The 135th Assault Helicopter Company “lost a lot of people, but we never forgot them,” said Fred Dunaway, who commanded the unit.
One of them — Terry Mezera — is being remembered Tuesday by a fellow crew member and that man’s country.
Killed on Jan. 16, 1971, Mezera posthumously will receive the Unit Citation for Gallantry awarded by the Australian government’s governor-general.
Jim Shaw, a member of the Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam unit, will present the ribbon to Mezera’s family, including his parents Frank and Betty, at 1 p.m. Tuesday at VFW Post 305.
“Terry was very proud of what he did, and we were very proud of him,” said World War II Navy veteran Frank from the home he shares with Betty on Eau Claire’s north side.
Terry Mezera, a 1967 North High School graduate, arrived in Vietnam in March 1970 and officially began his tour of duty on April 2, 1970, serving with the 135th AHC.
Organized at Fort Hood, Texas, in February 1967, the 135th deployed to Vietnam that October, according to its website. RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam was assigned to the company, and the unit became known as the Experimental Military Unit, or EMU, for short.
On Jan. 16, 1971, Mezera was piloting a U.S. Army helicopter flying in support of the 5th Special Forces when the aircraft was shot down in Cambodia.
The crew included American and Australian service members, including Shaw, but the 21-year-old Mezera was the only casualty.
Over the years, Shaw, Geoff Jones, who also was on the helicopter, and other members of the 135th kept in touch with Mezera’s family, including his youngest sister, Pam Nesbit of Fall Creek.
In a June 1, 2018 post, the HueyVets — EMU Facebook page announced the 135th AHC was to receive the Unit Citation for Gallantry.
“It’s pretty awesome if you ask me,” said Dunaway, who lives in Biloxi, Miss. His wife alerted Nesbit.
“They went through a lot,” Nesbit said of the members of the 135th. “When they tell the stories, you can see the pain on their faces, you can tell how the war affected them.”
She was 13 when her 21-year-old brother was killed. Their brother, Mark, also served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era.
“It makes me feel proud they are recognizing them, including my brother,” said Nesbit of Terry.
Jones was the crew chief on the helicopter that Mezera was piloting that day more than 47 years ago.
“He was a lot fun,” Jones said, recalling how the pair would wrestle together. “It was hard to lose him.”
While Jones survived the helicopter crash, he was shot. Speaking from his home in Petaluma, Calif., he said he recently got his ribbon from the Australians.
“Terry did a good job,” Jones said. “I’m glad he is getting the recognition he deserves.”
So is his mother.
“He wanted to serve, and he wanted to be a pilot,” she said of her oldest son, whose photo is on display in her living room. (Nesbit has her brother’s medals on display in a shadow box in her home.) “He was hooked from day 1.”
Even though her son loved being a pilot and he made the men who flew with him feel safe, Betty prayed he would return to Eau Claire. However, when a priest appeared at their door, she knew her worst fears had been realized.
“I guess when your time is up, it’s up,” she said. “But, you expect your kids to live longer than you do.”