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July 2018 Newsletter

Vol 6, Issue 5


AFR’s Donna Lee with Joanne Patton and Blackhorse Director Charley Watkins

AFR’s Donna Lee with Joanne Patton and Blackhorse Director Charley Watkins

The June Service Academies Global Summit in our nation’s capital was an interesting event with all five U.S. Military Academy Superintendents in attendance, in addition to a host of celebrated academy graduates and keynote speaker David Gergen, political commentator and former presidential advisor, whose remarks touched on the need for today’s political leaders to put country over party.  Another highlight was the Blackhorse Association’s reunion in Boston.  The group celebrated its history serving under Gen. George Patton, and visited the Patton’s Green Meadows Farm at the invitation of Gen. Patton’s daughter-in-law, Joanne Holbrook Patton.  Mrs. Patton was also the guest-of-honor at the Blackhorse Association banquet.

Our Featured Veteran this month is Charlie McMahon – a veteran of the Combined Action Program (CAP) in Vietnam and a man born for combat.  After joining the Marines at age 17 and training for six months in the Mediterranean, McMahon got his first taste of combat in Operation Hue City as a lance corporal and squad leader with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  AFR helps the veterans of CAP book reunion-friendly hotels each year.

The Top Destination this month is San Antonio, a favorite of veterans of any branch of service.  Famed for its Riverwalk, El Mercado (largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico), Spanish missions, Lackland and Randolph Air Force Bases, and the National Museum of the Pacific War in nearby Fredericksburg – reunions of all service branches enjoy San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country.

The Must-See Museum this month is the The National Civil War Museum.  It’s the only museum in the nation that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War.  History is preserved in equally balanced presentations that are humanistic in nature without bias to Union or Confederate causes.


First Strikes at TET Offensive and Protecting South Vietnam

Growing up in a family with his father having fought with the 8th Marines on Guadalcanal, his grandfather in France with the 101st Infantry as a medic and an uncle who earned the Navy Cross at Iwo Jima, Charles G. McMahon was raised ready: “My parents let me go in at 17.  I didn’t want to miss the fight in Vietnam.”

Joining the Marines and training for six months in the Mediterranean, McMahon got his chance during Operation Hue City as a lance corporal and squad leader with Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  “Seeing the bullet wounds and scars on fellow Marines who were wounded early in Vietnam while training, I knew it was going to be serious business,” said McMahon, 68, who saw sporadic combat before being sent to Hue City at the launch of the TET Offensive in January, 1968.  “On convoy to Hue we found Life Magazine photo journalist Catherine Leroy along the road and gave her a ride.  She told us the North Vietnamese Army held the city and we were heading into a buzz saw.”

McMahon with Captured AK-47

McMahon with Captured AK-47

House to house searches began on the outskirts of Hue where they learned of a RPG or B40 rocket squad lying in wait for a convoy.  McMahon’s squad got the jump on them with an M79 grenade launcher and the daily battles for territory began.  The historic, open city had not yet been bombed, but when U.S. brass realized it was occupied by an enemy division they pulled the trigger. “Unlike a lot of Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese Army would stay and fight, and we accommodated them,” McMahon said.  “It was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war, but we took the city and raised the American flag before replacing it with that of South Vietnam.  TET was eventually shut down, and although our press didn’t recognize it, we thought it was the high-water mark of the war.”

McMahon was then assigned to Combined Action Program (CAP), an operation to protect South Vietnamese villages, support their citizen soldiers and provide medical care and supplies. “Attacks on our village were frequent, but the VC usually took the worst of it,” he said. “We built bonds with residents, who were grateful and provided intelligence, but there were plants and in one case we got very lucky. U.S. Army personnel on a hill saw a large enemy force begin a mortar attack on the village and immediately let loose with 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns.  They shot them to pieces in an act of divine providence.  Thirty of us against hundreds of VC and North Vietnamese made it unlikely that anyone in the village would have survived.”

After CAP, McMahon was on a routine patrol in August, 1968 when he nearly took a direct hit from a mortar round.  Waking up in the hospital, he was medivacked to the states and left the Marines as a Corporal E-4.  He served in the Active Reserves from 1972 to 1975 before beginning a long career in the railroad industry. McMahon returned with fellow vets to the CAP village in 1994 and found the residents happy and at peace. “They liked Americans and were glad to see us, but said it was rough on them when our forces left Vietnam.  They didn’t understand it was a political decision,” he said.

McMahon with Vietnamese Villager

McMahon with Vietnamese Villager

McMahon retired from Amtrak in 2008 and since has volunteered for the Department of Veterans Affairs, currently at the Medical Center in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. “The best feeling from working with veterans is seeing the reward of helping them transition from the adrenalin-filled world of combat to the next phase of their lives,” said McMahon, who lives with wife Susan in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania.  He maintains his bond to the Corps as a board member of the Combined Action Group Veterans Association.

The group gathers at annual reunions and will meet in San Diego on November 10th to mark the birth of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. has provided hotel contracting expertise for five years.  “There’s always that special camaraderie in seeing old friends, making new ones and sharing anecdotes of war, both good and bad,” said McMahon, who still carries shrapnel in his leg.  “All of us are very proud of our service and sacrifice in Vietnam.  We won every major battle, but you’d think we lost the war the way some people remember it.  In reality, we just left and still don’t understand why so many blamed the war on the warriors.  Fortunately, it’s not that way for America’s fighting men and women today.”

Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com, Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and a former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.


Exterior view of the historic Alamo shortly after sunrise

Exterior view of the historic Alamo shortly after sunrise

From the earliest Spanish Missionaries in 1691 to today, San Antonio continues to offer a unique blend of rich heritage, traditions and natural beauty.  The San Antonio River Walk, known as the “world’s largest hotel lobby,” winds along the gently flowing San Antonio River through the city – linking hotels, restaurants, shops, and museums.  Visit the Alamo, the first of five missions established by the Spanish government and the site of the infamous battle of 1836 where 189 men sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Texas.  The other four Spanish colonial missions (Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada) are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and worth touring.  The Buckhorn

National Museum of the Pacific War

National Museum of the Pacific War

Saloon and Museum’s Hall of Horns, Hall of Feathers and Hall of Fins house not only the largest, but also some of the most impressive collections of native and exotic wildlife around.  Next door you’ll find the Texas Ranger Museum which contains priceless artifacts documenting the history and lore of the Texas Rangers.  And be sure to visit El Mercado, the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico.

Enjoy a scenic ride to Fredericksburg to tour the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is Destination Photo 3dedicated to everyone who served in the Pacific under Admiral Nimitz.  The Museum includes over 34,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space including the George Bush Gallery, Admiral Nimitz Museum, Plaza of Presidents, Veterans’ Walk of Honor, Japanese Garden of Peace, Pacific Combat Zone, and the Nimitz Education and Research Center.   At Lackland AFB take a stroll along the parade grounds and view a static display of vintage and modern aircraft.  Included in the display are the B-17, P-38, F-82, C-47 and many others.  Take a short trip to the History and Traditions Museum, which houses a collection of rare aeronautical objects.  The museum’s aircraft, engines, instruments, and air weapons span the years of aviation development from its origin to the aerospace age.


Museum Must PhotoThe National Civil War Museum is the only museum in The United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War. History is preserved in equally balanced presentations that are humanistic in nature without bias to Union or Confederate causes.  As President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address encompassed the emotions of the American struggle, The National Civil War Museum portrays this struggle as a time line, from the issues straining the nation through the war’s conclusion at Appomattox Court House.  Nowhere can you find a better understanding of the Civil War, its effect on the nation, or on the people.  See and feel the emotions rise and fall as you embrace Bull Run, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Antietam, and Gettysburg; once ordinary places transformed to hallowed ground within a few hours.

The National Civil War Museum incorporates collections of artifacts, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and other printed matter that exceed 24,000 items.  Although many items have been donated to The National Civil War Museum since its opening in 2001, the vast majority of its collections were acquired by the City of Harrisburg between 1994 and 1999 under the auspices of Mayor Stephen R. Reed.  Three-dimensional objects (artifacts) comprise about 3,500 items, of which one-fourth (850 items) are on display in the permanent galleries of the building.  Because The National Civil War Museum’s mission encompasses the period from 1850 through 1876, its collections vary widely in scope and years of manufacture.  The military artifacts encompass all aspects of soldiers’ experiences: from the personal equipage and weaponry of the War, to wounds, disease, prisoner-of-war experiences, and the emotional drain of the conflict.