The following story was written by Manny Vasquez, a student at Yuba College and a veteran of the Vietnam war. The story is called Lt. Dane. Many of you may know Manny or shared a cup of coffee with him in the school cafeteria. Manny decided to go to school after his retirement from military service to finish his Associates Degree at the suggestion of the Veteran’s Administration (V.A,). Vasquez said, “There is nothing like the college environment for a retired veteran. The service was more restrictive, it was do this or you don’t make it. College offers more choices.” Manny chose Yuba College because he lives here and owns a house here in Yuba County:
This is the story of Lieutenant Dane, a U.S. Flyer who waited to be rescued from North Vietnamese Army. It took him an incredible amount of courage and determination to survive for three weeks! Also, it took a great combined effort of the United States Air Force Rescue Units and all other communications of the U.S. Military to cooperate in his rescue.
It started out to be a normal mission over Ha-Noi North Vietnam in the year of 1965 in the month of January. It was the worst time of the year, since the monsoon season had just started. When Lt. Dane was shot down by a SAM missile, he knew that this would change his life forever, if he would even survive the bailout from his F-4 Phantom. Thankfully, the bailout was successful, and after reaching the ground and getting rid of his parachute, he started his escape and evasion that he was trained for.
The word, “fear” would not enter his mind, until he hit the ground and found himself scrambling for cover and getting rid of his flight gear because the colors of his uniform would stand out in the green foliage. His heart was beating like a bass drum in his ears. He had landed smack dab in the middle of a N.V.A. camp, not far from the Maycong River. The North Vietnam’s enemy soldiers heard the crash of the aircraft and had started looking for the downed pilot.
Lt. Dane heard 37 mm gun fire coming from the direction of where his plane went down, so he knew that they were close. His first thoughts were not to be captured because of all of the briefings that he had heard about, and the inhumane treatment of pilots that bombed the North. Even with his training, he had self-doubts that he would make it out alive, but his self-reliance along with confidence to stay alive long enough to be rescued, gave him strength.
He knew that the U.S. Air Force would send in a rescuer team as soon as possible. Soon after he heard a flight of A1-E Sandy, circling just above him and laying down ground fire to help him get away from the position that he was in. It was the Jolly Green Giants Rescue Team from his airbase in Thailand at Nakon Phantom (N.K.P.)! He then remembered the Jolly Green Giant’s motto was, “That Others May Live.”
After the first night, the temperature had started to become cooler with the rain falling, and he was getting hungrier by the hour. Also, his spirit was getting low, knowing he must stay hidden and keep quiet. So nobody knew where he was hidden; the rescue units listened for his radio beeper when they began the search for him. Later that night, while he was hidden, he could hear the jets flying overhead, along with the helicopters, which were all looking for him.
He was at a place where his voice could be heard if he had switched on his hand-held short-wave radio. Because the North Vietnamese (V.C.) soldiers were too close to him, and looking for him, they could overhear his voice transmission. This took all his strength not to reach for his radio and communicate to the rescue team since he could hear the soldiers not far off in the distance.
On day two, without food or drinking water, he started to drink the rainwater from the bamboo leaves as it was the only thing to drink, and his nerves were becoming frayed. There were times he thought he would not make it to the rallying point to be picked up. On this day, he was able to use his short-wave radio to communicate with the “Crown Bird,” which was the on-scene commander out of N.K.P. Thailand, the base of the U.S. Air Force where he was stationed. Each time he talked to the “Crown Bird” that was in charge of his rescue, he gave him the strength and courage to go on.
Meanwhile, the news of Lt. Dane’s F4 Phantom that had been shot down, was quite the sensation in U.S. headlines. Lt. Dane’s aircraft had been off course in North Vietnam, and its mistaken bombing of Ha-Noi created international problems. However, the Air Force was still determined to rescue him
A whole week had passed while Lt. Dane waited, being half-starved and weak from hunger, only eating roots, grubs and frogs to keep himself alive. He waited to be rescued. Lt. Dane kept his spirit, along with his defiance, that had seen him through this rough time. In his youth. God never played a big role in his upbringing, but now Lt. Dane thought it would be a good time to put together a small prayer for his own self welfare.
All the time he was waiting to be rescued, Lt. Dane had to elude the V.C. by changing his hiding places. While he was running from his captors, he fell and twisted his ankle and thought that he may have even broken it. After a couple of hours, he rested and wrapped his ankle with some parachute cloth and put his boot back on, and continued his evasion from the N.V.A.
The next couple of days were slow going, but he had made up his mind that his grit would get him through. Because he had loved ones back home waiting for him, it gave him courage to fight on. After two weeks, the worst part of the whole ordeal was about to come to an end. The short-wave radio came to life with the rescue team telling him that they were about to make the pick-up soon
Lt. Dane was drained of strength and was looking forward to going home and seeing his family. The thought of home gave him strength and back bone to stay the course for the eminent rescue that was about to happen.
At last it happened, the helicopter and P.J., or rescue medic, were being lowered down through the forest canopy treetops. The P.J. asked with a big smile, “Are you Lt. Dane?” The flight back to home base was magnificent! His mind reflected on his whole ordeal of the two weeks on the ground, hiding, not eating, and sleeping in the rain, praying that he would be rescued soon.
His courage to overcome his ordeal and his faith that he would be rescued had been Lt. Dane’s lifeline. Without the joint action of the jolly Green Giants Rescue Team, this could not have happened. They carried out their mission to save his life and continued keeping their motto true, “That Others May Live.”
In this story of Lt. Dane, which is a true story that took place in January of 1965 in South East Asia, of a downed pilot and the attempt to rescue him and the effort it took to bring him home. Since I was a part of the rescue team that was involved in his rescue. From a personal point of view, I was taken with emotion when Lt. Dane was brought on board the helicopter! Our call sign was “The Jolly Green Giants” and my heart went out to him, knowing that he had survived three weeks on the jungle floor. Going through all of those emotions of fright, flight and evasion, trying not to get captured, along with not having food or water for days! God only knows what would have happened to him, if we hadn’t been the ones to reach him first!
I know Manny Vasquez because I have spent time with him to get to know him. It is a valuable experience to pursue my education and degree with someone like him, someone who chooses to offer wisdom from age and the voice of reason. When asked what advice he would give for younger students, he said, “Stay disciplined. students who want to get ahead in their academic careers pay attention to the rules and their classes. In my generation there were no Ipods, no headphones, or electronics to take our minds away from what we had to concentrate on. Care about your elders and your studies.” Manny’s future dreams are to enjoy his retirement by spending “the best part of my life travelling to southeast Asia and Australia with his beloved wife.” In his golden years being a husband, going to school, and enjoying retirement for Manny Vasquez means, “No Regrets!”
Before I met Manny Vasquez I did not realize the commitment these veteran, retired students put forward to help others at this college we love so dearly. I have also had the pleasure to make acquaintance with another retired veteran who attends Yuba College in his spare time. His name is Robert Cross, a tutor for humanities classes, who many of you may know because he spends so much time in the library reading the newspaper, gathering with his friends. These two fine fellows have become close ,personal friends of mine and I can’t say enough about the quality of character they both possess. Don’t be shy. Say hello, when you get the chance. Your educational experience will surely benefit and I know , you’ll be glad you did!