"You loved being a pilot. You loved to soar,
I hope the angels are hearing your plane roar."
|CAPTAIN ERLE LAWRENCE BJORKE "THE DUKE"|
Painfully, we cannot remember our veterans properly without remembering
the sacrifices of war. As the daughter of Captain Erle Lawrence Bjorke, I am
here today to share with you my story and the solemn pride that I have in my
father who laid down such a costly sacrifice, his life, to offer us and our
country the opportunity for freedom.
My name is Kristine Blanksma and my father was 28 years old when he was killed in Khe Sanh, South Vietnam on October 15th, 1967. I was only 3 months old. He had a dream. A dream to fly airplanes. In order to make this a reality he attended college, received his engineer degree and enlisted in the U.S. A. F. Not soon after enlisting he received his shipping orders, 1st stop Tennessee , where he would complete his C130 training, and then Vietnam. My mother was pregnant! After delivering a healthy baby girl, he was able to come home. Three days later he returned to Vietnam. While most kids brag about their family scrapbooks, I only had enough pictures to complete 1 page.
At 0650 hours a C130E aircraft, tail #64-0548 departed for the Marine Base at Khe Sanh to perform a volunteer Emergency Re-supply Mission. The large aircraft otherwise known as The Hercules, was filled with plats of containers that would be air dropped from the back of the plane at a low altitude. The NVA (North Vietnamese) had surrounded Khe Sanh and the only way to supply the men with food, ammunition, sandbags used for protection, and mail was by the USAF C-130's. The 7 men on board were warned of poor weather conditions, however, still volunteered. No one really knows what went wrong. Up until this summer my mother and I knew nothing regarding what happened: sealed documents, sealed military information, and certainly not even a clue as to where to start to look. Thanks to much perseverance and many brave men as of this summer we know now the whole truth. Although at times the information was extremely painful and almost more than I could bare I am very thankful. Jose Munoz was there that day. He heard the crash and was one of about 50 Marines that ran to the airstrip. The nightmares he has still haunt him. He remembers seeing the plane split in half and pieces of the plane scattered on the runway. He can still hear the loud bang from the plane bursting into a bundle of flames. He can vividly remember the men still alive fighting to get out of the tail of the plane. In particular, he describes the co-pilot; not realizing it was my father. His legs were crushed and he was trapped in the cockpit. The Marines tried to help and gave him a gas mask. However, they were unsuccessful. He remembers seeing a man with severe head wounds run back to the plane to try to help the men trapped but he was pulled back for his safety. The co-pilot bowed his head as if praying and was engulfed in flames. Six out of seven heroes were lost that day.
My mother was washing dishes at the kitchen sink when she saw the military car pull up in her driveway. It was every wives nightmare. She could not here their words over her sobs, she didn't need too... she knew her husband was dead. The only thing she remembered hearing was that there was not even a body to send; they would provide her a clean uniform if she wished.
Many people ask me to share with them the emotions I went through growing up: Denial...I waited for many years for him to come running up the drive way and surprise me for my birthday party..I used to pray he was missing in action or a prisoner or war!! Anger...I hated the fact that he left my mother and me and I hated the government for starting a war in which there were no winners. I was angry with the Great Divine, God, who was supposed to be there to save his life... and I hated that I looked enough like him that I was a constant reminder to my mother of a love lost.
Sadness... Time does not heal all. Col. James Morgan helped on many occasions to give me the strength to continue to find the answers I had set out to find. He often quoted from an English poet, Richard Lovelace, "I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honour more." He encouraged me to honor his death but yet celebrate my father's life. He also said, "Don't let anyone tell you to get on with your life or forget about the past. Continue to cry, continue to honor and don't ever forget because the sacrifice was to great!"
Respect...Understanding what it meant to him to serve his country. Understanding that he knew exactly how dangerous his mission was, and that these men fought under extreme circumstances. Understanding the only way they mentally survived was that they truly believed they were fighting to make a difference for the future of the people and the family they left behind. I read something once and it helped me understand; it said: "We went. We didn't ask why.. our country called and we were proud."
HONOR...They were young,, they were full of energy and they had dreams. For many it is a day filled with memories, some wonderful and some horrific. On November 11th, and probably not a day goes by that they don't think about the time they wore their uniform, the good and the bad. They have concerns for the past and they have even more concerns for the future. In his memory I have decided to speak for those that are unable.
I have joined the American Legion (I get to just be with other veterans) and a group called Sons and Daughters in Touch, (other children who have lost parents). I was able to share my story at the traveling replica of the Vietnam Wall that holds all the names of those lost in Vietnam. I have spoken at several Veterans Day programs and High Schools. I do this because it helps me make sure that nobody forgets the heroes that did truly make a difference ...OUR VETERANS. I read something on the Internet last night it said: All Gave SOME...SOME GAVE ALL!
In America Freedom and Values have come at a high price. In Vietnam alone over 58,000 people died. We need to understand that they believed in what they were doing and that they felt being in Vietnam was the right thing to do. We might not understand it but it is important that we respect it. I had a tragic loss...my dad!! There were mothers that lost sons and daughters, fathers that lost friends, wives that lost soul mates, and children that lost fathers.
Col. Joseph L. Hannah lost six friends that day. He was the lone survivor of the crash of 10-15-67. The scar on his scull left from a severe head wound and 200 stitches are nothing in comparison to the scars on his heart. He could have gone home that day, but chose not to quit. He continued to serve his country until his retirement last year.
Now that you know the story of 7 heroes and the sacrifices our families have made to protect the freedom we have today. I hope that when you look at the American flag you will stand a little taller. Maybe when you hear the star spangled banner you'll think of the many veterans that served and are serving today our country.
Living in America is an act of grace. We are either born here, immigrated here, or have become a citizen. It is a country that gives us the gift of freedom. Any true gift is a responsibility... a responsibility to be a good citizen, get an education, be honorable, and to make a difference. Our Veterans have given us this gift. What will you do individually for those that have done so much for you? Will you as recipients of this gift live up to it... I think as Americans you will.
GRADUATION DAY FROM PILOT TRAINING
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE
DEL RIO, TEXAS
PINNING OF THE WINGS
DEL RIO, TEXAS
THE CRASH OF CAPTAIN BJORKE'S C130
On 15th October 1967 at 0650 hours, local time, a C-130E, SN 64-0548, call sign
Term 18, commanded by Captain Joseph L. Hannah, departed Tuy Hoa Air Base,
RVN, on a tactical VFR flight plan for Da Nang Air Base, RVN. The mission 41
called for 2 or 3 Emergency Resupply Container Delivery air-drops from Da Nang
Air Base to drop zones Lang Vei or Khe Sanh.
The aircraft was loaded, and air-dropped the first load at Lang Vei after several race track patterns to bypass local rain showers and landed uneventfully at Da Nang Air Base for the second time at 1100 hours local. The aircraft was reloaded at Da Nang Air Base with 14,616 pounds of empty sandbags and departed at 1245 hours for Khe Sanh Air Base Drop Zone to perform a free fall Container Delivery drop. The priority of the mission was Emergency Resupply. Due to rapid fluctuations of the weather during the day, the pilot selected to remain under control of Hue Approach Control and Khe Sanh GCA until visual, then proceed with drop at west end of runway 28.
After the arrival of the aircraft at Khe Sanh, the first GCA was broken off at 7 miles and 4000' due to weather going below minimum. The pilot was cleared to hold on the 104-DEGREE RADIAL of Khe Sany TACAN at 6000 feet. After holding approximately 30 minutes, the pilot was advised the weather was improving and was asked if he wished to perform another GCA. The pilot accepted the GCA and was proceeding with a normal GCA until 1/2 mile from touchdown when asked if he had drop zone in sight. The pilot replied negative. The pilot was told the course was straight ahead, he was slightly below glide path, and shortly thereafter advised he was over end of runway and was asked did he have the drop zone in sight. There was no reply. The aircraft had impacted approximately 150 feet short of the approach end of the runway, bounced, and slid approximately 800 feet down the runway. It came to rest on a heading of approximately 90 deg. to the left of runway heading at 1405 hours.
There were seven crew members aboard the aircraft. Six persons sustained fatal injuries and one person, the Aircraft Commander, sustained minor injury. The aircraft was completely destroyed by impact and fire.
Marine fire fighters arrived on the scene and were initially unsuccessful in controlling the fire. Later when equipment began functioning properly, the fire was extinguished. It was later determined that the altimeter was set for the wrong height to land. The Air Force later went on to re-measure and re-set the altimeters.
Air Division 315th, 776 TAS
Joseph L Hannah, Capt. -scalp lac.-pilot, collar bone broken and 200 stitches
Crash site remains of C130-E at Khe Sanh. Photo taken by the only survivor, Joe Hannah.
Aerial View of C130-E remains at Khe Sanh.
"YOU NEVER GOT THE CHANCE"
In Loving Memory Of Captain Erle L. Bjorke
You never had the chance to hold my hand,
You never had the chance to swing, slide and play,
You never had the chance to sing me your favorite Patsy Cline song,
You never had the chance to kiss me good-night,
You never had the chance to give me a hug when I won the track race,
You never had the chance to walk me down the aisle,
You never had the chance to cradle my three baby girls,
You never got the chance to be there for most of my life,
You loved being a pilot. You loved to soar,
Your Loving Daughter,
LEARNING THE TRUTH ABOUT MY DAD
In Loving Memory Of Captain Erle L. Bjorke
Sometimes in order to know where we are going, we must first take a look into the past to discover who we are. I don't remember when my mom told me about my dad dying in Vietnam I just remember it always was. A picture of a man that was standing beside a plane was placed neatly in a drawer. A poem that talked about a pilot reaching out to touch the face of God (I later learned was the Air Force Creed, I always thought it was just for me!) hung on the wall beside my bed. It wasn't that my mother didn't want to tell me about my father, it was that she didn't have much to tell and the pain of a love lost was to deep. She knew he had died in the area of Khe Sanh, Vietnam and that he was in a C-130E but that is truly about it. We assumed he was the pilot and we also assumed that the plane burned because a telegram accompanied the body and told my mom the body was beyond recognition.
At 33 I decided I was not satisfied with that information and started my search for the truth. After posting messages on a few web-sites I found the best friend of the Navigator on the plane. Lt. Col. Jim Morgan gave me the confidence to continue on with my search. About a week later I found someone else, a family member of Ed Mosely, another man killed on the plane. None of them knew much more than I did about the death but were kind enough to share with me about Eds life! I later found a group of men that were willing to help me.
Tom Brotherman had also conducted this search a few years back. He hooked me up with the "Blind-Bats" a group of men that were in Vietnam and willing to teach me the lingo as well as hook me up with different people to help find out the truth. MSgt. Ralph Krach gave me the number to contact the Air Force Safety Commission. During that phone call, I got the Flight History and discovered someone survived that day. The emotions were at times so deep I truly contemplated closing this chapter on many occasions. Although I had been warned the survivor might not speak to me, I felt I had to try to contact him.
On the second ring and the first try, the survivor answered the phone. His kindness was unbelievable. Through this phone call and a letter from him, he was able to tell me information that I would not have known from just the Flight History. He truly was like a dream come true. Lt. Pat Hatch came forward and gave me information also. He graduated with my dad from Laughlin Air Force Base and later slept on the bunk below my father in Vietnam. He was able to tell me personality traits that only a friend could give me. I posted messages on almost every web-site that I thought people might listen. I had 1 person, Ray Prittie, send me the Walter Cronkite video on the TET Offensive as well as a picture of the actual air strip that my father died on.
I can't thank these men enough as well as the many others I have not listed in helping me with my search. I can't tell you how much closure this has given me. I feel I can now pass on to my children a legacy that will not go forgotten.
|Welcome Home, Erle, and Thanks.|
I went to the wall to see you Erle and you were there.
I wasn't sure that I would find you, but I did.
A lot of years have gone by so I thought I would bring you up to date.
But first, let me say that I met you in 1966 when we were both assigned to Class 67E of Under Graduate Pilot training at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas. We both survived T-41 training and went on to the T-37 program where we were both in the same flight. Which means we went to PT together, academics together, and flew together for the better part of a year. The major difference between us was that you were married and I was single, so perhaps I didn't socialize with you as much as I did the single guys. But we spent a lot of time together nonetheless and certainly there was a strong bond between us because of the experiences we shared at pilot training. You were as close a friend as I had at pilot training, and I respected you and liked you very much. When we finished the T-38 program, we had been through a lot, had survived the course where others had not, and we both graduated in February of 1967.
From there we were both assigned to the C-130E aircraft and attended the C-130 school at Sewart AFB near Nashville, Tennessee. And it seemed we were destined to continue our association because we were both assigned to Ching Chuan Kang AFB in Taiwan. Our paths separated a little when you were assigned to the 776th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS) and I the 50th TCS. But, as fate would have it, in October 1967 we were both assigned to the same base in Vietnam, so once again we were reunited. As a matter of fact, we shared bunk beds in the same hootch at Tuy Hoa. You had recently returned from the States and R&R where you saw your newborn daughter for the first time. And then one day while we were both out flying, you were killed at Khe Sanh, you were gone, and I remember thinking about that little girl and your wife, Jan. Why you? What about your family? Why not me? You were such a great guy, a gentle, kind, person who had a terrific sense of humor and seemed to love life and your family so much. It was so unfair, and I can only imagine the pain and suffering your loss brought to that family.
This is what I want to tell you: When I returned home I found it to be a different place than before I left. There were riots, demonstrations, and people being killed, all to protest the war. There were people running off to foreign countries to avoid the draft, one of them would later become our commander in chief. I was ashamed of what our country had become-it seemed to demean the sacrifice that you made, the hurt of the wife and little girl that you left behind. Never heard a welcome home or thank you. But those feelings are all gone now and, you know, I want to tell you about your daughter. You would have been proud of her, Erle. She has done something wonderful. She has resurrected the memory of her father and memorialized your sacrifice for all future generations to know and understand. And through this process I have come to understand that she is so much a part of you. She asked me once what her dad was like. And I would say to her now that she has only to look within herself. Welcome home, Erle, and thanks.