Joseph Finch 


Joseph Finch is a frequent participant of the Memorial Day Writers' Project. Joe served with the 25th Aviation Battalion as a medevac pilot with the "Little Bears" of Cu Chi in 1969. Joe is an author, poet, and motivational speaker. His book, "Angel's Wing," tells of his experiences in his year in the skies of Vietnam. As an Environmental Engineer, Joe worked on the USMC Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle program and received eleven national-level environmental awards. Joe actively works with veterans groups and helps wounded troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He is the national hospital outreach chairman for the 25th Infantry Division Association and a volunteer with the Armed Forces Foundation. Joe has been awarded the prestigious "Spirit of Hope" award, presented by DoD in recognition of his efforts on behalf of Veterans.

Echoes of the Trial

Black Sam, Spook, Hughey, Donny, Dog's Head, the Mushroom, Angel's Wing, the Parrots Beak;
The Bo Loi Woods, the Michelin, Dau Tieng, Tay Ninh, Trang Bang, Nui Ba Dinh;
Names, and sounds reaching across the years without a context
 unless you too had been through the trial.

I have.

Black Sam Kalagian, a soldier’s leader who knew and treated all his men with respect;
a fighter pilot in World war II and Korea, commander of the 25th Aviation,
he brought the 25th from the tropical paradise of Hawaii to the hell of Vietnam.
He was a scrounger without peer.

Black Sam said, “We're going to War, moving to Vietnam”.
A trial was coming
He ordered: “Collect every piece of equipment and everything you can carry or put on a truck. Bring it all here”. 
All the men scoured the Hawaiian countryside for three weeks, 24 hours a day.   Collected everything, working order or not,
placed it into containers in the Battalion area.
Black Sam had us mark the tops. Scroungers know what happens to loose equipment in a port.
A trial was coming
He ordered: “Keep aircraft overhead at every landing site and watch every crate. If it turns or goes astray get troops on the
ground immediately to re-route it until its safe.
Pilots flew nearly continuous missions over the ports re-routing Connex containers and crates marked with the black
strawberry of Black Sam
We marshaled every marked box from the seaports to Cu Chi.  
There we established a base camp, Tropic Lightning’s new home.
A trial was at hand
The requests for helicopter support mounted and grew
Pilots worked hard to build the base and then they flew mission after mission to support the troops.
Every piece of equipment played an important role:
 The wood of the crates became the walls of a hooch;
Construction planks and two by fours became a mess hall and an Officer’s club;
Connex containers safe haven during the frequent attacks.
 Broken equipment was traded for new, a generator for a water heater,
 Desks for beds and chairs.
The scrounger built us our home with things that ‘no one could use’.
And, the scrounger traded in people too, a lieutenant colonel and a clerk for a hotshot young major.
We got Spook Grundman, the best of 46 aviators headed for Nam.
 He was chosen to teach pilots their survival skills.

The trial was here
Spook learned quickly from every source and, between the mortar attacks, wrote the rules by which we flew.
Spook did wonders in a short time as though he knew (he had precious little left).
He taught what to do and what NOT to do, so we could stay alive.
“There are old pilots, and bold pilots, but there are very few old, bold pilots. Be careful how you fly.”
“Imagine yourself as the enemy on the ground trying to hit a helicopter to claim the reward. $10,000 just for your head! 
Don’t let them collect”.

And he learned from Black Sam. Spook was a scrounger too.
Spook traded a small generator for a baby Japanese Sun Bear, a mascot to keep morale high.
One thing spook never traded for was a good grade on a check ride. To pass his check ride you had to know your stuff.

He knew, if you didn't, you died.
A trial was raging
Spook flew normal missions also not content to be just a safety pilot.
 On one of those Standard missions he was taking a wounded soldier to the hospital.
As he banked his Huey over the village of Cu Chi, ground fire hit him.
Spook died instantly.
The unit mourned the loss of their best pilot,
Another trial
The war continued. We moved on.
The baby bear was renamed Spooky in his memory.
Spook’s written instructions, and lessons went on teaching another 5 years, 'till the 25th withdrew.
I followed Spooks rules, and managed to survive the trial.
Lean back into that chicken plate as you bank over little towns.
So you see, it is no stretch for me to say ‘because of a scrounger, I'm alive’.
 He helped me through the trial even as he died.
Joe Finch, Little Bear Two Six, 1969.


Consider where you are at this moment, just a few yards from the center of power .
of the most powerful nation on earth, and a few yards from the names of fallen heroes.
You are in a very hallowed place.

Listen to the sounds of drum beats echoing across the years
Drrum, drrrum drrrum

Listen for the sounds of foot beats echoing across the years
Drumph, Drumph, Drumph.

Listen for the sound of distant cannons echoing across the years
Boom, Boom boom, Boom

Listen for the sounds of the rotor blades thundering overhead
Wop Wop Wop Wop

Listen for the sounds of victory cries echoing across the years
Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah

Listen amidst the silence of today’s many tears
____-. ____-, ____-, (8 count)

Soldiers hear them all.

As you stand here, pause in silence to revere
all who went before you
All that gave up their tomorrows
that you might now, be here.

Give thanks to those who won your freedom,
Honor those who won your freedom
Respect those who won our freedoms

Remember, the price that many paid here
… Freedom isn’t free.

Joe Finch, Memorial Day 2004


You’d say I am average, small, ordinary looking. That I don’t LOOK strong.
But strength comes in many flavors.

My strength lay not in how many pounds I could lift; but in how much pain I can relieve and how much I
could…. give

My arms were built to hug, hold, and embrace.

The strength of my legs was not measured by how fast I could run Marathons; but in how quickly I would run
to help and how far I would walk to care for others.

The strength of my heart was not in how many heartbeats I had, but the quality of moments I shared with

Or in the one time I shifted my body into the line of fire, and gave up my strength and my tomorrows for you.

Strength comes in many flavors. My friend Donny was very strong for you.

This is for Donny Kilpatrick Panel 18W, Row 24

Joe Finch, 2001

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