Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Manly Color of Pink

I never considered pink to be a particularly manly color. In fact, I thought rather the opposite.  Then, I went to Vietnam, and was assigned to fly with the 361st Aerial Weapons Company -- the world famous Pink Panthers, the best helicopter company in country and legends in our own minds.

We flew the AH-1G Cobra gunship, escorting lightly armed UH-1 troop carriers into and out of landing zones "way out west".  During the Easter Offensive of 1972, we were a big part of the Battle of Kontum. (http://thebattleofkontum.com).  When you saw TV news reels of Cobras over Kontum, it was probably us.  When President Nixon announced on national TV that "Kontum still stands" it was due to in great measure to the efforts of the Pink Panthers.

To a man, we Panthers embraced the color of pink.  The exterior of the orderly room was painted pink as was flight operations.  And, although the helicopters remained OD Green, the very top of each vertical fin was painted pink.  We even dropped a pink sink onto enemy positions on Chu Pao Mountain so we could truthfully say that we threw everything at them, including the kitchen sink!

Being a Pink Panther was and remains a badge of honor for those of us who flew with them.  At our reunions, these forty years later, we are quick to proclaim "There were three kinds of helicopter pilots in Vietnam: those who were Panthers, those who were gun covered by the Panthers, and those who wish to God they were one of the other two."  At our reunions we take pride in wearing out pink shirts and hats and as you can guess, the manly color of pink figures prominently in the decor of our reunion hospitality suite, the "Stickitt Inn".

But I have a second and more important reason to embrace the color of pink.  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Paula, my wife of over 45 years, is a 17 year breast cancer survivor.

No one wants to learn that they or someone they love has cancer.  Neither did we.  But we did all the research we could, talked to everyone we could find who had information, and made what was, for us, the best decision for treatment and reconstruction.  In our decision process, my wife was mentored by our friend Maggi, herself a survivor.  In turn, Paula was able mentor Patti and Marge and Brenda and others when they were diagnosed.  Maggi and Patti have since left us. Paula, Marge, and Brenda continue to live each day as the gift which it is.  And I embrace the manly color of pink in support of finding a cure for breast cancer.

I am aware that the sentiment is meaningless unless action is taken.  I therefore plan to visit http://ww5.komen.org/ and press the button that says "Take Action" and follow directions from there.

Will you join me?