174th Association President's Message
Letter of Introduction:
174th AHC Association
First of all, I would like to thank all the Members for the confidence and friendship
they have bestowed on me to allow me to be their Association President. It is an Honor,
a privilege and I'm sure it will also, it times, be a pain in the posterior.
Truthfully, I am looking forward to working with the rest of the Board to come up with some new and exciting activities to fill our time together at the next Reunion and not letting go of any of the great activities we always have.
It is my intention to provide and do things that will reduce our treasury and enhance our enjoyment at the Reunion and throughout the year.
I also intend to push our membership to allow us to reestablish our Association Directory that we once had. The purpose of such a document is to reinforce the camaraderie we currently have at the Reunions by giving us all the ability to contact other members as we travel out Great Country.
If you have any suggestions of things to enhance our Reunions please contact any of the Board members with your suggestions.
Always, "Nothing Impossible" Ralph E. Elliott III (Butch)
The 174th Assault Helicopter Company established a remarkable record of accomplishments and reputation during the Vietnam War. The "Heart Beat" of the Unit was the hundreds of young men that passed through from every walk of life, region of the country, educational level, ethic background, rank and job skill. Those individuals created the remarkable teamwork required to attain and sustain the high level of professionalism that was achieved daily!
When young men are thrown together in combat, a special and unique bond is created and a shared understanding of events endured together. Location and circumstances had something to do with it, but the overwhelming factor was the quality of the individuals that worked together and form friendships that will be shared for a lifetime. It does not matter when you were in the Unit; all of us have that "Nothing Impossible" motto etched in our minds, like a family crest.
Many years ago, Ted Saunders had the vision to create the 174th Assault Helicopter Company Association providing the vehicle for all of us to remain connected and maintain the bonds that were created many years ago. He recruited Fred Thompson to assist in locating fellow 174th members and I dare say no one, not Ted or Fred, could have envisioned that the Association would evolve into what is today. We believe it to be the largest company size Association, from the Vietnam War, that has conducted annual reunions since 1994.
Recent years have seen an increase in both Association membership and Reunion attendance, reaffirming the lifelong friendships that were established some 40 plus years ago. Unfortunately, as age catches up with us, the future of the Association and the opportunity to reconnect continues to diminish. If you are not currently a member of the Association, please consider "Re-Enlisting." This can be accomplished by downloading the Membership Form by clicking HERE, printing and filling out the form, and mailing it along with your dues. You will immediately be removed from the "AWOL" category and placed in the "Current Member Ready for Duty" category. If you have never attended a Reunion, do yourself a favor and add it to your "Bucket List," then make plans to attend!
Regrettably; most of the Unit records did not make it back from Vietnam, and no master list of 174th veterans survived. The Association has created an Historical database that identifies approximately 1750 individuals who served the 174th AHC and her attached support units for the six years it was deployed in Vietnam and Laos. We continue to solicit copies of old Unit Orders that may contain names and service numbers of "lost" members that we've been unable to contact. Approximately 1,000 individuals can be accounted for in a variety of categories: members; non-members; those KIA in Vietnam/Laos; and DAT (died after tour). We are continuing efforts to locate and contact all who served.
Thank You for visiting, enjoy the website!
174th Association -- A HistoryOn a typical sunny and mild first day of October in 1965, a young PFC walked into the Orderly Room of the U.S. Army's fledgling startup company--the 174th Aviation Company (Airmobile) (Light)--at Ft. Benning, GA. Having just transferred from the 2nd Armored Division, the 26-year-old aviation maintenance specialist had only one thought on his mind--get to war-torn South Vietnam as quickly as possible, do his duty, and return home a year or so later, alive and well.
For the next year and a half, in the midst of an unpopular war, Ted Saunders did just that. He performed his duties as a helicopter mechanic, crew chief, gunner, and a myriad of other tasks, often under hazardous and life-threatening conditions. He also accumulated a lot of friends and his unit had changed its name to the 174th Assault Helicopter Company.
Long after his Vietnam service, Saunders' thoughts turned to memories of his old comrades. Having since departed the Army and transferred to the USAF, Saunders retired from active duty and eventually began working as a civil service employee at Eglin AFB, located near Fort Walton Beach, FL. He and his Thai wife, Noi, made their permanent home in nearby Mary Esther.
Longing to see his old combat buddies again, the persistent and determined Saunders found a solution to his dilemma--lure them to the picturesque Emerald Isle beaches of beautiful northwest Florida.
"I've got a plan," he wrote to a few old comrades. "Let's have a reunion here in Fort Walton Beach and invite all of our old buddies." After first sending a host of letters to former comrades about holding a reunion, letters which mostly received enthusiastic responses, Ted fired his first famous "FROM THE FISH POND" missile, inviting them all to the big blow out.
"Greetings: It all happens in Ft Walton Beach, Fl on October 8 - 9 - 10, 1993. Pensacola is 40 miles to the West and Panama City is 60 miles to the East. That should make it easier to find. I have made arrangements for a little get together for the men of the 174 AVN CO and their guests. I wish that you all could come but I know that would be impossible and this town couldn't take it anyway. The ones that can make it will find old friends and be able to make some new ones. It will be time for hand-shaking and back slapping again."
After explaining many of the details he had personally worked out about important matters of transportation, hotel reservations, meals and recreational opportunities, 19 of his old buddies, a few with spouses or guests, promised to be there. Ted's dream developed into reality and the infant 174th AHC Association was born.
The assurance of long-term success was manifested in an emotional gathering at that first reunion held at Shoney's Inn Motel in Fort Walton Beach. During 8-10 October 1993--Columbus Day weekend--the 19 eager Vietnam veterans met again, some for the first time in over 25 years.
The vigorous handshaking, hugging and backslapping, spiced liberally with hours upon hours of war stories, both funny and sad, was only the beginning of a long and dramatically successful era for the 174th AHC Association.
Following the reunion, Saunders issued the Association's first "official" After Action Report on the history-making event. Here are excerpts from the October 1993 After-Action Report:
"Greetings everyone: To everyone that was able to make it to Ft Walton Beach I thank you and (hope you) enjoyed the time that you were able to spend with all of us. It was well worth the effort put forth by everyone. For all of you that could not be here I send my condolences. We had a great time. Perhaps some of you will be able to come to the next one. Start planning now. I will start putting together something for "Columbus Day 1994." The majority of the personnel that were here said that we should do it again. If it turns out to be half as enjoyable as the first one it will be a rousing success. The word will be sent out later giving you all the specifics on it.
"What a shame that it had to end for now. It is not really over, just laying there like a dormant volcano waiting to pop. Mention was made about starting an association. If anybody has any likes or dislikes about that please put it in writing and send it to me. I am working on a proposed charter and don't want to upset anyone needlessly. That is why the mail is important.
"Would anyone have a dollar or two that they would be willing to donate? It does get expensive reproducing and then mailing over 400 letters and other items. Anything that you care to send would be greatly appreciated."
Charter members attending the first Association reunion were: Ted Saunders, Matt Brockway, Tom Larkin, Bill Murphy, Dick Legener, Marty Heuer, Rex Hurst, Billy Wood, Jim Story, Dale Wylie, Tom Burch, Roger Mitchell, Dennis Murphy, Paul Kunelius, Fred Taylor, L.P. Glover, Butch Elliott, and Jack Dotter. Sam Kalagian and Jim O'Saile, 14th CAB CO and SGM, respectively, were also present.
The 1993 reunion was by no means a matter of just pure luck. It was the culmination of many laborious hours spent by Saunders in researching old 174th AHC records and commercial lists for names, home addresses and telephone numbers. His old buddy, Eddie McNeill, was Saunders' left arm in doing a lot of the leg work and being a good sounding board for Ted's planning.
Help also came from other willing comrades like successful business-owner, Marty Heuer, and the late LAPD police officer, Fred Thompson, themselves eager at the prospects of again enjoying the company of old friends. By this time, after extensive communications with potential reunion attendees, pleasant surprises and, yes, more than a few discouraging disappointments, Saunders had accumulated over 400 names of former 174th AHC personnel.
Although researching for names and addresses consumed much of Saunders' time and efforts, his obsessive goal also demanded that a multitude of other tasks be dealt with. He polled local hotels for the best possible group rates for his "guests." Good restaurants which would cater to the nutritional needs of the hungry (and thirsty) veterans needed to be negotiated with. And, knowing full well that an exchange of even the best of war stories couldn't completely fill the entertainment and recreational impulses of the group, Saunders personally arranged tours of local attractions, golfing and deep sea fishing trips.
The outcome of that first trail-blazing reunion was a unanimous conclusion by the group that arrangements for another blast-off in 1994 should begin immediately. With 30 in attendance at that second successful reunion, success was virtually guaranteed for future annual reunions. But, an all-powerful Mother Nature cast a temporary snag into those plans when Hurricane Opal pummeled the Florida panhandle with devastating blows in 1995. That year's big party was doomed to be largely a washout. Headlines emblazoned in Saunders' ensuing newsletter read: "OPAL WARN'T NO LADY."
THE GROWING YEARS
By the time the reunion was held, Saunders had 422 names in his address book with another 570 on his "find list." Plans were also being made to make the Association more official-looking in the eyes of the "big boys" with their national reunions. Election of officers and bylaws were discussed and plans laid for holding the election.
Down but not beaten after Hurricane Opal, a determined Saunders, with substantial volunteer help coming from Heuer and Thompson, kept gnawing away at his "find list." A newsletter was developed with Butch Elliott doing much of the composing and Mike Banek doing the layout work. Heuer donated time and effort getting the newsletters in the mail and delivered. For this fledgling Association, time was on the march.
The Association's first elections were held at the 1996 reunion in October at the Rodeway Inn on Santa Rosa Boulevard.
The Association's newly elected charter officers were: President, Ted Saunders; Vice President, Walt Bergmann; Secretary, Ralph "Butch" Elliott; and Treasurer, Jim Yocum. Board Members elected were: Marty Heuer, Eddie McNeill, Marty Wifholm, Ken Johnson, and Steve Ratcliffe.
Ted Saunders thus officially became the Founder and first President of the 174th AHC Association. The Association was destined to become one of the most successful, enduring, widely recognized, company-size veteran's organizations in America. It still is!
In 1997, the reunion was again held at the Rodeway Inn. Eddie McNeill became Vice President as well as being the Association's perennial "official" auctioneer. His talents brought in extra bucks for the small but growing treasury. In 1998, again at the Rodeway Inn, the jobs of secretary and treasurer were combined and Bernie Cobb was elected to fill the vacant positions of outgoing officers, Butch Elliot and Jim Yocum.
In 1999, Saunders took advantage of the newly constructed facilities of the Best Western Beachfront Hotel and its attractive group rates. The Association moved its reunion site to that hotel which was later to "officially" become the permanent home of the 174th AHC Association. A periodic attempt was made by a few members to make the reunion a more mobile event with a new location selected around the country each year as a reunion site. After studying the pros and cons, the general membership overwhelming supported a motion to keep the annual reunions in Ft. Walton Beach, FL.
The year 1999 was also an historic year as Ted Saunders announced his resignation as president to attend to the needs of his flagging tour bus company. An election followed the next year and Wallace H. Nunn became the Association's second president. Mel Lutgring was elected Vice President and Bernie Cobb elected to continue serving as Secretary/Treasurer. Later, after having served for five years in that capacity, Cobb stepped down from office and Bob Jones elected to fill the vacancy. Nunn, Lutgring and Jones were both re-elected at the Association's next election in 2003.
Once again, in 2004, damage to the beaches and the hotel by Hurricane Ivan caused that reunion to be cancelled. Hotel spokesperson, Peggy Mahone, reported that Pensacola and Navarre beaches had been leveled and the pool deck of the Best Western reunion headquarters "was toast." A few of the brave and the hardy met anyway in the Ft. Rucker area, but there was no official reunion recorded for that year. There were other scares and near misses along the way, eventually resulting in a schedule change of the annual reunions from October to May, so as to avoid the hurricane season's unpredictable wrath.
Regardless of the temporary setbacks, attendance at the annual reunions has grown by leaps and bounds. At the big blast in 2003, Bob Hope Village, Shalimar, FL, 114 members and spouses attended, along with their 12 guests--a total of 126 happy souls. Recent reunions at the Two Trees Restaurant, Ft. Walton Beach, FL, Golf Course, continue to boast of large Roll Calls.
Marty Heuer was elected President in 2006. Martin Henry Wifholm became Vice President and Jones was re-elected for a second term. Two of Heuer's stated primary goals as new president were to write a new set of Bylaws and to continue the quest for identifying more former 174th warriors and recruit them into the Association. His new set of proposed bylaws was adopted by the general membership in 2007. Heuer's goal of identifying more 174th AHC veterans and recording them on the 174th database lists continues and is an active, ongoing project with top priority.
TODAY AND THE FUTURE
Another feature created and maintained by McDaniel is the 174th Listserv. A listserv is essentially an e-mail distribution list. By sending an e-mail just to the listserv address, that message is then sent out to all members on the listserv. It is an easy and efficient way to share information and announcements of interest to all. It is not a political forum, not for sharing jokes, nor any other subjects except aviation, Vietnam, unit, or other information that would be of interest to all. There are approximately 350 former members of the 174th on the listserv. You can subscribe to the listserver by clicking HERE.
When Marty Heuer became president of the Association in 2006, he made the following statement:
"When asked to stand for election, I was also asked what my goals would be for the Association. I said that identifying every former member of the 174th was a top priority, and having all of them attend our annual reunions would be a close second. Over the years, Ted Saunders, Eddie McNeill, Fred Thompson, Jim McDaniel, Bernie Cobb, Bob Jones, and others found over 1,200 former members, but there are about 500-600 we've never heard from. Shortly after the last reunion, we began to compile and maintain a number of databases for the Association. As the format for each database evolved, we decided to create a database that could be published and shared by members of the Association and any other interested person or group."
That goal, as stated by Heuer, remains a top priority of the Association's ongoing business agenda.
To enhance the longevity of the Association and its surviving 174th veterans, a major project is underway to expand and maintain that exhaustive historical database alluded to by Heuer. Begun in mid-2007 by volunteer Administrative Assistant, Bernie Cobb, with support of the Association officers, the 174thHistoricalDatabase was created. Every person who served in the 174th AHC is strongly urged to get his data on this historical listing. It is being shared with all former 174th AHC personnel and even with the general public upon request. Information on how to submit personal data can be found on the 174th AHC Web Page or by contacting the current Secretary/Treasurer of the Association.
"How do I become a member of the Association?" That is an often-asked question and the answer is quite simple. If you were ever assigned to, and served for any length of time in the 174th AHC, you are eligible to be a member of the Association. Simply complete the Membership Enrollment Form that is linked to in the "President's Message" (at the top of this page), and send the form along with your dues to the Secretary/Treasurer.
This has been only a brief history of our fine Association. Conventional writings usually follow a time-worn, consistent pattern--the beginning, the middle, and the end. Our history, of course, will eventually have an end as we all inevitably take our final flight to that great airfield in the sky. But, fortunately, that end is not in our sights quite yet for most of us. Until then, your 174th AHC Association will continue to work to preserve the memory of those who have left us, and to enhance the camaraderie of those of us who remain bound to our worldly surroundings. As stated so eloquently not long ago at a recent reunion, we'll be here for you until, "the last man has finished the last drink."
Editor's note: There is a full and complete history of the Association currently underway. It is an on-going "work-in-progress," authorized by the elected Association officers and members of the Board of Directors. Beginning with the 2008 Annual Reunion, an unfinished draft copy of that historical document will be on display for attending reunion members to view. Using this brief history as the foundation stone, the full history version will contain copies of original supporting documents such as minutes of the yearly business meetings, rosters of attending members, membership lists (which will include the names of those who are members in good standing but unable to attend that year's reunion), after-action reports, newsletters, and the newly created "174HistoricalDatabase."
Because the master document could be viewed by non-members, copies of annual financial reports will not be included. Members viewing the draft copy of the full history are encouraged to use available comment sheets to record their recommendations for correcting any errors noted, deletions, additions and to make other suggestions if they so desire.