OXFORD, Ga. — David McMullen remembers his mother intuitively knowing his brother died in the Vietnam War’s “last battle” — even before military officials visited their Oxford home at 2 in the morning.
The Social Circle resident was with his mother, Judy Sams, when she heard on TV about a military helicopter crash in Cambodia in May 1975.
“She said, ‘Oh my God, I hope your brother wasn’t on that helicopter.’ I told her, ‘That was in Cambodia. He’s in Thailand,’” McMullen said.
However, the “spiritual connection” between a mother and her son already had warned her to expect the worst, he said. A knock came on the door about 2 that morning and he heard Mrs. Sams screaming before she opened it.
“She knew,” McMullen said.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. George Edward McMullen III was killed in a helicopter crash in Thailand on May 13, 1975, while en route to a recovery effort for a seized American cargo vessel, the Mayaguez, near the end of the war in Southeast Asia.
McMullen, known to his family as “Eddie,” was among a group assigned to rescue the crew of the American ship seized off the coast of Southeast Asia in the last major battle of the war.
About a month after the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, the Mayaguez was en route from Hong Kong to Thailand with an American crew when Khmer Rouge soldiers seized the vessel on May 12, 1975.
The cargo ship reportedly carried 184 containers of civilian, government and military cargo, including loaded containers from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon nine days before the fall of the city.
Eddie McMullen, 31, was part of a crew of four and 18 Air Force Security Police that took off the following day from Royal Thai Air Force Base Nakhon Phanom in Thailand as part of a force traveling in 16 helicopters to rescue the ship’s crew.
“Shortly after takeoff, (McMullen’s helicopter) fell out of formation and disappeared from radar 40 miles west of the airfield,” according to the website honorstates.org.
The CH-53 helicopter crashed and exploded on impact and all 23, including McMullen, aboard were killed in the crash.
A story in The Covington News said Mrs. Sams and husband, James, were informed by telegram about his death.
“The message to the Sams stated the aircraft was lost from radar and no radio contact could be made shortly before the crash. Another helicopter spotted the crash scene,” the report stated.
It was later determined that a main rotor blade had separated from the rotor head of the helicopter. Other CH-53s landed nearby, but exploding ammunition and burning fuel hindered all rescue attempts.
McMullen was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star medal.
The late airman had grown up in Atlanta and the family moved to Newton County in 1960 before Eddie’s senior year at Newton County High School.
Their father was an Air Force veteran who had seen brothers killed in action in World War II and the Korean war, David McMullen said.
Eddie began working on weekends at the old Colonial Grocery Store — now home to the Arts Association — near the Covington Square.
However, his duty to his country and his family’s military tradition led him to join the Air Force two months after graduation, his brother said
“I remember on his bed he had decals — one of them was the Air Force star,” McMullen said.
“He had aspirations to go,” he said. “He loved his country.”
Eddie McMullen volunteered for the Air Force a year before the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He then served for 14 years in Germany, Spain, Korea and Vietnam, where he served for two years during the long war.
His brother David, a longtime Georgia Power employee, said Eddie briefly had been considered for the job of flight mechanic for the presidential helicopter in the states. He recalled FBI agents traveling to Oxford to investigate his background.
“Rumors started to fly that (Eddie) was in trouble,” McMullen said, laughing. “But, he was never in trouble.”
Eddie later was reassigned to Thailand and had been there for about 10 months before being called to assist in the ill-fated rescue effort.
The funeral included full military honors at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, David said.
Eddie McMullen left behind a wife, Jill, two sons, Marc and Michael, and a daughter Lisa. He also was survived by brothers Steve and David — also a Vietnam War veteran — and sister, Delores; his mother, and his grandmother, Lillian.
A person identified as James Bohannon said in a comment on honorstates.org that he was a sophomore in high school in Covington “the day this soldier was buried.”
“I was the lead trumpet player in my high school band. They pulled me out of school that day to attend his burial.
“I am the trumpet player who played Taps at his funeral right after they gave him his 21-gun salute. It was a great honor for me.”
David McMullen said his brother was 10 years older than him but they were a close-knit family.
“He will always be my big brother,” he said.