Saber Article Index


Mike Bodnar
13010 N. Lakeforest Dr.
Sun City, AZ 85351-3250
(623) 972-4395

I got an email from 1967-’68 MEDEVAC 21 Art Jacobs. He wanted to confirm some things I had written and give his perspective on some:

“Mike: Read the latest Saber. There was never a Roy or Ray Land, only the famous Henry Land. And, it may have been true that the Platoon Leader (MAJ Goodman) and the XO (MAJ Norris) kept themselves in a reserve flying status (a good command decision, by the way), but I can give you at least two instances when that was not the case:

“1. When I was wounded the second time on 24 July 1968 on a hoist mission in the mountains, our engine failed because of the enemy fire, and down we went (not fun). As we were trying to look like infantry guys setting up a perimeter with the off-loaded M-60s, another 15th Med aircraft finally found us. Not only was MAJ Goodman, the aircraft commander, and WO Jim Magin (my flight school classmate), the co-pilot, but when my crew lifted me onto the ship, two strong hands reached down to pull me in. It was none other than LTC Guthrie Turner, the 15th Med CO! I will never forget it. He held me in his arms on the flight back to Evans, keeping pressure on my bullet wound to stop the bleeding and saying over and over, ‘I’ve got you.’ Years after Vietnam, we began a friendship , and I spent time with his marvelous family. And, in one of the greatest honors in my life, the family asked me to deliver one of the eulogies at GEN Turner’s funeral at Arlington. “

2. On 19 May 1968, the day that WO Tom Pursel was killed, it was MAJ Larry Norris, who was flying the left seat on that fateful mission east of Evans. I got to the aircraft as they were unloading Tom, and I will never forget the look of sadness and resignation on the face of MAJ Norris that day at the Charlie Med pad. “

Bottom line, while I was there, MAJ Goodman and MAJ Norris flew missions - maybe not as many as regular pilots, but they were both definitely out there whenever needed.”

Art added:

“Mike: That is totally wrong. MAJ Norris flew the aircraft back to Charlie Med at Evans and landed safely. There was one bullet hole in the left side of the aircraft, just behind the pilot seat. I would estimate that the bullet came from the 7 or 8 o’clock direction as they sat on the ground at the pick-up site. Art”

When I asked Art about WO Tom Pursel, Art replied:

“Mike: Tom Pursel was only 19 years old when he was killed by an enemy bullet on a Medevac mission east of camp Evans on 19 May 1968.

Born: 17 September 1948, KIA: 19 May 1968

“Tom had gotten into flight school at just about the earliest age allowed by the Army. He was in flight school class 67-21 at Fort Rucker, Alabama, graduating just before Christmas 1967. He arrived in country on 18 January 1968. Everybody liked Tom. He was a happy blond kid with a big smile. “

In 1996, I visited his parents in Yakima, Washington, when I drove across the country from Chicago to Seattle. His parents had scant details on Tom’s death. I stayed there for two days hearing all the stories - they took me to his high school and then to the cemetery to see his grave. “

I wrote the following tribute to Tom and sent it to his brother, who I saw in Charlotte, NC, in 2021 at the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. He was there as a Gold Star family member.

“Growing up strong, Tom built treehouses
Did well in school, good with horses,
Knew how to hunt, was a good son,
The pride of Yakima, his future bright.
A natural in the cockpit, good under pressure,
Situational awareness we call it,
He was not just respected, he was genuinely liked,
Oh, that Tom – his boyish charm and ever-quick smile.
Went to that awful dark valley – the A Shau,
Day after day he dodged most of the bullets,
His aircraft battered but he flew on still,
The flight hours built quickly – more than his share.
From up the chain the decision was made,
Tommy - time for you to take a little break,
Rotate back to base camp and get some rest,
You will still fly, but just the safer stuff.
A lone Soldier wounded in a rice paddy,
Good old Tom will go – be back in a jiffy,
The LZ is green – all is secure – smoke popped,
Everything quiet on landing, patient on board.
Then one lone rifle shot from 300 meters,
Could have hit anything – could have been a miss,
Caught poor Tom near the back of his head,
He simply relaxed his grip on the cyclic and looked down.
Momentary chaos, hurried radio calls, red-line airspeed,
Medic on board doing all he can – doctors standing by,
Hot landing, we carry Tom inside in our arms,
His eyes roll back, shallow breathing, a low moan.
Frantic desperate measures – every attempt made,
To no avail, our young Tom was gone,
We stood silent, staring at our own helplessness,
Nothing now except the painful ordeal of a body bag.
The pride of Yakima – good with horses, knew how to hunt,
Going home now, soon just a flag for his family,
The pride of Yakima – always the good son, his future bright,
Our poor Tom, but his memory lives on – and resides in us all.

“It was on that same road trip in 1996 that I stopped in Riverton, Wyoming to visit Jerry Dick; for the first time of a number of visits over the years I was lucky enough to have with Jerry and his family. The last time was just last year to see his brother Wayne and Uncle Mike. We visited Jerry’s grave again.

Thomas Pursel“One last item: I got to spend an evening with Rick Medlock earlier this year in Dayton, Ohio. We were both at the 1st Cavalry Division reunion in Dayton, Ohio.

“Hope that all helps. Art Jacobs Medevac 21” I mentioned to Art, “Thanks. The info on the 15th Med site Memorial Wall says, ‘Crashed on land.’

The photo with his medals on the site looks like an older man. It does say he was 19. One would not get that impression from that photo. I did not.

“On a second, closer look, he does look like he could be very young. Being an Army aviator may have put some age on him for the photo from a distance.” Always remembering our 1st Cav Troops on duty around the world; over and out.

FIRST TEAM! Garryowen
Mike Bodnar 2\7 '69
MEDEVAC 1-7\70

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