The 7th Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry Association celebrated the 50th anniversary since the unit first deployed to Vietnam during its annual reunion Thursday to Sunday in Killeen.
At least 100 veterans and spouses attended the four-day reunion, which included a tour of current Army helicopter assets at a Fort Hood hangar and a barbecue with active-duty soldiers with the squadron.
The association is open to all previous and current service members who served in the squadron but the bulk of the reunion attendees this year were from the Vietnam era, several of them having served together in the war.
Allen Bowker, 69, from Peoria, Arizona, and Bruce Carlson, 70, originally from Brockton, Massachusetts, attended the reunion and both had served together in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1969 with the squadron’s Charlie Troop.
The two served as “aero scouts,” flying in OH-6 light observation helicopters during reconnaissance and, from time to time, rescue operations.
Bowker was the scout observer and Carlson the pilot. The two said the job they performed in Vietnam was created specifically for that conflict and ended with the war as the casualty rates were too high by today’s standards.
“You wouldn’t survive,” Carlson said. “I got shot down five times, that mission can’t be flown today.”
Carlson said as a pilot if you survived flying scout missions for six months. you had the option of not flying those missions for the remaining six months of the tour.
“It’s because your lifespan was so short,” Carlson said.
Carlson said he and Bowker flew together so often they could communicate without speaking a word as evidenced during a mission while hovering just above tree level in support of U.S. ground forces engaging North Vietnamese soldiers.
“We were hovering atop of some ground troops and the bad guys had them by the belt buckle, when all of the sudden three bad guys stepped out,” Carlson said.
It was at this point that Carlson said he pointed toward them with his right hand, indicating to Bowker that there were enemy forces at the position he was pointing toward. Bowker was hanging on the skids of the helicopter firing at other enemy forces when he saw Carlson pointing.
“(Bowker) killed all three of them, and he never saw them and never said a word, so as he was engaging he saw my hand come out of the window and down they went,” Carlson said.
Carlson recalled a mission that sticks in his mind more than others: A long-range reconnaissance patrol team was under enemy fire, and he was having a difficult time locating them.
“They asked if we could find them,” Carlson said. “I could talk to them on the radio, and I could hear them shooting, and I got to the valley they were in, but I couldn’t find them.”
Carlson said he heard all the patrol team members die on the radio.
“The last words I heard on the radio was ‘thanks for trying’, and then a burst of AK-47 (fire) and it was done,” Carlson said. “I kept saying ‘talk to me son, talk to me son, I’ll find you.’”
Carlson said that memory would be the last one in his mind to be erased.
Bowker said as the years have passed one of the things that gives him the most satisfaction when he looks back on his service in Vietnam was the lives they saved.
“What gives me the most satisfaction is knowing, thinking back of all the people that were able to become grandparents because of what we did,” Bowker said.
On Sunday, members of the association performed a roll call of at least 250 soldiers of the squadron who died between 1968 and 1972 in Vietnam.