Tag Archive: Fred Apgar

Past Commander Fred Apgar checks off bucket list item …from a perfectly good airplane

Despite having moved to the other side of the country, Past Commander Fred Apgar continues to keep his VFW membership at Edmonds Post 9/11. Fred regularly attends Post meetings on Zoom, even when we have in-person meetings. Fred posted this report recently on Facebook: 

“Yesterday, (Sept 6) I crossed off another adventure from my bucket list. I drove to Statesboro, a town about an hour’s drive from Savannah. My destination was the Jumping Place, a drop zone and sky diving center at the Bulloch County Airport. In tandem, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and enjoyed nearly ten minutes of thrills and pure adventure. Casey was my TI (Tandem Instructor), he has made more than 7,000 jumps, and he was terrific. We exited the plane at an elevation of 11,500 feet and free fell for about a minute before the chute was deployed (it was my job to pull the cord, but I was so excited, I forgot to do it), and we enjoyed about eight minutes in the air on our descent. The parachute was incredibly easy to steer, and on our descent we did some acrobatics before we made a soft landing on our butts.” 

Fred Apgar Remembers

The following is an except from Fred’s 8-part reminiscence of his trip to Vietnam and Laos, to retrace his steps from the war. You can find the entirety of his writing on his Facebook page, some of which have also been posted on our Post 8870 FB page.

Meeting Seng Keu 

Route 7 is a major route in northern Laos. It connects North Vietnam with the PDJ in the center of northern Laos. A major infiltration route for the North Vietnamese, it remained under Communist control throughout the war; however, our CIA supported Army of Hmong (ethnic Laotian hill people) conducted regular operations in the area and the road was continually surveilled by airborne FACs and subjected to routine interdiction sorties. 

Fred Apgar Remembers Meeting Seng Keu
Comrades reunited

Nong Het is the eastern most town on Route 7, lying just a few miles from the border with Vietnam. The village has the distinction of being the birthplace and childhood home of General Vang Pao, the leader of the Hmong Army. At Nong Het, we met, quite randomly on the street Seng Keu, an 80 years old Hmong. Upon hearing that I had been in the Air Force, he jumped up, grabbed my arms and told me we had been comrades. He told us his story. 

Seng Keu served in the Hmong Army. He had fought with a Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU)almost exclusively in Barrel Roll, (Operation Barrel Roll was a covert U.S. Air Force and Navy Task Force interdiction and close air support campaign conducted in the Kingdom of Laos from 1964 to 1973, concurrent with the Vietnam War.) moving from Lima Site to Lima Site as the ebb and flow of operations dictated. Initially, his unit, like most of the newly formed SGU units engaged in guerrilla operations, ambushing enemy units and then quickly retreating into the relative safety of the jungle. In time, however, Vang Pao’s forces began to be used in more of a conventional warfare role, against NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and PL (Pathet Lao) forces, with U.S. air support. 

I sat, mesmerized, as Seng Keu ticked off the names of the familiar locations at which he had engaged NVA and PL forces in skirmishes. Seng Keu was delighted to learn I had been involved in the war in Barrel Roll. When I told him our call sign was Alleycat, he held my hands and thanked me for the many nights when Alleycat had sent Spooky (gunships) to his team when they were engaged with the enemy. We marveled at how the paths of our lives had crossed so many years ago. It was as if we had always been friends and brothers. 

We talked more about Seng Keu’s life during the war. He and his wife had raised 14 children, five of whom had died. Two of his sons had died while fighting against the PL and NVA. I felt privileged to have met a person with whom I shared a wonderful moment of bonding, respect, and friendship. At one time, we had been connected on the battlefields of Laos, and 45 years later, we re-discovered that connection. 

Fred Apgar Remembers Erv Schmidt

Fred Apgar Remembers Erv Schmidt
Erv, left, with Fred Apar

Ervin Schmidt was a 25 year old barber from Marshfield, Wisconsin when he enlisted in the United State Navy in August of 1940. After completing basic training, Erv was assigned to the battleship USS California and participated in numerous training cruises in the Pacific Ocean. In December of 1941, the USS California was docked in what has become known as “battleship row” at Pearl Harbor. Erv was asleep in his bunk when the first of two torpedoes hit the California. After a second torpedo struck, the Captain issued the order to abandon ship. 

Erv was then assigned to the heavy cruiser, USS Chicago and the ship deployed to serve as reinforcement to the Australian and New Zealand forces in the vicinity of the Coral Sea. In the confusion after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Erv was listed as Killed in Action, and his family was so notified. Six weeks after his family held a funeral service for him, they learned that Erv had survived the attack. 

Fred Apgar Remembers Erv Schmidt
Erv at sea aboard Torsk

In January 1943, the Chicago engaged the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, and the ship sustained severe battle damage. Once again, Erv heard the command to abandon ship. Thinking he might be safer under water, Erv volunteered for submarine duty. He was assigned to the USS Saury as a radio and sonar operator, and during his five patrols on the Saury, a total of 9 Japanese ships were sunk. 

Fred Apgar Remembers Erv Schmidt
USS Torsk

After some well-deserved shore duty in Portsmouth, New Hampshire he was assigned to another submarine, the USS Torsk, which conducted patrols against enemy shipping, first in Tokyo Bay and then the Sea of Japan. On August 11 and then on August 13, 1945, the Torsk sank two Japanese Naval ships, which were the last two ships sunk by the US Navy in World War II. On August 14, 1945, hostilities in the South Pacific ended. During his 2012 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., Erv had the opportunity to visit, for the last time, his beloved USS Torsk, which now serves as a memorial in Baltimore Harbor. 

Thanks, Fred for reminding of us our late comrade. 

Fred Apgar moved away to the mid-west a few years ago, but he has remained in close touch with the Post and has been kind enough to contribute to this newsletter from time to time. Disappointed with the local posts near his new home, Fred recently re-affiliated with Post 8870. 

Memories of Operation Barrel Roll

by Fred Apgar

Forty years ago I lost a dear friend in a senseless motor vehicle accident on an icy road in Montana. His name was Anonn Puanyathio, he was Thai, and he was a courageous warrior. His call sign was Hilltop. We became friends during my tour in Southeast Asia. We were both involved in the ground war in Northern Laos (Barrel Roll).

Fred Apgar, then

Fred Apgar, then

The ground war in Laos was waged by a US sponsored army, comprised almost exclusively by Hmong, a native Laotian ethnic minority. Operations relied on a network of road watch teams (RWT) and forward air guides (FAG).

Hilltop was a FAG, a fearless trooper who accompanied Hmong soldiers and served as a link between ground forces and our airborne command center. Hilltop was among the best of our FAGs. We worked together for a year and became life-long friends. His friendship was a gift. Anonn had a wonderful sense of humor and was one of those individuals who thrived in combat. He was born to be a warrior.

Fred Apgar, now

Fred Apgar, now

Hilltop’s hometown was close to the base at which I was stationed in Thailand. When our schedules permitted, he took me to his world. We shared some memorable experiences. Anonn was a quiet and gentle person, but in the field he was a respected leader; assertive, and confident, who exuded a command presence. On numerous occasions, Hilltop engaged in firefights with the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao, suffering several wounds, and forced to recede into the depths of the jungle, evading the bad guys to await pick-up at first light.

Memories of Operation Barrel Roll Anonn Puanyathio

Anonn Puanyathio

I was honored to have Anonn attend our Squadron’s Sawadee Party for those of us whose deployment was over and were returning home. It was at that party, our last time together, when Anonn presented me with a gift of two pictures; one of him at Long Tieng and one of himself sitting on top of a captured Soviet made PT-76 tank. He also presented me with a Soviet made watch he salvaged from the wreckage. The successful ambush took place in the Ban Ban Valley.

It took more than a year after the war ended, but finally, Hilltop received permission to fulfill his life-long dream and immigrated to the United States. After surviving the war, it was ironic that Hilltop’s life would end on a snow covered Montana highway.

Memories of Operation Barrel Roll Anonn Puanyathio

Anonn Puanyathio

Three years ago, I was privileged to return to the battlefields of Barrel Roll. One of my destinations was the Ban Ban Valley in search of a connection to Hilltop. Of course, I will never know if the tank I found was the very same tank that Hilltop had stood upon in 1969. I like to think it was.

National WWI Museum and Memorial

By Fred M. Apgar

National WW I Museum and Memorial

The Tower

The National WWI Museum and Memorial is located in Kansas City, Missouri, and I recently had the

opportunity to visit this outstanding facility. Just weeks after the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, that officially ended WWI, a patriotic group of Kansas City residents spearheaded a fund raising program, the purpose of which was to construct a memorial to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the “Great War”. Within two weeks, over $2.5 million dollars were raised. On November 1, 1921, over 200,000 people attended the ground-breaking ceremony, Including Vice President Calvin Coolidge, and General of the Armies, John Pershing, as well as Generals and Admirals from France, Great Britain, Belgium, and Italy. The completed Memorial was dedicated on November 11, 1926.

The Memorial consisted of the Liberty Tower, which sits in the middle of a stone deck. On opposite sides of the tower are two buildings, which housed paintings and murals commemorating WWI. These exhibition buildings were named Memory Hall and Exhibition Hall.

Liberty Tower rises 217 feet above Kansas City, constructed entirely of Kasota stone, quarried from Kasota, Minnesota and Italian Travertine. A grand stairway once led visitors to the observation deck at the top of the tower. Today, an elevator takes visitors to the top.

In 2004, Congress named Liberty Memorial as the nation’s official WWI Museum and construction began on an 80,000 square foot expansion underneath the original memorial. The present day museum is comprised of two sections. The first half of the museum is devoted to European involvement in the war from its beginning. The second half of the museum is devoted to the American experience.

National WW I Museum and Memorial

The Western front Poppy Field

Before entering the main gallery, you have to cross a glass bridge that is suspended over a symbolic Western Front poppy field. As you look below, there are 9000 poppies, each of which represents 1000 deaths. The symbolic poppy field offers a grim reminder of the more than 9,000,000 people who perished as a direct result of WWI hostilities.

National WW I Museum and Memorial

Items of equipment displayed

The museum boasts a remarkable collection of artifacts from the war, including several tanks, and other vehicles and many different guns and mortars. There are rifles and handguns galore as well as an extensive collection of grenades. Uniforms and personal equipment from each country engaged in hostilities are on display as well as an extensive collection of maps, charts, and communication equipment including General Pershing’s Headquarters flag. The museum has an extensive collection of propaganda posters that were used to promote patriotism, recruit volunteers, and generate contributions to the war effort. A replica trench presents a look at trench warfare. Two theaters provide visitors with a narrative of the war. Thousands of photographs take visitors through the war years, providing memorable descriptive images of the war experience.


National WW I Museum and Memorial

Items of equipment displayed

I arrived at the museum shortly after it opened at 10:00 AM, stayed until closing at 5:00 PM, and still didn’t see all I had wanted to. The National World War I Museum and Memorial is a must-see.



Some Thought on the Ending of the Vietnam War

by Fred Apgar 

Some Thought on the Ending of the Vietnam War

While Visiting Vietnam & Laos, Fred made a friend of a former enemy.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Vietnam Peace Accords. The Accords were signed on 27 January 1973, but it would take two more agonizingly long years before the last Americans were evacuated from Saigon as the North Vietnamese were rolling through the streets of Saigon and breaking through the gates of the American embassy. There were, of course, many legacies of the Vietnam War, but the definitive history of the Vietnam War is yet to be written.

More than forty years later, our view of the war is only slightly clearer. We will probably never be able to identify our nation’s self-interest in that conflict, nor will we ever be able to attach meaning to the overwhelming loss of blood and treasure. Unfortunately, those college professors, whose left-wing ideology crafted the anti-war sentiment at home, are using the same rhetoric to write the historical perspective of the Vietnam War. Similarly, politicians and decision-makers, whose ineptitude prolonged hostilities, project themselves as objective observers.

My perspective is that the men and women in the enlisted ranks and the junior officers did everything that was asked of them. We followed the chain of command, adhered to military discipline, and committed ourselves to our assigned missions. We trusted our military and civilian leaders to provide us with a mission that was in our nation’s best interest, for which we, in return, did our jobs and risked our lives.

The real failures were the Colonels and Generals. They permitted unrealistic competition between the military branches and placed daily statistics ahead of meaningful tactical and strategic operations and missions. By failing to challenge the military’s civilian leadership and our country’s political leaders, they let us down. It was their responsibility to protect us by demanding reasonable rules to prosecute the war and tasking assignments that adhered to logical and rational military doctrine. A foreign policy that sought to minimize the risk of antagonizing Russian and Chinese feelings gave us Rules of Engagement that clearly resulted in the unnecessary loss of American lives.

Since we were never truly committed to victory, we should have never risked defeat. That was the immorality of the Vietnam War.

( VFW Post 8870 Past Commander Fred Apgar has moved away, but he stays in touch and shares his thoughts with us from time to time.)

From the Book Shelf

Helmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific By Robert LeckieHelmet For My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific
By Robert Leckie

This is a compelling first-person account of the life of an enlisted Marine participating in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during WW II. In intimate detail, the author recounts his experiences in training on Parris Island, as only those who have experienced basic training can appreciate.

After training Lackie was assigned to the Second Battalion, First Regiment, of the First Marine Division as a gunner on a two-man 30 caliber gun crew and on August 7, 1942, his unit landed at Red Beach on Guadalcanal, thus beginning his experience as a combat Marine, taking him on to New Britain, and Peleliu where his war ended after he was wounded by an exploding artillery shell. He spares no detail regarding the horrors of war that he experienced and writes eloquently about his many friends who were killed. The book provides an unvarnished view of the day-to-day life of the Marines who participated in combat operations in the Pacific.

Lackie’s experience in WWII was among those featured in the HBO miniseries Pacific, which is available on Netflix and DVD.

“From the Bookshelf”, a recurring series of book reviews written by Fred Apgar. 

From the Book Shelf

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American LegendThe Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend By Bob Drury and Tom Clavin


While Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo are better-remembered Native Americans who fought the white man’s expansion into the old American West, Red Cloud was a great Sioux war chief and military genius who accomplished far more that his more well-known contemporaries. The title of the book comes from the name of the Sioux’s sacred homeland in the Badlands, Paha Sapa, or “The Heart of Everything That Is”.

Red Cloud was an orphan who took his first scalp at the age of 16. He accompanied his tribe’s war parties on raids of other Indian nations and proved the living embodiment of the maxim that “war is the best teacher of war”. He learned his lessons well and became the Chief of a band of Sioux called the Bad Faces.

The book chronicles the treatment of the plains Indians by the United States government. The inevitability of war between the Indians and whites was sealed when gold was discovered in what is now Montana, and the Bozeman Trail was opened to provide a shorter route to the gold fields. The 535 mile trail cut through the Powder River basin,which had previously been given to the Sioux by treaty.

The authors used contemporary journals and diaries, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, and meticulous firsthand sourcing to write a compelling account of life in the old American West, and the treatment of Native Americans in our nation’s pursuit of what was called our Manifest Destiny.

“From the Bookshelf” will be a recurring series of book reviews that will appear in the VFW Post #8870 newsletter from time to time. This review was written by Fred Apgar.

District 1 Awards for 8870

District 1 Awards for 8870District 1 Commander Don Wischman was in attendance at the July Post meeting to present Post 8870 with a number of awards recognizing our accomplishments during the 2015-16 VFW year. In these photos, Immediate Past Commander Jim Blossey is shown at top left, accepting awards from Wischman for, among other things, meeting membership goals.

District 1 Awards for 8870Also shown is (right bottom) is Chaplain and Past Commander Fred Apgar, accepting certificates of recognition of his tireless efforts in coordinating so many of our Post projects, including our Relief Fund, Teacher of the Year, Freedom Scholarship and Youth Essay. In addition to his leadership of our Post, Fred performs many of those same functions at the district level.

Memorial Day Ceremonies

Memorial Day Ceremonies

Our own Col Buck Weaver was the honored guest at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony at the Edmonds Cemetery. This year’s theme was VJ Day. Fred Apgar described the origin and meaning of the White Table, now a fixture in every veterans’ organization banquet and meeting place.

0615_Memorial_Day_Ceremonies1Olivia Olson, winner of our Voice of Democracy Contest, recited in grand style her award winning essay about why our country should honor its veterans. She was outstanding.

Finally, Amos Chapman and Neal Goldstein read the list of names and rang the ship’s bell for those Snohomish County residents who were killed in the Pacific Theatre in WWII. I estimate there were approximately 300 hardy souls at the ceremony who braved a slightly chilly day.

Puget Sound Honor Flight

Brian Sequin was our speaker at last month’s meeting. Brian is a member of VFW Post 1040 and has pretty much single-handedly resurrected the Puget Sound area (called a Hub) of Honor Flight. I should mention, however, that Fred Apgar has also been a team member of Brian’s. Honor Flight, for those who are not familiar with it, is a project to fly WWII veterans back to Washington D.C. to visit the WWII memorial as well as other veterans memorials. It is basically a three day trip, one to get there, one to sight see, and the return trip. We have sent several of our members on Honor Flights and other members have been “guardians”, individuals who assist the veterans in getting around and seeing to their needs. All of us in Post 8870 as well as the other Posts, would like to have every WWII veteran who wishes to go on an Honor Flight to have the opportunity. If you or someone you know wishes more information, you can contact the Post or go their website at http://www.honorflight.org/ for more in-formation.