By Kristen Dooley (PEO STRI)April 4, 2007
Capt. Herbert C. Crosby, a U.S. Army Reservist, was born on Memorial Day in 1947. As a young child, he always thought the American Flag flew in honor of his birthday.
Crosby was a blond-haired, blue-eyed Eagle Scout, high school varsity football player, and popular young man who loved boating, cars, airplanes, the Beatles and a good practical joke.
His family and friends affectionately dubbed Capt. Crosby, "Herby."
"Being from a patriotic family, Herby wanted to serve his country and didn't wait to be drafted," said Herby's sister, Mary Lou Wade. "He enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 1966 after graduating from high school in Georgia."
After three years of training and service stateside, Crosby arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, in February 1969 and was later deployed to Chu Lai, Vietnam.
The next year saw the Beatles break up, the Kent State University massacre, and Apollo 13 return to earth safely after an explosion aboard the spacecraft. That year also brought terrible news to the Crosby's: Herby, a Firebird combat gunship pilot, was Missing In Action.
"Two Army representatives personally delivered the telegram to my father at his office. Dad was devastated. He was not the crying type, but with this news, he cried so very hard," Wade recounted.
Wade said her father, a World War II veteran, believed that Missing In Action was indicative of death. Herby's mother, on the other hand, was more optimistic.
"Mom didn't understand the significance of Missing In Action and thought they would find him soon. She thought he was just lost in a village and that the people couldn't understand him," Wade said.
"It was a very sad day in the Crosby home."
According to accounts, Crosby and his crew were returning to their base at Chu Lai on Jan. 10, 1970, aboard a UH-1C Huey helicopter. Due to bad weather, their helicopter went down over Quang Nam Province. A search was initiated for the crew, but no sign of the helicopter or crew was ever spotted.
Years later, in 1989, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam gave U.S. specialists 25 boxes containing the remains of the U.S. servicemen related to the incident.
It was then that the Crosby's caught a glimpse of hope.
In 1991, the first of the four Soldiers aboard the helicopter was positively identified.
Then in February 2006, Herby's sisters were notified that two of the three remaining unidentified Soldiers killed in the helicopter crash were positively identified. The fourth combat pilot, Herby, was identified by his dog tag.
"My sister and I were so elated," Wade fondly recalled. "We could hardly contain ourselves. I was so happy, my heart was pounding."
The family received official notification on Nov. 28, 2006.
"This was the time when mom signed the official paperwork accepting the findings presented to us as Herby's remains," Wade said. "This is also when we met Maj. Kenneth Gambles for the first time."
Gambles was assigned as the Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) for the Crosby family. Serving at the U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, Fla., Gambles performs duties as the assistant product manager for the Synthetic Environment Core project. As a Soldier however, his duties do not end there.
"When I was informed I was the CAO for a repatriation of remains case, I thought, well, this will be interesting," Gambles recalled. "I got the full appreciation of the case the morning prior to meeting the family when I was briefed by the director of the Department of the Army Casualty Office. Then, we went to meet the family; I felt extremely honored to execute this duty."
It was during the Crosby's and Gambles' first meeting that Herby's mother was presented with his identification tags.
"This was the most touching moment I have ever seen. To see her rubbing the dog tag, knowing it was the closest thing on his body and that she had it now after all these years was just beautiful," Wade said.
The Crosby family said Gambles, who takes his duty as a CAO very seriously, has been integral in helping them get through the entire process.
"Maj. Gambles has, since the first time meeting us, presented himself in the utmost professional manner, yet very sympathetic and understanding of our feelings of bittersweet grief and times of joy," Wade commented.
The family said they feel entirely comfortable with sharing information with Gambles and have placed the utmost trust in him with making preparations for Herby's interment at Arlington National Cemetery in May.
And just as Herby believed the American flag flew in honor of his birthday so many years ago, the Crosby's thought it befitting to have Herby honored as close to his birth date as possible so that the flag will always fly in honor not only of his birthday, but also for his sacrifice to the country and freedom, said Wade.
"We sincerely hope that our good fortune in having Herby's remains returning to American soil will give other families hope that they, too, will receive word of their lost loved one," Wade concluded.