As I sat talking with John Edwards at Valencia’s Corner Bakery recently, it dawned on me that I was speaking with a true American hero right here in our midst.
His love and dedication to the “Red, White and Blue” is boundless.
Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting lodge
John Edwards was born on St. Patrick’s Day 1948 in Lawton, Oklahoma, adjacent to Fort Sill.
John, an Army brat and his three brothers, grew up on various U.S. Army bases around the country, and the world for that matter.
His Army Veteran Dad, Eddie Paul Edwards, Jr., served in WWII, Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Interestingly, Eddie was assigned to MACV Headquarters at Ban Me Thuot, Vietnam which was previously President Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting lodge.
This lodge, located in the Vietnam’s Central Highlands, was used by Teddy, to hunt tigers.
30-days life expectancy
John attended high school in Killeen, Texas (home of Fort Hood) graduating June 1967.
Being an Army brat, John followed his Dad’s footsteps and enlisted at age 18 in the U.S. Army.
John had observed Huey helicopters practicing touch and go landings and auto rotation drills thus motivating him to pursue being a Huey door gunner; one of the most dangerous jobs during the Vietnam War.
He enlisted right out of high school June 27, 1967 at Fort Hood and was promptly sent to Basic Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Next, John went to Fort Rucker, Alabama for Advanced Infantry Training and was ordered to combat duty as a Huey door gunner in Vietnam.
“A door gunner’s life expectancy is 30 days, so be alert,” John was told.
It was late 1967 when he arrived at Qui Nhon in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam joining the 498th Medical Dust-off Company.
Their task was evacuating wounded and dead troops of the 4th Infantry Division, South Korean troops and Montagnard Guerilla Fighters.
The 498th’s motto rang true, “Dedicated Unhesitating Service to Our Fighting Forces.”
John, as crew chief, had numerous harrowing experiences as they were constantly targeted while evacuating wounded and dead troops.
Frequently John was hoisted down to recover injured troops requiring him to remove ammo, grenades and weapons for the remaining ground troops as it was too dangerous having those on board.
Colorful helmet flowers
At times, smoke markers drifted under the triple canopied jungle resulting in hovering over enemy positions.
By the grace of God, they were never hit.
Crazy as it sounds, John even challenged the VC by wearing two bright fluorescent flowers on his helmet as a target, but the enemy never got off a good shot.
Back to combat
During John’s 1st Tour of Duty, he took his one week R & R to Sydney, Australia (same as me) and loved it there as I did.
His tour ended December 1968 and he returned to his parent’s home for a 30 day leave of absence.
Meanwhile, his Dad was promoted to Command Sergeant Major stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Soon, tempting fate once again, John volunteered for a 2nd Tour of Duty, as crew chief on a dust-off Huey helicopter.
He arrived back in combat with the 283rd Medical Dust-off Company at Pleiku, once again supporting the 4th Infantry Division and South Korean troops. John’s missions took him and his crew to some of the heaviest combat action around the Rock Pile, Chu Lai, Danang, etc.
Gallantry in action
On November 14, 1969, John’s crew was called to evacuate the wounded near MACV Headquarters, the base camp that Teddy Roosevelt used years ago to hunt tigers and where John’s dad served in 1962.
Going in hot while the battle raged, they had overloaded their chopper so John stayed behind battling enemy fighters until his Huey returned for John – more wounded.
Three more times they flew into heavy hostile fire to retrieve wounded South Vietnamese soldiers, altogether saving 65 lives.
For his heroism under intense hostile fire, John received the Silver Star for gallantry in action. John’s tour ended January 1970 and was honorably discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington on February 1, 1970.
After honorably serving his country, John pursued aircraft technician schooling at Northrop Institute of Technology in Inglewood, California and he took a gas station job to make ends meet.
A customer informed John of the benefits and honor of serving his community as a police officer and he rented him a room.
Soon, John signed up and attended the LAPD Police Academy and afterwards was assigned to the Hollywood Division.
Naturally observant, John spotted a bright yellow Ford Pinto on his street patrol that was routinely hand washed by a gorgeous young lady wearing hot pants.
He could not resist seeking valuable information about that Pinto, which inadvertently led to dating, and then a marriage proposal three months later.
John Edwards and Debra Willick tied the knot at Las Vegas’ Courthouse on Nov. 21, 1971.
With a borrowed $100 bill, they rented an apartment and slept on the floor until they could afford furnishings.
In 1971, they purchased a home in Newhall, California via Cal Vet where they live to this day.
Combat in Vietnam prepared John well for LAPD’s hazardous assignments which included chasing down elements of the Weather Underground, SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army), the Asian Boys gang, and the Black Panther Party.
Following John’s promotion to Detective, he was the first officer responding to a domestic violence call on New Year’s Eve, 1989, to OJ and Nicole Simpson’s home.
Graphic photos of Nicole’s injuries and John’s court testimony were instrumental in OJ’s domestic violence conviction.
His testimony has since been used in over 80 books.
Combatting Domestic Violence
It’s also noted that while at the Hollywood Division, John’s Field Supervisor was Santa Clarita’s own Mayor Bob Kellar.
During John’s illustrious LAPD career, the awards and commendations he’s most proud of are his Police Meritorious Unit Citation for action on the Asian Gang Homicide Task Force.
He was also honored with numerous letters of commendations for his dedication fighting elimination of domestic violence.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ’67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and is the director of Veterans Affairs for The Signal.