Veteran recalls Las Vegas' early days, being banned from Congress


LadyHawk Freeman-Clark has been quoted as saying, "With a name like that, you don't need a nickname." Many readers might conjure up the 1985 motion picture "LadyHawke" starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer, which, in addition to having a letter "e" at the end of the title, has absolutely nothing to do with Freeman-Clark.

"LadyHawk is nothing more than a name handed down through family, nothing extraordinary," Freeman-Clark said. "About the hyphen, Freeman is my maiden name and Clark the name of my spouse." Concerning the movie, "Michelle Pfeiffer is brilliant in it. All I can say about the guy (Hauer) is, 'What a hunk.' I really enjoy that movie."

Her family roots are both British and American. "My father was a brigadier general in Her Majesty's Royal Engineers, Richard Raistrick. I spent much of my youth living in England. I was born in the U.S. and raised in Surrey, south of London, in Send Village, near Guildford."

That out of the way, the Las Vegas resident has interesting stories to relate about her days as a reporter in Washington, D.C., and about her time in the Air Force in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

In the early 1970s, she was sent on temporary duty to Nellis Air Force Base "to do a radar survey at Tonopah, at what later became the base there. I was in Las Vegas for a month. When you went to the Flamingo Hotel, that was the end of nowhere. There was nothing past there except desert. It was like a coin that has two sides. On one side, when you left the front gate (at Nellis), you had to go forever to get to civilization. And on one side was the Strip, with the glitz, glamour and excitement.

"On one side, you had a misplaced Old West that time forgot. It was like a time capsule once you were away from the Strip. Prospectors looking for turquoise, two completely different worlds. It was exciting. You could have whatever you wanted. You could have the excitement of all the bells going off, one-armed bandits you still had to pull the handles on. And some card dealers were wearing visors. But five minutes away from the Strip, you had tumbleweeds vying for a place on the road."

Her visit was short, but she returned to Las Vegas in 1980 to attend weapons school at Nellis. She was at Nellis for five months and was impressed with the way the city around her had changed.

"I had seen quite a bit of changes," she said. "Vegas reached all the way up to the gates at Nellis. The development of the community, it was a small city, and you could go out the front gate and be in Las Vegas, really. And so you very quickly found there is civilization here, not just gambling. The base always had many changes. It's the most exciting place that anyone dealing with aviation could want to be around."

Today, looking back at her initial two visits, she said, "My mind swims, the way the city has grown."

After graduating from college majoring in English, with additional studies in psychology, music and theology, she joined the military and was sent to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to train as a radar officer. During her military career of 24 years (including some breaks in service), she said she worked in 37 countries.

In 2004 she returned to Las Vegas as a civilian, in large part because she has family living here and she developed medical challenges for which she needs support. Although she is not house-bound and is able to drive and move about the city, she spends a lot of her days in a wheelchair.

"I have advanced multiple sclerosis," she said. "I went through Vietnam, through Desert Storm, four tours, four airplane crashes, underwater work, and you'd never catch me in a wheelchair. What finally took me out was MS. I was cheated," she says with tongue firmly in cheek. "I don't even have a good war story to tell. I was gypped!"

She gets medical treatment from the Southern Nevada Veterans Healthcare System run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. "The support here is phenomenally good," she said. "In 1995 I was given a few months to live, in Colorado. When I came here in November of 2004 I was very much on my last leg. With the medical support here, the VA has done such wonders (that) I have a quality of life far above what anybody could hope for. There's not enough good I can say about the VA."

She is a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and has been a senior legislative advocate for the group, but she is no longer actively involved. She does receive support from family and spouse, as well as help and protection from a service dog that accompanies her wherever she travels.

Before her Air Force service, Freeman-Clark worked as a cub reporter for the Associated Press. She covered West Point during the Nixon administration and was later given an opportunity to cover different beats. She was asked to report on U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings addressing the environmental impact of using Agent Orange in Vietnam.

One evening Nixon's office released information concerning the "secret" Paris peace talks on the Vietnam War. It was stated that Nixon had offered the withdrawal of the U.S. military in exchange for releasing American prisoners of war. Hanoi turned down the offer, and the next day at the subcommittee hearings, Democratic Sen. Mike Mansfield said that if Nixon was serious about negotiations, he would have put forth a similar offering, unaware that such an offer had been made by Nixon the day before and was rejected.

Freeman-Clark would later admit that she did not know the protocol in such a setting, so she asked Mansfield if he thought the president was being untruthful. "Mansfield choked, and I was asked, 'What do you mean?' " She explained that the White House had reportedly made such an offer, and she asked Mansfield, "Are you calling the president a liar?" That statement ended her tenure at the Senate. "I became persona non grata on the Hill. I was put in the Congressional Record and permanently barred from the floor of the Senate."

But it wasn't all bad. She was later assigned to the West Wing of the White House, an experience she completely enjoyed. She felt excitement reporting on issues concerning the Vietnam War and peace efforts to end it.

"I had been raised that you could put on a uniform to save lives, not take them," she explained. That attitude served her well, and it carried through when she later joined the Air Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada's Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the "Veterans Reporter Radio Show" on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and the "Veterans Reporter News" at 2:30 a.m. Fridays on VegasTV KTUD Cable 14.

 

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