C. Stuart Whipple
- E-4, Communications Specialist and Airborne Reconnaissance Electronic Counter Measures
- September 25, 1967, to March 26, 1971
- Vietnam War; Laos, Cambodia, South Vietnam
- Air Medal, AF Commendation Medal, (3) Vietnam Service Medals
It seems I was born for service. In reviewing my life from early beginnings to the present it seems by demeanor, experience, skills and temperament fashioned first by my parents who excelled at teaching those traits and behaviors and then by the courses of life itself, I am not surprised by the outcomes.
Even my first name, Claire, which at the time of birth was a strong masculine name (re: Claire Chennault, General of the Flying Tigers in China) and also by birth in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was formative…but also to my sensitive side when in grade school “Claire-a-Bell” (the clown) became a TV personality…and you know what other boys did to me with that moniker!
Yet I persevered, but quietly and without fanfare, in fact rather shyly letting action speak more than my words. I became a multi-sport athlete, earned eight “letters” at Central High School, Madison and was voted into second place by for senior class president even though I had not entered the race. Forbid that I would actually run for that position.
By the time I enlisted in the Air Force I had amassed a quiet temperament bolstered by my Scouting experience from Cub to Explorer and attaining with two other brothers the rank of Eagle Scout. Much of that time fashioned a strong desire to serve others, volunteer for everything and provide for the safety of beast and man. From lifeguard to a multiple sport athlete softened by a love of animals and nature always watching out for the safety of others I progressed towards a degree at UW-Madison in hopes of joining the Foreign Diplomatic Service.
Yet the Viet Nam War intervened so I knew I was going military. As the youngest of my family of three brothers and immediately after graduation from college I joined the Air Force in hopes of flight training. Disappointment ensued and I was sent for Communications training instead…an inside job of little excitement. While at Ellington AFB, Texas I began volunteering for everything flying and ended up with assignment to the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, stationed at Korat Thailand. After training at Otis AFB, CT., and with stops at Fairchild AFB, WA. I was sent to the Philippines for escape and evasion training. My partner and I were the two farthest from the start point…therefore the last to be “rescued” as we had slipped through the woods to the farthest part away from the start point and up against a thousand foot drop into a valley. It took hours as we baked in the heat. From there I flew contract to Korat, Thailand to being flying Recon over the Ho Chi Minh Trails, the DMZ, Cambodia up by The Fishes’ Mouth west of Hanoi, and NE of Saigon in the “hidden tunnels” area.
These were our overflight orbits above infiltration and combat staging areas for the Viet Cong and NVA which were hidden under tree cover or across borders in supposedly “neutral” SEA. There and now as a CIM (Combat Information Monitor), we electronically detected enemy movements down from N. Vietnam through two “neutral” countries and into S. Vietnam and radioed that information via computer to a secret location for intelligence analysis and airstrike interdiction.
Later we also in real time alerted combat aircraft as to locations of personnel and material for bombing and strafing runs. During my tour we lost two aircraft and twenty-two “Batcat” aircrew each leaving a pall over our wing. I lost a friend who had trained with our crew.
Off duty I taught English at local Thai schools and road a bike around Nakon Ratchasima taking pictures with my camera and shopping at stores. I found it odd flying into combat one day then riding around town and country taking pictures and greeting the mostly friendly Thai people. It was a calming adventure. I did pick up a bunch of white cut sapphires which I distributed to family when returning home. Not to worry my parents I had kept my war escapades secret until after my last flight which I announced in a letter home…and apparently with great relief when received.
War for me was over after a year, just before the Upper Brass and Civilian Authority shut down our operations due to discomfort with our mission of interdicting enemy sight unseen in areas where non combatants also lived.
Yet during our tour and in the war in general I was not aware of a silent killer that was air dropped beneath our flight paths and also stored and used on our flight line area right outside the window where I completed groundwork in Squadron Operations and Intelligence. This “agent,” a defoliant meant to bare trees and other vegetation (Operation Ranch Hand) that hid the infiltration trails of the North Vietnamese has many different color names depending on chemical contents but later amalgamized to one…Agent Orange. Dioxin, the primary killer hiding in those barrels (the rest of it dispensing and stabilizing agents) was designed to kill the vegetation that hid the enemy (and tribes people, and pack animals even including elephants and impressed workers and women trail maintenance “recruits”). It was also used on airbases in Thailand and elsewhere to clear the ground of cover sappers used for cover.
This dangerous chemical changed and challenged my life in many fearful and destructive ways starting in my mid fifties resulting eventually in five diseases to the present that have challenged and threatened my life of service, upended my career after service and changed my life dramatically. But it also gave me opportunities to alter my service from one of being a long-term mental health and alcohol and other drug abuse therapist and clinic owner/director to eventually, after healing, to that of a National Park Ranger (after losses of home and job(s) by cancer and other Agent Orange diseases).
My wife and I (and dogs) lost “everything” (home, business, occupation) but after treatment and survival we decided to head “west” in a travel trailer and complete healing in nature (since such a disease is shared by both in a family).
We lost everything but gained a life on the road by car and trailer during which I first healed then volunteered at the North Rim Grand Canyon as volunteer along with Pam as maintenance workers. Great exercise, fresh air, less stress and a new commitment did the job.
The next year we both were employed by the National Park Service, Pam in maintenance and me as an Interpretation Park Ranger. Later Pam too became a Ranger in administration. Along with our golden retrievers I began a multi-national park, thirteen year run of mostly western geological National Parks and Pam after Grand Canyon became a librarian when we settled a time in South Carolina. I continued to travel to other National Parks to work seasonally returning “home” for winters excepting when I worked the West Everglades.
All of this 2nd Life became a wonderful and fulfilling adventure that without my health degradations from service I would never have had. Pam and I had turned devastation into a wonderful life experience filled with unbelievable opportunities and glorious natural settings.
I had begun a new hobby with photography (camera purchased in Nam) and some writing which I continue to this day. Oxbow lake with its natural gifts of wildlife, sunsets and vibrant colors of summer and fall and the starkness and shadows of winter are just parts of a glorious wilderness of opportunities.
Long ago on my return from Nam and with just one hunting event with a new girlfriend (Pam) I drew down on some game, heard her take in a sharp breath of air…and that was the end of my hunting. Truly, after Nam it was of no joy anymore. Yet with the utter peace I feel in the woods, mountains, lakes and shores everywhere I feel whole again and like I am in just the right place. Oxbow Lake has been a culmination of that search for where “I am home again.”
Our last move (I have said this now four times), brought us back to Presque Isle, WI or rather the lakes of this pristine area. Once before we had been here on Lone Pine Lake just three miles east of where we are now but had to move when I was sickened by cancer. Yet here we are again, still serving others, still building our fourth “last home” and now I can clearly see that service has been our greatest gift…to ourselves, to the environment and to our neighbors wherever in the world those neighbors may be.
Our journey continues now we know not for how long. Four other Agent Orange diseases have taken bits and pieces of my body and mind, but not my spirit. To give up now? Hell NO…this environment is the healing force and our contributions to it in home and lake and community and Pam with the town library and her garden keep us still. With hope and perseverance we “soldier on.”
Saving this place and all that lies in this treasured environment drives both of us onward and with inner peace. Through photography I take little but gain so much. Or awakening on a moonlit night to air my dog I find amazing quiet natural pleasure…the moonlight casting shadows, the loons calling eerily in the distance, the trill of peepers awakening from a long winter…I heal from the ravages in my life and revel in the exquisite beauty of nature. And, as always, I look to serve my surroundings, for without them, my neighbors and all the encompassing beauty of the world my journey is empty.
I want you to have it too…and our kids and their kids and for all the creatures of the forests and waters and for life to be sustaining and the blessings of it until we are no more.
My service to country began long before I enlisted and it continues to this day. I do not regret my losses for they are part of my life and what have made the paths I follow. I will follow them until I am no more.
- Wisconsin Dept. of Conservation — hundreds of hours planting trees for stream and river rehabilitation.
- Explorer Scout with Order of the Arrow service – Eagle Scout Rank.
- Life Guard – beach and ocean certified.
- Red Cross certified Waterfront Director and CPR certified (16 years).
- Mental health, alcohol and other drug abuse counselor and supervisor, Oconto County Unified Health Board.
- University of Wisconsin Stevens Point alcohol education teacher and counselor (23 years).
- Psychotherapist trained, certified and Owner /Director of a Mental Health/Alcohol/Drug Abuse facility, Stevens Point, WI.
- Volunteer for Nature Conservancy, Texas.
- Maintenance and Rehabilitation Volunteer North Rim, Grand Canyon.
- Certified Wildland Fire Fighter North Rim Grand Canyon (fought in three fires).
- Park Ranger at North Rim Grand Canyon NP, Everglades NP, Smoky Mountains NP, Rocky Mountains NP and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore NP (13 years total).
- Bureau of Land Management, Quartzite Ranger.
Mr. Whipple is a member of Winegar Post 480 American Legion, Presque Isle, Wisconsin.