Story of survival in wartime - The Story of Kathleen
It began on May 15, 1969, when the First Infantry Division (the "Big Red 1") radioed for a "dust-off" air evacuation. Troops had just entered a small Vietnamese village which had been wiped out by the enemy. Everyone was dead, except for one infant baby locked in her dead mother's arms. Still, Captain Donna Rowe told the dust-off helicopter to "come ahead" with the casualty, even though it was outside of regulations. Mother's arms had to be broken in order to free her - and at that point it was discovered she had fragment wounds. Mother had saved her life by holding her. She survived hours of surgery, and is now married mother in northern California.
One of the most powerful and poignant stories from the Vietnam war is scheduled to be told this year when veterans and their families gather at El Dorado State Park for their annual reunion.
The 19th annual Kansas Vietnam Veterans and Family Reunion will be held Friday through Sunday, July 14, 15 and 16.
For the first years of the reunion it was held at what came to be known as Firebase Friendly’ - camping loop 3 of the park's Shady Creek state recreation area.
That is where the reunion continues to be held, but that area has now been given the name of Veterans Point.
Called The Story of Kathleen,’ the story veterans and their families will be hearing is scheduled to be told from 7-8 p.m. Saturday night, during a tribute to veterans.
It began on May 15, 1969, when the First Infantry Division (the Big Red 1’) radioed for a dust-off’ air evacuation.
Troops reported they had just entered a small Vietnamese village which had been wiped out by the enemy.
Everyone was now dead - except for one small casualty; that was an infant baby locked in her dead mother's arms.
Permission to land at the Third Field Hospital with the casualty was being asked, even though U.S. medical facilities had strict priorities for accepting casualties.
Still, Capt. Donna Rowe told the dust-off helicopter to come ahead’ with the casualty, even though she knew this was outside of regulations.
When the baby arrived at the field hospital her mother's arms had to be broken in order to free her - and it was at that point it was discovered the infant had fragment wounds in her chest and abdomen.
Her mother had apparently saved her baby's life by clutching her to her own chest; but as soon as pressure was released from the clutch of her mother she began to hemorrhage and her condition quickly deteriorated.
Rowe and two corpsmen rushed the infant, estimated at four months old, down an outside corridor and to surgery.
Along with them went a chaplain who Rowe urged to quickly baptize the baby, as she feared the infant might not live.
Father Luke Sullivan took water from a nearby drinking fountain and said he needed a name for the baby.
Rowe said to name her Kathleen,’ from the Irish song I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.’
The baby survived hours of surgery and flourished in the hospital ward before being released to the care of the nuns at the St. Elizabeth Orphanage near Saigon.
The night following Kathleen's arrival at the field hospital, Sullivan told her story to his congregation, which included a U.S. Navy lieutenant who asked to see the baby and who then worked for months on adoption papers.
Kathleen is now married, the mother of children of her own and lives in northern California; Donna Rowe lives in Atlanta, Ga.
They will be together again at this year's reunion to tell their story.
Sam Langhofer, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and commander of El Dorado's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1174, said he learned about their story through a DVD video, In the Shadow of the Blade.’
That tells the story of a restored battle-scarred UH-1Huey helicopter, one of most enduring images of the Vietnam war, which was flown on a 10,000-mile journey to communities around the U.S. before being placed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
When he viewed the portion of the DVD telling about the reunion of Rowe and Kathleen, Langhofer said, that just kind of struck me; it grabbed me.’
He was eventually able to get in touch with the husband-and-wife director-producer team for In the Shadow of the Blade,’ he said, told them about the Kansas reunion and asked them if they knew of any way he could get in touch with Rowe and Kathleen to invite them to the reunion.
They are honored to be able to come,’ Langhofer said.
They're elated, and really excited about coming to share their story.’
For her part, Langhofer said, Kathleen knows she owes her life to Vietnam veterans.’
Another emotional part of the reunion will also occur on Saturday, when three or helicopters are scheduled to be flown in.
Approximate time of the helicopter arrival is 9 a.m.
Langhofer said those are scheduled to include a Huey gunship, a CH-34 Marine troop carrier helicopter and a modern-day Blackhawk helicopter.
He said it had been hoped a big Chinook helicopter would also be able to come to the reunion, but there is a possibility it is going to be deployed elsewhere.
Reunion events will begin with the 8 a.m. Good Morning, Vietnam!’ on Friday, July 14.
They will continue through the 1 p.m. closing ceremonies on Sunday, 16.
========Vietnam War in the News