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Powerful Living Vietnam War By Charles Sasser


Editor’s Note: According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the three million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. The electric cooperative leaders featured in this story served the United States in this tragic war. Our utmost respect and admiration go to them—and to every Vietnam War veteran— for their faithful service and their sacrifi ces.


Northfork Electric Cooperative Trustee Charles Hickey went to the Vietnam War as a young soldier. Photo courtesy of Charles Hickey


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f there is one thing Vietnam veterans have in common, it is harrowing memories of returning home to antiwar turmoil. Charles Hickey, a nine-year trustee of Northfork Electric Cooperative in Sayre, Okla., was confronted with, “How many babies did you kill today?” A stewardess refused to serve lunch to Max Meek, now general manager of Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC) in Norman, Okla., when he re- turned home in uniform. U.S. Marine Capt. Len Tontz, a nine-year Central Rural Electric


Cooperative (CREC) trustee living in Guthrie, Okla., returned home to El Toro Marine base in Irvine, Calif., where his wife Linda met him. They departed the post at night to avoid protestors. Until recently, Bob Usry, an eight-year member of OEC’s board of direc- tors refused to talk about the war.


“It seems people want to forget it ever happened,” he says. On March 8, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson landed Marines at Da Nang, Vietnam. Ten years later, on April 30, 1975, helicopters airlifted the last Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon as North Vietnamese com- munists moved in to seize the country. More than 58,000 Americans died in the undeclared war.


Charles Hickey, Trustee, Northfork Electric Cooperative Hickey operates a livestock brokerage and runs his ranch near Reydon in western Oklahoma. He was drafted by the army in 1966 when he was 19 and working road construction. A Military Policeman (MP) with the U.S. Army’s 615th MP Detachment, he landed at Bien Hoa northeast of Saigon. Caskets draped in U.S. fl ags were lined up on the tarmac awaiting their oc- cupants’ return to America. The 615th’s mission was escorting “beans and bullets” convoys between


Bien Hoa and Saigon. MPs rode heavily armed Jeeps to guard against attack. Snipers “pinged” at the larger truck convoys, but smaller runs into isolated Green Beret camps through old rubber plantations proved more dangerous. A sniper fatally wounded an MP in Hickey’s convoy. Another convoy triggered an ambush that left an MP and two truck drivers dead. U.S. aircraft


6 WWW.OK-LIVING.COOP


fi nally dumped Agent Orange on the plantation roads to destroy foliage that provided the enemy concealment. Hickey remembers the ruthlessness of communists who raided a village to steal food from peasants. They slaughtered most of the inhabitants, in- cluding children. Hickey and wife Debbie have fi ve grown children: Brandon, Justin, Shona, Carson and Travis, all of whom live near the ranch at Reydon.


Max Meek, CEO, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative Although born in Oklahoma City, Meek graduated high school in Los Angeles. A “terrible student,” he fl unked out of Los Angeles Valley College where he played basketball with TV icon Tom Selleck of Magnum P.I. The army drafted him in 1967 at the age of 23. “I typed 65 words a minute,” he says. “I thought I’d be a clerk-typist.” Instead, he ended up a platoon combat medic with the 25th Infantry


“Wolfhound” Unit. He experienced fi rst combat one night in an old grave- yard of eerie ancient tombs and trees dripping moss. As bullets fl ew, he sought cover in an empty grave. Someone screamed, “Medic!” Meek bolted to his feet. A radioman tackled him. “Wait, Doc.” Word immediately came back that the wounded soldier was dead. “Doc, you would have got yourself killed too.” Meek’s platoon played cat-and-mouse with the enemy all over the Cu


Chi region where he patched the wounded and evacuated the dead. When his forward operating base was almost overrun, he scurried into a defensive bunker to aid wounded grunts, only to discover they had all been killed. After being wounded by shrapnel during the 1968 Tet Offensive—in a jet bomber assault onto an extremely hot fi re fi ght—Meek recuperated in Cu Chi for a month before returning to the bush to complete his tour. Returning to Oklahoma, he graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1972 with an accounting degree, then went to work for OEC as a billing supervisor.


Over the next 38 years he worked his way up to become general manager. Married 41 years, he and wife Ivanell have four grown daughters: Bobette, Kelly, Ashlie, and Eileen, who died of cancer at age 26.


Heroes


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