Monday, April 16, 2012

For All It was a Life Changing Experience

It’s been a while since I posted anything on the blog. Another one of my passions has been taking up my time. I was busy building a web site and no that’s not a passion of mine. I was truly surprised how relatively easy it was to put together. With a little trial and error and a lot of organization I think it turned out pretty well. Why shouldn’t I – I made it…LOL But that’s not what I want to write about. The site was for the 243rd ASHC – the Chinook helicopter company I served with during the first part of my tour in Vietnam – a bunch of guys I really grew up with and have the greatest amount of admiration for.

Once I made the commitment I began pulling stuff together to make them part of the site. I spent countless hours reviewing nearly 1000 pictures of guys I knew, guys I had heard about, aircraft I flew on or repaired, loads like the ones my ship carried, where we worked, where we partied, some LZs that I recognized and some I did not, the places where we lived and the places where a few of us died. I read names that I know, names that I think I know and many that I don’t know. I’ve read a number of magazine articles, government documents and personal histories. Viewed a few hours of video and listened to audio recordings.

Countless times a name or picture would appear that would trigger memories that are 40+ years old. Maybe a little gray, maybe a little out of focus but real enough. To be honest more than their share brought tears to my eyes and sadness to my heart, but then the next a laugh and a smile. Most however still bring a certain curiosity – where is he now? Has he survived coming home as well as he did being there? I know I am one of the lucky ones, no disabilities, no health problems from orange, no debilitating emotional issues. On the first page of the site I wrote, “Some “gave all” and did not return, for some it was their only military experience, for some it was part of their chosen career – for all it was a life changing experience.” More seem to have suffered more dearly from their tours than others.

Listening to the sounds and watching the pictures stream across the screen had a dramatic effect. Seeing helicopters like mine do the work we did, the expertise of the pilots and crews and knowing all of the support it took to get them there. And oddly enough the sounds, the sounds of a CH47 at startup, at flight rpms, SAS check, of lifting a load… they seem to have had the most affect. I would replay a video, close my eyes, just listen and be transported back 40 years. I could smell the exhaust of the APU and then the turbine engines while standing out behind the ship at startup. I can still remember my ship’s sounds, the forward and aft transmission whines and grinds, the slap of the blades through the heavy air. I memorized them and if they changed while we were in the air I knew there might be problems. I knew which gear was soft, how fast the hook would engage or disengage, how much swing and sway she would take from a load, what snapped and popped and whined and wheezed – just like my first car.

I tried desperately to banish the emotionalism, the personal involvement by making it like a stroll through my high school annual. But there is no connection, no link, no comparison. There is something about being with a bunch of guys whose lives depend on you and whom you depend upon. It’s not like we all sat down, held hands and recited passages from the Bible or the maintenance manual or whatever. There seems to be an inherent realization of what’s expected from you and what you must offer. Nobody asks can you? Will you? You do your damndest to get it done, you don’t think first, no hesitation, it just gets done. Everyone, in my case, is in the same helicopter – damn right “I” want to survive so I will do everything I can to make that happen – everyday! And if I do, everyone else will and that works every time, right? Not always… I lost a good friend who stayed too long doing his “job” to try and save his aircraft. All of the crew survived but him. That same feeling exists today for each of them, whatever it takes I'm willing to help - call me, I'm there.

There is something about the vulnerability that you have in life, to trust it to someone you just met a week ago, in a situation where your possibility of survival is severely limited - that establishes an enduring bond. That bond is shared across the board – makes no difference if you were in a foxhole at the Bulge or a hot LZ in II Corp or taking fire in Afghanistan. Not everyone has been there, not everyone has faced the initial fear, not everyone has had the resolve to do what needed to be done. Those that have, have earned their place, deserve their place in my heart and the hearts of other “veterans”. Beyond that, those who gave their lives in places like Lexington, Saratoga, Bull Run, Belleau Wood, the Argonne, Midway, Anzio, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pusan, Inchon, Dak To, Khe San, Grenada, Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Kandahar, Fallujah, Basra and countless other battlefields of the past and those yet to be named all have and will have a special place.

There are few people in my life that I could honor by describing them as my hero. I have named every man I served with in Vietnam to that list as well as every man and woman who has served this country in the armed forces in an effort to protect our freedom and sovereignty. Not everyone will understand what I’ve written or feel, not everyone has experienced what I have, not everyone will care, not everyone….


  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing this & opening yourself up in this way. I loved reading it. While I am in no way able to relate to such a profound, life-changing experience, or the bonds formed by a life-or-death situation, stories like yours can at least help me to understand the impact that surviving those battlefields can have.

    Thanks for that.

    1. Not nearly as descriptive as it could have been... written off the cuff, late in the evening after a bit of Irish... but thank you... working on something a lot more in depth.. we'll see if it makes it... Tg