Part II - Continued from last week:
North Vietnamese machine-gunmen had been waiting for the opportune time to fire just as Denny Christie’s helicopter transitioned to landing speed.
The pilot of the spiraling helicopter, “keyed the mic at about the time he was inverted and started to say something, but what came out was a strangled cry, ‘Mama.’ Then it was over.” Portions of the rear blades were seen to separate. The crash site was by a “stream in a steep ravine.”
For VMO-2 gunship escort, Hank Trimble, “This tragedy was and is the apotheosis of Vietnam. The pilot, was such a gentle man. God bless him, and all who went with him.”
The other helicopter crews could do little but watch as, at an “estimated altitude of 400-600 feet, the helicopter was observed to climb erratically, similar to an aircraft commencing a loop” then fall.
There were mixed reports between eyewitnesses and the official Marine report. Some said there was enemy fire. The Marines said it was mechanical failure and a full fuel tank. However, all agree: “The enemy presence in the area prohibited recovery of the bodies at the time.”
Efforts by ground forces to reach the crash site failed because of the heavy bunker complex surrounding the site. All eleven personnel aboard the helicopter were therefore classified KIA/BNR - Killed In Action, Body Not Recovered.
Weeks later, during a search for Denny’s Team and the CH-46A crew, on June 30, 1967, in hostile territory on Hill 174 there were four men with 2ndBn/9thMar/3rdMarDiv who were killed by hostile fire, PFC Christopher PaulJohnson of Wyandotte, Mi; CPL Thomas Arthur Goddeau of Morrisonville, NY; L/CPL Richard Holt Freudenthal of Alexandria, Va.; CHN Noel Steven Nelson of St. Paul, Mn. Several more were wounded.
The story that seems to hold water today, is that it was enemy fire that downed the aircraft, rather than an explosion the magnitude of a fuel tank. In such an explosion, there would be no remains. But there were remains.
After 39 years of waiting, the remains of Denny’s Green Ghost teammate James Widener were recovered in Vietnam. His parents were alive to learn the news.
“His body was stored in a warehouse and they never let us know he was dead,“ said his father, Jay Widener. „We tried to find him after the war, hoping for years that maybe he was alive. Even in war, there should be some fairness.“
Widener received full honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 3, 2006.
In 2007, the remains of Denny’s sergeant Jim Moshier were identified. The Moshier family chose to bury him in his hometown of Bakersfield, Ca., beside his son, who he never got to meet. He had a military escort from Los Angeles Airport, July 16, 2007, to Hillcrest Memorial Park.
Once they were separated by war, Imperial Beach friends, Bob Trope and Denny Christie, never got to see one another again. Bob recalled, “Denny was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. I think anyone who knew him would feel the same.”
Marine, Lance Corporal Dennis Ray Christie is memorialized at Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial and Honored on the Vietnam Veteran‘s Memorial, VVM Wall, Panel 21e, Line 87. Awards and medals that Lance Corporal Christie either received or may have been qualified for: National Defense Service Medal, Purple Heart, and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Ironically, A young man named Arthur J. Christie Jr., received Denny’s MIA-POW bracelet. He said in a memorial online, “Dennis, though I never met you, I have worn your MIA-POW bracelet since 1995, I never take it off. We share the last name, Christie. My name is Arthur J. Christie Jr. Thank you for your service and ultimate sacrifice. God Bless and Hoo Rah Marine!”
He has no idea that his first name, Arthur, was a family name in Denny’s family for generations.
Comments from fellow students include a July 21, 2005 note from O. Parra:
“Dennis was a good friend. He was one tough hombre, but I never saw him lose his cool, except maybe once. And that‘s basically the sort of Marine I imagine he was... tough but cool under pressure. He died around the time I graduated…If I could go to the place where they perished -- I would do it just to pay my respects. MCHS 1967. USAF 69-73.
Others said they recalled him riding on the church bus with him and hanging out at the Rail.
D. Bowering/Kieser, wrote, “My Dearest Friend Dennis:
Roses are Red, Violets are blue, and I have never forgotten you for you were as close to me as a brother could be. I always remember that smile you had, and even though you were rough and tough the sweet side of you always shown through. I went to the Wall in Sacramento and found your name… My tears were sad but my memories were sweet and wonderful. And forever in my heart you will be…P.S. Will you watch over my son Eric as he departs for Iraq at the end of this month and guide him home safely?”
Note: Denny’s brother Craig, like so many navy kids, was born in Pensacola, Florida. The family was moved to Imperial Beach and he obtained degrees in Criminal Justice and Criminology. Craig was in the U.S. Army and served in the Airborne Division and as a Military Policeman. He had a lengthy career in law enforcement, serving on the San Diego Police Department, the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Marshall’s Office. He completed his career by working as a private investigator. April 10, 2009, at his home in Montana, with his son Justin by his side, he passed at age 59. His other son, named for his lost brother, Dennis Ray ”Bumpers” Christie and one daughter, Marie Dawn Christie and children survived him. No information was found at this time on his other two brothers. Both of his parents have passed.