I'm proud of my service to my country.
Being eligible for the draft, and then drafted at the age of 19,
at the time of a growing conflict in Viet Nam,
put a focus on my life that young people don't experience today.
But let me make an uncomfortable confession:
I tried to avoid Viet Nam!
A week into Basic Training, I was summoned to the Orderly Room by the Company Commander.
I was a Private........lower than a snake's belly.......
Being called by, and then standing in front of that 2nd Lieutenant was a scary experience!
He pushed a paper across his desk to me, and said, "sign at the bottom".
I signed, THEN asked, "what is this?"
"Your GT (overall aptitude) scores are high enough, so you're goin' to O.C.S.!
Not, "would you like to go to O.C.S.?",
I knew I could refuse the orders later if I wanted, so I didn't complain to this man that could make life REALLY miserable for a lowly Private in the U.S. Army!
After two months in Basic Training, and two months in South Carolina learning how to be a good Infantryman, I cooled my jets for 8 months waiting for orders dispatching me to O.C.S..
I actually started Officer's school in May of '67.
Sometime during O.C.S., the U.S. and the North Vietnamese started actually talking to one another about ending the conflict.
I'm not a gung-ho warrior at heart, so the idea of having to waste my combat training at an assignment in say.........Hawaii, instead of going to Viet Nam, didn't trouble me too much!
But it took months for those involved in the talks to agree on the size and shape of the negotiating table!
Meanwhile, mid-way through O.C.S. the message went out......
"those interested in going to Flight School
should meet in the classroom at ****hours."
I was interested.
Again, I signed the forms........partly for the training, but partly in hopes that the peace negotiations would bear fruit before I had to get on the plane for that long flight across the Pacific.
While I was in Flight School, the negotiators agreed on the number and size of the flags that would be placed on the table!
I graduated Flight School, and had delayed as long as I could.
On 1 November, 1968 I got on the plane and went to do my duty as an Army Gunship pilot in Viet Nam.
You can find stories of some of my Viet Nam experiences
in the Archives of this Blog.
My tour was........."interesting".
When I meet people and they find out I flew helicopters in Viet Nam,
their attitude toward me changes. Some have referred to me and my peers as "heroes".
Personally, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with that.
It all boils down to the word "Hero", and how you define it.
Let me tell you how I define "Hero".
At the Battle of Gettysburg,
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's troops had faced the worst of the fighting for over two days.
They were attrited, exhausted, and out of ammunition on "Little Round Top" when the Confederate Troops started their attack.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's response?
He commanded his men:
And they did!
World War II bomber crews in Europe had to complete 25 missions to be able to rotate back home.
The average lifespan of one of these crews was 8 missions!
These crews knew their chances of survival and rotation back home was virtually ZERO,
yet, by the thousands, they boarded their aircraft and took off to do their duty.
In Somalia, Para-Rescue troops SFC Randy Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon were aboard a helicopter circling the "Blackhawk Down" in the intersection at Mogadishu.
Knowing their mission would probably result in their deaths,
they nevertheless requested to be inserted at the site.
Their request was refused by the Commander.
Did they relax and say, "Oh well, we tried?"
They made their request again......this time more emphatically!
And they were inserted,
And they died, protecting others.
New York, September 11, 2001.
Firefighters wearing 100 pounds of protective equipment face a 30 minute uphill trek "against the flow" of traffic desperately trying to escape the building, knowing they are about to face something never experienced in history, and more dangerous than anything they could ever imagine.
Yet they climbed the stairs, providing assistance where they could to get others to safety.
When I think of these "Heroes", I am reduced to tears and humbled.
Yes, I'm proud of my service.
But much of my story can be summed up: "right place, right time."
Viet Nam helped me learn much about my own character.
But in comparison to these "Heroes",
my sacrifice for my country seems a pretty small thing, indeed.
How do you define "Hero"?