After 44 years, Shinholster reunites with man he savedPublished 2:43pm Monday, November 18, 2013
By PHOEBE DONALD ROBINSON / Community Columnist
On a dark, spring night in 1969 in Vietnam, Melvin R. (Mel) Shinholster, then 21, flew his Huey helicopter searching for a team of Rangers that had radioed for help. A beam of light flooded up through the trees into the sky.
As bullets were pelting his helicopter, Shinholster landed in the middle of enemy gunfire and rescued a team of five Rangers, including the wounded team leader holding a flashlight attached to his M-16. Shinholster flew them to safety and medical assistance, but he and the team leader never spoke to each other.
The war ended. Each man raised a family, worked and retired. One worked at Bellsouth in Hoover, while the other was a police officer and later owned an insurance agency in Denver.
Years later, Ranger Ed Carey wrote a letter of inquiry about that night to the newsletter of the American Division Veterans Association and Shinholster saw it.
He called Carey and confirmed that fate had brought them together on April 4, 1969 when Shinholster saved Carey, who was the team leader holding that flashlight. The strangers in the night corresponded, became fast friends and reunited in Birmingham this Veterans Day.
“The camaraderie of soldiers is a strong bond, like family,” Shinholster said. “Ed says I risked it all to save his life. I say he and others like him risked their lives to save our country.”
The two men reunited at the World Peace Luncheon in Birmingham on Veterans Day. Shinholster, President of the Blue Star Salute Foundation, was awarded the 2013 Alabama Veteran of the Year by the Military Officers Association of America. After receiving his award, Shinholster, a Shelby Counry resident, was covered with a Quilt for Valor made specifically for him by DAR member Mary Lewey.
Carey, who had traveled from Colorado to visit with Shinholster for Veterans Day, was surprised when he also was covered in his own Quilt for Valor.
“When I came home from Vietnam, no one welcomed me,” Carey said. “I came to Birmingham, Ala. and heard these words for the first time, ‘Welcome Home, Ed.’ I will never forget this Veterans Day – ever!”