Under His 'Wing': Advice from One Generation of Soldiers to the Next

Author Joe Finch addresses the Army's 1-25th Battalion staff on his trip to Hawaii, where he was the guest speaker for the 25th Regiment's annual Christmas ball.

Joe Finch, author of Angel's Wing, was recently invited to speak at the Army's 25th Aviation Regiment’s annual Christmas ball on December 5. After reading Angel's Wing, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Brown, commander of the 1-25th Aviation Battalion, invited the author to speak to 500 troops who were not just celebrating the holidays, but preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

Angel's Wing is Joe's account of the year he spent there with A Company, nicknamed the "Little Bears." Thirty years later, a new generation of troops prepare to deploy and their leaders called on Finch's experience to help set the tone for their departure.

Though Finch was only scheduled to speak at the regiment’s formal ball, LTC Brown requested that he take time to speak to the battalion staff who in turn invited Finch to speak to the enlisted personnel. Because of their impending deployment, the soldiers were reluctant to spend time listening to a speaker. Finch spoke briefly, telling the soldiers that he and their country were proud of them. When he began answering questions, the conversation took a different turn. Soldiers began asking how people got wounded in Vietnam, and a lengthy discussion ensued as the soldiers became engaged in the conversation. After the dialogue, many soldiers embraced Joe to thank him for coming and to tell him that though they were skeptical about hearing him speak, they were very glad he had come.

Author Joe Finch discusses FFI (Failure to Follow Instructions) with enlisted personnel on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

The week culminated with the regimental Christmas ball. The ball room was magnificently decorated in red and green, complimented by Pearl Harbor's night skyline. A table draped in black cloth with a single place setting and one yellow rose honoring fallen soldiers stood in stark contrast to the festive decorations.

More about Joe Finch's service with the 25th Aviation Battalion in Vietnam

Before dinner, everyone gathered to watch Colonel Davis, the regimental commander, make the cermonial punch. The first ingredient was Grenadine, to remember the blood shed by fallen comrades. Next were Tequila and Mescal to remember the Native American friends and heroes, and so on with a full bottle or two of assorted liquors. Finally, Colonel Davis added pineapple and coconut juices to remind the regiment of their unit's Hawaiian roots. Eventually Colonel Davis directed his command sergeant major to sample the punch. The sergeant major stated it was missing some key ingredients one of which was the sweat of good honest labor. On cue, two young soldiers in jogging outfits appeared on one side of the room, jogged over to the punch bowl, ripped off their T-shirts, and wrung their “sweat” into the punch bowl.