Story and photos by Beverly Crowl
LZ. DMZ. Huey’s. VC. How to lead. Fort Rucker. Parris Island. CWO3 and MOS—these are meaningless expressions to many of us, but they can bring quite distinct, vivid and sometimes traumatic memories to military veterans. To understand their meaning and, more important, to really appreciate what our veterans went through during their service, one just had to be there.
Delaware Hospice cares for veterans every day and launched its Vet to Vet Volunteer Program to better meet their needs. Research has shown that veterans may experience a better quality of life when they have a comrade they can really open up and talk to about their military experiences. Thus, Delaware Hospice has recruited and trained volunteers who are veterans to spend time with hospice patients and Transitions clients who are also veterans.
With his service in Vietnam, Coles Marsh decided to sign up to be a Vet to Vet volunteer. He regularly visits other veterans in Sussex County and enjoys it tremendously. Coles said, “I really get a kick out of meeting these guys and sharing stories. We know what it was really like, for example in Vietnam; and we can hear the courage and resolve that goes unspoken in some of those stories. This volunteer role has given me an opportunity and the great honor to meet some real heroes, like Flip.”
Ralph “Flip” Domenic, Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CWO3), served in the military through three wars. He signed up for the Marines at the age of 17 and was stationed in the U.S. during WWII. He also served in the U.S. Army in Korea and in Vietnam during his long, distinguished career.
Rhoda, Flip’s wife, remembers Coles’ first visit: “From the moment Coles walked in the room, those guys started chatting away. I could see I wouldn’t be needed for a while. They talked for a couple of hours and really enjoyed themselves, laughing about their experiences in the military.”
Flip flew Huey helicopters during the early years of the Vietnam conflict, from 1965 to 1966, and Coles was stationed there from 1966-67. Flip flew troops and supplies in the same neighborhoods that Coles was stationed as a supply specialist, in the central part of Vietnam. They could easily have been in the same place at the same time.
Flip remembered, “We delivered a lot of ammunition, food, water, and all kinds of stuff out to the troops. Then during an assault, we would fly people in to fight the Viet Cong (VC), and on the next trip, we would bring in more troops and take the wounded back to field hospitals.”
His helicopter was under fire regularly and received “a few pings.” He said, “The good thing is that they didn’t know how to lead (or shoot ahead) as you were flying out. We were lucky because they were hitting behind us, hitting the tail of the aircraft, so I never had to make an emergency landing.”
Flip will never forget looking down the barrel of a gun. “One day I had to sit the chopper down, because the Vietnamese troops I was bringing in wouldn’t get out. They were hiding from enemy fire behind the metal and we had to just about throw them out. As we were approaching the LZ (landing zone), a Viet Cong popped up out of the grass in front of me and aimed straight at me from a distance of across the street. I thought this might be it, but suddenly my door gunner got him.”
During his service in Vietnam, Flip flew about 30 missions. He wanted to stay longer, but was grounded due to a neck injury and sent to Fort Rucker, a training school for pilots. He eventually retired from the military and, just 17 days later, went to work for Boeing Helicopter in Claymont as an engineer.
Although he wasn’t in Korea, volunteer Coles Marsh enjoyed hearing about Flip’s experiences there as well. Flip remembered, “I was in Korea in a unit, when they needed a pilot for the commanding general. So they called down to the company for a Chief Warrant Officer and I ended up spending quite a few months as an aide, flying General John Ryan in an H13 (helicopter) every day and some nights around Korea. It was a good assignment and I learned a lot about the army.”
Coles asked Flip to talk about how he became a pilot. He remembered, “When I was a kid, I built a lot of airplane models, so I was always interested. But it was pretty tough to get in. I was stationed in an army security agency, working with classified stuff. I told my operations officer that I wanted to go to flight school. He said, ‘No, we need you guys.’ I was one of twenty Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) in the army. I argued that he couldn’t say no, he had to say approved, disapproved, or under consideration. He agreed to sign it ‘under consideration. Then I went to the post commander and did the same thing. Next my application went to Arlington Hall, where I was told I wouldn’t be able to go because we were so shorthanded, and I was one of the top in my MOS. Well, what they didn’t know was that I had a friend in the Pentagon who snuck it in and they said, ‘Yes, we need him,’ and Boom! Off I went! ”
“You had to go through physicals and be examined by surgeons and psychologists. It was good for me because I used to bite my fingernails, and I knew the psychiatrist was going to ask about that. So I stopped, and when he asked if I bite my nails, I could honestly answer ‘No, I don’t bite them.’ So I passed and went on to complete 150 hours of flight training at Fort Walters in Texas.”
There are so many great stories shared through the Vet to Vet Program. Coles said, “It’s hard to tell who enjoys the visit more, me or the veteran I’m assigned to—I really appreciate the camaraderie and learning even more about the history of the U.S. military actions.”
About Delaware Hospice’s Vet to Vet Program
Vet to Vet volunteers provide a meaningful service to Delaware Hospice patients and Transitions Program clients who are military veterans. They give their fellow veterans the opportunity to share military stories, many for the first time, helping them find inner peace from experiences of conflict, war sacrifice, and loss. Many agree to have their stories recorded on an audio CD that is presented to the veteran and his family as a “Lasting Legacy” for generations to come. Learn more about this worthwhile volunteer program at Delaware Hospice by contacting Ralph Plumley, Volunteer Coordinator, at 302-478-5707, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Delaware Hospice
Since 1982, Delaware Hospice has provided exceptional care and support to 42,000 patients and their families. Its mission is to help each patient, each day, live the fullest, most comfortable life possible. Delaware Hospice is the largest and only licensed, nonprofit, community-based hospice serving Delaware and southern Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania. Delaware Hospice is honored to be accredited by the Joint Commission, the nation’s leading health care standards-setting and accrediting organization. For more information about Delaware Hospice’s programs and services, upcoming events, or employment opportunities, call 800-838-9800 or visit our website, www.delawarehospice.org/get-help-now/resources/end-of-life-planning.
Beverly Crowl, Public Relations Specialist