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The most courageous person I ever knew

Photograph of Captain Richard Louis Basinger courtesy of The Virtual Wall.

By Bill Herr, Icon columnist

Courage is defined in Webster's Dictionary as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. The most courageous person I ever knew was my friend, Dick Basinger. His father was my Vocational Agriculture teacher at Bluffton High School, Mr. Lorain Basinger. 

Dick was outgoing, a fun person to be around. His family lived on Bentley Road about a mile south of Bluffton. They lived by the long lane that led back to my uncle's farm. One Saturday I rode our horse, Tony, to see my uncle. 

At that time Dick was an eighth grader in Bluffton Junior High. He was outside that day and I stopped to visit with him for a minute. He asked me if he could ride Tony. I assumed he could handle Tony so I said, "Sure." He got in the saddle and walked Tony out to the road. He headed south and the next thing we knew, Tony was galloping at full speed along the road on the grass and we saw that Dick had dropped the reins. Something had spooked Tony. We jumped in a car and sped down the road. Fortunately, when we got alongside Tony, he stopped. I expected Dick to be scared. He was relaxed and laughing. He had thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

After that school year, Dick's family moved to Kenton when Mr. Basinger was named the agriculture agent in Hardin County. Dick had gone to Bluffton schools from the 2nd grade to the 8th grade. The 1956 high school yearbook had his picture with his class, and with the 8th grade basketball team. His jersey was number 8 and had the word "Pirates" on it.

In 1991 I was a mathematics teacher at Bluffton High School and decided to make a video about why we say the pledge of allegiance to the flag. Our principal, Mr. Rumer, would start the school day by saying over the speaker system, "Good morning, please stand for the pledge." In my first period class of seniors was a student that stood respectfully, but he didn't put his hand over his heart and didn't say the words of the pledge. That led to my decision to make the video.

I had lost contact with Dick Basinger for a number of years. After graduating from Kenton High School, he attended Ohio Northern University, majoring in political science. After graduation, Dick and a close friend from college, Bob Butterman, joined the Marine Corp. Butterman went into training to fly jets, and Dick trained to fly helicopters. Shortly after that, the Vietnam War started and both were called to serve in Vietnam. 

Dick's job was to pilot his helicopter into the middle of fire zones to rescue injured American soldiers. The lifeline of the Vietnam War, they were affectionately known as medevacs, or dust-offs. The latter was the slang name that was their radio call sign. The crew included medical personnel. During the war the medevacs, short for medical evacuations, evacuated over 900,000 wounded troops. Their service resulted in reduction of the mortality rate to one death per 100 casualties.

Their service was very dangerous. They didn't have guns on the helicopters. The army decided they should not be considered a fighting aircraft. We were saddened to hear that Dick Basinger was killed by enemy fire on May 12, 1967. He lived 24 years, 5 months, and 18 days. He left behind his wife, Susan, and a young son, Mark.

I decided to tell the story of Dick's life in the video about why we say the Pledge of Allegiance. Its title would be "One Reason." Dick had played varsity football for Kenton High School for four years, and his close friend from ONU, Bob Butterman, was now a real estate agent in Kenton. My former student, Cara (Young) Davies, had just graduated and she traveled with me to Kenton to interview Dick's football coach, Mr. George Keel, and Mr. Butterman.

Cara asked coach Keel what Dick was like. He said, "Dick was not big, but plenty rugged. He was smart. He became the varsity quarterback his senior year, and we won a few games with him. I had him in my physical education class. He was sort of a sparky type, a little bit of a wise apple, but not to the detriment of older persons or his parents. He was well trained to respect adults."

Next we interviewed Mr. Butterman. He had on his desk a model of an F4-Phantom jet plane. His war was less personal than Dick's, he said, as he laid down ground fire to protect the helicopters when they rescued soldiers. When he said, "I remember the exact time when I heard that Dick had been killed," he broke down, waving at me to stop the camcorder. After he gathered himself, he said that he only talked with Dick once on the phone when both were in Vietnam, and they were together once briefly when they were at the same base. Dick was participating in a good sized operation called "Operation Swift" when he was killed. He said, "Dick loved the marine choir."

A few weeks after those interviews, my family went to Washington D.C. to tour. We made a trip to the Vietnam War Memorial. I was very emotional when looking through the book containing all the names of the soldiers that had been killed, and their location on the wall. There were 57,939 names when the wall was dedicated on November 10, 1982. Since then, 379 names have been added, making a total of 58,318. The material used in making the wall is like a mirror, and visitors can see themselves looking at names, making it very personal.

I asked our daughter, Stacy, who was 10, to stand and point to the name, Richard L. Basinger, while I zoomed in on his name with my camcorder. At that exact moment, a helicopter went overhead where we were. It seemed appropriate. At home all the video footage went into the making of the video, including footage from a bus ride through Arlington Cemetery, where thousands of white crosses make a powerful testimony to the bravery of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. 

The song that was put on the video to go with the video footage was Billy Ray Cyrus's "Some Gave All." As his moving words, "All gave some, some gave all," played out, the final images of the video were of the American Flag located in front of the Bluffton Hospital. It was waving proudly in the breeze the day it was recorded.

Dick Basinger's close friend, Bob Butterman, said he heard that Dick was fearless, making many landings in the middle of fire fights, his medevac helicopter saving lives. I wasn't surprised.