Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

His Goal: To Fly in Combat over Vietnam

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

His Goal: To Fly in Combat over Vietnam

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

Editor's note: This is the first of a three-column series.

The night before her oldest son left for Vietnam, Irene Frye went to the doorway of his bedroom.

She peeked into a boy's room decorated not with posters of football players and pinups, but with pictures of F-4 Phantom jets and model aircraft carriers, and saw Kevin Frye, a couple of months past his 20th birthday, sitting at his desk, intently writing something.

"What are you doing, Kevin?" she asked.

"Just tying up some loose ends, Mom," he said.

She didn't know it, but he was writing a letter, addressing it to "Mom and Dad." It was never meant to be mailed. Instead, when he finished writing, he put it in an envelope, sealed it and gave it to his father with instructions: Open this if I don't come home.

Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War. That's the reason for taking this week to tell you the story of the Fryes and a letter written March 7, 1970.

To understand what Vietnam meant to Kevin Frye on the eve of his deployment is like trying to understand the war itself. It's complicated and, in some ways, conflicted.

Frye called it a "stupid war." Yet he did everything possible not just to be in the middle of it, but to be flying an attack helicopter with a unit on the forefront of it.

Kevin always wanted to fly. His college roommate, Clarence Walker, said "wanted" isn't a strong enough word, that Kevin "had" to fly.

It isn't hard to figure out where he got this from. His mother flew as a hobby. His father was in the Navy, stationed at Cecil Field. And when Warren Frye took his son to the base, the Navy pilots sort of adopted Kevin as an unofficial mascot, teasing him, playing with him, teaching him about planes.

At age 13, he joined the Civil Air Patrol cadet program. One month after his 16th birthday, he flew solo in a Cessna 150. And the summer after he turned 17, he went to Orlando for a camp and made a lasting impression on one of the junior cadets.

"He had a leader persona," Skip Pfeiffer wrote years later. "His uniform and appearance were impeccable. He was strict but fair as a disciplinarian. I remember walking past his room on a number of occasions and he would be sitting at his desk writing. He said he kept a journal. He said his ambition was to become a Naval aviator and fly jets off an aircraft carrier."

The one glitch in his plan: math.

He was struggling to meet math requirements needed to have a shot at the Naval Academy. In hopes of changing that he transferred from Bishop Kenny, which was teaching math the old fashioned way, to Forrest High School, which was teaching "new math."

Old or new, it wasn't enough. So after graduating from Forrest, he accepted a Naval ROTC scholarship and headed to the University of South Carolina. …

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