If you asked any slick pilot
in Vietnam what one mission he hated to go on
the worst I do believe they would all say the same thing, "night team extraction,
under fire". You're a sitting duck and you're in close to the action,
very close. When you turn on those lights you best be ready to fire
back because you're going to get shot at. You're scared to death but
you have to remember that there are 4-5 men down there that have it a whole
lot worse and you're their only hope.
As I recall I was in my final month in Vietnam and I had put a team into the jungle just outside of Phan Thiet. They went into the jungle just before nightfall and had been put into a small jungle clearing that had a lot of large downed trees in it. I had put them right up against the tree line that was comprised of some pretty huge trees.
The insertion went off with no problems and back to base the flight went. It had just gotten dark when we got the call that they were surrounded and under fire. Several VC were in the trees and had thrown in some hand grenades but fortunately they were duds. They could also hear VC walking their perimeter but no shots were fired as yet and they wanted out NOW.
So out we went and for the 2nd time in my life I felt as if I was about to die. Was I ever scared, I was now a "short-timer" and didn't need to be doing this kind of stuff. The flare ship lit up the area and we spotted the LZ. The guns set up their pattern and I began my approach. On short final I told my crew that when we hit the lights all hell would probably break loose and to be ready for it. About 100 ft out we hit the lights and the place lit up like daytime. The team was right where we had put them and they were totally surrounded...by very large monkeys. The monkeys were even in the trees and they were big and they were black. As for the dud hand grenades, they were coconuts that some of the monkeys had thrown down to get whatever was down there to move.
The team sure didn't take very long to get on and we all headed back home. That extraction was the talk around the tents for the next day. I wonder how they felt when they got back in for the debriefing? Bet that was embarrassing.
This story ends the Vietnam memories
section of this site. Some say, "nothing good ever comes out of war"
but I believe them wrong. Sure, most of it is bad but there is some
good and sometimes you have to look hard for it but it's there. I
went to Vietnam a man/child and came out a seasoned soldier just as many
others did as well and that's something that stays with you for the rest
of your life. I sure learned a lot about people and I had acquired
a whole new set of values and priorities. Where before I was on the
shy side, I now would say my piece on issues and back it up with conviction.
I later found that it was the same way with most of the returning soldiers.
I had heard, several times, that the returning soldiers that took advantage of the GI-bill made fine students. I used it to attend Teterboro School of Aeronautics where I obtained my federal maintenance ratings. Some like me stayed in Aviation while others went back and finished college while still others stayed and prospered in the service. We went in a multitude of directions into a multitude of professions. Now we find that quite a few of these Vietnam veterans have pretty much become part of the backbone of their communities. They are the ones with conviction in their deeds and the ones that will speak out to correct a wrong. They are the ones that remain cool under pressure for they know their priorities. They are the "good" that does come out of war.
As interesting as you may find these stories may I remind you that I was just a "Joe Average" pilot over there. I would place myself in the bottom half of the excitement scale of 1 to 10. There were guys that were shot down several times and there were guys that really earned their medals. There were many many more that earned a chest full of medals and came home with nothing but the admiration of the guys they flew with. That was just the way it was. I, like so many others, got out of there with just the Air medal with "V" device, the lowest medal you could get for bravery.
Someone who had read my stories asked me what I felt I did over there that was brave. I didn't have to think long on that one for I felt that I only did two things that I consider being brave. One was not what he had expected and that was leaving that Major when the monsoon hit. I was really scared over that because it was my decision and I had time to think about it and it was not something I was forced into. I didn't sleep good for days waiting for the aftermath of that to begin. The second was braving that mortar attack with those three other guys to get Ed to the Aid Station so he could have a chance at staying alive. Doing that gave him a 2nd chance at life. I saw real "Brave" quite a bit over there so much so that it became common place.
John "The Kid" Galkiewicz
Note: If you liked this read I hope you will
take the time to also read my simplified version of the "Book of Revelation",
which is found on my home page.
It sure makes it simple to understand.