Courtesy of Anthony (Tony) Terrana
Where can I start? This guy was like a guardian angel to me. He always seemed to be around to bail me out when things weren’t going well. The first time I ever got drunk was at the NCO club at Ninh Hoa. It was John who convinced me that waking up Major Terrell to have a drink with us wasn’t such a good idea. He put me to bed and made sure I didn’t get up. Then there was the time he disarmed a barracks thief who was about to shoot me with an M16.
Who can forget Thanksgiving 1970. John showed up at the mess hall in a full dress black silk tuxedo he bought out of Hong Kong. I can remember it like it was yesterday, standing at the end of the line under the eve of the roof because it was raining like hell, with Major Bunting standing at the door, wishing everybody a Happy Thanksgiving. For me, this stunt really lightened up the day and made spending Thanksgiving in Ninh Hoa a little easier to take.
I can also remember sitting with John in the mess hall after he got shot down in 535 (I think) at Song Mau. Lt. Inman was killed on the ground and John saved the ship by putting the engine fire out and got a Silver star. We were the only ones in the mess hall and what we talked about was pretty intense and private.
When I switched from door gunner to crew chief, my ship’s revetment was right next to John’s C Model revetment, in front of the motor pool. I was always asking for and receiving John’s help on anything and everything.
Without his help, there is no way I could have made it as a CE. About two days before I went home on my 30 day extension leave, John went home on his second extension leave. I didn’t expect to run into John at Ft. Louis on my way back to Vietnam, but I guess he was a few days late. John was about fifty people ahead of me in a line waiting to be assigned a flight to go back. I got out of line to say hello and ended up getting the last seat on that flight sitting right next to John. Being with him with all the jokes, puns and singing (he had all the words and music to the rock opera ‘Tommy’ and a guitar) made the whole process of getting back into country tolerable.
The next time John came to the rescue was up at Dong Ha. Everyone was tired, cold, soaked and dirty.......especially dirty. At that time we had water only for drinking, nothing else. Any other use was article 15 time. At about the same time some bright officer, who will remain nameless, informed us that we were expecting to take about 50% casualties in the upcoming operation, Lam Son 719. With this information and the fact that I haven’t brushed my teeth or washed my face or changed my clothes in two weeks, my state of mind was to say the least, very poor bordering on dangerous. Then here comes John walking (more like strutting) by singing, “Zippity Do Dah, Zippity A, My, oh, my What a Wonderful Day. Plenty of Sunshine....” This really pissed me off. I said to him, “What the hell is wrong with you? We all stink like shit, it’s raining and half of us are going to die! What kind of asshole are you anyway?” John just looked at me for a second and then smiled.
He said, “Do you want to know my secret?” I said, “hell, yes”. John told me to get my steel pot and meet him over by the water buffalo. He said he would be my lookout while I stole a helmet full of water. Then he directed me to a spot between two conexes where we wouldn’t be seen. I went and got my shaving kit and commenced to clean myself up while John stood guard. To this day I am still amazed on what a difference this made on my outlook on life. When I was done, John asked me, “How do you feel now?” I said, “GREAT!” He just smiled, turned and walked away singing another chorus of Zippity Doo Dah. Once again, John to the rescue.
After this, things started to happen real fast. I was promoted to E5 and became Ast. Plt. Sgt. the next day. The regular Plt.. Sgt. had a way of disappearing for weeks at a time. Between flying and scheduling at night I was pretty busy. The next time I ran into John I was coming off the flight line to get something from my tent before take off when I noticed John sitting by himself on top of a dirt pile. I went up and sat next to him and asked how he was doing. I mentioned to him that I was scheduling for 2nd flt.
We both had a laugh over that. John still thought of me as a nubie even though i had about 14 months in country at that time. I could tell that something was wrong. He had distance about him; no jokes, no songs, just a quiet far away tired look. I really think he knew somehow that his time had run out. I can’t remember if John died that day or the next. His death hit me real hard. My guardian angel was gone. In my mind I always thought I would be OK as long as John was OK since he was flying longer than me. When John died I really thought I would be next. The incident that happened at B Med. in Khe Sanh right after John died still makes my blood boil. I wish the plagues of Egypt on the photographer who tried to keep that camera. As long as I live, I will never forget this guy. John had the potential and the attitude to accomplish great things. A true prince among men. My first born son is named Christopher JOHN Terrana.
Anthony (Tony) Terrana 2nd Flt. 48th A.H.C. (Feb 70- Aug 71)