Comrades honor crew members who died 50 years ago on Valentine’s Day
“I will never forget that sound,” David Adams says as a helicopter flies over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The rumbling sound is similar to the UH-1 Huey helicopters he rode in 50 years ago.
David was a U.S. Army pilot for Medevac 12 during the Vietnam War. He is a surviving crew member who was aboard a medical evacuation flight when they lost two of their comrades. The mission took place 50 years.
David and two others survivors have come to Washington, D.C. to lay a wreath in their memory. As a chill runs through the air and the sky turns gray, the former crew members stand in front of Panel 32W. They are wearing dark green bomber jackets with a 1st Cavalry patch emblazoned on the front. The words “Medevac” and “So that others may live” are sewn in black letters underneath.
On February 14, 1969, crew members of Medevac 12 were transporting patients when their UH-1H Huey helicopter was shot as it approached its landing site in the Binh Long Province. While the helicopter was able to limp off the landing zone, it was unable to return to its base.
Due to extensive damage, a crash landing ensued. Crew chief Gary Dubach of Ashtabulah, Ohio and medic Stephen Schumacher of Minneapolis, Minnesota would lose their lives. The two were killed as they exited the helicopter to set up a defensive perimeter to protect their crew. That action undoubtedly led to the survival of the remaining crew members; Walter McNees, the Aircraft Commander, David Adams, the pilot, and Ralph Tutrani, the door gunner. When a USMC Huey came to rescue the men, they were unable to land due to the vegetation at the site. Ralph, who was signficantly taller, boosted two pilots to safety as the USMC crew could not reach down far enough to help the pilots up. While he was reaching up to get aboard, Ralph was shot through the hand. Thankfully, he lived.
After the sound of the helicopter passes, the crew members turn to The Wall. They gather side-by-side with their wreath in hand. The wreath is a circular garland comprised of white daisies and red carnations, wrapped in red, white and blue ribbon. Walter McNees, the Aircraft Commander on that fateful mission, says a few words.
“50 years ago today, Gary and Stephen died on a medevac mission. Gary was the crew chief, Stephen was a medic. Knowing the danger of the missions they flew all the time, they still volunteered to be a part of a Medevac crew,” he says.
As he continues, there’s a crack in his voice. Emotion billows inside of him and he fights back the urge to cry.
“You can do it,” his comrades say as they place a hand on his back. Walter takes deep breath and continues.
“Today, Dave Adams – the pilot, Ralph Tutrani – the door gunner, and me are here to honor our fallen crew members. The crew want to thank the families and friends of Medevac 12 for helping us out. At this time, I’m going to place the wreath honoring Gary and Stephen.”
Walter takes the wreath that sits upon a green stand and places it at Panel 32W as Ralph and David look on.
“Gary and Stephen, we honor you. You are not forgotten. Thank you,” Walter McNees says to his fallen friends. The three survivors salute The Wall.
Gary’s sister, Carol, is also present to commemorate the mission. She slowly approaches Panel 32W, Line 31 after the men conclude the wreath laying. She touches Gary’s name softly, as if sharing some closeness with her brother.
Stephen’s name is inscribed a few lines below Gary’s – on Line 34.
“This was the only mission where we were never able to get the patients out,” Ralph remembers solemnly. “I was going home in 10 days,” he says as he points to the names of the patients who did not make it.
50 years to the day that Gary and Stephen were lost “so that others may live,” the survivors stared back at their names at the place our nation has set aside to remember Vietnam veterans.
More fitting on Valentine’s Day, the famous Biblical verse from John 15:13 rings true — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Dave Barron contributed to this blog.