A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Indiana. He went there to participate in a recreation of a helicopter troop insertion from the Vietnam War. They had several restored, Vietnam era helicopters including a Huey gunship. It’s the actual Huey my friend served on in Vietnam. He was a crew chief and door gunner on this very helicopter. They sent me videos of the recreation. Wow! You could almost imagine what they endured.
I admire everyone that serves our country, but have a special fondness for those from Vietnam. They were so under appreciated and sacrificed so much. These slick and gunship teams voluntarily faced death almost daily. When they heard the calls for help they responded. No matter how hot the LZ (landing zone) they went because their brothers were in trouble. They landed in places the slicks (troop carrying Huey helicopter) didn’t fit, under a hail of bullets, rockets, grenades and artillery, but they went in. The gunships orbited the area, drawing fire off the slicks and returning fire to protect those trapped on the ground. They intentionally DREW FIRE to themselves!
I asked my friend how he did it. How do you knowingly face death and still fly into the jaws of hell? He brushed off the question replying, “We were just too young and stupid to realize we were mortal. I think it was something more.
My friend, after leaving the Army became a firefighter, you know the people who run toward danger instead of away from it. Many veterans end up as first responders. These people have a special genetic makeup. It’s not the adrenaline rush. It’s a unique need to help those that can’t help themselves. It’s not that they are unafraid. They are afraid. They know their job is dangerous. They are heroes. A hero isn’t someone who is unafraid. A hero is someone who IS afraid and does it anyway. The helicopter crews and soldiers from Vietnam were heroes.
The videos he sent me peaked my interest, so I plowed into YouTube looking for actual video from Vietnam. I was surprised how many I found. One of the best was from and infantry soldier shot from his new video camera. He highlighted the trip out on the slick and the gun ships protecting them. He showed the slicks dropping them off and picking up the troops they were relieving. It was a great video and gave you a taste of what these young men experienced. Several scenes from the video were used by the History Channel. At the end of his movie, he asked for one thing from the viewers. He asked that when they met a Vietnam Vet, they welcome them home. They never received the parades and accolades prior vets had. They were criticized, ridiculed and ignored.
The Vietnam war was not supported by the general public. The war was directed and controlled by politicians not the military. The politicians lost the war. Americans do not support losers. The public wanted to forget the war. None of these “reasons” had anything to do with the brave men that sacrificed so much. They served because their country called (and in some cases demanded). They lived in horrible conditions, with constant fear and risked their lives to protect their fellow soldiers. They gave the ultimate sacrifice. They deserved to be welcomed home by an embracing, grateful country. It never happened.
Fast forward to the following morning. I am at the shooting range early in the morning. There were only two of us there at the time. We talked and became acquainted. A third gentleman showed up and began talking with my new buddy. I overheard them talking. The man talked about his time in the Marines in Vietnam as a sniper. Last night’s video pops in my mind. I walked down to him and said I heard him talking about his time in Vietnam. I stuck out my hand and said “WELCOME HOME and THANK YOU”. He gripped my hand firmly and shook with a surprised look in his eyes. His face turned to a look of sincere appreciation as he thanked me. I had a new friend.
It’s not too late. They haven’t forgotten the sacrifices they made. They haven’t forgotten their friends that never made the trip home. Neither should we. I ask that you, when meeting a Vietnam Vet, stick your hand out, say “Welcome Home, Thank You”. They deserve it and it will mean so much to them. I imagine you will feel pretty good also.