Memorial Reflections

May 27, 2018 — Don Chretien


Thank you, Pastor Paula, for giving me this opportunity to share my personal reflections on the eve of Memorial Day.

Good Morning all, my name is Don Chretien, I served in the Marine Corps from 1967-1972 as a helicopter pilot. I was in Vietnam from Dec. 1969 – Dec. 1970.

Last year, I wrote a book about my experiences during my service titled, “Hovering In Harm’s Way”. In addition to my family, I dedicated this book to my fellow combatants. Allow me to read part of the dedication from my book.

“To all Marine helicopter crews, in particular the CH-46s, who continually responded to the needs of the U.S. Marine ground forces with supplies and evacuations to safety, while knowingly being exposed to enemy fire, and especially to Marty Benson, a fellow CH-46 pilot from Wayzata, Minnesota, with whom I went through flight training”.

I had never met anyone from Minnesota but I got to know many young men from different parts of the country during my service years. Marty Benson was a star track athlete both in high school and college. He had a smile that was infectious, a welcoming personality and an endearing way of blushing when given any compliments or kidding with him.

We were both influenced by the decades of the 50s and 60s and we especially identified with JFK’s 1960 presidential inaugural address quote, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

In spite of nationwide protests to the Vietnam War, we wanted to serve our country as Marine Officers and Pilots. We began our military service in 1967. We were given frequent assurances after completing each segment of our training that this unpopular war would surely be over by the time we were fully qualified pilots (approximately 2 years) and assigned to an overseas duty station. However, by December of 1969, we were both flying combat missions in Vietnam. Although assigned to different squadrons, we were completing similar flight assignments. On February 6, 1970 Marty was flying copilot on a troop insertion mission. On final approach to the designated landing zone, his aircraft came under heavy enemy fire. Marty was struck several times. His pilot was able to gain control of the helicopter and rush Marty to the hospital ship “USS Repose“, located in Da Nang harbor. He was given emergency medical treatment, but unfortunately the wounds he sustained were too severe and he had lost most of his blood volume by the time they reached the ship. Despite valiant efforts to save him, Marty Benson died, he was 24 years old.

In hindsight, Marty had perhaps a premonition or at the very least, deep concerns about going to a combat zone. A few weeks before leaving for Vietnam, he talked of his decision to immediately purchase stereo equipment. Since we were all aware of the incredibly discounted prices available when stationed in Asia, we questioned Marty’s rationale. His reply was very revealing. He wanted to insure he bought this equipment now so that he could give it to his sister before leaving, just in case he didn’t make it back. Although we tried to assure him that he’d return and counseled him that he should not be thinking in those terms, he persisted and bought the stereo equipment. That was just the kind of person he was, thinking of others before himself.

Marty typified the dedicated military personnel with whom I am proud to have served. He, as many others, exemplified the quote, “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”, attributed to Admiral Chester Nimitz in March 1945 after the Marines assault on Iwo Jima.

This framed picture is the official notification of Marty’s KIA (Killed In Action) status and a rubbing of his name we took from the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington DC. My wife, Ardis, had this framed for me this past Christmas. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

Memorial Day is a very special occasion for many of us. There are multiple community events and parades commemorating this day. With that in mind, I’d like to inform you that there is a very special ceremony that will be conducted tomorrow by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 1044 of Biddeford. This solemn ceremony is titled, “Fallen Warriors”, it will honor all the Maine Veterans who served, were killed, imprisoned or still missing during the Vietnam War. It will take place at 2:30 pm located on the grounds of Veterans Memorial Park, 4 Heath St. in Old Orchard Beach. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

In conclusion, please stand and join me for the playing of “Taps” to honor my friend Marty and all other military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, Semper Fi.

Thank You