To: E Company
From: Rick Stetson
Oct 1, 2015
Clancy Matsuda asked if I would write up the memorial service conducted by E Company at West Point and my report follows below. Combined with what Poncho sent out earlier, it should give those of you who could not attend a sense of what took place at the reunion in New York. Of course, not everything could be put in writing, like what the Warrior Women did to Tess, or the appreciation we all felt to the reunion organizers: Roy and Sharon Barley, Tyrone Muse and Jeff Webb. What an outstanding job.
Historians say one of the reasons the American army prevailed in WWII was the leadership in our ranks. In the German and Japanese armies, the officers were in charge. If a German platoon leader got hit, his men would not know what to do. Same for the Japanese. But if an American platoon leader was killed, his platoon sergeant stepped right up and the mission continued. If the platoon sergeant got hit, a squad leader took charge and so on down the line. In Vietnam we had specialist fours leading patrols in the jungle responsible for the lives of four other soldiers. The leadership demonstrated by our Rangers is evident today in E Company. We no longer go by our ranks but when I decided it was time to step down as unit director, Poncho was right there to take charge. He said he would accept the position if I would run a marathon through the New Mexico desert. I finished the 26 miles so he took over and led us in the right direction. Poncho was a great lurp, an excellent unit leader and we all owe him our thanks. When Poncho decided it was time to step down, Jeff Webb was right there to take his place. Jeff played a big part in the success of our New York reunion by his thorough recon of the World Trade Center, the Battery and the Statue of Liberty. The fact that we all made it from Newburg to NYC and back with all present or accounted for was remarkable. We did have one Ranger take a separate ferry back to the Battery and one Ranger and a Ranger’s spouse got off at Ellis Island when they were not supposed to, but all of that was beyond Jeff’s control. Jeff will do a good job as our new unit leader and we need to give him the same support we gave Poncho.
We did not all serve at the same time in Vietnam, but over the years we have grown close and it is our reunions that have helped us do so. I can’t tell you how proud I was to see everyone walk down the isle of the Old Cadet Chapel and present a rose in honor of a fallen comrade. What follows is my impression of our day at West Point. RLTW.
E Company Salutes a Fellow RangerFor many of the E Company veterans, it was their first visit to the United States Military Academy. It was a picture-perfect day to tour the famous campus with stops that included the Cadet Chapel with its beautiful stained glass windows with the words, duty, honor, country and plaques on the first pew with the names of all the past superintendents who had worshiped there. Of course, there had to be a stop at Trophy Point with its magnificent view of the mighty Hudson River flowing far below.But the long range patrol veterans of E Company were not visiting West Point just to tour the school. They had come to honor their friends and comrades from E Company who had been killed in action while serving in Vietnam along with a fellow Ranger, General Wayne Downing, a soldier who was admired by all who knew him including Clancy Matsuda, a former commander of E Company.The memorial service to honor the E Company KIA’s was held in the Old Cadet Chapel at West Point, the first time such a service had ever been held there. The service was conducted, as it always is, by the men of E Company but the use of the chapel was made possible by SMAJ (Ret) David Brzywczy (pronounced “breezy”) of the West Point public affairs office. He was a true friend and point of contact to Roy Barley who planned the visit to West Point. Roy knew the school well as both his father and his grandfather had worked there with Roy growing up almost next door to the campus, but Dave made things happen as only a sergeant major can.When the E Company Rangers filed off the bus and lined up inside the chapel, they knew exactly where they were to sit and the order they were to be in. That is because at the motel the night before, Sharon Barley put the participants through a dry run. Sharon did not serve in the military although her mother worked in the finance office at West Point, but she is a retired school teacher and coach and knows how to keep order. She would have made a good first sergeant because she explained the importance of looking presentable and she did not want to see anyone at the memorial service wearing blue jeans, shorts or sandals that were favored by some of the men.The Rangers all followed Sharon’s instructions and it was a good-looking group that was greeted in the chapel by LTC (Ret) Sherman Fleek, the West Point historian. He asked the audience to rise for the presentation of colors. In marched four soldiers in perfect step wearing dress blues, two with flags and two with rifles. The colors were posted up front and then Fleek told some of the history behind the old chapel that had plaques on the walls going back to the Civil War battles where West Point graduates had fought. He then introduced the chaplain of the US Military Academy, MAJ Jonathan Knoedler who delivered the invocation. The chaplain, who has the Ranger tab, greeted everyone with the words, “Rangers lead the way.”Roy Barley was introduced and he gave a history of E Company. Rick Stetson then went forward to read the “roll call of our honored dead.” As each name was called out, a Ranger at the back of the chapel sounded off with “Here sir” and then marched to the front carrying a single rose as Stetson read the soldier’s age, hometown and date of his death. The rose was placed in a vase and then the Ranger rendered a slow hand salute in honor of the deceased. The memorial service is never an easy time for the Rangers and many walk forward representing a good friend who was lost in combat. The service at West Point was even more special because representing their brothers who were lost in combat were Rebecca Myers, escorted by her husband, Allen, and Joan Bellwood, escorted by her son, Erik. After the final name was called, a volley was fired by rifles from outside the chapel followed by Taps, sounded by a bugler, also outside the chapel. Chaplain Knoedler then delivered the benediction and the colors were retired by the sharp-looking young soldiers who made up the color guard.As the Rangers filed out of the chapel, many had moist eyes but they had done what they wanted to do which was to honor their fallen comrades. However, there was one additional Ranger they had come to honor, a soldier whose name was familiar to many Americans, General Wayne Downing. The cemetery by the Old Cadet Chapel is filled with numerous graves of individuals connected to West Point. The first gravestone the Rangers passed was of Earl “Red” Blaik, the famous Army football coach. When the Rangers reached the general’s grave, standing next to it was a beautiful wreath ordered by Tyrone Muse that had been inside the chapel for the memorial service and then moved to a place of honor beside the general’s grave.The group formed around the general’s grave site and Roy Barley began the tribute by saying they were gathered by a simple headstone to honor an important man. Barley told of Downing’s service in Vietnam where he received the purple heart with three oak leaf clusters and how he had been the commanding officer of the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, the commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg and the commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, McDill AFB, Florida. Barley finished with a quote from Kipling saying that Downing “walked among kings but maintained the common touch.”Brent Gulick then continued the ceremony by telling the group how much Clancy Matsuda had wanted to be with them at West Point to help honor his friend. Brent pointed out that they were standing among heroes, many who had paid what JFK called, “the cost of freedom.” Brent then read remarks that Clancy had prepared to be delivered at the grave of Wayne Downing. He told of an email that Clancy had received in 2007 from the general that began with “I still have a scar on my wrist reminding me of the importance of security.”Clancy then provided the “backgound story” to Wayne’s comment by writing, “We were initially platoon leaders in the same company of the 503d Airborne Battle Group in Okinawa. In March 1963, the Battle Group was activated into the 173d Airborne Brigade. Wayne was then assigned as a platoon leader in Co B of the 1st Bn. I was assigned as the recon platoon leader of that battalion. During one of our combat airborne exercises, my platoon was the aggressors against the battalion. Wayne and I had the usual platoon leaders “competitive bantering” before the exercise. I told him I was going to infiltrate into his CP one night. His rebuttal: “No way!”“I got into his CP and tent on the last night of the exercise. He was sound asleep. I straddled him. I had a knife in my hand and told him to wake up and ‘play the game – he was dead.’ Wayne came out of his sleeping bag like a wounded tiger. We wrestled. In the process he received a deep cut on his wrist. He needed stitches. He was put in his commander’s jeep to go to the emergency room. There was no medivac chopper or ambulance. We were in the mountains. The hospital was a long distance away. It was a very long night for him. But he reminded me in our exchange of emails in 2007 that he was back with his platoon to lead them in the final assault at dawn. Wayne was a proud warrior.In our interchange of emails in May of 2007, I apologized to him for my poor judgement in pulling out a knife. In retrospect, I should have painted his neck with lipstick to dislay that I had slit his throat. But I told him that I had said, ‘Play the game Wayne. You’re dead.’ His response: ‘I don’t remember that statement. All I remember was an Oriental on top of me- his face painted black- with knife in his hand.’Shortly after our last correspondence, Wayne went on a trip to Iraq with Ross Perot and Jim Kimsey. (Jim is a USMA classmate of 1962; he is an airborne ranger who had a combat tour in the Dominican Republic with the 82d Airborne Division like I did; he had two combat tours in VN. Jim Kimsey is the co-founder of AOL. Like Ross Perot, Jim is a very wealthy and powerful man.)Wayne Downing was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and bacterial meningitis upon returning home from the trip to Iraq. He passed away on 18 July (my birth date) 2007.Wayne retired from the Army in 1996 as the Commander of the Special Operations Command (4-star general). In 2001, he came out of retirement to coordinate the national campaign to detect, disrupt, and destroy global terrorist organizations. From 2003 until his death, he held the Distinguished Chair at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He worked for NBC News as a military analyst.The name of the Greater Peoria Regional Airport was changed to the ‘General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport.’ Wayne was born and raised in Peoria, IL. A superb statue of Wayne has been erected at the airport. It was financed by Ross Perot.”Brent then mentioned that Clancy and his wife, Connie, had made a special trip to the airport in Peoria where they had taken a photo of the statue which was then sent to E Company. After Brent finished reading Clancy’s remarks, Roy Barley called the group to attention and a hand salute was rendered. Ranger Vietnam veterans saluting a fellow Ranger combat veteran. The E Company vets made their way back to the bus as the wreath remained in place by the grave standing in silent tribute to a graduate of the US Military Academy who had served his country well.