Friday, February 2, 2007

Remembering Joe Eubanks

I can't explain why, but I've thought about Joe Eubanks a number of times this past week. It's not unusual that I think about him, but it is unusual that I think about him several times in a week. I think this is what, in part, prompted me to post the lyrics to the James Taylor song, "The Secret 'O Life" the other day....let me tell you about Joe.

Joe was a friend, a college classmate, a fellow duckbutt. "Duckbutt" is a derogatory term referring to one's height....or actually lack thereof, that was used in the military college we both attended. We graduated in 1969 and both accepted commissions in the U.S. Army, he as an Armor officer and I as an Intelligence officer.

He and I saw each other at Fort Knox, KY when I was taking the Armor Officer Basic course and he was in a class ahead of me. I didn't see him again until one day in 1972 when I was stationed in Pleiku, Vietnam. One day in March of that year, a helicopter landed right next to my hooch. This was highly unusual as there wasn't a lot of room for a helicopter to land close to the building. The rotor vibrations caused a fluorescent light bulb to fall and explode directly on my desk in front of me! Instaneous panic was shortly overcome by the need to chew out some hot dog chopper pilot. I raced outside and up to the chopper swearing the absolute best oaths my vocabulary would allow. As I got to the pilot's door I saw the grinning face of Joe Eubanks! I was later to learn that Joe had attended and graduated from helicopter pilot school in 1971, and had recently been assigned to the 57th Assualt Helicopter Company which was garrisoned at Pleiku.

That night we celebrated friendship at the Officers Club. I saw Joe a couple of more times before I left Pleiku in April. I had at that time decided not to make the military a career and was given an "early out".

As an intelligence officer I saw most of the enemy movement reports for the area and during this time it was obvious that the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) was gearing up for something big. Little did I know how big it was and that it would cost Joe Eubanks his life. All of the details of one of the biggest and least known battles of the Vietnam war are available at the web site "The Battle of Kontum". Oh, by the way, during this time I drove a jeep (with a governor that limited top speed to 65 mph) several times a week from Pleiku, 30 some miles on unsecured roads to Kontum by myself or with one other guy armed only with an M-16 and .38 cal Navy Special! (**Comment Added 2/06/07--I forgot to mention that this road ran right beside the "Rockpile" which was where Joe was shot down.) I'm glad I was young and invincible then because after reading the background on the web site listed above I realize how lucky I was that my upcoming "early out" wasn't the perpetual kind.

I found out somewhere towards the end of 1972 that Joe had been shot down and killed during the battle less than 8 weeks after I saw him last. I still think about Joe because he was a friend but also I think, because of what is described as "survivors guilt". Why was it Joe? Why was I so lucky?

Last year Pat Conroy, the author of "The Great Santini", "Lords of Discipline", "Beach Music" and other novels released a non-fiction book entitled "My Losing Season". This is the story of Pat's basketball career at the same college that both Joe and I attended. Joe was a trainer for the team and is a figure in Pat's book. In a way it's partly my story as well, because I was there during that season and can count many of the people mentioned by Pat as friends too.

I said it's a story of Pat's basketball career but it's really much more than that. Basketball just happens to be the glue that holds the rest of the story together. It will tell you the rest of the story of Joe Eubanks, the sign "Gladiator" and he was both. If you have the time and inclination, read it.


Karen said...

Carry on Joe Eubanks, where ever you are. Thanks for such a lovely wakeup all on Saturday morning. The Hagers

Jim Kee said...

Captain Eubanks will always be remembered by his hometown of Concord, North Carolina. His picture (the one at the top of the page)along with his medals and helmet are on display at the newly opened Cabarrus County Veterans Museum. A true hero should never be forgotten.


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