By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | As noted in part one of this story, the Herald Times was privileged to share in the experiences of four of Meeker’s military veterans—tank commander Anthony Mazzola, MP and dog handler Rob Baughman, MP Brenda Culler and flight engineer Wes Eubanks—as we all pay tribute on this year’s Veterans Day.
While not all our veterans saw actual combat, danger and death in the military are not limited only to combat situations.
On the contrary, as Eubanks recounted, “Fatigue is what killed most of the people I knew, just being dead tired but still flying airplanes close to each other. One such incident was a formation flight during a refueling training mission. One plane would pull in behind the tanker, refuel, back out and the next one would come in. Well, number one went in and got his fuel, but when he came out, he pulled up into the plane above him, and 17 guys died right there over Montana.”
While Baughman did not see “combat per se,” his base was “probed frequently” by the enemy. When an alert went out, a Huey helicopter was called in to take a look around the perimeter.
“[On one such occasion] an enemy soldier took a few potshots at the Huey, but unbeknownst to him, there was a Cobra (attack helicopter) with a mini-gun above the Huey, and the bad guy went away.”
Baughman also recalled the bounty the NVA had on dog handlers and their dogs. Since every dog had a tattoo on their ears, this was proof of authenticity, so a set of dog ears was worth $2,500.
The reason was simple. So effective were the sentry, tracker and scout dogs in Vietnam, that it was estimated that if it were not for them there would be 10,000 additional names on the Vietnam Wall.
On a lighter note, Baughman did recount one combat incident . . . well, at least sort of: “I’m walking along and see a green snake under my dog, so I jerked him back, and emptied a magazine from my M16 into the snake. This triggered a 15-minute firefight as the whole line opened up with gunfire and claymore mines. I found out later that the guy on sentry duty before me had already killed the snake and left it on the trail.”
Our veterans also shared their most memorable experiences. For Mazzola, who had been in Germany when the Wall came down, it was actually “post-military service,” though amazingly connected. While working for the Sheriff’s Office, he attended a meeting that addressed security in the oil and gas industries. There he met a professor from the School of Mines who had served in the East German Army. As they now chatted over a beer, they realized they had been right across from each other pointing guns.
For Eubanks, it was Feb. 22, 1989, when during a stateside mission the weather was so bad on approach that the airplane flew right into the ground, killing all seven aboard. “They were all from my squadron,” he said. “That was many years ago, but I still remember their names and faces, and that will bother me forever.”
Baughman’s most memorable experience, “besides the snake,” was breaking up a disturbance in a bar one night with his dog. “We walk in and after two ‘woofs,’ it was like Moses at the Red Sea as the crowd parted.”
A helicopter crash was Culler’s most memorable, and terrifying, moment. With smoke rolling out of their Huey, the pilot auto-rotated it and brought it down safely, saving all seven squad members. “We hit and bounced a couple of times, but hit so hard that the skids curled up against the doors and we had to be cut out.”
Each of our veterans received awards for their service. Both Mazzola and Culler received the Army Commendation Medal, a mid-level decoration given for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. Eubanks received the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal given for outstanding achievement or service. For Baughman, it was, as he put it, “just the ‘been-there-done-that’ ribbons and the Good Conduct Medal for not getting court-marshaled,” which brought a round of laughter.
As with most (if not all) veterans, military service affected our veterans in years to come. “It was the best thing I’ve ever done and shaped me for (the law enforcement) I’m doing now,” Mazzola said. “It teaches you honor and commitment, and it’s mission oriented. It also teaches you to cross-train, to learn the jobs of others.”
Eubanks echoed that. “I agree 100 percent. You’re part of a team.”
“It really started me on my career (in law enforcement) for the next 45 years,” Baughman said.
“I’m going to steal all those answers,” Culler added. “The work ethic and the team effort never leave you.”
All of our veterans agreed that those they “lived and served with were some of the finest people in the world,” as Eubanks succinctly put it.
Perhaps we all would do well to remember that about all those who serve us.
By Doc Watson