Our Dad
MAJ Leroy I. Blankenship

MAJ Leroy Blankenship

My father is Major Leroy I. Blankenship, United States Marine Corps. My father made the ultimate sacrifice on April 1,1969, when the helicopter he was piloting was shot down over Antenna Valley in the Quang Nam province of South Vietnam.

My father was born in Kent, Washington on November 17,1928. At the age of 11, he dropped out of school to help support his family. Shortly, thereafter, he met my mother, Jean Sandmire. They became childhood sweethearts for the rest of their lives. My father joined the Marine Corps as a private at the end of World War II. He was 18 years old. Following boot camp at the Marine Corps Depot in San Diego, my father was stationed at Mare Island Naval Base in Vallejo, California. My brother, David, was born in June 1948; I was born in December 1949.

In 1951, my father served in the Korean War. He had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. The following year, upon returning from Korea, my father was sent to Officer's Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. During his time in the Marine Corps, my father had decided that he wanted to fly. Upon completing OCS, he was transferred to Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida. He attended flight school, becoming a helicopter pilot. During the 50's and 60's, my family moved several times as my father moved up through the ranks. Much of our time was spent in Orange County, California while my father was stationed at El Toro Air Facility. This became our home and we were always glad to be living in California.

It was also during this time that my father finished his high school education. I don't remember when this took place. But by the time we returned to El Toro in September 1962, my father was ready to start college. He went to school at nights, pursuing a degree in History.

My father did his first tour in Vietnam in 1965-66. As a CH-46 pilot, he was stationed at Marble Mountain Air Field outside of Da Nang. My father treated this tour of duty as he did any other. It was his job and he was there to do the best job that he could. He spoke little of the war, only telling us of his "routine"; fly one day and do paperwork the next. In actuality, he was flying medical evacuations and eleven man "insertions". He returned to California in July 1966 with a chest full of medals and a tendency to hit the ground whenever there was a loud noise.

In June 1967, my father graduated from California State University, Fullerton with the History degree for which he had worked so hard. He began work on his masters degree; my brother was at college; I was finishing high school; and my mother was also pursuing a college degree.

After the presidential election in November 1968, my father started to hear rumors that his squadron would be going to Vietnam. On January 19,1969, as Executive Officer of HMM-263, Major Blankenship began his second tour of duty in Vietnam. Once again, he was stationed at Marble Mountain. Again, my father's letters and tapes reported only, "flew today" or "did paperwork". He disliked the days that he was on the ground. Despite the dangers, the days that he flew were much more important for him.

On April 1,1969, he was flying a "vertical insertion" mission over Antenna Valley. With his co-pilot flying the craft, my father was supervising the approach to the landing zone, when the helicopter came under fire. Assuming control of the craft my father was able to bring the helicopter under partial control. The crash that ensued took the life of my father and his co-pilot. No one else on the helicopter was killed.

My father was a veteran of 3 wars. He loved his country, his family and the Corps. His medals include the:

  • Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Star
  • Air Strike medal with the numeral 16 indicating 16 awards
  • the Bronze Star with Combat "V"
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Korean Service Medal with 3 Bronze Stars
  • Vietnam Service Medal with 3 Bronze Stars
  • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation

In August 1982, my brother, David, suffering from his own emotional demons, took his own life. My mother, Jean, died of cancer in February 1994. She never remarried. Shortly before her death, I had a dream about my family. I was standing outside a house looking in through the open door. Inside my father, mother and brother were sitting in comfortable chairs before a fire. They were quietly talking to each other. I find comfort in knowing that they are together.

The Blankenship Family 1953

The Blankenship Family 1953
(Harvest Blankenship-Gulevich, 3 years old)

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1997 created by JC