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July Military Stories (July 26, 28, & 30)

Monday, July 26, 2021

Bill Huff and Tim Flournoy Join the Marines on a Dare

Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007)

Was it a 1963 “Uncle Sam Wants You” poster that sparked the whole thing? Neither of them remembers today, forty years after they dared each other to join the Marines and actually went through with it. Bill Huff and Tim Flournoy had known each other all their lives, serving as sophomore class officers at Columbus High School and rooming together at the University of Georgia. They were in Athens when they decided to join the branch of armed service that had, for them, the biggest mystique.

Though they signed up on the same day, their fates took them in different directions from the outset. Bill went straight to Quantico, Virginia for the Platoon Leaders Class program, while Tim finished law school. By the time Tim got to Quantico, Bill was a second lieutenant in the Basic Officers’ Training program. Their time at Quantico coincided just long enough for Bill to introduce Tim to his future wife Sydney and for Tim to be a groomsman in Bill’s wedding. Then Bill was off to Camp LeJeune, and from there he flew to Da Nang, Vietnam on St. Patrick’s Day, 1966 to serve with the Third Marine Division. Eventually Tim followed Bill to Asia, serving in the JAG Corps, mostly as a defense attorney for court martials in Vietnam and Okinawa. They lost touch.

Marine Lieutenant Bill Huff on board ship

From the relative safety of Da Nang, the Marine’s sent Huff’s unit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) lying between communist-held North Vietnam and the Republic of South Vietnam. As a captain, he commanded a “quick reaction” company of one hundred marines who guarded the perimeter at Gio Linh, and elsewhere, sometimes serving as a replacement company. His duty as a supply officer evoked the innate creativity Huff would be known for when he returned to Columbus to work as an interior designer. During the TET Offensive of 1967, he wasn’t able to procure the tiny battery-operated lights on the “aiming sticks” the Howitzers used to line up their target at night. So, Bill took the colored lights off his artificial Christmas tree and improvised.

A haircut for Huff in the jungle

Living in a tent in the DMZ took some getting used to. The heat of Da Nang was oppressive. In the rainy season, the wind and the rain chilled him to the bone. In either season, it was impossible to stay dry and pointless to try to stay clean. They joked that the mosquito was the Vietnamese National Bird and kept an eye out for poisonous spiders and snakes. Mortar rounds dropped out of the sky in the middle of the night. The worst part of Vietnam was living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty. But luck breaks kept Bill alive, like the day his jeep ran over a land mine, which turned out to be a dud.

After enduring the longest thirteen and a half months of his life, Bill earned the right to come home. He caught a plane for Okinawa, where he would take another plane for the States. He arrived in Okinawa on a Sunday morning at 7:00 and headed straight to the bar. As soon as Bill stepped inside the Officers Club, he saw a familiar figure sitting at a dining table, eating a stack of pancakes. It was Tim Flournoy. Since they’d begun the adventure together, it seemed only natural that they celebrate its imminent conclusion together. A beer after pancakes never tasted so good.

Bill Huff and Tim Flournoy


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

For Isaac Hadley, People were the Best Part of Army Life

Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007)

Born the twelfth of fifteen children on a Thomasville, Georgia, farm, Isaac Hadley just naturally learned the art of “blooming where you are planted.” Hadley was by nature easy-going and affable, and his birth order amid a veritable crowd may have contributed to his love of people. The fact hat he sprung from rather modest roots indirectly led to his joining the Army in the first place, while his love of people kept him in the Army Reserves for many happy years.

Isaac was headed to graduate school after graduating from Morris Brown College in 1971. He planned to get a PhD in chemistry; he even had a scholarship to the University of Chicago. But a friend of one of his older brothers who was recruiting for the Medical College of Georgia stopped by his dorm room and encouraged him to go to dental school. “You’ll be your own boss, set your own hours. You can’t do that teaching at a university.” Isaac was convinced and headed to Augusta. In his last quarter there when he realized how expensive it would be to set up practice, he decided to join the Army. The Army offered him the experience he needed to become proficient in dentistry while getting paid for it, and for this advantage he only needed to make a two-year commitment.

Hadley assumed he would be sent to a base in Georgia, so he was shocked to learn he was being dispatched to the other side of the world. Of the 35,000 troops in Korea in 1976, most of them were stationed at Camp Casey, the northernmost base in South Korea up near the DMZ and home to the Second Infantry Division. When Isaac was shown to his quarters there, he couldn’t help but notice the bugs crawling around the World War II – era hut. He told his commanding officer, “Colonel, if you can’t find me anything better than this, you can send me back to Georgia.” The colonel gave up one of his two rooms until a room in the bachelor officer’s quarters became available, and Captain Hadley capitulated. The post clinic had eight or nine chairs that stayed filled with soldiers and a few dependents. When a two-star general came in for a filling and claimed he did not need anesthesia, Hadley told him he would have to hand over his pearl-handled revolvers before Hadley would venture to drill his tooth.

Even though his first impression of Camp Casey was bleak, Isaac came to like Korea. With a red cross on his shoulder, the only time he had to hold a gun was during alerts or training sessions. He liked the food and the Korean people. He felt at home living and working among a group. He would miss that when he left the Army in 1977 to set up a solo dental practice in Columbus. But by signing on with the Army Reserves, he regained the camaraderie he missed, at least for one weekend a month and two weeks every summer. During Desert Storm he was called back to active duty for nine months, and once again he enjoyed the companionship of living on bases in America. By the time he retired in 1999 after twenty-four years of service, Hadley had become a full colonel, and he claimed, “Even if they hadn’t paid me, I would have stayed.”

Meanwhile, his private practice in southeast Columbus thrived. A patient (John Allen) introduced him to his future wife, Linda, who have him two lovely daughters. And now, as he begins to think of retirement, Isaac Hadley can image that the next phase of his life will be just as enjoyable as were his years in the service.


Friday, July 30, 2021

Carl Savory Joins Delta Force for Iranian Hostage Rescue Attempt

Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007)

As revolution swept Iran in November 1979, a revolutionary Islamic government led by the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, and sympathetic Muslim students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking fifty-two Americans hostage. It was unclear whether the American were being tortured or readies for execution, but one thing became obvious in the ensuing months as diplomatic efforts to free them stalled – America was sinking into its first global terrorism quagmire.

Carl Savory had received orders to report to Fort Bragg in April 1979. He didn’t know it until he arrived, but he was about to join the Delta Force, an elite, highly secretive counter-terrorism unit, then in its infancy. Savory’s unique background in both war and medicine qualified him for this team. A West Point graduate, battle hardened rifle platoon leader during the Vietnam War, Carl had completed his medical and surgical training while in the Army.

The day following the Iranian hostage seizure, Delta Force was ordered to begin training for Operation Eagle Claw, a top-secret mission to rescue the hostages. Savory had the responsibility of planning the medical support. The effort required utmost secrecy. There would be no back-up plan if anything went wrong.

Five months later when Delta Force was given the go-ahead to carry out their covert mission, Savory and his colleagues flew to an old Russian airfield in Egypt, then later to the island of Masirah in the Persian Gulf where they were transloaded onto C-130 Combat Talon aircraft which were to rendezvous at night in the desert outside Tehran with helicopters flying in from the U.S.S. Nimitz. Once the choppers had been refueled, they would transport the Delta Force to the American embassy and. If all went well with the rescue, return with the hostages Egypt or Germany. As the chief medical officer, Savory was to accompany the assault team so that he could triage any casualties and direct their evaluation.

Just before they left Egypt, the Delta Force gathered in a hangar wearing Levis, black sweaters, black watch caps, and black field jackets with a concealed American flag on the shoulder. That moment is forever seared in Savory’s memory. Col. Charlie Beckwith, Commander of Delta, said a few words; Capt. Jerry Boykin gave an invocation; Lt. Col. Bucky Burress led the group in singing “God Bless America”; then they loaded the aircraft for the mission. Most of the men had served in the unpopular Vietnam War and felt they finally had a chance to redeem their country, their military, and themselves. They were more than ready to take back America’s glory.

Carl Savory in Vietnam

Although confident in their abilities, there were uncertainties. The many buildings of the walled American Embassy sat on twenty-two acres of land, and it was not known exactly where the hostages were being held. Once in the desert, however, Savory overheard Beckwith talking on the radio to Dick Meadows, one of the most heroic men of early special operations. Meadows was outside the Tehran Embassy when he tersely told Beckwith the operation would be a “piece of cake.” Savory later learned that all the hostages were being held in one building, making the rescue much less complicated.

Eight helicopters flew low beneath radar detection over Iran to rendezvous with the Delta Force. The operation needed six helicopters at minimum to complete the mission. But flying at low altitude, they were caught in an unexpected sandstorm. The commanding officer decided it was best not to break radio silence and did not order everyone up and out of the storm.

Meanwhile, Savory was the first man off his C-130. As the ramp lowered, to his surprise, he saw three sets of headlights moving toward him in the darkness. The first vehicle was a civilian bus transporting about fifty civilians. The American stopped the bus, and Savory helped detain the passengers at gun point while the assault force waited an agonizing two hours on the tardy helicopters. While eight were launched from the Nimitz, only six of the choppers made it through the sandstorm. One of these was not operational by the time it landed. Without sufficient transports to carry out their mission, Col. Beckwith scrubbed the operation.

Savory in a jungle in Vietnam

The bitter disappointment of not being able to do what they had trained for so intensely turned to sheer horror when one of the remaining helicopters crashed into one of the transport planes, causing an explosion that killed eight and wounded others. With his C-130 destroyed by accident, Savory rode back to Masirah on top of a fuel bladder in another plane.

Following the evacuation of the wounded and on return to the US the next day, Savory was able to join with the rest of the Delta Force at a CIA safe house. There he met CIA Director Stansfield Turner and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski also came out to thank the rescue team personally. In spite of the respect they received from Washington brass, the collective mood of the group was somber. Everyone in Delta believed that if they had been able to get to the embassy, their mission would have been a success.

On the day President Carter left office, the Iranian hostages were freed. Failure to rescue them had surely contributed to Carter’s loss of the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. In another nine years, the Berlin Wall would collapse, ending the Cold War. The lessons learned by Operation Eagle Claw continued to shape America’s response to global terrorism, strengthening the coordination of all American forces to this day.

Savory in Iraq, Operation Desert Storm


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