Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Frank Irwin, Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, November 1943
My father, Henry Franklin Irwin Jr. was born on July first 1914 in Newark,  New Jersey.  My first real memory of him was when he took my brother and me fishing in a creek  or pond near our new tiny house in Virginia - an area that has now been over-run with urban sprawl.  At the time he was working in Army Intelligence at the Pentagon.

Frank was a typical man of the Greatest Generation.  He seldom or never talked about himself or his past.  What I know I have gathered  from various conversations or stories from my Mom, Josephine,  or an anecdote or two from him.
He graduated from Dartmouth College  in 1937 and soon earned a PHD in English from Princeton. He wrote his thesis on John Milton, arguably the best 17th Century English author.  Somewhere in these younger years he worked in the railroad yards keeping track of railroad cars and their loads.  I am not exactly clear of his activities during World War II.  While he was training, teaching and in combat my Mother lived in base housing at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland with my aunt and their young children.  My brother, Terry, was one of 4 cousins living in that household.  In 1945, at the end of the war, I was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Dad and many of the Dartmouth men at that time were recruited  into the 10th Mountain Division because of their familiarity with skiing.  He was sent to Camp Hale in Colorado for training.  This camp was in a valley surrounded by several mountains where all the coal smoke from their stoves settled and polluted the air.  My understanding is the bad air brought on a relapse of TB.  Because of his health problem Dad was transferred out of the 10th Mountain Division.  All he ever said to me is that if he had not been transferred the likelihood of my birth would have been very doubtful because of the horrible losses this unit took fighting  heroically through Italy.

At some point I know he taught English to Spanish speaking troops in Puerto Rico.

Somewhere he saw action in North Africa.  This is something he never discussed or talked about.  All he ever said in reference to this was his hearing problems were caused by artillery barrages.  I do not know if he was the sender or receiver of this arty.  I believe this experience  to be such that he did not want to discuss it, or for that matter, ever remember it.

Dad, President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk
My father as, many of the men of that time, were motivated by god, duty and country. Unfortunately, the responsibility and stress of his duties did not leave him much time or energy to give in the family department. At the end of his military career Dad worked for the United States Information Service and later became a Foreign Service Officer and served in various capacities in U.S. Embassies in Scotland, Honduras and Costa Rica.  He was a Latin American Advisor for Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations.  He later served as Senior Watch Officer at the State Department in Washington.  In this position he was the first State Department contact when  crises exploded around the world.

Throughout his life Frank was active in his church. converting from Catholicism, he was confirmed an Episcopalian in the Washington National Cathedral.

Let me recount a few anecdotes I recall hearing about.
  • Just prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba there was an Organization of American States meeting scheduled to be held in San Jose, Costa Rica. President Kennedy would attend and their would be discussions of how to deal with the new revolutionary in Cuba, Fidel Castro.  Dad was to carry a briefcase of secret and classified documents to the meeting.  Of course he was scheduled to fly directly to San Jose from Miami.  Unfortunately The LACSA Airways DC-6 had an engine problem and the pilot announced they would be making an emergency landing in Havana.   Dad took the briefcase into the lavatory and removed the most dangerous documents and slid them under his shirt and suit coat.  Passengers deplaned and waited for several hours while repairs were made to the aircraft.  Upon becoming airborne it was obvious that Castro agents had rifled through the documents left as a decoy.  We always wondered what would have happened if Castro had found the secret documents beneath Dad's shirt.

  •  While stationed in Costa Rica my father and a colleague, Mr. Bill Jones, who supposedly was the U.S. Agriculture Attache'  took a tour by jeep through northern Costa Rica into Nicaragua.  This was at a time when Nicaragua feared an invasion or infiltration of the country  by Castro.  It just so happened on their ride that they met a local town leader who invited them in for lunch.  They got to know each other.  Several days later while driving back on these back roads or trails Dad and Mr. Jones were ambushed by Nicaraguan militia.  Their plan was to hang them!  They were marched down the path to a tree.  attempts to show U.S. Identification were thwarted by the young Nicaraguans - they thought Dad was reaching for a pistol.   However, as fate would have it, the Nicaraguan gentleman that fed Dad and Bill several days earlier came along and explained that these two strangers were Americans not Cuban spies!
Wherever we were stationed we were never sure who did what in the embassy.  A question of what does Jimmy's dad do would often answered with the euphemism, "he works upstairs."   As far as I know my Dad was a regular Diplomat representing the United State to foreign countries.

Frank retired from the State Department when I was in College.  Mom and Dad moved to Middlebury Vermont where he became Director of Admissions at Middlebury College.  In the years to come he served as President of both Lyndon and Castleton State Colleges.  He finally retired for real and moved, with his new wife to live near Dartmouth, the college he loved so much.  He actually taught a course on John Milton for the English Department in his late years.

Unfortunately, my father succumbed to the great fog of Alzheimer's.   I lost my Dad about 3 years before he died on June 30, 1992 - one day before his 78th birthday.  A scholar and a true intellect no longer recognized his son. I regret that I did not have those years to get to know him better and learn more details of his past.

I believe that the values of my father have influenced who I am more than I ever realized until recently.  I inherited his honor and dedication to service and duty.  Never one to look for a job where the goal was making money; I have always been drawn to work that served others.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


After serving with the Fuji Detachment in Japan  I returned to H&MS-36 in Okinawa.  Here my primary duty was as a PMIP (Post Maintenance Inspection Pilot) on CH-46s.  Every time maintenance is done on an aircraft a PMIP must flight test the bird and sign it off before it can be assigned back to the regular flight schedule.
We also received damaged and tired aircraft from the combat zone in Vietnam.  These aircraft were shipped to Okinawa on barges and rolled off on a beach about 15 minutes flight time from our base at Futema.   These birds had all the windows broken out of them so the grunts could shoot out of them.  Heaters had been removed to get rid of extra weight  All the birds  were covered with lots of little tin patches on the fuselage covering holes made by AK-47s, shrapnel and other such harmful devices! Rice was found beneath the floor panels among other things revealing the rough history of these birds and the Marines that had flown in them.  We held our breath, prayed, and flew these aircraft to Futema hoping the fuel gauges worked and the engines would run for the required 20-30 minutes!  I recall one time flaming out one of the two engines as we taxied off the runway to our flight line due to faulty fuel gauges.

Over the next weeks the aircraft were checked over as best they could be  to prepare them for a five hour over-water flight to the southern tip of Japan.  As a test pilot I lead at least three two-bird flights from Okinawa to  Atsugi Japan where they would undergo major overhaul.  We would then fly repaired helicopters back to Okinawa.  We worked very closely with the weather-guessers to choose a day where the winds would be favorable.   We joked that the weather prognosticators could not even predict rain if they looked out the window and saw it raining.  However, they gave us very detailed wind estimates for various altitudes.  It was the command pilot's decision when to go. The flights were done by dead-reckoning  (SWAG) because at our low altitude we could pick up no navigational aids.  The aircraft were loaded with two huge auxiliary internal fuel tanks that, with luck and good winds,  would provide us adequate fuel to reach a Japanese base at the Southern tip of Japan.

CH-46 Loaded with Fuel Tanks for Flight to Japan - Hope we got enough!

One time we landed with less than 15 minutes fuel remaining!  The tough part of these flights was we could not smoke with the internal tanks on board and we were COLD - flying in the winter with no heat, missing windows wearing summer flight suits!

After a layover at MCAS Iwakuni, we topped off our tanks and flew East - turning North around Mt Fuji to land at Atsugi about 10 miles inland from Yokohama.  We  turned over the aircraft to NIPPI, the Japanese Contractor doing heavy overhaul work for FAWPRA: Fleet Air Wing Pacific Rework Activity.

After "cheating death" on at least 3 of these round trips I was transferred to Atsugi to be a test pilot working with NIPPI  (Nippon Aircraft Corporation) as they overhauled Marine and Navy aircraft.  This was an exciting job working with the Japanese mechanics testing the helicopters after they underwent total tear down and rebuild.   These people did outstanding work. After a month an aircraft that looked like it should be headed to a junk yard rolled out of the factory looking brand new.

No - not headed to the junk yard
Our responsibility was to flight test them and make sure they flew like new!  My sign-off was the official acceptance of the aircraft back to to the Marine Corps.  It was an awesome responsibility and I made every effort to be sure everything was perfect because the lives of others would be held in the balance for years to come.

A month after leaving Atsugi and returning to the States I was shocked to hear about a horrible crash in one of the birds I had tested.  The aircraft was air taxiing at Yokota Air Force base after picking up passengers.  As it hover taxied in front of a Transport Airplane the CH-46 suddenly came apart, and self destructed in mid air,  killing all on board.  Evidently, a part in the rear transmission was installed improperly, the transmission seized, the rotors inter-meshed and that was all she wrote.  Unfortunately this was something no amount of test flying could reveal.

The author with two Nippi Mechanics on Flight Line at Atsugi
Nippi Flight Line Mechanics  Removing and Engine

My 13 month tour overseas was over.  I had done some hairy mountain and over-water flying in Japan and Okinawa.  I had learned the CH-46's workings as well as I new my own body.  I understood the electrical systems, hydraulic systems, the engine parameters and the the balancing of rotor systems.  I really loved the single pilot flying as a test pilot; the detail and accuracy required and the great responsibility I had been given.  I may not have flown in Vietnam but I certainly had done my best to support the aircrews that did.


Little did I know that my next year at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina would be the exact opposite as I learned to fly the standard grey GI Mark One, Mod.2 desk..... I was pushing paper!
I did not like it

A year of administrative work prompted me to write my detailer at Headquarters Marine Corps and ask for an "early out".  I asked to leave the Marine Corps early before my regular 3 years would be up!

Stay tuned - the best was yet to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Upon completion of training in the CH-46 at HMMT-302 in California I was a "qualified" co-pilot with orders to the First Marine Aircraft Wing in Danang, Vietnam.  My expectations were simple. I expected to fly medevac, resupply, and recon team extraction missions.  The scariest thoughts were associated with flying night  emergency  medevac missions.

I also never expected to see my 25th birthday.

At a stopover at Camp Courtney in Okinawa where we were to get more shots and jungle utilities I learned that my orders were changed to Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron-36 based in Futema, Okinawa.  The Marine Corps was drawing down forces from Vietnam.  Squadrons and troops were beginning to pull out.

I never did go to Vietnam. I never flew any combat missions.  I have never, over the past 40 years,  lost that twinge of guilt for not serving in Vietnam with my brother Marines. 


Cpl. Deckard, 1/Lt. Irwin,  Sgt. Jones  FUJI DET

Maj. Hank Kunkel, THE HEAD HAULER
I was soon transferred to N.A.F. Atsugi, Japan where I flew with a three bird detachment that provided logistical and medevac support for a Marine Artillery Training Base at the base of Mount Fuji.  The Fuji Detachment was a great place to learn and grow.  There were 3 Ch-46s, seven pilots and approximately 12 mechanics all working in a very close team. 

Our O.I.C. Major Hank Kunkel,  was one of the most outstanding men I had the privilege of serving under.  With a great sense of humor and a great trust and respect for all of us he gave us all - all the responsibility we could handle.  He taught us how to really fly the Phrog and be good Marine Officers.  The Major was an example of the leader I wanted to become - where the troops come first.  With his training I soon became an Aircraft Commander.
Our great love and respect for this man brought about the unit"s nickname: HANK'S HAULERS - YOU CALL WE HAULOur patch depicted a Marine 6X6 Truck with rotors flying in front of Mt. Fuji.

In researching for my blog I was saddened to learn that this fine man, who had now retired,    succumbed to Cancer after serving 4 tours in Southeast Asia.

Hank's Haulers at a Hail and Farewell Picnic

While in this Detachment we had the opportunity to fly throughout the Tokyo, Yokohama, Mt Fuji area of Japan.  One day we might fly senior officers to and from Hardy Barracks - a headquarters in the middle of downtown Tokyo.  The next day we would be supporting artillery Marines at Mt Fuji.  We saw "Mother Watanebe's fort,  a fort protestors had built in the northern impact area of one of the ranges to keep the Marines from using that area.  We raced the Bullet Train which could outrun the "46" at it's max 150 MPH.  Whatever needed to be hauled or delivered - the Fuji Det did it.  You Call - We Haul!

PHROG at Camp Fuji
Ready One!

Mt Fuji with rice paddys in the foreground

Mother Watanabe's "Fort"

View on way into Tokyo from about 500'
Looking out flying to Camp Fuji.. ..Hope he's wearing ear plugs! -

One of Hank's Haulers headed to work

Monday, June 6, 2011


After completing my last post I recalled that one of the most rewarding events in my farming experience was delivering a calf.  Young heifers, giving birth to their long legged calves, can often have problems and need help.  I had seen Dave help deliver a calf several times.  Thus, I was not at a total loss when I came across a young cow unable to deliver her baby.  I quickly got some baler twine and reached inside the mom and looped the rope around the calves' front legs.  Then carefully pulling and guiding the legs first and then the head I then pulled as she pushed.  We soon had another beautiful black and white  baby  Holstein who would grow up to produce hundreds of pounds of milk per week.

When I left the Marine Corps my family moved to the country and lived in an old one-room schoolhouse in Thetford, Vermont.  My son, Jeff was fortunate to have the same experience as I had years earlier.  In his early teens Jeff worked on  our neighbor's dairy farm.  He, like me received the attention and care of that farm family; Junior an Alice Sayer.

Dave and Cindy had been like older siblings or young parents to me while Junior and Alice were like grandparents to Jeff.  I will never forget the day Jeff tooled into our yard on his mini-bike and ran into the house.  Evidently, he had been alone in the barn when a young heifer was struggling to give birth.  He did exactly as his dad had done 20 years earlier and helped bring another calf safely into the world.  Jeff felt the same thrill of accomplishment and joy that I had felt those many years earlier.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


When I look back at all the jobs or "careers" I have had since I was 16 years old I must say that the one I loved the very most was that as a farm hand.   For several summers and while attending boarding school in Pennsylvania I worked on a dairy farm.  During the summers I lived with Dave and Cindy Walter and their young son Pete and dog Chipper.  I became a real part of the family.  I had a small room in the attic of their farmhouse.  I was up by Oh-Dark Thirty to help Dave with the morning milking and chores.  By nine we were back in the house for an incredible breakfast which Cindy had waiting. I will never forget the fried scrapple, eggs toast and coffee all topped off with a Lucky Strike!   Then it was back to work.  This job was great not only for the close family it provided, (mine was out of the country), but it incorporated the things I love most: animals, machinery and the outdoors.

Must be About Milking Time!

Every day was different.  There were hot days on the tractor plowing or disking fields in preparation for planting corn or alfalfa.  Other days were rainy but we had to fix fence. We were so proud of the brand new Allis Chalmers D-17 Tractor we hollered every time we started her up " THAT'S DIESEL SMOKE".

The Big Orange
She may have been new and very high tech for the time, however the old John Deer Tractors who joined her in the stable were all workhorses too.  Once my friend Sam and I had a bit of competition and tried a tug of war between the D-17 and our John Deere 60.  We hated to admit the JD won - I think mostly because of her massive weight and traction.


Later in the summer we would mow acres and acres of alfalfa to let it dry before chopping it with a forage harvester behind the D-17.  The alfalfa would be chopped up and blown into wagons towed behind the chopper.  This could be a real train and a handful on some steep hill-sides.

Chopping Silage

We shuttled the wagons back to the barn where they were unloaded into a blower that blew it up a pipe into a silo.  For a while we had no automatic silo unloader - so come feeding time I would climb the rungs of the 80 foot silo and get on top of the silage and throw it down a chute with a pitch fork!  The first time I went out to do this after lunch I had just climbed into the top of the silo and Dave came running out and scrambled up the silo to get me out.  I was not aware that the fermenting alfalfa creates a toxic gas.  He had realized where I was going and saved my butt!

Those Beautiful Gentle Faces

Much of the Alfalfa was mowed and then raked into windrows to be baled.  Many evenings Cindy would drive the tractor pulling the hay wagon with Pete in her lap.  No fancy big round bales, but very heavy square bales which we picked out of the field with hay hooks and stacked on flat hay wagons.  Dave, Sam and I always competed to see who could stack the highest load.    There was more than one time that a wood-chuck hole in a field would bring a load tumbling down.

Watch Out For Chuck Holes

Most days we were working from around 5AM 'til 9PM at night. We worked every day but sometimes took Sunday afternoons off for a family get-together.  Of course we had to get back for evening milking!  Often we were working zombies!   I recall "napping" on a tractor while disking or mowing on a hot and dusty afternoon.

Another thing about farming is you are always braking things.  A mower hits a hidden fence post in a field or a power-take-off shaft gets bent while backing a wagon.  So we spent a lot of time fixing things.  I learned a bit about welding and the value of keeping moving equipment greased and adjusted.  Dave could fix anything.

Cows are wonderful - huge but gentle.  Each knows her own stanchion so when it is milking time she will come into the barn and go to her spot to be milked and fed.  There is nothing quite as nice on a cold winter morning as snuggling your shoulder up against the warmth of the cow as you put the milkers on her udder.  We loved and were proud  these animals; most every one had a name.  We groomed them and often washed their tails in buckets of warm soapy water. 

As I said this was the greatest job I ever had.  I will never forget these times, these animals, and most of all the family that took me in as one of their own.

My farm job was prior to the invention of the camera - so these pictures are the best reproductions of my memory that I can find...