By William K. Alcorn
Three decorated Youngstown-area military veterans, members of a brotherhood with firsthand knowledge of the chaos and fear and death that is war, are joining a new brotherhood.
On Friday, Robert E. Pluchinsky of Poland, Silver Star Medal recipient; Brian M. Kennedy of Salem, Distinguished Flying Cross recipient; and Charles L. Canfield Jr. of Newton Township, who received the Air Medal with “V” Device, will be inducted into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor.
The induction ceremony for the Class of 2016 will begin at 11:30 a.m. in The Atrium at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
The Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor was established in 2000 to recognize Ohio military personnel decorated for heroism while in combat situations.
To a man, this year’s local inductees say they are somewhat embarrassed to have received their decorations and the recognition that goes with induction into the hall.
“I’m honored and humbled, but I didn’t do anything for recognition. I just wanted to save as many lives as possible. I would trade every award for just one more life saved. I’m very proud to have served,” said Kennedy, a career Marine who flew Cobra AH-1W’s as a member of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadrons during two tours in Iraq, in 2003 and 2005.
Robert E. Pluchinsky
An Army infantry soldier, Pluchinsky, honored for his actions as a squad leader during a ground operation, said his only injury in Vietnam was a scratch on his leg from “shrapnel or something. We put a bandage on it.”
“I can’t understand it. Sometimes you wonder why you weren’t wounded and others were,” said Pluchinsky, who even with rank of sergeant and staff sergeant, took his turn at the dangerous point position on operations. “Everyone took a turn,” he said.
Pluchinsky said he is honored to have received the Silver Star and to be inducted in the hall.
“I never felt like I deserved it [the Silver Star]. I was given a job to do, and I tried to do it the best I could,” he said.
“We were brothers. Most of us would do what we had to do to protect each other. I never left anybody behind. We would always go back, no matter what. That’s what good people do. ... They have each other’s back,” Pluchinsky said.
“I never looked at it as killing someone. ... It was more like neutralizing a threat,” he said.
Though Pluchinsky wasn’t wounded, he didn’t come back from Vietnam unscathed.
The first year he came home, he said he demolished two cars and a motorcycle and has since developed several serious health conditions from exposure to chemicals.
“At 19, I was a platoon sergeant in charge of people. I was just a kid in the jungle fighting a war,” he said.
Pluchinsky said he never talked about the war. He got a job at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Lordstown on Dec. 7, 1970, and suppressed the war. But when he retired in 2006, everything came flooding back, he said.
Pluchinsky said he never realized until then that he had issues,
including post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he said the Youngstown Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic has been a great help.
“I realize I can’t change what happened to me in Vietnam. I’ve learned I’ll always feel that way until I die, but the VA has given me coping skills,” he said.
Brian M. Kennedy
Reflecting on receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, the third-highest military decoration for valor awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces for actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kennedy also said he doesn’t think he did anything brave or great or heroic.
“All you thought about was your duty to help the people who need your help the most. The underlying emotion is love for the individuals in trouble. I don’t regret anything except that I couldn’t save more people in their hour of greatest need,” he said. “I was just an ordinary Marine in extraordinary circumstances trying to save lives ... trying to make sure Marines and soldiers and Royal Marines made it home.
“None of what they went through is really fair. It’s just a matter of trying to make as much sense of it as you can and make sure as many of the good guys as possible go home, and that the bad guys don’t,” Kennedy said.
While many Vietnam veterans felt unappreciated and were treated badly when they came home, Kennedy said coming home for the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran led to a feeling of isolation because there are so few vets compared with earlier wars.
Kennedy said, however, Vietnam veterans have been very caring and open and welcoming to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“They are like guides through the minefield of civilian life. They give you advice. I always feel great when I’m with them,” Kennedy said.
“I have a lot of relatives that served in World War II. I’m fiercely proud to be an Ohioan. I’m thrilled to go to the Ohio Military Hall of Fame in Columbus and share some Ohio history with my wife and kids,” he said.
Charles L. Canfield Jr.
Canfield, laughing at himself a little, said he was going to college in California, where he lived most of his life, and dropped a couple of classes because his grades weren’t good. About two weeks later, he received a notice from his draft board.
“Me and two friends were drafted. They went to Germany for two years, and I went to Vietnam,” said Canfield, who went to flight school and flew UH-1 Bell Helicopters gunships, known as Hueys.
“I wasn’t a protester. Even though I was drafted, I was proud to have served,” he said.
“I was happy to serve and happy to save people’s lives. I’m happy to be alive,” said Canfield, who flew with the 176th Assault Helicopter Co. of the Americal Division in Chu Lai south of Da Nang.
“Forty-seven years ago, I was a man-child caught up in a war. I didn’t protest or go to Canada. I went [to Vietnam] and I came home after spending several months ‘in country’ and then recovering from a leg wound in a hospital in Japan,” he said.
In addition to the Air Medal that led to his induction into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame, Canfield received a second Air Medal with “V” Device for his part in rescuing two F-4 Phantom fighter pilots whose plane was shot down returning from a mission in Laos on Dec. 10, 1967. The pilots ejected from the burning plane; one landing in a river and the other on a sandbar on the river.
At the same time, a Huey helicopter piloted by Jim White and co-pilot Canfield, did an emergency descent to rescue the pilots. The Huey landed on the sandbar, and two crew members jumped out the back, cut the pilots out of their parachutes, and brought them back to the helicopter under heavy enemy fire.
The pilots received Air Medals with “V” Device for valor, and the crew members received Silver Star Medals, Canfield said.
“I really didn’t hesitate about going to the Hall of Fame ceremony. I was glad to serve. I’m going to wear my uniform,” Canfield said.
The motto of the Vietnam Helicopter Association, Canfield said, is: “We flew above the best,” referring to the guys on the ground in the mud and heat and close combat.