A lifetime of determination, perseverance

Capt. Alfred G. “Fred” Platt was a determined man.

After graduating from San Jacinto (Calif.) High School in 1958, Platt enrolled in Air Force Officer Candidate School with visions of flying in Southeast Asia. But there weren’t enough open spots in flight school, and he was told that Asia wasn’t a possible placement.

Platt, undeterred, went to air traffic school and eventually wrote a study on why officers weren’t allowed in Southeast Asia, which got his boss sent there. Within a couple of years, Platt himself was in pilot school where he earned his wings and his assignment to fly in Asia.

Platt, once told he could not go to Southeast Asia, flew 111 combat missions in Laos and received dozens of decorations for his service. The longtime commander of American Legion China Post 1 died on April 18 at age 75.

Looking back on his friend, American Legion Past National Vice Commander Doug Haggan remembered Platt’s determination and willingness to take whatever route necessary to meet his goals.

Haggan met Platt in 1990 during Operation Desert Shield. Haggan, at the time, was commander of The American Legion Department of France, and Platt told him that he had two crates that needed to be shipped to Saudi Arabia, no questions asked.

During Desert Shield, Haggan said Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was making mail to the troops a top priority, and freight was being bumped off flights, so there was a chance the two men might run afoul of the highest-ranking military official in the operation, but Haggan did what he was asked.

It wasn’t until he got the crates to Saudi Arabia that he found out they were filled with ice machines for troops dealing with extreme heat.

“He knew how far he could get. He knew what buttons to push,” Haggan said. “That meant everything to him — that these people he respected, the military, the troops, got ice cold water.”

It was the beginning of The American Legion ICE, or ALICE, program that delivered millions of tons of ice to troops during the Persian Gulf War.

In his book, “The Ravens: The Men Who Flew in America's Secret War in Laos,” author Christopher Robbins describes Platt as “a Texan with attitude,” who was thought by his peers to have a magnet in his pants based on the number of hits his aircraft took from enemy fire over 111 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

Platt volunteered to be a forward air controller, flying a propeller-powered O-1 Bird Dog. Recruited by the CIA, he flew missions in Laos. He was rescued from behind enemy lines three times and shot down 10, the first and last of which occurred on his birthday. The final crash, on Feb. 4, 1972, left him paralyzed from the neck down and placed him on an arduous journey of recovery.

Back in the United States and regaining the use of his limbs, Platt once got into an argument with a colonel, fended off a punch and kicked the officer in the chin. Threatened with court martial, according to Robbins’ book, Platt said, “If they court-martial me, I’ll scream holy hell and demand a civilian trial.”

Several of the decorations Platt was considered for were downgraded or dropped, but he was still decorated 48 times for his work in Laos, including a Silver Star, three Purple Hearts and three Distinguished Flying Crosses.

After his time in the Air Force, Platt joined the Legion in 1974 and touched countless lives, including that of Haggan, who said he will always remember the drive Platt exhibited.

“He worked hard, and he played hard. When there was work to do, whether it was military or civilian or Legion, he worked hard at it,” Haggan said. “We always had good comradery. We always had something good to talk about. I loved the guy. He was just like a brother that understood what was going through. I’ll miss him.”