When you get close to retirement, you soon realize that those older then you by ten years might just not make it before you let them know just how important they were in your life.
When I knew him, LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe wasn’t just a friend and my boss; he was also much like a big brother. If you knew the man, when ‘Ed’ Lethcoe lowered his head and those eyes squarely focused on yours, you better listen and listen well.
But that didn’t happen too often. Ed was more known for his whit, light hearted jokes he’d play on you and humor.
There's only two times when I made him mad. Once when I called him a Storm Trooper and another when I said something the wrong way to my Company CO in front of him.
He got me back later in Gibelstadt. Its a really big LOL humdinger but a secret we will save for the spiritual world.
What you haven’t watched 60 minutes?
Okay, just kidding.
I’m not that well known.
At the point where I was about to get on LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe’s radar, I had one Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) and a Commander’s Certificate for my work as a writer and photographer from 1973 to 1975. I had just worked with LTC John AG Klose and with LTC Gary E. Luck during Reforger 76 to serve – as I did for the great majority of my service time – as an unofficial writer and photographer.
I may not have been the best writer during that period of time, but I was the best photographer. And I was dedicated to capturing the spirit and the energy of Army Aviation in action. In fact, I had more images published in a two month period of time than most would hope to have their entire career.
Because of this reason, the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault saw a lot more coverage during the Reforger 76 exercise than they had hoped for. And this prompted them to put me in for another Impact ARCOM -- which never happened.
Despite all of this positive publicity I proved I was capable of, despite the fact that LTC John AG Klose had talked to him, my previous efforts at convincing the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion, essentially, crashed and burned.
But Klose being Klose said, “Listen, Dick, I talked to your boss. You really should talk to him.”
So, I got enough courage up to talk to LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe. I actually felt pretty good about talking to him since he was working on a bird feeder down stairs in the woodworking shop. I too liked working with wood and had 5 years of mechanical drawing and shop.
So, I gave him my best speech I could muster up. And hoped he would see the writer and photographer and not the 200 pound soldier in front of him.
What he said totally shook me up.
Let me explain why.
One: LTC John AG Klose and I just had a guy to guy moment where I touched his shoulder and told him in front of his senior officers, “John, everything was going to be alright”.
Two: LTC Gary E. Luck -- according to the Full Bird Colonel who came over to my photo lab.
He said, “I am here to pick up images. Gary sent me here to pick them up.”
NOW, I have my new boss saying, “Well, if you want to and I’m not telling you that you have to…”
What, has the Army Officer Corp gone MAD!!
So, I did talk to the then LTC Gerald E Lethcoe but in probably one of the most unusual places. The Recreational Services Wood Working Shop. That was downstairs below the photo lab.
I was still a bit tender over the fresh cold shoulder "don't call us we'll never call you" previous slamming door.
Anyway, I looked at him and he looked at me and I thought snowballs chance in hell. After all, he was tall and in the best of physical shape.
Also, LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe wrote the players book on politically correctness. And hit all the check marks for gone in 60 seconds.
I on the other hand was 5 feet 10 inches and was hitting close to 200 pounds.
So, I told him my story and offered my services.
What he said after that totally convinced me that there had to be something in the water.
First, LTC Klose: "I'm going to go talk to your boss. Do you want me to talk to your boss?"
What, wait, three stripes doesn't trump an Oak Leaf Cluster. But then, neither does a LTC trump a Colonel.
Then that full bird running errands for a LTC by the name of Gary E. Luck???
So when LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe started with "Now, Dick, you don't have to if you don't want to.", I started thinking either everyone had gone mad or I was dreaming all of this up?"
I said, "I want to Sir. It is what I do best."
And with that, I said good bye photo-lab, hello 3rd CAB.
When I felt like it wasn’t possible, he made it possible.
When I felt like I was over whelmed, he helped me put order into what I needed to do. And there were times when we talked as friends and he kept me out of hot water.
I was a lot of things back then, saintly wasn’t one of them.
There were times LTC Gerald E. Lethcoe could of thrown the book at me. He didn’t.
Not because he didn’t think I deserved it but because he knew I really did give a damn about him and the soldiers who were part of the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion.
Less than a year later:
Soldiers Magazine had published 2 articles and accepted two more
EurArmy Magazine had published over a dozen articles and had accepted a dozen more
Army Magazine did a photo-feature on Aviation Tank Killers
Army Aviation Magazine had published 30 images
Army Aviation Digest had published 12 images
3rd Infantry Division's Front Line and Pillars And Posts had published over 50 images
Fort Campbell Courier, Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, and the Hopkinsville New Era over 50 images each
USAREUR and 7th Army Public Affairs office had a packet of a dozen images sent to 4 dozen requests world wide.
We worked with the Army Visual Network team, reporter Diana Dannas of the Armed Forces TV Network, David Allen Burdette who took pictures for Time Magazine, and Hillary Brown CBS News.
But the stories weren't about Officers. They were about the enlisted men and women who made the 3rd Combat Aviation Battalion real for anyone wanting to read their stories.