Category Archives: Heroes


(Note: matt in a comment, and in a not so subtle way, reminded me that it’s not just the military #resisters who have accomplished great things in the life of American liberty. I have added some examples below: abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and the labor movement. Perhaps I’ve left out a few.  Is the  ‘pussy hat’  movement on a par in advancing liberty in America? You decide.)


To all you brave ‘pussy hat’ wearing patriots, let me show you a few patriots who joined a resistance movement against real enemy threats when it really counted.

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And there are other n0n-military #resisters from the past addressing  consequential American policies and laws that were contrary to “ … all men are created equal …”  Thanks to these #resisters, those policies and laws have been corrected in law and in the Constitution, although not necessarily in the hearts and minds of everyone.




civil rights march


womens sufferage

womens suffarage

And then there is the labor movement.






A reminder, or maybe a news flash to some, about those #Resisters you see above …

These folks #resisted true tyrants, true fascists, true Communists   during that terrible time we look back on as the 20th century. Those Communists some of you seem to pine and long over … they killed something on the order of 100 million people, most of them their own fellow citizens.

The descendants of those folks you see above,  … our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters … our friends — stepping up in their own #Resist movement represent something on the order of 1 or 2 percent of our population. Their purpose in #Resisting? To protect you and me in todays still dangerous world.

You may not realize or appreciate, but of the 100 to 110 billion people that have ever lived on this earth, anywhere and at any time, only a small sliver of perhaps some 4 to 5% have ever lived in what we today enjoy as a free society.  Further, most of those 4-5%  have lived in this United States of America, or those nations who have modeled their national political life after the American model of “We the People …

I for one am immensely grateful for those in our past and to those now serving in our military … the #Resistance. As a US Navy slogan puts it … “A Global Force For Good”


Women's_March_on_Washington_(32593123745)10 Actions _ 100 Days - Action 5_ Reflect & Resist

I said it as a young 20 year old sailor in 1964, and I’ll say it again now.

“I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

And I don’t agree with much of what is said in the “resisting” rhetoric on display, and certainly not in the many extra/anti-Constitutional methods employed, but I do support your Constitutional right to say your piece and assemble and petition our government.  

A final bit of advice. Aim your protests in words and ways that stand shoulder to shoulder beside our founding fathers who gave us the privilege of being among that 4-5% living in freedom.  

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”   Ronald Reagan

Be among those who keep us from falling into that 95-96% that President Reagan warned about.


Don Johnson  — March 2017

Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make


Perhaps it’s my age.

In recent years I’ve been accumulating some new friends, like Gene Beckstrom above.

I met Gene a few short years ago at a Navy ship reunion in 2013. Gene was a WW-II Navy veteran who served from 1943-46 on one of those small destroyers – they call them “tin cans” because that’s kind of how they are built. Fast but fragile when under attack by enemy ships or a howling sea.  But the young men aboard were as tough as steel.

Then in 1946 Gene joined the Army, and in June 1950 his unit was called to the Pusan Perimeter to stave off the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Gene was  a Combat Engineer and fought that brutal war up and down the Korean peninsula.

Gene served 20 years in the Army, including a short stint in Vietnam.

On retirement Gene went back to school and became a Baptist pastor serving the northern Minnesota border region where he and his wife started 19 ministries over a 25 year span.

You can’t help but fall in love with these guys … these guys from that “greatest generation.” They saved freedom in the world by pushing back … by resisting  the tyrannies of their day.  Pushing back and resoundly defeating Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

I put Gene on my call list and would call him now and then. Around Christmas time I got my phone out to call a few of these old friends. I knew that one of those times I would dial and there would be no answer.

As I picked up my phone, Gene’s was the first number. I knew and was thinking it at the time I dialed “one of these times I would call and Gene wouldn’t be there.”

These are the Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make.


Sam Thomas served on the USS Porterfield DD-682 with Gene Beckstrom through those many sea battles of the South Pacific. I met Sam at that 2013 ship reunion.

Sam, as far as I can tell was the founder of the Balch/Porterfield reunion association and had attended 40 straight reunions to 2015. He called me a month or so prior to the 2016 reunion and told me his body just wouldn’t allow him to make 41.

I talked with Sam just after learning of Gene’s passing late in 2016, and then again just a week or two prior to his passing in January 2017.  A real gentleman … a friend and a shipmate although we served on Porterfield two decades apart.

These are the Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make.

Bitter-sweet friendships. Sweet in knowing them … bitter in knowing the friendship would be short.

Don Johnson – March 2017

Immigration & Assimilation – A Hungarian Model

(Click on the image above for more)

[Note: Since this original post I’ve added another Hungarian refugee — Thomas Peterffy]

Immigration is much in the news these days, both here in the U.S. and in Europe, and a huge political football in both places with many violent crimes and sexual assaults being committed in countries such as Sweden and Germany (click on the links).

The United States from its inception is an immigrant nation, and as many of us can attest, our roots are in the forefathers who immigrated here whether in the present or in the distant past. For example, in my own home town of Butte Montana, a mining town that attracted people from all over the world, NO SMOKING signs in the mines were posted in 14 different languages.

The success or failure of a society such as ours tracks closely to the assimilation of those disparate immigrant people into the culture of the nation, and for the most part, this assimilation has been quite successful – often after much struggle as in the case of the Irish and the Italians. But through assimilation, each new immigrant population has entered into the fabric of America, and often with significant contributions.

The stories of refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution provide inspiring stories of struggle, survival, perseverance and success. Some I have knowledge of provide a model of what immigration and assimilation should be:


(Click on the image above)

Adam von Dioszeghy  (Mr. von D – as he was known by his US Navy shipmates) is a survivor of the World War II battle of Budapest – a battle pitting the air forces of Great Britain and the United States, the German occupying army and the Soviet Red Army – all converging around the basement bomb shelter where seven year old Adam and his mother survive against this harrowing onslaught.

Surviving the war they suffered in the following years under the brutal oppression of Communist rule.

In 1956 young Adam became involved in the revolution and was twice wounded. The revolution was brutally squashed by the Red Army and Adam and his mother were marked for death and escaped in the dead of night to Austria with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and little usable cash.

Adam and his mother eventually made their way to Menlo Park California where Adam earned a degree from Stanford University. Mind you, that when the two of them first arrived in America they spoke no English.

Adam was then called up in the draft in the early years of the Vietnam War and joined the Navy and was commissioned an officer in the US Navy and assigned to the World War II Fletcher Class destroyer USS Porterfield where we served side by side at General Quarters and on the bridge during normal underway operations.

Following Navy service with three tours to Vietnam, Adam returned to Stanford where he earned a law degree and practiced as a trial lawyer for many years in Northern California.

I hooked up with Mr. von D again in recent months (Spring 2016) when I discovered him via the internet. Adam and his wife retired a few years back, and at his wife’s suggestion, have returned to live in and around Budapest once more – his wife was born and raised in Northern California.

Click on the book image above to read my review of his memoir as well as a link to the book – a wonderful and fascinating book.




Charlie —

Note: Out of respect of privacy concerns expressed by Charlie’s wife, and by Charlie as expressed by his wife, I have written this in an anonymous fashion using my own paraphrase for events described in Charlie’s written memoir.


Like Mr. von D — Charlie was a Hungarian refugee and experienced many of the same things in surviving WW-II as a young child … living under a brutal Communist regime … escaping a crushed revolution … and finally resettling and assimilating into the American culture. We met the widow of Charlie, a year ago, but never knew Charlie. She told a spellbinding story of how she and her husband met and married. I later asked if any of this had been written down. She responded by sending unpublished stories of their life together, including an extensive account of Charlie‘s life growing up in Hungary through WW-II, the oppression of the Communist years and his involvement in the revolution and subsequent escape to the West and the US.

Several episodes highlight the heritage of Charlie and the type of man that came to America in 1956:

First are his descriptions of his mother hiding Polish Jews from the Germans who were bent on the extermination of all Jews. His mother did this at the risk of her own life as well as the lives of her family.

Second is Charlie learning English in America by spending many hours in movie theaters, often watching the same movies over and over and with a dictionary and a pad and pencil at hand.

Another came about somewhat casually as we were visiting with Charlie’s wife at her home. I commented on the flag flying at the property entrance and visible from the front window. Yes, she said, Charlie always liked to have the American flag flying where he could see it. This to me was a great testimony of how this refugee from war and tyranny viewed his new home country.


I’ve read Charlie’s story, and it is indeed captivating and inspiring. I hope his wife has success in the future and publishes their story and shares it with many. The story is very well written – and from one who knew no English when he entered the US as a refugee — rest assured that Charlie assimilated into the American culture and became a productive citizen in his new country. It is an inspiring story of overcoming war, an oppressive government, revolution and crafting a new and successful life in a free society.


I knew Gabriel Harkay and worked with him at Cubic Corp back in the 1980s. He was quite a good civil engineer and worked many projects around the world building communications towers and facilities for our Tactical Aircrew Training System . I wish I had paid more attention to Gabe back then, but I do know that he was a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian revolution, and likely had experiences similar to others I have written about.

One project we worked together was a system for the Iranian Air Force in the late 1970s. We were scheduled to deploy to Iran to install the system in early 1980, and Gabe was in Tehran doing some preparatory work. The revolutionaries stormed the hotel where Gabe was staying, broke all of the liquor bottles in the first floor bar and set it all on fire, cutting off escape of guests in the rooms above.  Fortunately there was a construction tower adjacent to the hotel and guests were lifted from the roof of the burning hotel to the tower and to safety. So inadvertently Gabe Harkay was involved in his second revolution and survived both. Needless to say, we did not deploy the system to Iran.

I regret not having details of my friend Gabe’s life, and I’ve since found that Gabe has passed.


(Click on the image for more)

Andrew Grove was a Hungarian-born American businessman, engineer, author and a science pioneer in the semiconductor industry. He escaped from Communist-controlled Hungary at the age of 20 and moved to the United States where he finished his education. He was one of the founders and the CEO of Intel Corporation, helping transform the company into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors.

When he was eight, the Nazis occupied Hungary and deported nearly 500,000 Jews to concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Its commandant, Rudolf Höss, said at his trial that he killed 400,000 Hungarian Jews in three months. To avoid being arrested, Grove and his mother took on false identities and were sheltered by friends. His father, however, was arrested and taken to an Eastern Labor Camp to do forced labor, and was reunited with his family after the war.

During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when he was 20, he left his home and family and escaped across the border into Austria. Penniless and barely able to speak English, in 1957 he eventually made his way to the United States. He later changed his name to the anglicized, Andrew S. Grove. Grove summarized his first twenty years of life in Hungary in his memoirs:

“By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint where many young people were killed and countless others were interned. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians escaped to the West. I was one of them.”


I’ve just finished reading Mr. Grove’s story “Swimming Across” and like the others it is compelling and repeats the common experiences of these young boys and men through World War II, the Nazi occupation and holocaust remembrances (Grove was a Jew), the brutal Communist years culminating in the 1956 revolution and Russian occupation.

A part of Andy Grove’s story that stands out is the reception he received upon arrival in the United States. At every turn, it seems, Grove was kindly treated and helped in many small and large ways. Like finding a relative and housing in New York City. He was outfitted with new clothing replacing the clothes he wore for over a month during his escape from Hungary to a brief settlement in Vienna Austria, to a long train ride to Germany followed by a two week long ocean voyage to Brooklyn New York.

Grove had completed a fair amount of university education in chemistry while in Hungary, and in seeking to complete his goal of becoming a chemist, he was helped along the way to becoming a chemical engineer with interviews and scholarship aid at several New York schools.

And of course it is widely known that Andrew Grove was one of the small group of founders of Intel Corpo0ration, and was its CEO for many years.  (Source –Wikipedia)

Read now what Andy Grove says about his life in America:

“I have loved my life in the United States. The doors that the International Rescue Committee and Professor Schmidt opened for me were just the first of many. I went through graduate school on scholarships, got a fantastic job at Fairchild Semiconductor, the high flying company of its day, then participated in the founding of Intel, which in time has become the largest maker of semiconductors in the world. I rose to be its chief executive officer, a position I held for eleven years, until I stepped down from it in 1998; I continue as chairman today. I’ve continued to be amazed by the fact that as I progressed through school and my career, no one has ever resented my success on account of my being an immigrant.”


Here is another fascinating story I stumbled on:

Chance encounter in war-torn Hungary renewed 64 years later (click on he link)


Gabriel Pall   is yet another interesting and inspiring refugee from Hungary. An American B-24 bomber was forced to crash land in Hungary after a bombing mission. Bob Holcomb was the bombardier on that mission, and after the unplanned landing a group of young and curious Hungarian boys gathered around the aircraft and its crew. Among the boys was Gabriel Pall who spoke a little English, and the two struck up a very brief friendship.

Like other local children, young Gabriel was drawn to the U.S. airmen like a magnet.

Holcomb had some candy in his pockets and gave some to the young boy, told him his name and said ‘If you ever get to America … look me up’

Mr. Pall did come to the States — in 1957 following the 1956 revolution, and like the others I’ve found, assimilated into the American culture and led a productive and quite remarkable professional life.

And Mr. Pall was tenacious in finding his American of years past and he and Mr. Holcomb met again after a long 64 years. For Pall, their meeting left a lasting impression as evidenced by the tenacity in which he searched those many decades for his American flyboy friend.

“I remember two things,” Pall said. “One, he gave me Wrigley’s chewing gum. And two, he said, ‘Hey, kid – if you ever get to America, look me up.’”

Holcomb and the rest of his bomber crew made their way to Budapest and then back to Italy … and finally back home to America.

Pall escaped from Soviet-dominated Hungary in 1956 to start a new life in America.

Gabriel Pall with his wife, Christine Rose, left, and their daughter, Laura Rose, at Laura’s graduation from the University of Virginia.

Pall grew up under the Soviet-backed communist regime in Hungary. His family moved to Budapest, where he attended high school and enrolled in college to study civil engineering. In 1956, he graduated from the Technical University of Budapest. He went to work for the government, designing state rail and highway projects, and began training as a reserve officer with the Hungarian army corps of engineers.

Then came Oct. 23 that year, and the Hungarian Revolution. After a brief, heady taste of independence, the Soviet armored divisions rolled across the border and crushed the rebellion.

Hungary’s Stalinist government had been repressive before the uprising, Pall said, but now, he knew, it would be even worse. He and his fiancée, Agnes Szabo, decided they would try to get out.

On Nov. 23, the couple left Budapest by train for Szombathely, only 20 miles from Austria and freedom. But the railroad station was surrounded by Soviet troops and local militias, checking identity papers and arresting anyone without a residency permit.

They were trapped.

A local resident warned them of armed Soviet patrols and showed them where to hide, promising to send a guide after nightfall. The man showed up as promised and took them to a house at the edge of town, where a small group of refugees was waiting to cross into Austria.

They walked several miles across open fields, not speaking, wrapped in bed sheets to blend into the snow-covered countryside. When they arrived at the frontier, they found it guarded by barbed wire and landmines.

Using knitting needles to probe the ground, Pall and the guide painstakingly marked a safe path through the minefield. As the group began to cross, flares lit up the night and machinegun fire shredded the silence. The guide ordered everyone to drop to the ground.

They were lucky. The border guards hadn’t seen them – they were shooting at someone else. After the gunfire stopped, they completed their journey into Austria, where they found safe haven at a place called Lutzmannsburg.

Later, they learned that another group of refugees had been gunned down by a patrol a mile or two from their crossing point.

‘If you ever get to America …’

Gabriel Pall and Agnes Szabo found a warm welcome in Austria, and the couple got married in Vienna on Dec. 27, 1956. But Pall never intended to stay there forever.

I had this destination, which was to come to America,” he said.

He had an uncle in the States and, he thought, a friend in Oregon – that dashing young flyboy he had met during the war.

The next year, under an Eisenhower-era program designed to recruit engineering talent fleeing Soviet-bloc countries, the couple secured a visa and crossed the pond.

They settled in Philadelphia, where Pall began a long and successful career with IBM. He rose through the corporate ranks, taking ever more challenging assignments with the company. In 1983, Agnes died of cancer. Pall remarried, and his new wife gave birth to a daughter. He retired from IBM, did some consulting, then accepted a faculty position at the College of William & Mary.

Gabriel Pall:  Some Background Information

·  Member American Society of Civil Engineers

·  Member Association for Computing Machinery.

·  Member American Society for Quality

·  Member American Society for Training and Development


· BS degree
Structural Engineering
Technical University of Budapest

· MS degree
Engineering Mechanics
University of Pennsylvania

A fitting conclusion to this story of Gabriel Pall is the following news article:

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., March 11, 2014 – A Citizenship Ceremony for children of recently naturalized United States citizens will be held on Saturday, March 22, at Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia. The event is hosted by the Williamsburg Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security.


Fifty young people ages 11 to 25 from 26 countries – Belarus, Benin, Canada, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Republic of Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lithuania, Mauritius, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Vietnam – will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and receive formal acknowledgement of their citizenship. The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. and is open to the public on a space-available basis.

“We are proud to join with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and USCIS to sponsor this truly special ceremony for a third year,” said Jane M. Stewart, regent for the Williamsburg Chapter NSDAR, which co-sponsors two adult naturalization ceremonies annually in June and December with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It’s appropriate to hold it at Jamestown Settlement, near where some of the very first immigrants to our country came ashore.”

Featured speaker for the event is Williamsburg resident Gabriel A. Pall, an internationally recognized author and management consultant. A native of Hungary, he escaped to Austria during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, immigrated to the United States the following year and became a naturalized citizen in 1962. After a 30-year career with IBM, he retired as an executive and later became president of Juran International Inc., a global consulting firm specializing in quality management. More recently, Mr. Pall has consulted on project and process management with the College of William and Mary.


Finally, read this snippet from an article from a Hungarian organization in Cleveland where many of the refugees, including Charlie, lived for a time before moving on.

“ … These refugees were markedly different from any previous wave of Hungarian immigrants. First of all, they were the youngest group; many were single. The majority had some kind of technical training and their skills were readily employed by American industry. Psychologically, immigration made lasting impressions on these refugees. For eleven years they experienced life under economic depravity and political terror. As a direct consequence, their interests in America were more materialistic and self-centered; cultural or group attachments were much weaker when compared to those of previous waves of immigrants. They adjusted with greater ease, learned English in a short while, with many of them marrying English-speaking mates. Their contributions to their adopted homeland were numerous. … “

I am inspired by these stories, and hope you are as well.  I also hope you will agree that these Hungarians represent the best possible model of immigration and assimilation.

And note that these Hungarian refugees were gathered together at an Army base in New Jersey and vetted prior to release into the general American populace – for several reasons:

· Among the refugees were plants from the Soviet Union, plants whose missions included espionage against the United States, and assassinations against fellow refugees. Charlie, in his memoir, tells of the many years he spent in looking over his shoulder for that would be assassin.

· 1956 being at the height of the Cold War, the US was interested in conditions behind the Iron Curtain. These Hungarian refugees were interrogated in order to extract as much useful information as possible. Some such as Andrew Grove were educated in the sciences and engineering, and could provide insight into the scientific and engineering maturity and capabilities of the Soviet Union. The average age of refugees was 23, including many children, well educated (from one university 500 students, 32 professors, and their families fled), and talented (including musicians, athletes, writers, engineers and other professionals) people come through swamps and guards to reach non-communist Austria. The Austrian people were exemplary in their welcome of the Hungarian refugees.


But let’s not leave this story just yet – there’s more.

The nation that welcomed these refugees is a big part of the story. A story that begins with the words  from our Declaration of Independence “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“ and from our Constitution beginning with the words “We the People …

It is these ideals enshrined from the very beginning in the very fabric of America that afforded these refugees the liberty and opportunity to begin new lives – lives to be lived not under the yoke of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, bishops, czars or other autocrats. No, these new American citizens would rise or fall primarily on their own merits … and also with the benevolent help of other free citizens and the governments freely elected by free men and women. Was it easy? No. But there were no machineguns, tanks or minefields set up to dictate their every thought or movement.

These 35,000 or more freedom seeking Hungarians sought out and made new lives in that “Exceptional Nation” the United States of America.



(The following bio information is taken from Wikipedia with {Publius edits in this font})

Thomas Peterffy was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1944, in a hospital basement during a Russian air raid.[1][6] He left his engineering studies and emigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1965.[1][6][7] When he moved to New York City, he did not speak English. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark University.[8]  

{Note that Peterffy came out of Hungary much later than the others I’ve highlighted. However, he did live under the oppression of Communism in Hungary and escaped from it.}

Peterffy began his career in the US as an architectural draftsman working on highway projects for an engineering firm. It was at this firm that he volunteered to program a newly-purchased computer, ultimately shaping the course of his future. Of his background in programming Peterffy said, “I think the way a CEO runs his company is a reflection of his background. Business is a collection of processes, and my job is to automate those processes so that they can be done with the greatest amount of efficiency.”[1][6]

Peterffy left his career designing financial modelling software and bought a seat on the American Stock Exchange to trade equity options. During his career in finance, he has consistently pushed to replace manual processes with more efficient automated ones. He would write code in his head during the trading day and then apply his ideas to computerized trading models after hours. Peterffy created a major stir among traders by introducing handheld computers onto the trading floor in the early 1980s.[1][6] His business related to his AMEX seat eventually developed into Interactive Brokers.[1][6]

Regulatory influence and political views

In 1999, Peterffy was influential in persuading the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that US options markets could be linked electronically, which would ensure that investors receive the best possible options prices.[9] He has also testified before the United States Senate Banking Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment about adding banking regulations.[1]

During the 2012 United States presidential campaign, Peterffy created political ads in support of the Republican Party. Peterffy bought millions of dollars of air time on networks such as CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg. The ads consisted of a minute-long spot narrated by Peterffy that warned against creeping socialism in the United States. The ads were considered remarkable in part because Peterffy is not a candidate and did not buy the ads through a “527 group” but instead paid for them directly.[10]

In the spot Peterffy said, “America’s wealth comes from the efforts of people striving for success. Take away their incentive with badmouthing success and you take away the wealth that helps us take care of the needy. Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer — but the poor will also be poorer. People will lose interest in really working hard and creating jobs.” Peterffy did not directly mention Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, but clearly favored the former.[11]

Peterffy’s ad received mixed responses. Joshua Green, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, said “The ad, while slightly ridiculous, is deeply sincere and also quite affecting”. Green also asked Peterffy whether the comparison between the United States and Hungary made in the ad was a fair one: “[Peterffy] couldn’t really think that the U.S. was turning into socialist Hungary, could he? The government isn’t suppressing speech and throwing political opponents in jail. No, he conceded, it wasn’t. But it sure feels like that’s the path we’re on”.[12] Politico reported that the ad was “being hailed as one of the best spots this election cycle”, and said that it could have been influential in Ohio due to its large Hungarian population.[13]

Voter registration records in Connecticut show that Peterffy is registered as an independent voter.[10] Campaign contribution records show that he donated at least $60,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2011 and that over the past few years has mostly donated to Republican candidates.[11]

During the 2016 presidential election, Peterffy donated $100,000 to the campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump.[14]


Hungarians know things that others in the West have only read about. They know oppression and tyranny.

Many, though certainly not all, within todays new refugees from the Middle East are merely transplanting their tyranny to new locations – but it doesn’t take many to wreak havoc as seen recently in many European nations and in the United States as well.

Read “The Bridge at Andau” by James Michener, a work of non-fiction. Yes, the Hungarians were refugees themselves and others in Europe welcomed them and many came to America. The Hungarians did not bring with them a murderous attitude to all who were not Hungarians. They did not bring with them a hatred of those who gave them shelter. They did not attack women, priests, nightclubs or newspapers. They did not fly large airplanes into large buildings nor drive trucks down the streets mowing people down. They did not behead others in the land that gave them sanctuary. They did not set off bombs at large sporting events or in shopping malls.

The Hungarian refugees of 1956-57 sought to escape oppression and avail themselves of the opportunities offered by free societies. And many have contributed in positive ways as shown by the handful I have highlighted above.

Many of the un-vetted new refugees in Europe and the US want to spread oppression and destabilize rather than contribute to their host nations in positive ways.

If we are to remain a culture valuing liberty and opportunity, and a culture gleaning the best that foreign immigrants have to offer, while providing sanctuary to those fleeing oppression,  let us return to the Hungarian model. The high bar set by the Hungarians in the mid 1950s has been dramatically and deliberately lowered in recent years in the name of political expediency. We lower the bar at our own peril and risk a fundamental transformation of our nation.

Immigration – yes, but with great care in culling out those who mean harm.

Don Johnson – July 2016

Some Sobering Thoughts for Memorial Day

I pass these thoughts along from the Wall Street Journal of 5/26/2016 in hopes of stirring your thoughts and hearts beyond the beach or backyard barbeque.

At time like these we need such reminders, and I have highlighted some of these words that resonate with me.


The cemetery for American soldiers who died in the invasion of Normandy, France, in 1944. Photo: Getty Images

The cemetery for American soldiers who died in the invasion of Normandy, France, in 1944. Photo: Getty Images

The American Dead in Foreign Fields

On Memorial Day or any other day, the cemeteries for those Americans who fell in battle offer profound lessons.

By Uwe E. Reinhardt May 25, 2016 6:24 p.m. ET 61 COMMENTS

WSJ | 2016-05-25T22:24:00.000Z

If you have not ever done so, I urge you to program into your next trip abroad a visit to an American military cemetery. There are quite a few in Europe, and some in Asia. You can find a list online.

These cemeteries are settings of an awesome serenity and beauty, immaculately kept by the American Battle Monuments Commission. As Americans, we must thank the architects who designed these settings and the workers who over the decades and to this day have kept them in their immaculate condition.

My wife, born in China and reared in Taiwan, and I, born in Germany and a longtime U.S. citizen, first visited the World War II cemeteries when our American-born children were young. We would tell them: Here rest some of the warriors who sacrificed their lives so that your parents and people in many parts of the world would be free from tyranny and could pursue their dreams in freedom. We made it clear to our children that this was not just a grown-up talk—that it was real and part of their proud heritage.

The lesson must have stuck. Last year our eldest child, now a fully grown man, urged me to come along to visit the battlegrounds in Germany, near the Belgian border, where U.S. troops fought so bravely and where so many of them—too many—met their early death.

This time we visited the large American cemetery near the Belgian town of Henri-Chapelle, about 20 miles west of the German city of Aachen. There rest the warriors who fell in the brutal, four-month-long battle of the Hürtgen Forest, followed by the Battle of the Bulge and the eventual push of American forces all the way to the Rhine River.

You can walk along the gravel paths of these cemeteries, and among the thousands of markers—crosses and Stars of David—beneath which the warriors rest. Pick a marker at random and adopt the soldier whose name is chiseled into that marker. Make him your father, or brother, or cousin, or a friend. Imagine him alive, and how you might have hugged him as he shipped out to the distant front.

However brutal his death may have been, you will draw solace from knowing that he rests here, in this serene setting, alongside his buddies who shared his fate. You may even imagine that somehow, don’t ask how, the fallen soldier may know that you are visiting him, to pay your respects.

You may not be able to suppress some tears; I never can. Perhaps in my case it is because I have taught American college freshman for so many years that I can vividly imagine the warriors alive, playing boisterously when they were not fighting or resting, dreaming of some sweetheart they left behind, and imagining what they might do with their lives when the war finally ended and they could go home again. Perhaps it is also because they met their untimely death because of the murderous deeds my birth country had inflicted upon the world at that time. It deepens my sorrow.

But whatever emotions you may bring to a visit there and take away from it, I promise that you will not soon forget it.

You will come away with renewed and strengthened respect for those of your fellow Americans willing to wear the nation’s military uniform and to bear the ultimate sacrifice one can make for one’s country. If you are a student, you will look with fresh eyes at the few among your classmates in the ROTC, learning, along with their regular studies, how to become officers in America’s armed forces.

And you will reflect deeply on our nation’s role in the world. Whatever our flaws as a people have been in the past and still are today, you will realize, standing there among the thousands of gravestones, that in the sweep of history, ours is a grand nation of which you can and should be proud.

Mr. Reinhardt is a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University.

And this …

Note especially the connection from the words I have highlights in the Mills essay with the words of Mr.Reinhardt above


John Stuart Mill (1806-73), circa 1860. Photo: Getty Images

John Stuart Mill (1806-73), circa 1860. Photo: Getty Images

Notable & Quotable: John Stuart Mill

A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice . . . is often the means of their regeneration.’

May 25, 2016 6:23 p.m. ET 16 COMMENTS

WSJ | 2016-05-25T22:23:00.000Z

From English philosopher and political economist ’s “The Contest in America” for Fraser’s magazine, February 1862:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice—is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

Copyright ©2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Reprint submittals have been sent.

Don Johnson – May 2016

Crass Capitalist Marketing Campaign – Part 1

You’ve seen Springsteen’s memoir — look at mine, it’s more interesting — see below.


It’s time for a crass Capitalist marketing  campaign – meaning I’m trying to sell a few of my books here. So take a look and if you see something you like, buy 40 or 50 copies to give away to your friends and relatives — or at least one for  yourself.

They’re really good.

First watch the following video which is a companion to the book which follows:

Life at sea

And here is the book:


Then there is this dystopian short story I wrote a few years back.


And now along with Bruce Springsteen,  I’ve written my own memoir:



Bridging Two Worlds: a book review


I’ve been reading the memoir of my old USS Porterfield shipmate and new friend Adam von Dioszeghy. Well I’ve just finished it and would like to share with you a bit about that remarkable story.

I’ve read many books over the years, and many have been biographical and some autobiographical. This one is among the best, if not the best I’ve read, and certainly the most captivating. The man’s story is almost beyond belief, and I am thrilled to have known him back in 1965-66 if ever so briefly and casually. And now to know him so much more intimately, albeit via the book and e-mails back and forth, brings a deep satisfaction.

The man begins life in 1938 as a Hungarian aristocrat – a Baron – the ruling class. But at 7 years of age everything is stripped away except for his mother — herself a Baroness – by World War II. Adam describes those war years vividly and with much passion, but also with a fair amount of humor.

Life after the war, under Communism is brutal for Adam and his mother, mainly because of his mother’s previous station in life as an aristocrat. Here is how he describes the treatment of his mother in those Communist years:

“ … she … was stripped of all human dignity common to even the lowest of beings. The authorities treated her worse than if she was a leper or a person afflicted with the foulest of communicable diseases, or possibly a criminal. There were only certain places – and not very desirable ones – where she was allowed to live. … Day in and day out, in every conceivable circumstance, it was made known to her that her very existence was bothersome to the “state,” and the sooner she could depart this vale of tears for better climes the better. … “

In Adam’s late teen years as a university student he becomes involved in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and is twice wounded. Now a wanted man and marked for death, he and his mother escape on foot to Austria with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Within a few short years they wind up in St. Louis and then on to Northern California where Adam gets a bachelors degree from Stanford University. (Mind you, when he and his mom arrived in the US, they spoke no English.) This was a year after the beginning of the Vietnam War, and Adam was drafted. But rather than let the draft play out, Adam joined the Navy and was commissioned an Ensign at Newport Rhode Island. He was then assigned to the USS Porterfield (DD-682) where he and I served together including one tour to Vietnam (he did three).

Following his Navy service, Adam returned to Stanford where he earned a law degree and began a 35 year career as a trail lawyer.

Just a note here that his book is full of very insightful and often humorous experiences as he (and his mom) navigate through this new country of theirs.

Following retirement the von Dioszeghys moved to Hungary where they have a flat in Budapest and a small 7 acre country estate where they grow grapes and make wine.

Adam closes the book by revisiting his heritage and discovering more about his father and his service in World War I, and how as a respected leader strived to return order and dignity to the now defeated and very fragmented nation. He also described a visit and tour to the Parliament building in Budapest, and to a very elegant meeting room where his grandfather sat and spoke nearly 100 years prior. Had life turned a different direction, Adam would have sat in that same seat years later.

And remember his description of how his mother was treated by the Communists? Now standing outside the Parliament with his wife Aliz, Adam reflects on one of the menial jobs his mother was allowed to have – chipping marble stones used in the reconstruction of that magnificent but badly war damaged Parliament building — chipping stones for long hours in all kinds of weather as if a slave in the service of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

And I close by pointing out the irony of two immigrants, Adam and his wife Aliz, each choosing citizenship in new nations – he as a US citizen and her as a Hungarian citizen, while at the same time retaining citizenship in their respective old-countries.

Don Johnson – March 2016

Headlights Against the Storm–The Finest Hours

Finest Hours

Often a movie comes along that teaches strong life lessons. The Finest Hours is one such movie. And given that I experienced this movie just prior to an unfolding near-tragic family crisis, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The trailer for this movie gives away the plot as well as the ending, so I don’t hesitate sharing my thoughts here – but I will forgo in sharing personal details.

As in the movie, one very close to us found himself out on the very stormy and dangerous sea of life with little prospect for rescue.

As in the movie, those waiting helplessly on shore could do little to reach out hands of rescue – faith and hope were the only tools available, and at a critical point in this story faith and hope were put into action.

In the movie, the townspeople and loved ones drove to the shoreline of that still stormy sea and turned their headlights out into the darkened sky and sea. Shore power had previously been lost, so the shining headlights were the only beacon reaching out to those lost on the troubled sea.

In our own real life story we are experiencing many who have driven to the shoreline and have turned on headlights into that stormy sea. The lights come in many forms and from many places – from all across the nation and around the world.  The lights appear as prayers – the lights appear as meals – the lights appear as phone calls – the lights appear as tears of concern and love – and not least … the lights appear in the skill and dedication of many trained professionals.

Headlights showing the way …


 If you find yourself in the midst of a dark and stormy sea, look for those headlights that are streaming your way – they are reaching out to you.

If someone close to you is in the midst of a dark and stormy sea, point towards that sea —  turn on those headlights and reach out to help guide that lost soul  to the safety of the shore.

Don Johnson – February 2016

What Course to Make Good 1SD?



That’s Balch with USS Yorktown at Midway.

“What Course to Make Good 1SD?”

Will I ever forget that “interrogative (query)”?  It was early 1965 and I was a young Seaman standing my first bridge watch as the USS Porterfield (DD-682) departed San Diego for local ops.

But that’s not the question from the Officer of the Deck (OOD) I heard that day as the phone talker between the Bridge and the Combat Information Center (CIC) . What I heard was “Ask Combat:  yadayada – yadaompah –nyatnyat?”  Embarrassed to admit I had no idea what the OOD said, I talked into the Sound Powered Phone and said “Combat Bridge: blahblahblay –yadayaday—yada?”

The OOD again: “That’s not what I said!  — Ask Combat: … nyatnyat – yadayada – yadaompah?”

Even more embarrassed, and intimidated beyond belief and still not able to understand, I again opened the mike and blurted out “Combat bridge: nyatnyat – yadayada – yadaompah?”

The OOD again:That’s not what I said!  — “. But this time he picked up the handset and said – “Combat Bridge – what course to make good 1SD?” 1SD being the designation of the outermost navigation buoy encountered  when entering or leaving San Diego harbor. The OOD was asking how to steer the ship successfully out of the harbor. (Was he messing with my head a bit?)

Jargon – it’s important!  Details – they’re important!


Now these many years later it’s my turn for the “interrogative:”

“What Course to Make Good 1SD?”

We have the 41’st annual reunion of the USS Balch/USS Porterfield coming up in mid September 2016 … and yes it will be in San Diego. So I am asking all you sailors of those two fine ships – families – friends – those just getting out of the cold … “set your course to 1SD”  Only this time that navigation buoy will mark our return once more, and the arrival will be a runway, parking lot or a train station – not a pier.

At the last reunion in Denver I was surrounded by a bunch of mean looking old salts carrying rubber hoses, swabs and coffee cups and was told in no uncertain terms that I was to be the OOD for the upcoming 41’st reunion. 

Well I was just a lowly enlisted guy and had no experience conning a ship, let alone a ship reunion.  For all I knew my job was to swindle a bunch of drunken sailors out of their paycheck (but those rubber hoses still bothered me a bit).

So the first thing I did was find someone a whole lot smarter than me and turn him loose as Quartermaster.

So I quickly found this guy Rob Wallace in San Diego who has been doing this reunion thing for over 20 years and has organized over 700 military (mostly Navy) over that time in San Diego. Rob and I have e-mailed back and forth and did this talker thing several times, me being Bridge and Rob being Combat. Anyway Rob is putting together what I think will be a fantastic and very enjoyable reunion package for us.

The details are still in work, and Diana and I will be traveling to 1SD (San Diego) mid January to check out and pick one of three hotels that Rob has identified.  Following that, I think we will be ready to publish the schedule and details – probably February would be my estimate.

I know some of you have not been to San Diego in many years, and others like myself called it home after our Navy life. But remember this:

All of us have San Diego Navy roots.



Don Johnson – December 2015

What Ever Happened to the Men of Hawk Hill?

Last fall I wrote of a few experiences I had in Montana and Washington. You can read at:

Now read this follow-up story.

What Ever Happened to the Men of Hawk Hill?

(History Pictures Archive)

During the Vietnam War, the author reported on a Huey rescue mission. Forty-five years later, he tracked down the crew and the soldiers they saved.

Morton Dean

Air & Space Magazine |

In 1971, during a six-month assignment in Vietnam for CBS News, I hitched a ride on a medevac mission flown from a dusty hilltop known as Hawk Hill. About 60 miles away, three soldiers were wounded and awaiting transport to the Hawk Hill emergency aid station, where they would be patched up and stabilized, then taken to a better-equipped hospital. It was one of an astounding 496,000 ambulance flights made during the war, and our news team—cameraman Greg Cooke, soundman Nguyen An, and I—got to go along.

Four days later, our story about that mission aired on the CBS Evening News, anchored by Walter Cronkite. The segment lasted more than seven minutes (an eternity by TV news standards), and the reaction to it back in the United States was extraordinary. Cronkite telexed the Saigon bureau: “superb…post broadcast phone calls indicate you hit home.”

In a 50-year career as a reporter, including long stints at CBS News and later ABC News, I covered other troubled precincts of the world where Americans were in harm’s way, but that medevac story has stayed with me. I knew I had witnessed something profound—an American ideal in action. Before racing off on a dangerous mission, no one on the crew asked what race the wounded were, what religion they followed, or what neighborhoods they hailed from. The only essential was that a fellow American was in trouble.

Some 40 years later, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who continued to think back on that day. In 2011, the pilot on the mission, Bob Brady, got in touch with me through Facebook. About a year after that, another pilot we had interviewed—Ken Miller, the medevac unit’s operations chief—contacted me. Miller, who in 1971 had spoken thoughtfully about flying the missions known as Dustoffs, says today that medevac service “erased much of the ambivalence” he and many others felt about the war. “It was easy to say ‘We’ll risk our lives for one of our comrades,’ ” he says. “I didn’t have any ambivalence about that.”

Brady and Miller had called just to catch up, and when I told them I’d recently been to Vietnam, they were eager to hear more. In 2011 and 2012, a cruise line had hired me to lecture about my experiences during the war. I told the two pilots that what I saw would shock them: golf courses, luxury hotels, high-rise office buildings—all vastly different from our earlier experience.

But I was eager to hear how they and the others involved in the rescue had gotten on with their lives. Brady had become a defense attorney; Miller, a psychologist. Medic Delmar Pickett III became an artist, and Brady’s copilot, Dan Stephenson, who, like Brady, was less than a year out of his teens when I first met him, is an osteopath. But like many Vietnam vets, some had lived two lives, handling jobs while struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite (left) introduced the author’s 1971 story of the helicopter rescue of wounded soldiers, one of almost 500,000 medevac missions flown in Vietnam. (CBS News)

When I talked to Brady and Miller, I was no longer a reporter—I’d become a writer and lecturer—but I still knew a good story when I heard one. I suggested that I find the men whom the aircrew had saved that day and make a documentary film about what had happened to the small group of veterans who 40 years earlier had shared a life-changing experience.

Miller, the psychologist, was especially enthusiastic. Seizing upon what I had said to him on the phone—“You guys were heroes and nobody knows it”—he responded that at long last, Americans need to learn there were heroes in Vietnam, and that vets who still feel unappreciated also need to hear it. The documentary could accomplish that.

He made another point: Combat vets from Iraq and Afghanistan would likely benefit the most by hearing how vets from the earlier war are handling their lives. “I think there’s going to be a lot of the same stuff [shared by the two groups],” Miller said. “Why did I go? What was it for?

“I don’t think the country has any clue about the lasting impact that [war] has, and for some it’s a nightmare they won’t ever be able to put to bed. You can’t go into a combat situation and come back the same person.”

The starting point for the documentary is the segment that aired in 1971. This is what happened that day.


“That’s life coming,” says Brian Feeheley of the sound an approaching Huey’s rotors made cutting through the air. On January 17, 1971, a booby trap ripped open his legs and wounded two of his buddies while they were on patrol north of Tam Ky, South Vietnam, with a unit of the 23rd Infantry Division, known as Americal.

The Huey’s mission—and every mission to rescue battlefield casualties—had to be carefully coordinated between the endangered units on the ground and the incoming helicopters; not only did the Americans know they could count on the arrival of medevacs, so did the enemy. “One of the most dangerous types of aviation in the ten year long war,” U.S. Army historians concluded in a 1982 study. The casualty count proved it: 470 medevac pilots and copilots killed or wounded, plus 666 other crew members killed or wounded, most by hostile fire or in crashes initiated by hostile fire. Other lives were lost in non-hostile crashes during evacuations, many at night or in bad weather.

The mission that rescued Private First Class Feeheley, as well as Staff Sergeant Jim Kessinich and Specialist 4th Grade William Formanack, from an enemy-infested ravine was a classic example of the dangers medevac crews often faced.

“Hey, something just hit us in the tail!” medic Delmar Pickett III cried out as the Bell UH-1 completed a looping left turn and swooped in toward a detonated canister of white smoke marking the landing zone.

Pilot Bob Brady was unrattled. Only 20 years old but already a veteran of numerous close calls, he calmly ordered: “Okay. Let’s go get ’em.”

Flying the right seat, copilot Dan Stephenson recited a constant flow of data, including airspeed and altitude, to aid his pilot. Brady sat the Huey down in a soggy rice paddy.

And get ’em they did.

Bursting out from their cover, a pack of infantrymen drenched in sweat and blood splashed through the rice paddy, hauling the two most seriously wounded in makeshift stretchers made of black ponchos that bounced and swayed with each laborious step. The third man, although bleeding from his chest, arm, and thigh, was able to walk to the Huey.

The medic and flight engineer scrambled to secure the wounded on board. The extraction took about a minute.

“Charger Dustoff,” Brady radioed to the aid station. “We’ve got three wounded on board.”

On liftoff, the medic spotted several uniformed North Vietnamese soldiers and returned their fire. The pop-pop-pop of automatic gunfire underscored the danger faced not only by the rescuers but also by those being rescued.

Many years later, Feeheley recalled the bitter irony of it all: “I was thinking, I get rescued and now I’m going to get shot down and die.”

The tension broke only once: One of the wounded guys, spotting our film camera, announced: “Hey, we’re going to be on TV!”

The three men would live. However, the pilot’s career almost didn’t survive. The brass was livid when word spread that Bob Brady (who would go on to fly over 800 missions during his year-long tour and receive a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross) had allowed a news crew on the mission. He had neither asked for nor received anyone’s permission. We’d made our way to Hawk Hill in search of a good story, any good story, and simply asked the pilot if we could fly with him. Brady looked kind of bemused, as if I were a crazy man. “You want to fly with us? Sure. C’mon,” he said.

By the time Brady showed up in Saigon to face the music, the story had already aired, clearly showing Brady and his crew—and by extension all medevac crews—for what they really were. Heroes. Brady suffered no recriminations. “In fact,” he said recently, “everyone was quite pleased.”

After the mission, I interviewed the crew and other airmen in the unit, asking why they’d volunteered for Dustoff duty.(The term was the radio call sign for the first Army air ambulance service sent to Vietnam.) “I saw what it was like to be on the other end,” said Pickett, the medic. When he first came to Vietnam, Pickett had been with an infantry unit. After his unit came under attack and men were wounded, he watched the Dustoff crews operate. Though enemy were still in the area, “they [the medevacs] came in regardless. I was impressed. I was, you might say, flabbergasted. So I just volunteered.” Another young medic added, “This is the most positive thing going on in Vietnam right now.”


In 2013, cameraman Greg Cooke and I headed out to find the men whose lives intersected ours that day. Cooke had been a staff producer at “60 Minutes” and later a cameraman, editor, and producer of “The Amazing Race,” among other hit shows. We traveled across the country on our own dime, without any clear idea if anyone would eventually broadcast the documentary. What came to matter most to us was learning that the veterans valued what we were doing. It validated their service to the country and, more important, their commitment and contribution to one another.

There were a few setbacks. The medic, Pickett, had died of natural causes the day before I called him to set up an interview. The crew chief we flew with couldn’t be found.

Catching up with Brady, the pilot, was a treat. He’d recently uprooted himself, shutting down his law practice and moving across the continent from Pennsylvania to California. Today, he lives in Thailand. With a laugh he’d earlier warned me that he was “really f—– up.” Most of the time he hid it well; he was a warm, charming, articulate guy with a giant personality. We could have done an hour documentary on him alone. The day we met up he was taking a flying lesson to hone his wartime skills. Greg and I, camera rolling, went along. Brady welcomed me with a large grin. “I didn’t kill you the last time you flew with me,” he said. “Let’s see what happens this time.”

Stephenson had also recently moved. An osteopathic physician, he was living in an RV in Washington State while tending to the rural poor at a health clinic. He was a man of many interests: He’d published a mystery novel, traveled the Pacific Northwest on thousand-mile motorcycle trips, and sailed on the ocean.

Both men had been seriously affected by PTSD. Like almost all of the veterans I interviewed, they suffered from survivors’ guilt and experienced flashbacks. They had problems developing and maintaining close relationships. Brady said shutting down emotionally was something he did in the cockpit during the war—“So I don’t die today. It’ll happen tomorrow”—and his emotional isolation intensified in civilian life. Stephenson reported that the unpredictability of combat stayed with him. “You couldn’t plan ahead and I can’t even today,” he said.

Both were divorced and trying to make new relationships work. Brady claimed he couldn’t remember how many times he’d married. I couldn’t tell if he was kidding.

The pilots had never met any of the hundreds of wounded they carried to safety, and were very excited to learn that for the documentary I planned to interview the three men who were part of our Vietnam story.

The problem was how to find them. And it was a big problem. I didn’t know their names or their units. Neither did the CBS News archives, because I hadn’t interviewed them on camera. One of my notebooks had disappeared. And—this is difficult for a reporter to admit—in the chaos of the mission, I don’t think I ever did ask the wounded men who they were. My excuse? The story’s centerpiece was to be the medevac crew.

After months of detective work, I was successful. I was aided by retired U.S. Army General Ray Bell, who discovered the Americal division had been operating in the general area of the rescue, and by Leslie Hines, an Americal historian who found a casualty report that appeared to contain the names I was searching for.

However, I wanted additional proof, and Greg Cooke came up with the clincher. He discovered a few frames of film, which hadn’t aired, of who we suspected was Staff Sergeant Jim Kessinich. An enlargement revealed the word “WAR” on a medallion the man wore. I emailed a close-up photo to Kessinich and asked “Could that be you?” Bingo! When we showed up to interview him for the documentary and introduced him to the pilot and copilot, he had the medallion with him.

Each of the reunions was filled with a sense of wondrous disbelief. Was this really happening? At our first stop, Jim Kessinich’s wife and daughter led the hug brigade. Stephenson, who was reluctant to talk about himself or the war, provided the first hint that what we’d begun was therapeutic. “Jim,” he said with prayer-like solemnity, “seeing you with your great family makes me feel for the first time I did good things.”

Kessinich, an Army lifer with a 26-year military career, frequently choked back tears. We all did. He had retired as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank in the U.S. Army, taught combat at West Point, and served in a presidential honor guard. Over the years he flew in many helicopters, and “every time” wondered whether his pilots were those who had rescued him.

For the wounded, the memories of that day in 1971 were still sharply in focus. “Saw the light…heard the boom,” recalled Formanack. “And then you feel like you’ve been kicked by a jackass,” said Feeheley. Formanack remembered that Feeheley, who triggered the device believed to have been a grenade while walking point, had apologized over and over.

Formanack, the most seriously wounded, endured some tough years: drank too much, had numerous surgeries, still has shrapnel in his upper body. Painful leg wounds forced him to give up the bar and restaurant he worked in and partly owned. All that was masked by his enthusiastic greeting; a firm handshake and a broad smile guiding Brady, Stephenson, Cooke, and me into a tidy, rural cottage to meet his wife.

Our reunion, which Formanack called “a very moving thing,” was capped by several deeply emotional, extraordinary moments. He recalled that during the flight, he reached out, seeking comfort, and I held his hand. As a memento of our visit, he asked for a photo of us clasping hands as we had done during that crisis so long ago.

His daughter Allison, home from graduate school to be there with us, told the pilot and copilot: “I just thought of this—I never would have been born if it hadn’t been for the two of you!”

There was something spiritual about the visits to each of the three soldiers who had been wounded that day. Brian Feeheley told us that almost daily he visits a Vietnam memorial in Maryland, etched with the names of war dead: “I just go to let them know they’re not forgotten.”

We filmed Brady and Feeheley at the memorial. Like old buddies, they discussed their problems with PTSD, admitting that, feeling too macho, they delayed getting therapy for much too long.

Feeheley, a longtime postal worker, said that 9/11 had almost “pushed me over the edge,” and that’s when he went to the Veterans Health Administration for help. He talked of having been suicidal. And in a moment of reverie, as the two old soldiers gazed at the names of the war dead, Feeheley said, “I keep thinking…how many more dead there would have been if there were no medevacs.”

The documentary, with the working title Vietnam Medevac, is in production. We’re hoping to find a distributor soon so that people will learn about the work of medevac crews and so that veterans of Vietnam and other wars will experience the brotherhood of this reunion.


Don Johnson – December 2015



Some pictures of my trip back to lower Manhattan on 9-11-2015


                  (On the train)

I’ll admit to a bit of nervousness and fear in going into New York City dressed like this – what with the police assassinations and the threats against the American flag. Was I setting myself up as a target? When soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors returned from Vietnam, they were told not to wear their uniform else they would raise the ire of the war protestors.

Well these many years later – this is my uniform, and I decided I would not be intimidated or shamed again – so off to NYC I go.


Off the Metro North at Grand Central Station  from New Haven


The main concourse at Grand Central


The new “Freedom Tower” Over the years, we watched it going up.


The new tower from the front corner of St. Paul’s Chapel. The Chapel dates back to colonial days and was undamaged by the attack even though it is right across the street from the twin towers. The chapel was used as headquarters and a retreat for the first responders and rescue workers from all over the world. 


Looking out the back of the chapel towards the Trade Center.



A lovely choir, most likely from the Pennsylvania Amish country.



The always busy feet of New York.



No shortage of police. These are NYPD. I also saw New York State Police (the first time I’ve ever seen them in downtown NYC), Army/National Guard, and Port Authority police. I’ve always like the New York cops.



These pictures are at the front of the Century-21 department store. They had the whole side done up with a huge mural, and at the sidewalk people were writing messages on large rolls of paper.  



New York Fire Department


Another hat like mine, only Army or Marine Corp.






I had quite a chat with this fellow. He was walking around carrying this flag so he called me over and we talked. Where ya from? I asks noticing a strong accent. Kosovo he says – been in this country 47 years.

Ziggy they call him, and he’s from up in my neck of the woods in Waterbury CT. He told me that in 1991 he spent all of his Sundays in New Haven on the Yale campus supporting our troops in the first gulf war. So nephew Mike Johnson of the 82nd Airborne – here’s a guy that was rooting for you!




These shots are of Zuccotti Park. The last time I was there, it was filled with the Occupy Wall Street crowd –Communists, Anarchists and such – and there I was among them with my American flag shirt and Vietnam Veterans hat.  I like it a whole lot better this way.




Honoring the victims of 9-11-2001




From the corner of St. Paul’s Chapel looking into the chapel. If you’ve read “The Harbinger” by Jonathan Cahn, I believe this is where the Harbinger tree was uprooted.


The Harbinger tree as it was following 9-11-2001






Prayer in back of the chapel.


Flag of Honor – each victims name appears in this flag inside the chapel


Memorabilia in the form of patches and hats from police and fire departments around the world.


Don Johnson – September 11, 2015