Bob Lind, Published August 11 2012
Lind: Bonds forged in Vietnam last lifetime
It was 1969, and Alan Schoenack, a Fargo resident who had graduated from Warren (Minn.) High School and the University of North Dakota, and Paul Summey, Asheville, N.C., were about to start training at the Army’s helicopter training center at Fort Wolters, Texas.
The two became friends, completed helicopter training nine months later and were sent to Vietnam together.
Heroism under fire
Alan and Paul were assigned to the same unit in Vietnam, were roommates and were promoted to first lieutenant.
Then came June 2, 1971, and the event that Alan says “cemented a lifelong friendship.”
Alan received a message that a member of an aero-rifle team had been wounded and needed to be extracted. Alan volunteered to fly the mission.
The official report of what happened reads:
“With complete disregard for his own personal safety, First Lieutenant Schoenack flew into the contact area in order to rescue the wounded man.
“While on the ground, his aircraft received a devastating volume of fire, wounding one of the door gunners.
“Despite this loss of fire power, Lt. Schoenack remained on the ground until the injured man was on board. By the time the aircraft left the impact area, it had received 12 hits.
“Lt. Schoenack’s personal heroism, professional competence and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service and reflect great credit upon him, the 23rd Infantry Division and the United States Army.”
To the rescue
Alan flew the wounded man to the medical aid station and wanted to return to bring out other wounded men. But his shot-up helicopter was declared out of action, and he couldn’t go.
So up stepped Paul. He volunteered to replace Alan.
It would be a dangerous assignment; so dangerous, two men refused to be Paul’s co-pilots. But a third man agreed to go. He and Paul assembled a flight crew and they flew to the combat area.
Despite receiving heavy ground fire, Paul flew into the landing area, and he and his crew got the remaining soldiers out.
For their actions that day, both Alan and Paul received Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Alan separated from active duty in 1974, joined the North Dakota Army National Guard in 1979 and remained a member until 2006, completing more than 36 years of military service.
Both he and Paul had married before they were in flight school. Now as civilians, they both got jobs and raised families, Alan living in Moorhead, Paul in Asheville.
They had a couple of brief visits, but they primarily stayed in contact through Christmas cards and phone calls.
But one phone call was especially meaningful. It occurred every June 2, the anniversary of that rugged day in Vietnam.
Then this past June 2, the two men were together again. They reunited in Asheville.
Both are retired, and both are celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversaries this year.
Alan says they “recounted 42 years of a special bond created during a dark period in history. Stories, laughs and tears were shared, and plans were made for the next June 2nd and many more June 2nds to come.”
On those June 2nds when Alan and Paul can’t get together, they at least will make that phone call, as they have every year: the call in which they share the previous year’s events and their goals for the coming year.
It’s the call that each year ends with, “I love you, buddy.”
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