By Julie Titone
This is my candidate for the most unlikely and smile-inducing photo from the Vietnam War, a cross between Beach Blanket Bingo and China Beach. My excuse for posting it is to help locate that second soldier from the right, Tim Crowder.
Tim's high school buddy Ray Heltsley is looking for him. Ray joined me at a recent reading from "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." He brought along a boonie hat that was worn through two tours in Vietnam -- first by Tim, the Marine; then by Ray, the Army Ranger.
When Tim passed the hat along, he said he'd won it in a surfing contest at Da Nang. Ray wasn't quite sure whether to believe that, even though the word SURF is stitched on the boonie. But last week Ray searched the Web for Tim's whereabouts and came across the Marine Corps photo from the National Archives. Its caption:
Surfing--Captain Rodney Bothelo, 1st Shore Party Battalion, and Miss Elli Vade Bon Cowur, Associate Director USO, judges for the OSO sponsored surfing contest held September 25, 1966, are shown with Private First Class Robert D. Binkley, FLSG-B, who took first place in the event; Corporal Tim A. Crowder, Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, second place winner, and Lance Corporal Steven C. Richardson, 1st medical Battalion, third place winner.
Tim and Ray were classmates at Seattle's Bishop O'Dea High School.
"Tim graduated from O'Dea in 1963," says Ray. "I left O'Dea at the end of my junior year, and graduated in 1963 from Chief Sealth High School. I recall that he tried to contact me some time around 1990-ish, but I missed that info and found out about it from my Dad later. I never managed to hook up with him, and he probably thought I didn't care at the time. I'm hoping that he would be receptive to a contact now."
When Tim returned from Vietnam, he gave Ray the hat and then "disappeared into California." If you know where that surfer dude is hanging 10 or just hanging out these days, drop us a note.
We'd also like to know where those other folks in the picture ended up, and learn the scoop on that surfing contest. Was it a one-time thing? Ray read that it may actually have been at Chu Lai southeast of Da Nang, though an undated video clip of soldiers on R&R prominently shows a "no surfing" sign there.
If you want to honor a Vietnam vet, you could pick no better hat to doff than a boonie, aka a bush hat. The brimmed cotton topper was a point of pride for infantrymen like Grady Myers.
As Grady recalls in "Boocoo Dinky Dow,: My short, crazy Vietnam War," he found his on a dusty parade field in Dak To.
"Bleached by the sun from green to tan, it had a narrower brim than the newer bush hats. It would definitely give its wearer that old-timer look, and I was pleased to find that it fit my big head.
"The baseball-style cap I’d been wearing was scorned by many of the infantrymen, who associated it with training. But I had creased its bill and roughed it up to make it look reasonably veteran-ish—enough so that Johnson, who had lost his hat during guard duty the night before, was delighted when I passed it along to him."
At a recent "Boocoo Dinky Dow" book reading, veteran Ray Heltsley showed with pride a camouflage pattern boonie that had seen two tours in Vietnam -- first on the head of a friend, then on his own. The word "SURF" is stitched on it.. When I asked Ray later for details, he replied:
"The boonie hat was given to me by a former O'Dea High School classmate, Tim Crowder, who went to Vietnam as a Marine in 1966. He told me that he won it for taking 2nd Place in the Da Nang Surfing Championships. The fluorescent pink material inside the hat is a piece of an aircraft signalling panel. When the hat is turned with the panel pointed upward, you can pop it open and closed and it becomes a visible signal so that an aircraft can spot your location."
The back of the hat is trimmed with luminous tape called following tabs, Ray added.
"They glow in the dark, so that the person behind you can follow you silently without losing track of you and breaking silence by calling for you. It's all pretty much Ranger protocol, and most of the people in the line units didn't do this kind of stuff."
Vets like Ray are delighted by the detailed descriptions Grady put into his memoir. The hats, the knives, the ham-and-lima-bean meals remind them of their time of intensive living in Vietnam -- which, along with its profound miseries, had traditions and habits they will never forget.
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.