Under a clear blue sky, with flags waiving and the sounds of helicopters in the background, South Alabama Regional Airport named its heliport in memory of former helicopter pilot John B. Givhan.
It was a tribute his cousin, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Walter Givhan, who served as guest speaker for the event, said would have meant the most to him.
John B. Givhan was a retired attorney and a Vietnam veteran who lost a leg in the war. He died in August.
Walter Givhan said most in the community know that story. “But I’d like to tell you his story from the perspective of a family member grew up looking up to him.
“He was a proud son of Alabama and rural Dallas County,” Givhan said, describing Safford, Alabama, as “the middle of nowhere, really. I knew him as John Brandon. He was larger than life when I was growing up.”
Givhan said he was aware, even as a child, “that John had left and gone off to Vietnam” where he flew more than 250 combat missions.
“This is the early 60s, before the massive buildup after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964,” he said. “His families would share the letters he wrote. I remember hearing them read. All of that was cut short when he was severely wounded by a missile that hit the lower part of his right leg.”
John B. Givhan was airlifting solders out of a hot zone on April 12, 1964.
“He almost bled to death,” Walter Givhan said. “He would have died if his co-pilot, Bo Thompson, had not thought to put a belt around his leg.”
Givhan, who was 6 at the time, said the stories made the war real to him.
“I remember how joyful it was when John came home to Alabama,” he said.
Givhan said that for many veterans, war never goes away.
“They called it shell-shock in WWI. Now it is known as PTSD. Many of us who served in combat experiences have PTSD to some degree. It varies, according to trauma experiences.
“John felt it acutely,” Givhan said. “Part of his therapy was writing a memoir. It’s good to get the traumas out.”
Givhan said his cousin connected to other veterans, and acted as a mentor to those serving in the military.
“When I came home from my first combat tour, I remember talking to him,” he said. “I give credit to him and to others that the lessons we learned from their war helped us.”
John Givhan also organized efforts to support soldiers in combat and often shipped care packages.
“I was a hero to all of my unit for all the things we received, including some pound cakes from Andalusia,” he said of his time in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. “It was John’s passion for caring for veterans that drove him. I know how pleased and proud he would be to be remembered in the way you remember him today.”
Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson introduced Walter Givhan, who currently serves as Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development for Troy University. John Givhan’s children, John Jr. and Endsley Givhan Bolen, also spoke, as did his grandson, John Bolen.
Bolen said that the heliport was a place of comfort for her father, who not only enjoyed visiting with pilots who landed to refuel, but also liked taking his family members there for one-on-one time.