Vietnam vet is honored as hometown hero
The Enterprise — Lisa Nicole Viers
A shadowbox hangs against the wall in the Voorheesville home Fox shares with Diane Williams. Like the slenderness of the box and its unobtrusive position in the back of the house, Fox is humble about his achievements and getting recognized for them. “Who I am is what gained those,” he said of his medals, “but those aren’t who I am.”
NEW SCOTLAND — Forty-five years ago last Thursday, David Terrance Fox was standing precariously at the edge of a CH-46 helicopter’s ramp, throwing fellow Marines over his shoulder into the craft that was only partly sitting on a rock ledge about 1,300 meters up from the ground.
After getting the six Marines into the helicopter, he let the pilot know it was time to get out of there, in as many words, and got back in his seat.
Later, one of the men he pulled to safety asked him if he knew he was being shot at while getting them into the aircraft.
“They could have run an elephant by me,” Fox said. “I was focused on getting them out.”
Fox, known to his friends as Terry, recounts this story from a wooden chair settled in his back sitting room in a house on Pleasant Street in Voorheesville, a world away from Vietnam, where he spent two and a half years fighting the North Vietnamese Army, most of the time as a crew chief, responsible for maintaining the aircraft and surveying the environment for the pilot.
“It was a terrible place to be,” said Fox, who retired with the rank lance corporal.
Today, at the YMCA in East Greenbush, Fox is being honored with the first-ever Rev. Francis A. Kelley Hometown Hero Award from The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 38, Troy.
The award is one of over 120 Fox earned for his time in the service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, one step below the Medal of Honor, the awarding of which requires someone to be injured or killed in the engagement.
“I’d rather have that,” Fox said, pointing to the Distinguished Flying Cross, “than someone hurt.”
That day 45 years ago, Fox earned that Distinguished Flying Cross, as all six of the men he pulled aboard were unharmed.
During his early time in the war, he worked with the Korean Republic Marines, putting his skills to use on their aircraft and later flying them.
Fox was also in the military police for a short while in Vietnam, and he took his position seriously.
While stationed at the base of Marble Mountain, Fox’s adherence to his role rubbed some people the wrong way.
“I once arrested a lieutenant colonel for some non-becoming activity on his part that has, of recent,” he said, “been part of investigations of the honor of some officers when it comes to the female members of the military.”
While on post, Fox heard a woman scream, and ran to an outhouse outside the officers quarters, where he rapped on the door and asked who was inside.
A male voice told him to “go away,” but Fox stayed put.
“Well, one, I’m here, I’m not going away, but my partner,” Fox recounts, “was saying ‘No, no, you don’t want to do this, are you sure you want to do this’, and I said ‘Yes’.”
After being asked to come out, a lieutenant colonel and a nurse, crying and disheveled, exited the outhouse. Fox asked his partner to take care of the nurse and said he would take care of the lieutenant colonel.
The lieutenant colonel was pulling rank on Fox, trying to get him to step down, “and I said, ‘Well, you know what, lieutenant colonel, sir, you’re now my prisoner’.”
Everyone around was telling Fox this action wasn’t good for his career, but he insisted on pushing the case until it went to a court martial.
“Had I just walked by, I couldn’t have lived with myself,” Fox said.
As a member of the military police, “you’re charged with holding everybody to the same level,” said Fox, “and I don’t care whether you’re a lieutenant colonel or a lance corporal, in my book, you get treated the same.”
Eventually, the nurse received her duty station of choice, as a way to quiet her down about the charges, Fox said, and she went to Hawaii.
Because of the charges against him, the lieutenant colonel would never gain rank. “His career had pretty much reached its apex with this charge,” Fox said.
The provost marshal, the officer in charge of the military police, was displeased at Fox’s arrest of the lieutenant colonel, and “he threatened to send me so far north I could shake Ho Chi Minh’s hand,” Fox said, which is exactly what he wanted. His squad was in Dong Ha, north of Marble Mountain.
Fox was close with the squad, and made friends while in the United States Marine Corps. One of his friends in Vietnam was also his childhood friend back home in Troy, where he grew up.
Raymond W. Tymeson asked Fox to tell his mother that he had seen him and he was OK when Fox went home on a break before his six-month extension.
“I headed home with that in my heart, from the other side of the world,” Fox said, and returned home to a welcome at the family hardware store in Troy. He appreciated the happy welcome, but wanted to go see Tymeson’s mother, as promised. When he told his father this, his face went as white as paper, Fox remembers, as he said to his son, “You don’t know?”
Soon before Fox came home, Tymeson was a part of Operation Meade River, a search-and-destroy mission that took place in late November 1968.
“Ray was killed. I didn’t know it,” Fox said. “I may have even picked him up, I don’t know.… I had that message in my heart all the way, and his body beat me home.”
Fox teared up at the memory of his close friend.
“I get a bit emotional because I live in the moment; it doesn’t go away,” he said.
Fox fondly remembers bits of their childhood friendship: “peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at his house, reading comic books on the steps, playing baseball down the block, pitching against the wall until one or the other could get done doing their chores.”
When Fox got back to the United States for good, he floated between a few jobs, and ended up working for the Troy Fire Department, eventually becoming a paramedic in 1979.
At his 25th high school reunion, he saw Diane Williams, the first girl he ever went steady with.
“I never stopped loving her,” Fox said.
Through some difficult situations, the two have come back together, and have been sharing their lives with one another.
In a sitting room in the back of the home they share, a large shadow box hangs on the wall, filled with rows of medals.
Fox does not boast about them, but describes them matter-of-factly. He has 54 New York State crosses, and 53 air medals. Each air medal represents 20 completed missions; Fox was shot at during at least half of them. He completed over 1,060 missions during his career as a Marine.
“I just tried to do what I was trained to do, as well as I could,” he said, and described receiving this new award as “an honor.”
“There are a lot of simple people out there who did big things. Well, not big,” he paused, staying true to his humble nature, “but, staying alive is a big thing.”