By David Fleet
It had been more than 50 years since two sailors crossed paths in Southeast Asia during the more than decade long conflict that engulfed the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Their friendship, established by the bond of war was recently rekindled following a story published about a year ago in The Citizen.
In December 1966, Frank LaSenna first met, now Groveland Township resident Herb Hogan aboard the 522-foot amphibious warfare ship USS Vancouver LPD2 while docked at Naval Base Buckner Bay, Okinawa.
A Detroit native and the youngest of six children, Hogan graduated St. Mary’s of Redford in 1963. He was drafted in 1965 and joined the Navy reporting first to Naval Great Lakes Ill. then to San Diego and the USS Vancouver. The ship sailed to action in the South China Sea and missions off the coast of Vietnam. Hogan served as a deckhand and a bow hook assistant on one of the 40 foot boats the ship was transporting.
“I spent nine months in Vietnam,” said Hogan. “We transported about 1,000 Marines along with smaller boats for landings in the rivers of Vietnam.”
LaSenna, was a Brookland, NY native who joined the Naval Air Reserves in 1963 and served as a Personnel man Third Class for all enlisted on the ship. The Vancouver was the second Navy vessel the 21-year-old sailor had served on.
“The Vancouver was a step up from the LST (Landing Ship Tank) I had served on with a complement of approximately 425 sailors versus the 80 man crew I was accustomed to,” said LeSenna. “Hogan was one of the first people I met after reporting. Sometimes being the new guy is difficult but Herb made it easy. He made me feel right at home. Over the next year, we became very close friends.”
Two sailors would serve together over the in several missions off the coast of Vietnam while troops moved inland from the coast including the Deckhouse operations by the United States Marine Corps and Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps forces in the Mekong Delta.
“When we returned to the states, we rented an apartment together in San Diego,” added LaSenna. “After we were discharged we kept in contact for a few years until losing touch in the early 1970s. On a few occasions, I tried to locate Herb and some of our other buddies, but to no avail, Not until I saw the article in The Citizen about the ‘Talons Out Honor Flight’ did I realize I had found my old friend.”
During their stints in Vietnam, both were exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange. Over the next 50 years both Hogan and LaSenna reported significant health issued linked to the chemical.
“They dropped it everywhere,” recalled Hogan. “They did not realize it was so toxic—from a triple (heart) bypass to diabetes to neuropathy I’ve had it.”
In March 2019 Hogan was one of hundreds thousands cheer for veteran’s ‘Talons Out Honor Flight.’ Honor Flight Network recognizes American veterans for sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial at no cost. Top priority is given to World War II, Korean War, Vietnam Era and terminally ill veterans.
“It was great to hear from Frank,” said Hogan following the phone call. “We hope to meet in the future and keep in touch over the phone.”
By David Fleet