Many years ago I joined the local American Legion Post 15 at the instance of WWII Marine friend Bob Hardman, who really wanted to have somebody to talk about sports and baseball specifically. At lunch everyday he would sit at a table with a lot of other veterans and talk about a wide range of subjects. It was here that I met and became friends with Col. Richard Cline who served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. Dick started out in the 11th Airborne for the jump pay mostly but a little bit of the excitement of being a paratrooper. He signed up for Officers Candidate School was accepted and graduated then began a transition into being a fixed wing pilot, later as helicopters became a larger portion of the army battle tactics Dick transitioned into that branch of service. In 1965 he was a Captain assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division who were preparing to leave for Vietnam.
Arriving in Vietnam it didn't take long for the 1st to find action with several small engagements with the enemy but the battle of Ia Drang on November 14th would change the lives of everybody who were connected with it. The army had been looking for a big fight to test the Air Mobile concept and found the place to do that. Unfortunately the army believed the NVA forces were not as strong in number as they actually were and the 1st found themselves outnumbered at least 4 to 1. Over the years Dick described this battle and the ones following it so I had a very good understanding of what he experienced and could use that to paint the Ia Drang picture. Last week I gave to original concept sketch to him and brought the painting so he could review it.
Usually I meet veterans while working on a picture of that particular action not before and this picture has special significance because of that long friendship. Dick went from the 1st Cav to the 101st in the Army infusion program. A short tour of Germany and in 1968 Dick was back in Vietnam with the 1st Cav running a Chinook outfit. After Vietnam he went to Yuma and was part of the test group for the Cheyenne helicopter. Very expensive to build and with lots of pressure on them, his group decided the helicopter wasn't going to work as a ground attack aircraft. Dick retired a few years after that and moved to Waynesboro with his wife Georgia. I managed to get Dick to model the helicopter pilot for two GI Joe illustrations and he thoroughly enjoyed both assignments. Its been a great privilege to know so many veterans, hear their stories and work with them over the years. We choose a career never knowing where the path will lead us, the struggles to overcome or the important moments to savor, this picture and assignments is one of those few extra special moments where people and subject come togother.