Vinh Long Outlaws reunite 50 years after deployment

Photo credit/Vinh Long Outlaws

The original Vinh Long Outlaws from Fort Benning, deployed to Vietnam in 1964. Photo credit/Vinh Long Outlaws

(Bio credit/Vinh Long Outlaws)The Vinh Long Outlaws Association  was formed from personnel previously assigned to aviation units with lineage to the original and all succeeding Outlaws,Mavericks (later called Bushwhackers), and Roadrunners that deployed to and operated out of Vinh Long, Vietnam, and to a more recent unit that bore the same Outlaw call sign and fought in Iraq.

The 62nd Aviation Company Outlaws was formed on 6 August 1964 from assets assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division (Airmobile) at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was truly the vanguard of the huge U.S military buildup in Southeast Asia.  After arriving at Vinh Long in September 1964, the Outlaws and its armed platoon Mavericks immediately conducted 30 days of in-country training prior to release for full combat operations through the IV Corps Tactical Zone, essentially responding to request throughout the Vietnam’s Delta Region.  

On Friday, September 19th, the Vinh Long Outlaws, one of the earliest helicopter units to be sent to Vietnam, commemorated 50 years to the day since their deployment to Vietnam. Together, they visited The Wall where they remembered, honored and healed.

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Pictured: Phil Van Alst next to a wreath bearing the names of the helicopter company’s fallen comrades

More than 100 Vinh Long Outlaws were in attendance at The Wall early Friday morning. Many went about retrieving name rubbings of their friends, but not after laying a wreath at the apex of the memorail and reading the names of sixty four of their fallen comrades aloud. For all, it was a very powerful and symbolic moment. Once again were these brothers-in-arms together, and reflecting at the very place their service in Vietnam is recognized for the nation to see.

For a few veterans, they were simply pleased to share short stories of their service, consisting of:

Phil Van Alst, a gunner. Van Alst stated, “I served a year in country – from 1970 to 1971. I was assigned as a mechanic, then a licensed private pilot. I asked if anyone need a gunner and volunteered and then became crew chief. Our group was called the Hawaiian Punch! There was an image painted on the front of our aircraft- a fist pointed right to the enemy with blood coming out of his nose.”

Van Alst traveled to the 50th reunion in Washington, D.C. from Honolulu, Hawaii. After serving in Vietnam and enduring flight school, he switched to the Air Guard. He continues to serve his community as a Red Cross Volunteer.

IMG_7437 (1)Veteran turned minister, Paul recalls, “I went to high school in Rison, Alabama with a young man named Richard. We both went to Vietnam after high school, flying helicopters. Unfortunately, he died in Vietnam and I came back, later becoming a Baptist Minister. In 1970, we held a funeral service for my friend and I was able to officiate his funeral. I came here and found his name.”

Paul was finally able to retrieve that name rubbing with the help of Lois O’Connor, Sr. Director of Advancement (pictured left).

And while it is wonderful that these group of veterans made the trip to The Wall, there was one man, Tom Clark, who helped put it together. Clark is the company’s reunion organizer and was once the company’s Commanding Officer.  Clark now uses his resources to help gather fellow comrades, now friends, together again. While talking with Clark, he tells talks about getting notice to be in charge of the first load of troops to Vietnam, but not after being caught off guard.

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Tom Clark stands in front of The Three Servicemen Statue during the Vinh Long Outlaws 50th reunion.

“In August of 1964, I was called into the Commanding Colonel’s office. I thought I was in trouble or something. It was then that I was directed to get a helicopter group deployed to Vietnam…we did our training at Fort Benning, and the unit was in Vietnam for eight years,” Tom remembers sharply.

In a brief forward about their history, the Vinh Long Outlaws stated,

When the 62d Aviation Company left Fort Benning, it spearheaded the massive US buildup in Vietnam by being the very first unit deployed to begin that buildup! In less than a year the 11th Air Assault Division would become the famous 1st Air Cavalry Division and would be locked in combat in the highlands of central Vietnam. By mid-1965, five other US combat divisions were either in, or on their way, to Vietnam as well as thousands upon thousands of support units. We were good. And, we led the way! …Our unit had cooks, supply people, ammo specialists, medics and countless others who contributed to our success in many unsung ways. Together, we made one great team during that first year and we had much to feel proud about during our year together. When we all rotated a year after arriving in Vietnam, we left the continuing history of the Outlaws to be written by others. This is the history of the first year of the Outlaws.

And despite the ugliness that comes with war, Clark said he enjoyed the people, his comrades.

“We formed our organization on September 18, 2008.  We all got together 15 years ago for a reunion. But this one in Washington, D.C. is the most poignant reunion.”

Clark said the group was here for  four nights and five days, with more than 130 attendees. One veteran  came as far as Denmark, another from Alaska.

And while Clark stays busy planning the Outlaw’s trips, he also makes his way to the nation’s capitol to  pay his respects on his own.

“I come to The Wall two to three times a year and around those times I give VVMF what I can,” Clark shares.

We thank Tom for all of his hard work, and we thank and welcome home each and every one of the Vinh Long Outlaws for their service.  Learn more about the Vinh Long Outlaws by visiting their website.

If you have a large group coming to The Wall, let us know by planning your visit here.

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