SPEIDEL LOUIS JOHN

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Name: CPT Louis John Speidel
Status: Killed In Action from an incident on 04/23/1971 while performing the duty of Pilot.
Died 63 days later on 06/25/1971.
Age at death: 25.2
Date of Birth: 04/23/1946
Home City: Milford, OH
Service: AR branch of the regular component of the U.S. Army.
Unit: B/2/17 CAV 101 ABN
Major organization: 101st Airborne Division
Flight class: 70-36
Service: AR branch of the U.S. Army.
The Wall location: 03W-089
Short Summary: Shot down 23 Apr 71 evac. a trapped ranger team on E. ridge of A Shaw Valley. Hung upside down in A/C 3 days-died Camp Zama, Japan.
Aircraft: UH-1H tail number 68-16199
Country: South Vietnam
MOS: 1981 = 19 Rotary Wing Aviator (Unit Commander)
Primary cause: Hostile Fire
Major attributing cause: aircraft connected not at sea
Compliment cause: small arms fire
Vehicle involved: helicopter
Position in vehicle: pilot
Vehicle ownership: government
Started Tour: 12/28/1970
"Official" listing: helicopter air casualty - pilot
The initial status of this person was: hostile wounded in action - very serious hospitalization
Length of service: *
Location: Tay Ninh Province III Corps.
Military grid coordinates of event: YC484925

Additional information about this casualty:
Monday, May 27, 2002 Events of single day still ripple ---------------- After decades of 'what if,' veteran able to find peace By John Johnston, jjohnston@enquirer.com The Cincinnati Enquirer In a 3/4-acre greenhouse, a stocky 51-year-old walks with a slight limp past hundreds of plants. He pauses to admire the pure white petals of blooming gardenias. "In Vietnam, I used to take this flower, break it and stick it in my boonie hat," Marvin Duren says with a southern drawl. The gardenia's scent lasted long into the evening. Most of his other Vietnam memories are painful ones. Mr. Duren, owner of Marvin's Organic Gardens in Lebanon, was seriously wounded in an ambush 31 years ago. Physically, he has recovered. Emotionally, the healing continues. This year he will observe Memorial Day twice: Today, when the nation salutes its war dead; and again June 24, when he will honor one fallen comrade with an open house. Only a year ago did Mr. Duren discover the significance of that June day. * * * WE REMEMBER Award-winning Enquirer photographer Michael E. Keating captured some of the area's memorials on film. View our photo gallery of his work. ---------------- On Memorial Day: * Events of single day still ripple * Holiday takes on deeper meaning * Change in day's tradition On the hot afternoon of April 23, 1971, a Huey helicopter from the Army's 101st Airborne Division landed on a ridge in the A Shau valley of South Vietnam. Six Rangers from L Company, 75th Infantry jumped out, including the 20-year-old team leader, Spc. Marvin Duren from Stone Mountain, Ga. Their mission: establish a radio relay link for a Ranger platoon on the valley floor. As Spc. Duren led the Rangers out of the landing zone, they met a flurry of rifle fire and hand grenades from North Vietnamese Army troops, hidden in bunkers. Two bullets from an AK-47 ripped into Spc. Duren's right hip; shrapnel and gunshots also penetrated his stomach, left chest, left arm, back, spleen, appendix, left lung and small intestine. He radioed for help as the team medic tended to him. The first step in the rescue: get a Huey pilot to fly a replacement team leader into the battle zone to replace Spc. Duren. The pilot chosen was Capt. John Speidel, Milford High School class of '64 and a 1968 West Point graduate. It was his 25th birthday. Spc. Duren had become acquainted with Capt. Speidel on previous missions. He knew the pilot was highly regarded by Ranger team leaders because he, too, was a Ranger. But the infantry-trained Spc. Duren knew little else about the pilot, such as his hometown. Capt. Speidel succeeded in delivering Spc. Duren's replacement, but heavy enemy fire hammered his Huey. It crashed near the landing zone with Capt. Speidel trapped upside down, his legs pinned in the wreckage. Meanwhile, as North Vietnamese continued pounding the Rangers' positions, a medevac helicopter rescued Spc. Duren. It had been three hours and 10 minutes since his team landed. For the others, hope of a quick rescue soon faded. The enemy thwarted attempts to reach the Rangers and helicopter crews for two days. On the third day, a Ranger team rescued Capt. Speidel and other survivors. By then, eleven Americans were dead. One had been captured. Another was never found. * * * Mr. Duren received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions that April day. He spent more than two months in an Army hospital on Okinawa before continuing his recovery in the States. He never saw Capt. John Speidel again. In fact, he lost touch with many of his fellow Rangers. Eager to get on with life after the war, Mr. Duren went into business with his father, who helped him buy the Waffle House franchise for Greater Cincinnati. Mr. Duren moved here from his native Georgia and built his first restaurant in Erlanger in 1973. The chain eventually would grow to 24 stores. Employees sometimes asked about his limp. Mr. Duren said he was wounded in Vietnam, but offered few details. For years he didn't talk much about his war experience. But questions nagged at him: Could he have done anything differently that day? If he had led his team in a different direction, would the outcome have been different? In the late 1970s Mr. Duren opened a Waffle House at I-275 and Ohio 28 in Milford. About that time, he recognized that his restaurant landscapes lacked curb appeal. He needed advice from a gardening expert. He found one near his Milford restaurant, at a place called Speidel's Garden Center. The easygoing proprietor, a man named Louis Speidel, loved to grow things. He gladly answered Mr. Duren's questions about plant selection, pruning, mulching and the like. Mr. Duren stopped by frequently. Over the next few years, they spent many hours talking about plants. Says Mr. Duren: "He was so patient with me." Mr. Duren never thought to ask Mr. Speidel if he was related to a helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam. Mr. Duren, after all, had no idea that Capt. Speidel's full name was Louis John Speidel, or that he was from Milford. Mr. Duren didn't know what happened to Capt. Speidel, or that they had been cared for in the same Okinawa hospital. * * * In the spring of 1971 the Army flew Capt. Speidel's mother, Ann, to Okinawa to be with her seriously wounded son. The captain's wife, Ellen, could not go. She was nine months pregnant with their first child. Doctors had to amputate one of Capt. Speidel's legs, but he made them promise not to tell his wife. He worried the news would upset her and complicate the baby's delivery. A healthy Gretchen Speidel was born May 15, 1971. three weeks after her father's helicopter was shot down. Back in Milford, the pilot's family continued to receive regular updates from the Pentagon. Day after day, it was the same: prognosis guarded. Then Capt. Speidel's wife received word that he was out of danger. "And I believed that with all my heart," she says now. She was on her way to Okinawa to see her husband when she was paged in the San Francisco airport. She turned and saw an Army captain, who had a message: Capt. Louis John Speidel died of cardiac arrest on June 24, 1971. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. * * * Mr. Duren didn't learn of Capt. Speidel's death until 1986, when, for the first time, he attended a 101st Airborne Division reunion at Fort Campbell, Ky. Despite the news, he felt himself beginning to heal that day. He was finally learning answers to questions that had haunted him. "I always thought, what could I have done to help my team more, and was there anything that I did wrong?" Other survivors assured him he had done his best. Mr. Duren hooked up with a group of former Rangers who meet every couple of years. One of them has been researching Army archives. About a year ago, he mailed Mr. Duren a packet with a list of those killed in the April 1971 mission at A Shau. The list included Capt. Louis John Speidel, of course. But it was his hometown that stunned Mr. Duren: Milford, Ohio. He set out to learn more. He visited Milford High School and a local historical society. He found the captain's grave in a Milford cemetery. He spoke with several of Capt. Speidel's relatives. And Mr. Duren was astounded to learn that Louis Speidel, the friendly man who for years had sold him plants and mentored him, was Capt. Speidel's father. By that time, Mr. Duren had sold his stake in day-to-day Waffle House operations to make a longstanding dream come true: He had started Marvin's Organic Gardens. In a perfect world, Mr. Duren would have visited Louis Speidel once more. They would have discussed their mutual love of plants. They would have talked about Capt. Speidel's final mission, and Mr. Duren would have praised the Army pilot. "Had he not come in to deliver that team leader," Mr. Duren says, "I wasn't going to be (rescued)." But Mr. Duren and Louis Speidel never met again. Mr. Speidel, suffering from a form of dementia, spent the last years of his life with a daughter in California. He died a year ago at age 81. * * * The letter from an Army major to Capt. Speidel's widow is dated July 7, 1971, and says: "It may help you in the years to come to know that we who served with your husband will always remember him as a fine leader, an outstanding officer, and an exceptionally brave man." That's what Mr. Duren wants Capt. Speidel's family and friends to know: He will always remember. He has scheduled an open house for 7 p.m. June 24 at the Houston Inn, 4026 U.S. 42, Mason, to "give anyone an opportunity to discuss Vietnam, then and now, as well as John's and my last mission." "It's a healing opportunity for me," says Mr. Duren, who plans that day to place fresh flowers on Capt. Speidel's grave. Epilogue: Marvin Duren lives in Lebanon with his wife, Ann. They have been married 29 years and have three grown children. Capt. Speidel's mother, Ann, died in 1997. His father, Louis, died last year. One sister, Sandra Speidel, lives in Petaluma, Calif; her twin, Susan Heitzmann, lives in Valley City, N.D. Capt. Speidel's widow, Ellen, lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. She remarried and became Ellen Johnson. Her second husband, Randy, who also graduated from Milford High School, died last year of cancer. Gretchen Speidel, born three weeks after Capt. Speidel's death, is a staff attorney for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. She is active in Sons and Daughters in Touch, a national group that provides support to family members of those who died or remain missing from the Vietnam War.

Reason: aircraft lost or crashed
Casualty type: Hostile - died of wounds
married male U.S. citizen
Race: Caucasian
Religion: Methodist (Evangelical United Brethren)
The following information secondary, but may help in explaining this incident.
Category of casualty as defined by the Army: battle dead Category of personnel: active duty Army Military class: officer
This record was last updated on 06/11/2002


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