Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am here as a representative of the Jewish War Veterans, Cherry Hill Post 126, in order to offer a few words regarding Veterans Day and what it means to me.
My particular war was the Vietnam conflict in which I served the last year of combat. There is a wall in Washington with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen etched on its face dedicated to the memory of the men and women who lost their lives during this terrible war. I cannot find the words to encompass the enormity of such a loss. What I can tell you about is one of those names. Multiply that loss by 58,000 and you have an idea of what that conflict cost us as a nation.
On June 18, 1972, my crew, Spectre 11, was ordered into the A Shau Valley on an interdiction mission of finding and destroying enemy trucking. Those that fought in Vietnam called the A Shau appropriately, “the Valley of Death” in a clear reference to the 23rd Psalm, because outside of Hanoi and Haiphong, it was the most dangerous place in all of Vietnam. This was first “frag” and we were ordered to be on station no later than 8:30 that evening local time. We were on time, and 20 minutes after being on station, we were attacked by an enemy missile, which hit our number three engine. My pilot was Capt. Paul F. Gilbert. The aircraft that we were flying was the AC-130A Gunship. I was the Fire Control Officer and my duty station was in the booth which sat in the middle of the aircraft. There were four of us in the booth. Two men left the booth right after we were hit. Two of us stayed in our seats until Paul rang the alarm bell and ordered us to abandon ship. I was one of the two who listened, obeyed our pilot, and survived. The others did not. Three out of 15 crewmembers aboard survived; the rest did not.
Now let me tell you something about Capt. Paul Gilbert and the man that he was. Paul was my hooch mate and my friend. He was quiet in the sense that he only talked when he had something definitively to say. He was engaged to be married to Miss Georgiana Burke of Texas whose picture graced his desk in his quarters. There were many pretty Thai women running around our base, yet Paul never gave any of them a second look. He was completely and totally faithful to his fiancée. In fact, Paul was a man who kept faith with his crewmates, his service, the woman he loved, his country and the G-d that made him. He was awarded posthumously both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. After I was recovered from the floor of the A Shau Valley, I wrote Paul’s family and one of the responses I received was from his fiancée, Ms. Georgiana Burke. I would now like to quote in part from her letter to me:
“That I love Paul more than I am capable of expressing cannot be denied. To consider spending the rest of my life without him is sometimes most unendurable. But most of all, the beauty of the things we experienced together, and the joy we shared will live forever. I pray that you will also live with a vestige of him in your heart, as I know the love Paul possessed for his friends and associates was great. Thank you again for your most kind and thoughtful letter. We will always remember your graciousness. I remain, Georgiana Burke”
I want you to know that I have not forgotten my friend and that he remains in my heart. My son Joshua Paul Bocher bears his name. I also want you to know that when Paul went to heaven, the Almighty received a great pilot and an even better person. Whenever I say the Kaddish, the Jewish Prayer for the dead, Paul is always in my thoughts. May G-d rest his soul.