BY DAN BOWER
My best hometown buddy, Spec. 4 Crawford Traver, was killed in action outside Khe Sanh on March 29, 1971, at the end of Operation Lam Son 719. I did not know about it until April 6, when the OIC of my MCB-74 detachment at Ta Kou came to the jungle laterite pit where I was loading dump trucks as we improved the six-mile road we had just finished cutting through the jungle. Ensign Spore motioned for me to shut down the front-end loader and meet him up on the rim. He motioned for me to sit on a nearby log, then he squatted down and said: “Bower, we’ve just been radioed that you have orders waiting back at main base in Bien Hoayou are going back to CONUS today.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. He continued: “Do you know a Crawford Traver? You have orders to be the Special Escort for his remains and you are accompanying the body home for burial at the request of the next of kin.”
Butch, as our high school crowd called him, was my best friend after high school. We had written back and forth to get our home leaves to overlap ever since he joined the Army in early 1969. He went through all the training necessary to become an Army Ranger while I was in advanced equipment operator schools in Port Hueneme, California, and Gulfport, Mississippi, honing my skills in the Navy Seabees. The last picture taken of us was as we were playing cards with his step-dad, Ben Kenoski.
Just before we went to Vietnam in 1970, we got one week of our leaves to overlap. As usual, I stayed with him at his folks’ house and he stayed with me at my folks’ place all through our time together. I went to Vietnam about three weeks before he did. I went to Danang at first, and he went to Camp Eagle up near Hue with the 101st Airborne. I did not know that his unit was involved in a large operation until that day at the rim of the laterite pit.
The rest of April 6, 1971, was a whirl. The duty driver from the Ham Tan MACV took me to a helo pad where they expected the arrival of an ARVN slick that would take me to a busier fire base where I might grab a ride to Bien Hoa. It took all day. I rode many different helicopters from this base to that trying to catch one going in the right direction. Finally, I arrived in late afternoon with no time to change clothes or take a shower, and I was rushed to the Bien Hoa Airbase to catch the flight to Travis Air Force Base in San Francisco, where the Army Mortuary is. Butch’s body was already there, waiting for the escort.
I was the only Seabee on a flight full of Army men who had made it through their tours. They loudly cheered as we lifted off. Once we were aloft and out of danger, the Army guys with the Class As and ribbons and CIBs on their chests circulated up and down the aisle shaking hands and talking. Many greeted me cheerfully, but no doubt wondered about the way I was dressedstill in my semi-dirty greens with a hole torn in the knee, dirty jungle boots, frayed cap, long hair, beard, and the U.S. Navy name tag over one pocket (similar to another photo of me with Bill Hannum of Tucson in the driver’s seat and Craig Zeedyk up on the M-60 in back of one of our Jeeps in the bush).
The Escort Training went fine. There was an old Army guy there who looked and acted like the non-com in charge, but he had a shoulder patch I didn’t recognize. I was the only Navy guy among the Army escorts, so I asked one of them about it. He said that the non-com was a Spec. 7, and that he was a rare one as that was an old Army rank and not many were left. Later, the Spec. 7 told me he had been at the mortuary since 1966, and I was the only non-relative cross-service escort he knew of.
Indeed, when I arrived at Flint in the cockpit of a United Freightliner with Butch’s casket in the back, the Army Captain in charge told me that Butch’s mom had insisted on me being the escort. The reason it took from March 29 until April 6 for me to get involved was because they had to get a general in the Pentagon to sign off on it.
Well, it has been almost forty-five years now, and I feel better just talking about it. I hadn’t intended to write all of this, but I’m glad I did. Suffice to say, all of us have a small story of an obscure corner of the war, and sometimes reading a great article like John Prados’s piece on Lom Son 719 in the last issue really brings things back. Very highest regards to all the members of this fine organization, Vietnam Veterans of America.
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