"Rat Pack 15"
My name is Jim Baker. I was a Warrant and got to the 281st in Nov. '68 and left in Nov. '69. I was in the 1st Platoon (the Rat Pack), and Steve Matthews was "Rat Pack 15." When he left country, I took his call sign and became "Rat Pack 15." I remember flying with Steve and Dan DiLulou - in fact, I have always felt since then that I got my wings in flight school, but those guys taught me how to fly.
I understand thoughts about being remembered by someone - from 30 years ago - it's a humbling feeling ... I know, because I have had those exact same feelings. Shortly before Christmas I was contacted by e-mail right out of the blue by two guys I was in flight school with, but hadn't seen since. They clearly remembered me, but I hardly remembered them. It was amazing ... and as Steve so aptly put, "I didn't expect to be someone remembered."
I'm not sure how to accurately express what it all means, but it's a great feeling - all this reuniting with each other and coming together again. I think it's doing wonders for all of us, and, also, it's kind of validating somehow.
I was in WORWAC Class 68-27 at Wolters and 68-515 at Hunter/Stewart. My recollection is that I arrived in RVN on 16 Nov. '68 at Cam Rahn Bay. It was probably 2-3 days or so later before I got to the 281st after processing through 17th Aviation Group in Nha Trang and 10th Battalion in Dong Ba Thin.
I heard from Bob Mitchell for the first time, recently, but he's one of the one's I don't remember, even though he got there about 6 months after I did. My impressions about the 281st compound, the "Hooch", and the 5th Special Forces Club, are very vivid in my mind.
Like everybody, I've got plenty of "war stories", but none that are particularly exceptional probably. We lost nobody KIA during the period of time that covered my entire tour. I think we were pretty fortunate in that respect, but there were several that I knew that were KIA immediately after that within about 6 months. I do know the area around An Hoa where Steve got wounded, because I think my first Project Delta mission with the Rat Pack was in the same place. My memory is a little fuzzy on specifics, but I do know that we went to An Hoa once, and covered the whole I-Corps area at other times from various locations.
I went to Germany after 'Nam, and spent a year in Hanau (near Frankfurt) before getting out of the Army in March '71. I loved Germany, loved Europe!, loved flying. You talk about a great tour ... being a bachelor pilot in Germany, at Uncle Sam's expense, couldn't be beat. I was offered a direct commission in Germany, but declined. I had a college degree, and my civilian job with Dupont was waiting for me when I got out. I traveled in Europe for awhile, came home, started work, and haven't flown a helicopter since. I eventually got a fixed wing private pilot's license, but I haven't flown in over 20 years.
I'm now in Greensboro, NC (my home state), married, no children, and am a VP of a small privately owned textile fabric company.
For over 25 years I was out of touch with everything and everybody from those years in the Army. But, since getting involved with the state chapter of VHPA about two years ago, and especially since Ft. Worth last summer I have really enjoyed reconnecting.