The crew frantically radioed news of the crash. Under heavy attack in the enemy-controlled city of Hue, Vietnam, hope waned for the downed helicopter’s passengers and crew.
Fred Ferguson heard the call. Ignoring warnings for aircraft to stay away from the city because of heavy anti-aircraft fire, Ferguson executed a low-level flight at maximum speed in search of crash survivors.
He maneuvered into position, landing his helicopter in a confined area in a blinding dust cloud, amid a hail of mortar and small-arms fire. He gathered the survivors on board and returned to the air, despite heavy damage to his own helicopter and the continued rain of enemy fire.
The rescue during the 1968 Tet Offensive earned Ferguson, 68, the Medal of Honor. The Chandler resident is one of seven Vietnam War veterans who will serve as grand marshals in the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center’s 10th annual Veterans Day parade on Monday.
Ferguson hopes for a large turnout this weekend at events honoring America’s past and current warriors.
“I’m breathing free air right now,” he said. “You’re freely writing for the newspaper. Lawyers and politicians aren’t the ones who guarantee these freedoms.”
Ferguson said soldiers are the ones who make America free.
“When a soldier signs up for service, he writes the government a blank check, up to and including his own life,” Ferguson said. “Sure, they get paid, but it’s not worth their life. There’s got to be another reason why someone would sign up and do what they do. These are special people. There should be some respect from their countrymen for what they’ve done.”
Arizona State University student Spencer Vogler, 28, fought as a specialist in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. While he is an opponent of the Bush administration’s policies and the war in Iraq, he knows he would honor that blank check in a heartbeat.
“Sometimes I talk with my fiancee, and it’s like I’m schizophrenic,” Vogler said. “If my country called I’d go back and do my job to the fullest of my abilities. My opinion about it doesn’t matter; you’ve got to be able to detach yourself.”
“Over 200 years ago, a raggedy band of soldiers made the down payment on our freedom,” he said. “For two centuries, brave men and women have kept them up. It’s up to us to make sure we keep making the payments.”
Mesa Veterans Parade
What: Free parade honoring America’s veterans
When: 11 a.m. Nov. 12
Where: North on Center Street through downtown Mesa, ending at Centennial Park
Information: (480) 570-4032
Royal Air Force Veterans Memorial
What: A free service honoring American and British fighter pilot trainees who died at Falcon Field during World War II
When: 10:45 a.m. Nov. 11
Where: Mesa Cemetery, 112 N. Center St.
Information: (480) 644-2335
Tempe Veterans Day Parade and Picnic
What: Free parade and ceremony at Tempe Beach Park.
When: 9 a.m. Nov. 11
Where: North on Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe to Tempe Beach Park
Information: (480) 968-0634
Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center Veterans Day Parade
What: Free parade with the theme “Hearts of Valor”
When: 11 a.m. Nov. 12
Where: Downtown Phoenix, beginning at the VA Center, north on Seventh Street, west on Camelback Road, then north on Central Avenue to Bethany Home Road
Information: (602) 277-5551