Until They Are Home: CJ Cole

I am an American. I believe in the men and women that fight to keep me free, and I honor those who have fallen before. I am an American, and I support my troops, regardless of the reasons they are required to fight.

I was raised in the era of the Vietnam War. I remember stories on the evening news, and pictures on the cover of Time and Life magazines that I had no way of understanding.

We were on vacation, visiting relatives in Illinois. I was 11 and bored. We stopped at a farmers market, and I wasted some time wandering through the piles of stuff on the tables.

I picked up a silver bracelet with just a name and a date engraved on it, and I guess I must have looked puzzled, because a man walked over to me and carefully knelt down beside me.

He gruffly asked me if I knew what I was holding, and I shook my head. He pointed to the name on the bracelet. This man is a hero, and his name is on this bracelet because he is missing in action in Vietnam. 

I remember asking if anyone had gone to look for him, and I can still see his expression to this very day. He smiled at me sadly, and shook his head. He put the bracelet on my wrist, squeezed it tight, and he asked me to never forget the name engraved there.

I am looking at that POW-MIA bracelet right now, and today, I want him to live in your hearts for a few moments.

His name was CWO Bobby McKain, and he was a Kansas boy. At the young age of 22, he was a highly trained AH-1G helicopter pilot flying an armed, and very dangerous escort for a recon mission in Quang Tri, South Vietnam. It was approximately 2 p.m. on May 3, 1968, and his co-pilot was WO Arthur Chaney.

Eyewitness accounts say that they were hit by 37mm anti-aircraft fire from an enemy ground position as they flew at about 1500 feet. The helicopter spun to the ground in a ball of flames, impacted, and moments later, all of the ammunition aboard detonated.

Because of the close proximity to occupied enemy territory, heavy artillery action that prevented a body search, and the eyewitness accounts, both men were presumed killed in action. Later attempts to locate the wreckage failed, and they were both listed as possible POW/MIA.

In 1985, an American citizen who had ties to some refugees turned over 5 “bundles” of human remains reported to be American military. They were able to positively identify 13 of 14 crewmen of a 1972 crash over Laos, but there were bones and teeth that were still a mystery.

In approximately 2007, the Army requested DNA samples from the family members of still missing soldiers, and in 2008, they identified the bone fragments and teeth as belonging to Bobby.

On August 11, 2008, CWO Bobby L. McKain came home. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. WO Arthur F. Chaney was laid to rest on Sept. 16 of the same year.

I was lucky enough to correspond with Bobby’s parents many years ago, and his mother asked me to keep the bracelet so that Bobby would not be forgotten. I have done so for these many years. I am proud to have kept his name in my thoughts.

This weekend as we spend time outdoors with friends and loved ones and enjoy some time off work, the real reason we were able to do so, is because of men like Bobby, and the men and women who have made, and continue to make, the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.

I ask you today to say a word of thanks, for men like Bobby and Art, for men and women fighting for us now and throughout history. I ask you to join me in keeping their memory close to your heart.

Should you like to thank my friend Bobby, you will find him on Panel 54E, Line 027 on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. He is there along with 58,282 others who were killed, captured or still lost.

Please don’t forget them.

Cj Cole