Four who fought for your right to be wrong

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Guest column by Joe “Ragman” Tarnovsky

The State Theater will show the film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” after local theater owner  Ike Boutwell, Korean War combat veteran and owner of movie complexes in Elizabethtown and Radcliff, refused to show the movie because Jane Fonda is in the production.

Now Emily West, director of the Historic State Theater, will be showing the movie and states she personally loves films based on real stories. This movie tells the story of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served under eight presidents in the White House.

Of course, Hollywood, from what I have read, put its spin on the production, so the final project is not completely true.

West states she respects Boutwell’s rights but was disappointed the movie did not play in Elizabethtown. But she seems oblivious of the mental and emotional pain Jane Fonda caused Vietnam veterans and their families as she never mentions them in the article discussing the showing the movie at the State Theater.

West proclaims about giving people a choice. This is the United States of America and a lot of people died for us to be able to make choices and I agree with her. I want to tell about four of my buddies who died to give her the right to show the movie. These are four Vietnam veterans.

Danny Brooker lived in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where I moved after my Dad died when I was 10 years old. He was two years younger than me and we knew each other as fellow surfers. Always smiling and a good surfer as the sport was catching on in Florida in the mid-1960s, I still remember him wiping out on a wave and coming up looking for his surfboard. None of us saw it get picked up like a toothpick by strong winds. A big wave came down and hit Danny in the head. Luckily, there was no injury and he laughed it off.

Like me, he ended up in a Huey helicopter unit, unlike me, he crashed and was killed in action at 20 years of age.

Glenn Ethington lived in Lexington. I got to know him after moving there when I left Florida in 1967. I already had been discharged, honorably, and was sharing an apartment with Ethington’s cousin in Lexington when we got word in January 1971 that Ethington had been killed in Vietnam serving with the 178th Assault Support Helicopter Company.

Spec. 4 Ethington did not die in a major battle. He had befriended a little South Vietnamese boy on his base. When the child was caught in an undertow in the South China Sea, Ethington rushed to his aid to try and save him from drowning. There was one significant flaw in Ethington’s daring rescue attempt; he was afraid of the water himself as he did not know how to swim.

The Army recovered his body a week later and his funeral had a closed casket.

Anti-war protesters, including the likes of revolutionaries and traitors such as Jane Fonda, denounced American soldiers as of malingerers, psychopaths, drug addicts, incompetents and baby killers. Ethington sacrificed his life in a reckless effort to save a Vietnamese child.

Then there is Robert Frasch, warrant officer first class, 240th Assault Helicopter Company — my unit in Vietnam.

Frasch was a crew chief/gunner in the Greyhounds, troop-carrying hueys; I was in the gunships, Mad Dogs, and at the end of the day when going back to base camp, sometimes the pilots would give the crew chiefs and gunners “stick time,” which meant they would let us fly home. Frasch was so good he even could land and take off as the pilots wanted us to be able to know how to in case they were wounded and we had to take over flying to get the Huey back home.

The pilots encouraged Frasch to return to the States and attend rotary wing flight school, which he did, and returned to the 240th AHC as a pilot.

On Aug. 21, 1970, he was co-pilot on a mission in the slicks, I was a crew chief/gunner in the gunships providing cover when Frasch’s ship took enemy fire and went down in the landing zone. The four crew members jumped from the Huey. Three of them made it. Sadly, Frasch waited for the main rotor to slow down, but was killed when he tried to jump to safety.

n Last, they brought out a young man from maintenance, Danny Dye, to help me. It was on-the-job training and although I could handle an M60 machine gun, my mechanical skills greatly lacked. Dye took over mechanical aspects of Mad Dog Gunship 497 and I showed him how to handle an M60 and how to track the enemy from a UH-1C Huey. Dye was a great soldier, all of 19 years of age.

I left the 240th on Oct. 22, 1970. I later learned from his mother that Dye went to the 116th Assault Helicopter Company and was killed in action Oct. 22, 1971, precisely one year later. His chopper went down in a monsoon and through the magic of the Internet, I learned the details of his death.

Dye is at eternal rest at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif., at least from the waist up, the rest of his body is missing.

When a crew went in a week later to recover the wreckage of Dye’s Huey, Dye could not be found. Out of a crew of four and two passengers, only one crew member and one passenger survived. Three bodies were tagged and bagged, but Dye was missing. Everybody hoped he escaped and evaded capture on his way back to base camp. The recovery crew found the Huey on its side and had to put it upright on its skids to be airlifted out, and when they did, they found Dye’s partial remains.

His buddy from the 116th AHC, who identified the remains, has spent his entire life in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I’ll spare the finer details of what  Dye’s friend cannot put out of his mind.

So here are just four people who died in the war in which Jane Fonda gave aid and comfort to the enemy.

The damage done by Jane Fonda’s anti-American statements are not just my opinion. Col. Bui Tin was a member of Gen. Nguyen Giap’s staff. Giap was chief of all North Vietnamese military. Col. Bui commanded the first tank to break through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, April 30, 1975. In an interview, Tin said, “Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses. We were elated when Jane Fonda, wearing a red Vietnamese dress, said at a press conference that she was ashamed of American actions in the war and that she would struggle along with us.”

Bui Tin and other North Vietnamese used these visits by Fonda and others as propaganda to urge their soldiers on even in the face of catastrophic military losses and defeats.

This wonderful communist panacea Fonda bragged about was not so grand. In the mid-1980s, Bui Tin, who lived a wonderful life in communist Vietnam, became disillusioned with postwar corruption and Vietnam’s continuing isolation. In 1990, he decided to leave Vietnam and live in exile in Paris to express his growing dissatisfaction with Vietnam’s communist leadership and its political system.

Emily West talks about those who died to give us the right to chose what we want in this country and she certainly is correct. We certainly are in agreement, but we just disagree about a traitor, Jane Fonda.

I have no animosity nor ill will toward West and wish her financial success when she shows “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” at the Historic State Theater. I respectfully suggest when this movie is shown that she advertises a special discount for the veterans she and I both admire.

What a way to honor their service and sacrifice and to thank and show them  appreciation while these veterans still walk among us. The men and women who will attend this move at the Historic State Theater, too, by virtue of their service, also gave us all the right to make choices.

Their service in the name of freedom has permitted the showing of this controversial movie, so why not offer the veterans attending a discount? It will not be hard to identify these worthy individuals to give them the special admission price, the commonwealth of Kentucky prints the word “veteran” on their driver’s license and with a picture ID readily available, there would be no question as to the legitimate owner of the ID and who should receive a discount.

What a wonderful way for the Historic State Theater to honor those who have given the rest of us the right to chose, by offering discounted admission when the movie premieres at the theater.

Who knows, this could be the catalyst that encourages residents, local government and private business owners to start planning a welcoming home parade for America’s Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. Do not make these well-deserving men and women wait for their recognition as Vietnam veterans did.

I am so thankful for Elizabethtown as they did something about it, and set the gold standard for a welcoming home parade in 2010 for Vietnam veterans, including me. Thank you, Elizabethtown, I’ll always be grateful for the recognition of my service in Vietnam, it helped to mend a wounded heart.

Joe “Ragman” Tarnovsky is a Vietnam veteran and Hardin County resident.