Daughter of Vietnam vet pieces together his life


Fortunately for Holly Troxell Gilsdorf, the 335th Assault Helicopter Company melded into a dual
team-and-family for the many months it served in Vietnam in the 1960s.
Forty years later that camaraderie, forged in the unimaginable smithy of war, has introduced her to a
father she never knew.
The late David Troxell, a Bowling Green native who married his high school sweetheart, Carolyn Chapman,
survived Vietnam, only to die in a helicopter accident at home four years later. At the time she became
a young widow, his wife was seven months pregnant with Holly.
Growing up, the daughter pieced together a small informational puzzle about her father, based on the
facts she was told. He had graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1967 and married Chapman in 1968.
He served in Vietnam from February, 1969 to September, 1970 as a chief warrant officer, flying
helicopters with the 335 A.H.C., officially known as the Cowboys. The Cowboys were divided into three
flight platoons, with the gun ships known as The Falcons who did search-and-destroy missions.
"My dad was a pilot. He cleared out the areas so the next helicopters could drop people off,"
Holly recounted. "When he came home, he was home four years, and he had his own helicopter. He was
a crop sprayer. He had just bought a new spray helicopter. He and a friend were flying. Something
happened with it, and it crashed."
The tragedy occurred on June 2, 1974, when Troxell and a 22-year-old friend were returning from a spray
flight in the new helicopter. But it crashed into a wheat field northwest of Ohio 281 and Ohio 235,
southwest of Bowling Green. The friend survived. Troxell, only 25, perished.
"He survived Vietnam, and he came home and then that happened," Holly said, adding she knew he
was also a farmer and school bus driver. Her parents had a daughter at the time of his death, Charolyn,
and her mother was expecting her. Holly was only two months from making her anticipated entry into the
world – and meet her father – when he died.
Facts about her father’s life sometimes came from paternal grandmother, Ruth (Angel) Troxell of Bowling
Green. "We were really close with her. I remember my grandma helping me make a memory album of him.
I wrote a poem in high school."
The puzzle pieces in her heart, of her father, slowly grew in number from seeing pictures of him and
hearing more from her mother, grandmother and other family members. Cousins, especially paternal cousin,
Paul Herringshaw, would see her at family reunions. "They’d tell stories of what they’d do growing
up. From them I learned about him. We’d go to the cemetery, especially on Memorial Day and plant
When Holly was 2, her mother married Tom Keys. They had a son, John, giving Charolyn and Holly a
"My stepfather is my dad. I call him dad," she observed. "He was a great stepfather. I did
not want to hurt his feelings, but this was a history I wanted to know."
The young woman’s knowledge of her father, for years a black-and-white version, blossomed into
Technicolor with her engagement to her husband, Michael Gilsdorf. His father, Ken Gilsdorf of Walbridge,
was also a Vietnam War Army veteran who persisted for six months in asking his future daughter-in-law
about her father. He was an advisor of the 9th Infantry Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
with an interest in helicopter pilots. "I figured this was something important to his dad,"
Holly said. "I asked my mom to borrow (my dad’s) stuff. He looked at it. He found the Web site of
the Falcons.
His simple act became life-changing for her.
Holly Gilsdorf posted a chat comment, announcing who her father was and that he had died before she was
born. Did anyone have memories of him?
Hopeful for a response, she was unprepared for how much she would soon learn about her father.
Fellow vets help daughter ‘meet’ her dad
By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer
In an effort to learn something about a father who died before she was born, Holly Troxell Gilsdorf of
Bowling Green posted a comment on an Internet chat bulletin board read by veterans of the Vietnam War.

Her father, David Troxell of Bowling Green, fought in Vietnam in 1969-70 and returned safely to Bowling
Green, but died in a helicopter accident in 1974.
"I got a couple responses," Gilsdorf said of her initial query. One veteran who served with her
father wrote, "’He was very professional and fun.’"
Another veteran, Dominic Fino, sent her a copy of his book, "The Making of a Falcon." Troxell
had become a Falcon by being a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who provided coverage in three tactical
zones, along with the Mustangs and the Ramrods.
"My dad is throughout the book," Gilsdorf said. Fino reported the verbal scuffle he had with
Troxell as well as how the pilot saved his life with the safe landing of their damaged helicopter.
"I owe my very existence to some of these fine men," Fino wrote. "… We were a team and a
family for many months in some of the most unpleasant conditions imaginable. Through it all, their
survival instincts and their ability to always come through in a clinch are a tribute to their
unshakable character."
In chapter 11 of his book, which is available at the Wood County District Library, Fino detailed the
crash landing he made with Troxell as the pilot. The crew of four had made a routine sweep of an area
which was going to be an air-drop site for soldiers. As the men continued their inspection, Troxell
shouted that they were going down. The helicopter’s nose sustained a hit from ground fire which killed
the electrical system and caused a fire.
Fino wrote, "The ground was coming up fast and when we were about two feet from crashing into the
ground, Dave (Troxell)
pulled up on the collective with all his might. … The aircraft momentarily slowed its free-falling
descent and then crashed into the rice paddy below. A perfect belly flop! The water in the rice paddy
splashed up as if a tidal wave were hitting a beachhead. … The water and the mud in the rice paddy
actually helped cushion our fall."
The four survived and were immediately picked up by a rescue crew.
The Gilsdorfs were told the surviving members of The Falcons hold a biannual reunion in Las Vegas. Unable
to attend in 2005 and 2007, this summer the couple flew to Las Vegas and met the veterans who fought
alongside with, and loved, her father, including Fino.
Almost 60 veterans attended the event, known as the reunion of the 335th Assault Helicopter Company
Association. Gilsdorf said 15 to 20 knew her dad.
"The whole thing was emotional and overwhelming because everyone had really nice things to say about
him, stories I’d never heard about him before. A lot of them commented, " ‘Oh, you’re a lot taller
than your dad.’ A lot commented, ‘You don’t look like him. You must have gotten your looks from your
"Later someone said I looked just like him. It was pretty emotional. There were times I wanted to
back out and not go, but I knew I needed to go, so I had something to tell our son," Mason, 2.
One veteran kept referring to Troxell as "your daddy," making Holly realize, "I never got
to call him that." Others showed her yearbooks and pictures of her father.
Curiously, Gilsdorf remembers thinking that if her father were still alive, "he’d have aged like
them. I’ve lived 10 years longer than he has. He’d be aged, (but) in my mind he’s young. I never thought
about it before."
Some of the veterans had footage of their time in Vietnam which they condensed into one disc for
Gilsdorf, allowing her to see her father interact with his buddies.
"It’s very intriguing," said her husband, Mike. "It’s almost ghostly. Because as the
camera is moving, there’s a couple guys walking. It gets to the last frame. He gets up to the lens and
he smirks."
"It’s my dad," Holly said. "I’ve never seen him like ‘live.’ Some of the CD has footage of
him in the helicopter, playing volleyball, being goofy."
The next reunion of the Falcons will be in 2011, and she would like to attend it, along with her sister
"I think it was good for them that I went," stated Holly. "When we went to leave, I’ll
never forget the looks on their faces. They were standing in a line. It was like regret, sadness that
one of them wasn’t there. I could just tell in their faces they were honoring my dad. … Having me
there, in a way, they had my dad there."

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