Veteran Series

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2007,
Winter 2007
Original Images:





Author: Bill Nickels

Charles “Chuck” Brown: Charles “Chuck” Brown graduated from Ann Arbor High School in June of 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor. He worked at an A& P store on the corner of State and Packard and dated his sweetheart Virginia “Ginny” Harwood of Belleville while he waited for a letter from his draft board. He did not have to wait long, it arrived in September of 1942.

In response to the call, he first went to Fort Custer in Battle Creek for a few days before being shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he went through basic training. He learned to use an M1 rifle which he was destined to never use in combat. After basic training, Ginny traveled to South Carolina to spend time with Chuck during his time off. In love, Ginny and Chuck became engaged in 1943. After basic training, he was assigned to an Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon that was part of the 106th Infantry Division. The division was transported to New York where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth that had been converted to a troop ship. The QE avoided German submarines by zigzagging across the Atlantic alone and eventually reached Scotland where they boarded a troop train to England. In England Chuck waited for the rest of the regiment to arrive.

Chuck and Ginny in 1943.

Chuck at Fort Jackson in 1943.

Chuck in Eupin, Belgium in 1945.

After D Day on December 1, 1944, Chuck's 106th was shipped to Belgium. They were sent to the front lines on December 11, 1944 and joined other inexperienced and seriously depleted American divisions. Five days later, on December 16, 1944, the German army counterattacked and took the Americans by surprise. This German offensive became known as The Battle of the Bulge. The 106th had the responsibility to protect St. Vith, a major transportation center. American troops blocked the vital roads for six days when Chuck's commanding officer told his troops that they could stay and be captured or leave and try to find their way back to American lines. Over seven thousand members of the 106th Division were captured when St. Vith finally fell to the Germans.

Approximately thirty-five of Chuck's platoon decided to try and find the American lines. Knowing the German buzz bombs were aimed at the allies, they used the flight of the bombs heading west as a compass. Chuck started his search for the American front with one K ration bar and part of a canteen of water. They traveled by night and hid in the weeds during the day. As Chuck slept one day, German tanks rendezvoused within sight, Chuck heard, “Come on Brownie, we have to go.” While traveling one night, Chuck hid by a pine bush and heard a German calling for his friend, “Shuman, Shuman.” As the German walked by, Chuck could have touched him. Thirsty and hungry after fours days of travel, Chuck heard “Halt” spoken by an American soldier manning a machine gun. The American had just completed a day dream describing what he would do if the enemy approached him.

The American guard took Chuck back to his platoon where the soldiers shared their breakfast with him. From there, a captain directed him to a rest area where he could sleep. His sleep was interrupted by a lieutenant who asked, “What are you doing?” Overhearing the conversation, a captain reamed out the lieutenant! Chuck learned he was one of thirteen of the thirty who started back together who made it back to the American lines.

106th Infantry Division Patch.

Chuck and Ginny back together.

After his rest, Chuck went back to the 106th which, they now named the “Hungry and Sick Division.” With two man cross cut saws, he now had the job of cutting trees that were used for building roads the American army could travel on through the Ardennes Forest. A soldier walking by bet they could not fell a tree on his rifle. Not wanting to risk his rifle, he placed a stake in the ground which was promptly crushed by the next falling tree.

On leave in February of 1945, Chuck went to Eupen, Belgium and was photographed with his helmet on. Signing the picture “Love, Chuck,” he sent it home to Ginny. Showing gratification to the Americans, a Belgium family served Chuck a breakfast of Belgium waffles one morning.

Chuck met a friend who had just returned to the war from Michigan. The friend told him Ginny had a new boy friend. Crushed, Chuck wrote an angry letter to Ginny that sealed the end of their relationship. Chuck's commanding officer refused to send the letter and asked Chuck to wait a week. If he wanted to send it then, he would. Chuck's disappointment remained after a week and the letter was sent. Ginny never understood why Chuck sent her the Dear John letter.

After Germany surrendered, Chuck was shipped back to England. They thought they were heading to the Pacific. When he learned of the atomic bomb and the surrender of Japan, Chuck said he was “glad it worked out.” Instead of the Pacific, Chuck was shipped back to Fort Jackson, on to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and finally to Fort Custer in Battle Creek where he was discharged.

Forgetting Ginny, Chuck married after the war. Forgetting Chuck, Ginny married and raised a family. Over the years, they occasionally met at the Stony Creek Methodist Church and local events. Each thinking they were dumped by the other, their meetings were cool and reserved. After each of their spouses died, Chuck learned that his “friend” told him a cock and bull story some fifty years earlier Belgium. They are now celebrating their 98th wedding anniversary, 40 with Ginny and her first husband, 50 with Chuck and his first wife, and eight together.

Charles Kettles:

Charles “Charlie Kettles' grandfather, James Stobie, lived in London, Ontario. In route to Chicago from his home in London, Ontario, James met P.R. Cleary (founder and president of Cleary College) here in Ypsilanti. He moved with his wife Jane and four of his eight children from London to Ypsilanti and bought 11 N. Normal, just north of the Cleary home. James died in 1918 while Jane continued to live on North Normal until her death in 1933.

Charles dad was a pilot in both World War I and World War II. In between the wars, he flew for SKF Flying Service and the State of Michigan in Lansing where Charles grew up. While visiting aunts on North Normal, Charles became acquainted with Ann Cleary living next door. During World War II, Charles dad flew newly built military aircraft to the European theater. After World War II, Charles' dad flew for Ford Motor Company and the family moved to Garden City where Charles attended the Edison Institute in Dearborn. In 1947, Charles dad moved back to Lansing to be chief pilot for Abram's Aerial Survey and Charles moved to North Normal with his aunts to finish his high school years. A friendship grew between Ann and Charles during this time.

Charles Kettles in May of 1967.

Charles graduated from high school in 1949 and enrolled in Michigan State Normal College (MSNC, now EMU). Graduating from high school in 1948, Ann attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1952. She married a classmate in 1953. In addition to attending MSNC full time, Charles' full time job handling baggage for American Airlines at Willow Run Airport kept him tangentially associated with flying. While attending MSNC, he learned to fly a single engine Aircoup. The Aircoup was engineered to fly like a car drives. Little did Charles know that this experience would lead to dramatic heroism. Charles dropped out of school after the 1951 spring term and took a second full time job with Kaiser Fraser Export Corporation with the intention to resume school in the spring of 1952. With the Korean War going strong, Charles' plans changed when he was drafted into the Army in October of 1951

In the Army, Charles attended Officers Candidate School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Later that year, he was assigned to Army Flight School which he graduated from in April of 1954. After graduation, he was sent to Korea. By then, the conflict was over and his unit was transferred to Japan. His unit was transferred a second time to Thailand. His commitment to the Army ended and he married in August of 1956.

Returning to Lansing, Charles joined the 4/20th Field Artillery Battalion commanding an eight inch Howitzer Battery. Starting in 1956, he and his brother owned a Ford dealership in Dewitt and he spent two weeks each summer at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.

When Vietnam started to heat up in 1963, the Army found itself in need of helicopter pilots. Responding to the need, Charles volunteered in 1963. He attended the helicopter transition program at Ft. Wolters, Texas. From Texas it was on to Germany where Charles learned to fly UH-1 “Huey” helicopters. From Germany, it was back to Ft. Benning, Georgia to form the 176th Assault Helicopter Company. As a Junior Major in 1967, Charles commanded the 1st Platoon of the 176th Assault Helicopter Company. Each helicopter had a crew of four, a pilot, copilot, crew chief, and gunner who manned thirty caliber machine guns on each side of the aircraft. A helicopter lift platoon was composed of eleven helicopters. The Company was composed of two lift platoons and one gunship platoon. The gunship platoon was made up of nine heavily armed gunship helicopters. The 176th was ordered to fly their helicopters to California where they were transported to Vietnam by ship. In Vietnam, the 176th worked in support of the First Brigade of the famous 101st Airborne Division.

On the 14th of May 1967, Charles was stationed at Due Pho Airfield in the central highlands of Vietnam. What seemed to be a routine assignment, six men of the 101st were dropped off by helicopter north of Duc Pho to do a reconnaissance patrol. They met heavy fire from the enemy and retreated to a B-52 bomb crater.

“After loading more wounded aboard, he nursed his crippled ship back to his base. In an attempt to supply the men with needed ammunition, another helicopter was destroyed.”

Soon after he arrived to pick up the men, he was advised by Flight Control to leave the area. Another B-52 raid was scheduled to hit the area. After attempts to blow down tall trees in the area with the helicopter rotor failed, Charles had his crew chief and gunner remove their safety straps, linked them together, secured one end to the helicopter, and threw them overboard to the ground troops. Several attempts by the ground troops to climb up the straps were unsuccessful. Completely disregarding his own personal safety, Charles slid back his armor plating and hung out of the window in order to demonstrate to the patrol members how to tie the straps forming a sling around themselves. Charles lifted four of the men one at a time using the sling. A second helicopter lifted the remaining two men. Minutes later the B-52 strike finally took place. The two helicopters moved the six men to a secure area to the west where they continued their reconnaissance.

On the 15th of May 1967, Charles' platoon flew a group of eight helicopters with five members of the 101st aboard each helicopter to the area where the patrol was dropped off the day before. After two lifts, eighty men entered combat. They moved up a river valley into an ambush and suffered heavy casualties. Charles volunteered to carry reinforcements to the embattled force and evacuate their wounded from the battle site. Small arms and automatic weapons fire raked the landing zone and inflicted heavy damage to the ships, but Charles refused to leave the ground until all their craft were loaded to capacity. He then led them out of the battle area. He later returned to the battlefield with more reinforcements and landed in the midst of a rain of mortar and automatic weapons fire which wounded his gunner and ruptured his fuel tank. After loading more wounded aboard, he nursed his crippled ship back to his base. In an attempt to supply the men with needed ammunition, another helicopter was destroyed. Suffering damage from ground fire during extraction, his platoon was down to one flyable helicopter. After securing additional helicopters from the 161st Attack Helicopter Company, Charles led a flight of six ships to rescue the infantry unit. Because their landing area was very narrow, Charles and his platoon flew back in trail formation making them vulnerable to ground fire. Landing, Charles picked up one man and the tail helicopter signaled that all the men were aboard helicopters. Thinking all were picked up, the helicopters took off on a route that would loop around back to Duc Pho Airfield. After looping around, a radio message from the command control helicopter reported that eight men were still on the ground and missed being picked up. With one aboard, Charles volunteered to return for the others. Without the support of gun ships or artillery and surprise as his only ally, Charles flew back into the river valley. Completely disregarding his own safety, he maneuvered his lone craft through savage enemy fire to where the remainder of the infantrymen waited. Mortar fire blasted out the helicopter chin bubble and part of the windshield, but he remained on the ground until all eight men were aboard. The enemy concentrated massive firepower on his helicopter and another round badly damaged his tail boom. His UH-1 “Huey” had a load limit of five men plus his crew. With nine passengers, he was now four men over the helicopter's load limit. When the copilot tried to take off, his helicopter fish tailed severely. Charles took over the controls and found that the engine did not have enough power for a normal take off. Charles lowered the pitch (angle) of the propeller blade so the rotor rpms could reach normal rpm. With normal rotor rpm, Charles was able to lift the helicopter off the ground and move forward. With the overloaded helicopter, the rotor rpm would again slow down, so again he lowered the pitch, easing the helicopter to the ground, trading a decrease of altitude for normal rotor rpm. With normal rotor rpm. Charles was able to lift the helicopter and move forward, only to have the rpm again slow down. Repeating this process five or six times with five or six bounces down the valley floor, Charles was finally able to maintain flight. Charles calls the UH-1 a “great machine!”. We can only imagine the relief the crew and rescued men felt as they finally knew they were returning to their base. Twenty-one helicopters were damaged by enemy fire beyond repair that day. Nine of his crew members were wounded

On the 16th of May 1967, Major Don Phillips commander 176th Assault Helicopter Company reassigned Charlie as Operations Officer. Explaining why, Major Phillips said “Maybe you can figure out what an Assault Helicopter Company does without any helicopters.” Charles left Vietnam in October of 1967.

Charles Kettles.

Charles Kettles.

Charles and Ann with granddaughters.

A second tour of duty found Charles back in Vietnam in 1969. He commanded the 121st Assault Helicopter Company in the Mekong Delta. According to Charles, the war had changed and now was an administrative record keeping war.

In 1970, Charlie returned to Fort Sam Houston where he worked in the aviation division and a readiness group that supported the National Guard and Army Reserve troops. The Army encouraged their officers to obtain a college degree. Charles returned to Ypsilanti in 1971 and inquired about finishing his degree at EMU. While in town, he stopped to visit Ann Cleary's mother at 1310 West Cross. Ann's mother contacted Ann at EMU where she worked and suggested she stop by the house since Charlie was in town. They married in 1977. He finished his service as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1978 while at Fort Sam Houston.

Upon his discharge, Charles returned to Michigan and finished his undergraduate degree that he started twenty-nine years earlier. He went on to complete a Masters and taught at Eastern for six years where he established the Aviation Management Degree program in 1982. During this time, he was elected and served as an Ypsilanti City Council member. In 1984, Charles went on to work at Chrysler Pentastar Aviation until his retirement in 1993.

For his efforts on the 14th of May 1967, Charles was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism while participating in aerial flight as evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. For his efforts on the 15th of May 1967, Charles was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. The Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster was awarded to Charles for bravery. The Bronze Star is the fourth highest combat award given by the United States. The Republic of Vietnam awarded Charles the Gallantry Cross given for heroic conduct while fighting an enemy force. By displaying meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight, Charles received twenty-seven Air Medal Awards. A hero is sometimes defined as a person who disregards their own personal safety to help another. By that definition, Charles is a hero several times over.