missing in action, Jim Doody said.
Once he gets the presidential unit citation, the mission that resulted in the memorial park will be done, leaving only the maintenance of the scholarship fund and other detail work, Jim Doody said.
The collective memory of events such as the downing of Doody’s Huey is misty in part because the history of the conflict seems to end in 1968, Kline said.
“After the Tet Offensive in 1968, you don’t see a lot” in history books, Kline said. But half the names on the Vietnam War wall reflected combat deaths that took place after 1968, he said.
“I see the same thing happening now with Iraq,” Kline said. “American troops are still being killed and engaged over there.
“A lot of guys, like Tom, didn’t seem to be recognized the way they should have been, and a lot of the reason is because it was so late in the war.”
Veterans Day observances will begin at the memorial park at 11 a.m.
Doody and retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Harry Hagaman will speak, and the keynote speaker will be retired Army Maj. Reuben H. Siverling, who was awarded 17 Air Medals for flying more than 425 combat missions in Vietnam in Huey helicopters. He also earned the Army Commendation Medal with V for valor for walking through an enemy force of more than 200 North Vietnamese troops to retrieve the remains of two downed American pilots.
The Veterans Day event is open to the public.