This is not my [Keith’s] post. This post is written by Col. Michael R. Seale, United States Air Force, Retired. I had asked Col. Seale to write a post back when I did a series of posts as I was moving to Perritte Memorial United Methodist Church in Nacogdoches, TX. I’m not exactly sure what happened but it fell through the cracks. A couple of weeks ago Col. Seale sent me the post again with a suggestion that I consider using it for Veteran’s Day. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Col. Seale is one of the finest men I have ever known. I have known him all my life. He is my mother’s oldest brother. While I think he is one of our country’s great heroes because of his 27 years of service. But, even if he is not a hero to you, he always will be to me. My Uncle Mike was who I wanted to be when I grew up.
Uncle Mike’s story is a true Veteran’s Day story. I am grateful to him for thinking about how this would be a good message for Veteran’s Day. As you read this, I pray it will remind you how blessed we are to have heroes like my Uncle Mike and his friend Clint.
9“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend. (John 15:9-13, New King James Version).
I write these thoughts not as a clergyman, or as I tell Keith, “a learned man.” Rather, they are my thoughts about a real-world situation that helps teach us about two important concepts—courage and eternal love. November 2, 2019 was an incredibly special day for me. Some would say bitter-sweet. On that day we celebrated and memorialized a man who died a little more than 50 years ago.
As I hope you will come to learn by reading this, Neal “Clint” Ward was not just “a man”. He was much more than that. I hope to tell you something about this special man and about the activities of his memorial service.
I met Clint while we were attending Texas A&M. When we graduated in May of 1967, we got our commissions in the Air Force and headed off to serve our country. He entered flight training and I started what ended up being a 27-year career in the Air Force. We did not see each other for almost two years when we met again in Nakhon Phanam (NKP), Thailand, in 1969. He was assigned to fly air rescue in a World War II era prop driven aircraft.
We met occasionally at the Club to share a meal. That gave us a chance to catch up on what the other was doing. It was just such a day in September 1969 that we were having breakfast together. Little did either of us know, we were sharing the last meal Clint would ever have on earth. We were both happy doing what we were doing and both of us were in good health and doing well. We enjoyed our time together and decide we would met “after work” and have dinner. After all, it was Taco Night! Those Thai rice farmers, turned cooks, made some “mean” tacos. And I do mean “mean”. But we didn’t have much choice—it was over 9,200 miles back home.
So that night, I was standing near the door to the dining room when a squadron flying mate of Clint’s came up to ask if I was waiting for Clint. He told me that Clint would not be coming. He had been shot down over Laos.
Good thing I was standing next to the wall. I mean, we had just had breakfast and now he was gone. I asked the pilot if there was any chance he had gotten out and he said no chance at all. No one saw a chute and the airplane exploded in the air and scattered debris all over the ground in a wide pattern. They flew over the site for a long time and no one saw any sign of life.
Over the period of days following, I talked about the mission with a number of his fellow pilots. Everything I have is second hand, but I believe it all to be true. They started their day with Clint leading the attack and completely destroyed a large convey delivering arms and ammunition to the enemy. They then diverted to attempt rescue of a downed crew member who had been shot down and parachuted to get out of his burning aircraft but was now being encircled by the bad guys. That was the main mission of this group of warriors, rescuing downed crewmen. Many of which owes his life to these men.
The rescue flight usually was configured with two A-1s and two helicopters (Jolly Green Giants). The A-1s would fly suppression to keep the downed airman safe and to protect the choppers.
In this case, there was heavy cloud cover and the A-1s could not get through to get to the bad guys so they orbited until they could. Finally, a small clearing opened up. Clint was a smart guy and I know he knew every gun in the valley was pointed at that small opening. He knew there was extreme danger going through the opening. However, I knew Clint well enough to know he was thinking, “If not me, who?” The bad guys were getting closer and closer to the downed crew member. Clint thundered through the opening. Every gun in the valley fired on him and he was hit and killed. Clint willing gave his life to try to save the pilot on the ground. There is no better example of “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Clint is a true hero who gave his life for his fellow man.
Clint and I had never spoken directly about this possibility, but we had discussed why we were there. It always came back to “it’s my duty”, “to serve America”, “to honor God” …” “if not us, who”.
Most of us don’t have the opportunity to know and be in the presence of a true hero. I’m honored to be a person who knew a man that is a real hero. He not only laid down his life for his friend, but he also gave us a living, true example of what Christ did for us all—He laid down is life for each of us so we would have eternal life. Clint and men like him, give their lives so others may live on this earth. Christ laid down his life, perhaps thinking, “if not me, who”? The day Christ laid down his life, he did so for all his “friends, who believed in Him and followed his commandments.
The night after the funeral, the Sierra Area Aggie Club invited the 15 Aggies from the Class of ‘67 who were visiting for the ceremony to join them for dinner. We ate at a Mexican restaurant in Reno. Just before dinner, their President was making welcoming remarks and at the end of his remarks he said, “Mr. Seale, tonight you can have those tacos.”
I had waited 50 years to say, “welcome home my friend” and share a taco with him. So here we were, some 8,500 miles away from where a hero went down while attempting to save a fellow pilot. That room in the restaurant was full of family, friends, and fellow service men. What filled the room even more was the spirit of Clint Ward, a great man, and a hero and also the spirit of a loving Christ who gave his life so we would have eternal life.
While I am a Veteran, my name doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as heroes like Clint Ward and my Uncle Mike. They lived being exposed to shots fired in anger. In Clint’s case, not only shots fired in anger, but shots that met their mark. We owe a debt of gratitude to Veteran’s who served our country in time of war for all the sacrifices they made.
Thank you Uncle Mike. Thank you for this post but even more thank you for your many years of service to this great country.
Seeking the Genuine,
Keith (for Uncle Mike)
Copyright 2020, Michael R. Seale, All Rights Reserved