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Honoring a Hero

It was such an honor to have Brigadier General Dale Stovall with us at our September meeting. I met Mr. Stovall earlier this year on a flight from Denver to Missoula when we were seated next to each other. We started chatting and I learned he was returning from a special event at the Air Force Academy. Upon learning of his service in Vietnam I immediately asked him if he had ever been given a quilt from Quilts of Valor (QOV) and he said he had never heard of such a thing.

Before getting off that flight, I got his information and then after discussing it with the MQG board, we thought this would be a great quarterly challenge as well. Thank you to everyone who made and donated patriotic blocks during our quarterly challenge earlier this year. We gathered enough blocks for our QOV group to make several quilts including one for Mr. Stovall.

It's hard to believe but American soldiers returning home from Vietnam often faced scorn as the war they had fought in became increasingly unpopular. The Vietnam War claimed the lives of more than 58,000 American service members and wounded more than 150,000. And for the men who served in Vietnam and survived unspeakable horrors, coming home offered its own kind of trauma.

This was partly due to the logistics of the never-ending conflict. The Vietnam War lasted from 1964-1973—the longest war in American history until it was overtaken by the one in Afghanistan—and servicemen typically did one-year tours of duty. Unlike conflicts with massive demobilizations, men came back from Vietnam by themselves rather than with their units or companies. For a decade, as one person was shipped off to fight, another was returning.

Celebrations aside, the government also failed to make good on its promises to those who served. Veterans returning from Vietnam were met with an institutional response marked by indifference. It would take nearly 20 years after the end of the war for America to get right with its Vietnam veterans. The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982 began the process, but many identify the Gulf War of 1990-91—with its national flag-waving, yellow-ribbon cultural mobilization and the grand celebrations of a successful campaign—as ending Vietnam Syndrome. Since 9/11, patriotic gestures, like wearing flag pins and saying, “Thank you for your service,” have become common.

Mr. Stovall's service both in Vietnam and to our nation over the course of his career is due all of our respect and gratitude. As the daughter of a career soldier and Vietnam veteran, it was absolutely my privilege and honor to simply set the wheels in motion for blanketing Mr. Stoval in a QOV quilt.

The Mission of the Quilts of Valor® Foundation is to cover Service Members and Veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor. The Missoula Quilters' Guild is blessed to have such an active group of members involved with QOV and led by Deb Tomell. Thank you for allowing all of us to share in this very special ceremony. My prayer is that other members of our guild are inspired to get involved with QOV.

To learn more about Quilts of Valor and how to get involved with our local chapter click on the links below.


Brigadier General Dale Stovall

Dale Stovall is a retired Brigadier General in the United States Air Force who figured prominently in several search and rescue operations during the Vietnam War . A member of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron based in Thailand, on June 2, 1972, he recovered Capt. Roger Locher from deep inside North Vietnam, the deepest rescue made during the entire Vietnam War. For his efforts in rescuing Locher, Stovall was awarded the Air Force Cross, which described how "he willingly returned to this high threat area, braving intense ground fire, to recover the downed airman from deep in North Vietnam.". Stovall was also recognized with the 1973 Jabara Award for Airmanship, two Silver Star awards and two Distinguished Flying Cross awards for other combat rescues among the 12 successful rescue missions he accomplished during his tour in Southeast Asia. Stovall retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general on June 1, 1993.

During the initial phase of Operation Linebacker in May 1972, an American F-4D was shot down by a North Vietnamese Shenyang J-6. Pilot Maj. Robert Lodge refused to eject, but his weapons officer Roger Locher was able to get out of the aircraft. Locher landed, unseen by either friendly or enemy forces, only 64 kilometres (40 mi) from Hanoi, North Vietnam.

Capt. Locher evaded capture and covered over 19 kilometres (12 mi), gradually losing 30 pounds (14 kg) and his strength. On June 1, 1972, his 22nd day behind enemy lines, he was finally able to contact a flight of American jets overhead, calling, "Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard". Lt. James Dunn and others, including Capt. Steve Ritchie in one of the F-4 aircraft overhead, heard his radio call and remembered Locher's call sign. When the aircraft answered, Locher calmly responded, "Guys I've been down here a long time, any chance of picking me up?" His transmissions left some Americans who did not hear his call in doubt about the authenticity of his message, and they believed that the NVA may have manipulated a POW into impersonating him, setting a trap for the would-be rescuers.

Capt. Stovall, based at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base in Thailand responded, piloting a HH-53 from the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron along with a rescue force consisting of several A-1Hs and another HH-53. As they neared Locher's position, the A-1 Skyraiders and HH-53C helicopters came under attack from two MiGs, several surface-to-air missiles and gunfire. The rescue force eluded one MiG in a narrow canyon, but were eventually driven back by the enemy fire and failed to get through to Locher on June 1.

On June 2, 1972, General John Vogt, commander of the 7th Air Force canceled the entire strike mission set for Hanoi on that day. He sent a task force of 119 aircraft including Stovall piloting his HH-53 rescue helicopter, bombers, and an array of F-4 escorts, EB-66s, A-1Hs, F105G Weasels, and KC135 tankers to get Locher out. "We shut down the war to go get Roger Locher," Stovall later said.

Capt. Ronald E. Smith in an A-1H guided Capt. Stovall to Locher's position. Only when Locher rose out of the jungle canopy riding the jungle penetrator were all of the Americans sure it was him. Despite their proximity to Yên Bái Air Base, no aircraft were lost during Locher's rescue. At only 60 miles (97 km) from Hanoi, it was the deepest rescue inside North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

In 1981 he became the deputy assistant director for special plans, Air Force headquarters, and was responsible for formulating Air Force policy and plans for special operations. In 1983 General Stovall was selected to be a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City.

From 1984 to 1986 General Stovall was assistant deputy commander for operations and then deputy commander for operations for the 438th Military Airlift Wing, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. In 1986 he was assigned to Hurlburt Field to serve, first, as vice commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing and, from July 1987 to June 1989, as the unit's commander.

In December 2022, Retired Brigadier General Dale E. Stovall was awarded the 2022 MSgt John A. Chapman “Service Before Self” award.

Listen to Mr. Stovall on A Voice for America's Veterans - Wreaths Across America.

Written by Vida Anderson

MQG Publicity

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