Billy Joe Nave

Posted on April 3, 2010



Billy was assigned to Charlie Troop on August 15, 1965 and was Killed in Action on June 27, 1966. Billy Joe was a Pilot of an UH-1B and he was the Troop Commander. Billy Joe Nave had two children. Teri and Joe Nave. On November 4, 2021, East Tennessee State University Honored Billy Joe Nave by indicting him into their ROTC “Hall of Fame”. Teri Nave gave the following speech in honor of her father:

November 4, 2021
East Tennessee State University
Army ROTC Hall of Fame Induction: Major Billy Joe Nave (posthumously awarded)
Remarks from surviving daughter, Major Teresa Nave, USAF
Thank you LtCol Monas, distinguished guests…and especially Sgt Allen Jackson for facilitating such an honor for my father.

In 1965, my father – Major Billy Joe Nave – was deployed to Vietnam as a helicopter plot in the Army’s “new cavalry” (tree-top level, terrain-flying military gunships). At first, he was a member of, and then soon became commander of C Troop in the 1/9 Cavalry Division. “Charlie Troop” went on to become the most decorated Army unit in the entire Vietnam conflict.

Terrain flying was not only a new tactic but it was, and is, an exceedingly dangerous method of combat flying. So much so, that I’m told that even as a pilot, my dad carried his own 12-gauge shot gun with him on every mission to help when his own gunners were overwhelmed. He gained quite a reputation as a daring pilot; and, having had 3 helicopters shot out from under him, received the nick name “Magnet Ass.”

The 1960s was an era of “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.” So, in this “do your own thing” culture, a military conflict – in a tiny Asian country half way around the world – and a conflict that required the United States government to institute a military draft – quickly became hugely unpopular. Protests broke out around the country. Draft dodgers move to Canada. And, for the first time, television brought a battlefield into our homes each night with live video reporting often from the front lines.

As an eight-year-old, I can remember watching those video reports from Vietnam each night on the
news…where, some misguided network news executive must have thought it as a good idea to have a counter superimposed on the screen. It was a body count ticker that actually changed during the news broadcast. I first started watching the news clips on the off chance I might see my dad in the background. But when I figured out what that clicker was for, I just watched it tick over number after number… wondering if one of those ticks was my dad.

So, thanks to improving technology and aggressive reporting, the American public began to experience the horrors of war in a more personal way – one that had previously only been known by war veterans and their families.

It was a perfect storm for disgust and distain…one result was that the protests ravaging the country grew louder, increased in number and became more violent.

I’m not sure if my dad knew or understood the degree of political upheaval the country was experiencing while he and his troopers were fighting to defend South Vietnam from violent communist aggression. But he did understand what it meant for a soldier to be far from his family and in harm’s way. In response to a “Letters to the Troops” campaign instituted by my younger brother’s first-grade teacher, my dad wrote a letter to the school children in an effort to explain why we had troops fighting in Vietnam. He wrote:

“All of you must be very proud of your fathers and I assure you there is nothing they would like
more than to be home with you right now. However, because they believe strongly in the basic
American heritage that men be free throughout the world, they make this sacrifice of being
separated from you for this year.

A few, but very few, Americans would rather choose to say “Why should we fight a war in
Vietnam when it is so far away and so unlike our country?” To the true American, this is an easy
question to answer. Because we are a rich, free country, other smaller, less fortunate countries
look to us for guidance. Our country has not always been as free as it is today. Later on, in
school, you will study American History and learn how great men from France, Germany and
other countries volunteered to help George Washington, and other leaders of our country, to
achieve the freedom we enjoy today. If it had not been for these brave men, we would not
know the liberty and freedom that is ours today. Your fathers, just like those brave men,
hundreds of years ago, are doing the same thing in Vietnam. It is through their efforts that this
small country is able to maintain at least partial freedom. This is not the first time, and will
probably not be the last time, that brave men like your fathers will go out to help another
country against an enemy that would destroy and take away those things that are so dear to us.

We love our country very much, but if it were not for the brave and dedicated men like your
fathers and brothers, we would only be a name on a map, and a name that meant very little to
the rest of the world. The United States has always produced great men and as a result of their
unselfish devotion to God, duty and country they will insure that our great country will always
be free and ready to help those less fortunate than we are. Your fathers and friends are the
ones who now make up America’s force of great men. You and your mothers and brothers and
sisters share in this greatness because you have shared this year’s separation. In this way you
have helped the children of Vietnam, and they know and appreciate this great sacrifice that you
have made. Thank you for being such wonderful children. As long as we have children like you,
we will always enjoy the freedom that Americans everywhere have always cherished and held so

Major Billy J Nave, Commander”

Six months later, when my father arrived at Fort Benning in a flag-draped box. The sacrifice he talked
about, and the children in Vietnam he so clearly believed in protecting, became very real… and very

And, as we were driving to cemetery, what also became real, and personal, were protesters outside the post, where people who didn’t know or understand, called my father and his troopers vile names.

To this day, every time I hear “Taps,” whether on TV, or in a movie, or perhaps a military ceremony, I still see the blur of their faces and hear the venom in their voices. I believe that that is what makes today such an unexpected honor for my family.

Some 20+ years after my father was killed, I was lying in bed listening to one of President Reagan’s State of the Union addresses. After introducing a representative of each branch of the military, he began to introduce some veterans he had invited…one from World War II, one from Korea and one from Vietnam. After thanking all of them for their service, he looked away from the teleprompter and directly into the TV camera. He then started talking about the sacrifices of the KIAs, MIAs, POWS and veterans of Vietnam. And he thanked them, and their families, for those sacrifices.

I remember sitting up bolt right in bed not believing my ears. It was the first time I had ever heard a
civilian governmental authority of any kind, much less a president, say “Thank You” to my family and the thousands of other families who had lost loved ones or were living with wounded survivors of the
Vietnam conflict. I was speechless.

Following in my father’s military footsteps, I was in the second class of women in the Air Force ROTC
program at Auburn University. As the Lord would have it, in 1979, at my first duty assignment in Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, one of my duties was Casualty Notification Officer. In that role, I learned about Casualty Reports. I submitted a request to the Army for my dad’s casualty report because I had so many questions about how such a skilled and decorated pilot could be killed in a mid-air collision with another US Army Aircraft.

But it wouldn’t be until 2004, 25 years later, that I would begin to get some real answers…from people who had been on the scene when it happened. TSgt Wallace Titchnell had been my dad’s gunner for much of his tour. A few years after coming home, Titch decided to try to track down Major Nave’s kids. He finally found me in 2004 and wrote me a letter. He told me about reunions of the Bullwhip Squadron from Vietnam and invited me to attend sometime.

Again, as the Lord would have it, I was able to attend my first reunion in 2004. Honestly, it was terrifying to go. I almost turned around to drive back home twice. But I’m so glad I didn’t.
I had snippets of memories of my dad as a father and a husband. But I really had no idea who he was as a soldier.

But all of that changed in 2004. I met a group of Vietnam survivors and their families. People who
understood and troopers who knew my dad and could tell about his heroism, as well as the truth of how he died. It was amazing and heartbreaking…enlightening and frustrating.

I have only missed one reunion since 2004; including one as recently as September of this year. By now, I thought I had heard all the stories. But, in September, I actually heard a new one…and it was one of the most meaningful yet.

In the flight in which my dad was killed he was departing Tui Wha for Ahn Ke, Saigon and then home. (We were expecting him home in 3 days.) Immediately after take-off, the co-pilot was doing a fly-by so my dad could wave good-bye to his troops one last time. As the fly-by finished, they lifted up into the sun and unknowingly collided with an incoming airship. Both crews were killed instantly in the explosion.

Most of that I knew. But what I learned in September is that the Army – ever eager to learn lessons and prevent further tragedies – changed its aircraft departure protocol as a result of my dad’s accident. Instead of saying “No,” “Slow” or “Go” (words which could easily be mistaken for each other in a noisy aircraft), the crews were instructed to check for obstacles and say “Clear Right”, Clear Left”, Clear Up” and “Clear Down.” The pilot who told me that story said, “Teri, you have no idea how many flight crews were saved because of that change. I feel like I owe your dad my life.”

I often think about the Vietnam conflict – what it did, how it affected so many, the political and civil
chaos, was it worth the sacrifice?

I still don’t have any good answers. But I do see two significant results – one personal and one more
public. Personally, I am so grateful to know about that flight protocol change that was implemented
because of my dad’s crash. At least one good thing came from it.

Publicly, I think that, as a nation, we learned and are still learning, a valuable lesson about our military members who willingly go into harm’s way at the behest of a government whose constitution they have sworn to defend. When Vietnam veterans returned home to civilian protests and a government that didn’t understand and, in some cases, didn’t acknowledge the long-term physical and mental wounds of combat-weary men and women, they often felt shame, regret and abandonment – both from the government and their countrymen.

Fast-forward 50 years to service members who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan…

I believe a nation that realizes some of the mistakes it made with returning Vietnam veterans has worked very hard not to repeat those mistakes with our more recent war heroes. Applause at airports instead of heckling, “Thank you for your service” in place of vile name calling. Organizations that have come alongside 21st century veterans to help them heal. Vets finally being able to proudly wear their Vietnam Unit baseball caps in Walmart. A lot of things have begun to change, for the good…finally. And, when I befriended a Vietnamese manicurist whose family escaped to the United States within months of my father’s death…and I let her read his letter about fighting for freedom for the children of Vietnam…I can say to my dad, “She gets it daddy. And, she says, Thank YOU!”

So now, I say “Thank You” for indulging my telling of my dad’s story. And thank you, ETSU, for honoring his contribution, his sacrifice and his legacy. My brother, Joe, and I are humbled and grateful

Major Teri Nave