Vietnam veteran found a home in helicopters

spalisin@thesunnews.comMay 19, 2014 

  • If you go – Saluting service personnel


    By | City of Myrtle Beach and PGBA Inc.

    When | All of May

    Special events include |

    • Traveling Vietnam Wall – “The Wall That Heals” – through Sunday, near Myrtle Beach’s Crabtree Memorial Gymnasium, accessed from Farrow Parkway, by The Market Common.

    • Military Officers Association of America Grand Strand Chapter Golf Tournament, May 22, with lunch at noon, tourney at 2 p.m., at Legends Golf & Resort’s Heathland course, for $75 per person $280 per team, and reduced rates for veterans. Benefiting college scholarships for high school seniors, wounded warrior trips to Myrtle Beach, and Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center or Little River. Register by May 8 with Greg Youngman at 973-714-5073 or email gyoungman, or with Jerry Terwilliger at 903-4047 or

    • 5K Run, 7:30 a.m. May 24, on Ocean Boulevard from Plyler Park, at Mr. Joe White Avenue, and including the boardwalk –free for military (active duty, reserves and veterans), otherwise $20.

    • Memorial Day weekend parade, with Montel Williams, Marine and Navy veteran and former talk show host, as grand marshal, 10:30 a.m. May 24 on Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard, from 27th Avenue North southward to Ninth Avenue North.

    • Family Picnic, noon-2 p.m. May 24, on Ocean Boulevard, with military exhibits, children’s activities, concert by Andrew Thielen Big Band, and meet-and-greet with Montel Williams. Free meals from Omar Shriners chefs for all military personnel and veterans, and their families

    • Veterans Beard & ’Stache Beach Bash, on May 24, for veterans, with such categories as Full Beard, Corporate Beard, Partial Beard (Chops, Goatees, Chin Straps),’Stache, Long Beard, Long ’Stache, Epic Beard, and for all women – even those who are not veterans – Ladies’ Faux. Email to sign up, and register formally 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. that day at “Beard Table,” then judging starts at 12:30 p.m.

    • Memorial Day Ceremony, with Grand Strand Patriotic Alliance, 11 a.m. May 26 at Myrtle Beach Convention Center plaza, on Oak Street at 21st Avenue North.

    • Second annual “Memorial Day Tribute,” 2 p.m. May 26 at Grand 14 Cinema, at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach. Free. Includes public recognition of veterans and active duty military, a performance of patriotic music, a color guard presentation, and screening of documentary film produced by Rod Gragg, “Lions in Blue & Gray: Joshua Chamberlain and Stonewall Jackson,” a dual biography of two Civil War generals: Joshua L. Chamberlain and Stonewall Jackson, from the Union and Confederacy, respectively. Reach theater at 282-0550.

    • Local History Digitization Project: Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, Phase I, sign up for drawing to win time-capsule package, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. May 27 at Myrtle Beach’s Chapin Memorial Library, 400 14th Ave. N. (918-1275 or Also: visit and change the search format to “digital collection.”

    Information | 918-1014 or

    Other events for Memorial Day


    By | Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10420, based at 4359 U.S. 17 Bypass, Murrells Inlet

    When | 9 a.m. May 23

    Where | Belin Memorial United Methodist Church, 4182 U.S. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet

    Also | Sales of memorial bricks for $50 each to honor anyone –even someone who’s not a veteran or Veterans of Foreign Wars member – for grounds around the granite, which salutes 109 service personnel from South Carolina who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan in the war on terror. Post’s memorial rededication services planned for noon Memorial Day, May 26 – Its initial dedication was on Veterans Day 2013. Call 222-2791.

    Information | 651-6900 or 770-842-0883


    What | Military themed movies for adults, during “Military Appreciation Days”

    What and when | 1:30 -3:30 p.m. Fridays:

    • May 23 – “Jarhead” (Gulf War setting)

    • May 30 – “Battle: Los Angeles” (imaginary end to world war)

    Where | Myrtle Beach’s Chapin Memorial Library, 400 14th Ave. N., at Kings Highway

    How much | Free, with ticket from front desk

    Information | 918-1275 or


    Benefiting | Canine Angels, a North Myrtle Beach nonprofit that rescues dogs and trains them for use by veterans with disabilities

    What and when |

    • “Fore the Pups We Putt Golf Tournament,” 9 a.m. May 24 at Rivers Edge Golf Plantation in Shallotte, N.C., for $80 per person (checks due May 10, made out to Canine Angels, and mailed to Josie McGahn, 950 Meadowlands Trail, Calabash, NC 28467). Details at 609-576-2303.

    • “Dine, Dance, and Party” with the pups, 6-10 p.m. May 29 at Castano’s Italian Steakhouse, in Barefoot Landing, on U.S. 17 in North Myrtle Beach, for $38, including three-course meal from choice of four special menu entrees, live music, prizes and auctions. 910-398-7850.

    Information | 917-575-6235 or


    With | music by Stringwood and by Laidback Larry

    When | noon-6 p.m. May 24

    Where | La Belle Amie Vineyard, 1120 St. Joseph Road, Little River, just west of North Myrtle Beach Middle School

    How much | $3, or free with donation of two canned/dry food items for local food banks

    Information | 399-9463 or


    By | Town of Surfside Beach

    When | 4-8 p.m. May 25

    Where | Surfside Pier

    Also |

    • Memorial Day Service, 2:30 p.m. May 26 in town’s Passive Park with veterans memorial, at Surfside and Willow drives, by front of Horry County Memorial Library Surfside Beach branch.

    • “Surfside Beach Sunday Serenades” acoustic concerts, 2-5 p.m. Sundays, May 25-Aug. 31 in Passive Park, opening with Acoustic Johnny, Lola, and Glenn “Houndog” Hanson. Free.

    How much | All for free

    Information | 650-9548 or


    By | Brunswick County Parks & Recreation

    What | Honoring local veterans

    With | Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Cris Cabingas

    When | 4:30 p.m. May 25

    Where | In Rourk Gardens, on Main Street in Shallotte, N.C., across from Jerome’s Steak & Seafood

    How much | Free

    Information | 910-253-2031 or


    When | 9:30 a.m. May 26

    Where | Sunset Beach, N.C., Town Park, on Sunset Boulevard

    Including |

    • Dedication of new flag pole, with retired Lt. Col. Gordon Coulson, from Committee to Honor America’s Veterans

    • National anthem performed by Linda Ladrick

    • Keynote speech by U.S. Rep. Michael McIntyre

    • Playing of memorial wreath by Boy Scout Troop 201

    • Playing of taps, by Steven Baker, and Ben Simmons, trumpeter from West Brunswick High School

    Information | 910-579-6297


    By | North Myrtle Beach Memorial Gardens, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10804, American Legion Post 186, the Ladies Auxiliary in Myrtle Beach, the Knights of Columbus from Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, and the Grand Strand Gold Star Mothers.

    When | 11 a.m. May 26

    Where | North Myrtle Beach Memorial Gardens, at U.S. 17, S.C. 9, S.C. 90 and Nixon Crossroads

    With | Music by the Myrtle Beach Regional Pipe Band, at 10:30 a.m.

    Information | 249-2932


    By | Stephanie Trick-Alderighi, pianist

    Benefiting | Help A Veteran, a nonprofit organization assisting veterans with special needs, and Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center of Little River

    When | 1-4 p.m. May 31

    Where | Grand Strand Senior Center, 1268 21st Ave. N., Myrtle Beach

    How much | $15 individual, or two for $25

    Information | 222-0718 or email

    Easy Escapes, in the Carolinas


    What | More than 70 sketches, watercolors and gouaches of European landscapes, towns, and bridges painted by Henry Jay MacMillan (1908-91), an Army veteran

    When | through April 25, 2015:

    • Through October -- scenes from Normandy, France

    • Starting in November -- watercolors painted in Germany

    Where | Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, 814 Market St., Wilmington, N.C.

    Open | 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and through Aug. 30, 1-5 p.m. Sundays

    How much | Free with museum admission: $7 adults; $6 students, seniors, and military with ID; $4 ages 6-17; and free ages 5 and younger

    Also | “A View from Space” exhibit, through Sept. 7, by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, free with admission

    Information | 910-798-4362 or

    Traveling | Wilmington, N.C., is less than a two-hour drive from Myrtle Beach, north on U.S. 17 through Brunswick County. Get details from the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau: 910-341-4030, 877-406-2356 or


    When | 5:45 p.m. May 26

    With | N.C. Gov. Governor Pat McCrory; Brig. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, commanding general, Marine Corps installations, East/commander, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, as keynote speaker; music by 440th N.C., Army National Guard Band; and a 21-gun salute

    How much | Free

    Where | Battleship North Carolina, at U.S. Routes 17, 74, 76 and 421 in Wilmington, N.C.

    How much | Free for this event

    Ship open | 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (and until 8 p.m. May 23-Sept. 1, for $12 ages 12 and older; $10 ages 65 and older, and active duty or retired military with ID; $6 ages 6-11; and free ages 5 and younger -- group rates also available

    Information | 910-251-5797 or


    For | Vietnam War-era veterans statewide

    With | U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, host; retired Marine Corps Maj. General James Everett Livingston, custodian of the Medal of Honor; and military bands from across South Carolina

    When | 10 a.m. Aug. 2

    Where | First Baptist Church of Columbia, 1306 Hampton St., Columbia

    Also | Each veteran will receive a special Senatorial Certificate of Appreciation, and a pin.

    Register | 844-820-0146 (toll free or


    What | USS Yorktown (CV-10) aircraft carrier and USS Clamagore (SS-43) submarine, and Medal of Honor Museum

    When | 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily

    Where | 40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant -- From U.S. 17 south heading into Charleston, turn left on McGrath Darby Boulevard, the last traffic light before the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, and continue straight on to Bud Darby Lane., which turns into Patriots Point Road.

    How much | $20 ages 12-61; $17 seniors and active duty military with ID; $12 ages 6-11, and free for active duty military in uniform and ages 5 and younger. Parking $5.

    Information | 843-884-2727, 866-831-1720 or; and for Medal of Honor Museum: 843-884-8862 or

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series running this month that takes a closer look at area veterans.

Frank A. Esposito came back in May 1971 from his yearlong tour of military service in South Vietnam as the same man, but also a different man.

He classified his deployment as “harder” on his wife, Ellen Esposito, and parents and family, than for himself, and his musical horizon expanded while serving his country.

A couple of men with whom Esposito served grew up within a two-mile radius of his hometown in Long Island, N.Y., but he said, with irony, “I had to go 13,000 miles to meet them.”

Sitting in his office this past week and reflecting on his “three years and 19 days” of active duty from 1969-72, during the Vietnam War – a conflict that spanned four U.S. presidencies: Kennedy; Johnson; Nixon; and Ford –the retired colonel talked of his ideal timing of leaving full-time service on a Sunday, and going to work the next day for an oil company. He continued in commanding or other officer aviation posts – two with the N.Y. Army National Guard and four U.S. Army Reserve – covering 25 more years.

“So I was never unemployed,” the retiree said, happy also to have spent 28 years flying and training pilots for helicopters, especially Huey models.

Sharing a wall with a detailed map framed as artwork and full of lines highlighting missions he flew in the former South Vietnam, a photo shows Esposito in the “Last Huey Out,” from Aug. 13, 1995, at Fort Meade, Md.

“That’s also the day Mickey Mantle died,” said Esposito, 68, who also loves playing golf by his home near Myrtle Beach.

A cockpit provided this man his field of dreams while in uniform. After his tenure in the reserve officers’ training corps during high school, Esposito enlisted in the Army. He said World War II had brought deployments for his father and several uncles, the last of whom died last year, so, “It was my turn to step up to the plate.”

Looking up for a choice

Esposito reflected on a moment from training at Fort Knox, Ky., and helping in a maintenance task as a helicopter whizzed by. He said he asked himself, readying for eventual transfer to South Vietnam, “Do I want to keep doing this, or do that?” as he pointed upward, so he put in for flight training, and that initiative took off.

Serving in the Second Squadron of 2/17 Air Cavalry 101 Airborne Division, he observed the Vietnamese referring to the conflict as the “American War,” but outside of executing his duties, he made the best of off-duty there, with camaraderie with a bunch of fellow aviators “a big part of it.”

Still, songs such as the Animals’ “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” take Esposito’s mind back to that part of Indochina. He said he shipped out, having grown up as a “Beach Boys, Beatles and Elvis guy from up north,” but crew mates ushered in some “Southern culture” for him.

“I was never into country music until I got over there,” he said. “I picked up on Johnny Cash and ‘Fulsom Prison Blues,’ and Tammy Wynette. I never heard of Tammy Wynette until I got over there.”

Singers touring from the Philippines and Australia also entertained in the officers’ clubs, he said, also remembering one crew mate who “could pick up a guitar and play any song.”

Esposito said reading “a lot of books” and letters filled his free time.

“My wife,” he said of his marriage going on 46 years, “sent me a letter every day, and I still have those letters.”

Those often came in piles with which to catch up every two or three weeks, “as I was being bounced all over the country,” Esposito said.

Since losing photographs in a fire several years ago, Esposito has built up a computer file of keepsake pictures from South Vietnam and his military tenure, thanks to kind friends and crew mates who have helped stockpiled his supply, one by one.

One hole never forgotten

Forever loving the thrill of flying, Esposito showed a photo of himself in a Huey with a hole fired into, but not penetrating, the thick panel by which he sat. He then got out the actual plate out of closet and showed how the section had withstood the gunfire, and said he would joke years ago when asking his sons to mind their behavior that if not for that protective sheet of material, he and they might not be here today.

Anyone who receives a business card from Esposito needs to flip it over to read a quote from Winston Churchill, the two-time British prime minister (1940-45 and ’51-’55):

“Nothing in life is more exhilarating than to be shot at without results.”

Esposito scanned through a few dozen other photos, pausing by a small group shot taken amid smiles in his squadron, and he noted which of the other men are no longer living. Christmas memories from 1971 are frozen in two frames, one showing him after giving a hand-held tree each to two youngsters, and another shot of three Catholic nuns with children from their orphanage holding the little white trees.

Minutes after the Esposito family’s black Labrador, Casey, almost 14 years old, walked in and out of his office this week, he proceeded through more photos, coming across one of Tripod, a similar looking pooch with only three legs that he befriended in South Vietnam.

Esposito, a father of two sons and a daughter, said he had an opportunity to visit the nation of Vietnam with a fellow soldier who goes regularly, to that man’s wife’s native land, but Esposito didn’t want to miss being with family for the birth of his third grandchild.

Figuring not many local people he encountered in his tour of duty remain alive today, because of a shorter lifespan in that war zone, Esposito counts his blessings, without any negative flashbacks or other post-war syndromes with which so many other service personnel have coped.

He said he flew home from Asia through the Seattle-Tacoma and Kennedy New York airports, wearing khakis and carrying a duffle bag, and that greetings from children waiting for a school bus added to his happy return and welcome home in his neighborhood, leading to a family party coordinated by his in-laws.

From his preparations for discharge from active duty, Esposito said applications for five jobs generated five offers, and that leadership experience helped him with skills to shift to the private sector.

Esposito remains humble about his time overseas, and mindful of the purpose and meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day, respectively. He said “the heroes” – those in the military who “laid it on the line” and gave their lives in serving the United States around the world – deserve everyone’s salute in respect for the national observance, this year on May 26.

“I’m not a hero,” he is quick to say, bringing up the cover of a book “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young: Ia Drang – The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam,” by retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway.

Esposito, who has met Galloway, gave another illustration of heroism. He said the solider in the foreground of the book’s cover photo, Rick Rescorla, became a security chief for an investment firm in New York after retiring from the Army as a colonel, and he later gave his life in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Esposito said Rescorla, through being resourceful, ready and prepared for any emergency, helped everyone in his employer’s offices that morning in the World Trade Center.

“He got them all out,” Esposito said, “then he went back in the building to check for other people, and the building came down on top of him.”

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.

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