When I went to Vietnam I believe
I was the 8th graduate, from my high school,
to do so. Two had come back wounded and all the rest made it
back safely, at that time. Because of the press coverage that I saw
I thought my chances of getting back in one piece would be pushing it a
little. Out of all the guys that came and went during my time with
them, in both the 281st and 192nd, only 5 died over there. I found
out that the odds were indeed in my favor. I also found out that
some of the war footage the folks back home saw was staged.
I was flying a VIP flight in the Dalat area when an emergency call came over the radio. I don't recall if it was the Dalat tower frequency or Guard (the real emergency channel) and I do not recall exactly what was said. All I remember is that an emergency call was made ordering all VIP ships in the Dalat area to proceed to the Dalat airport immediately and to form up at a specific location.
In all there were about 8 or 10 ships that answered the call. The ships were kept running and all the passengers had to get out and form up in a separate area. All the ACs were to report to the lead chopper, I believe, for a briefing. A Colonel appeared and told us that he needed the ships for an assault that was to be made in the local area. Several of the ACs immediately protested the assault because there were no gun ships with the group and we were not at all familiar with each other's flying. We were then told that the assault was for the benefit of one of the major news services so that the reporter could get good footage of an actual assault. Boy! That sure didn't go over very good with any of the ACs. Protests were again made and the colonel was told that his actions would be reported to several OPS officers upon return to home base. It didn't phase the colonel a bit and the mission was a go. We were then told to load up with his troops (ARVN) and that the cameraman would be in the last helicopter. We were also told that ARVN troops were already in the tree line of the LZ and that they would be popping smoke grenades to simulate rocket fire. We were told not to shoot back and to make the crew members especially aware of that.
With deep concern we told our passengers what was just pulled on us and then loaded up with troops. We formed up and headed out only to run into one more snag. The LZ was a large one but the cameraman wanted us to come in down wind so he would have a better camera angle. Landing downwind in a chopper, especially a fully loaded one, was a major NO-NO. Instead of gliding to a well planned stop, a downwind landing forced you to muscle to a stop and that screwed up the choppers normal ground cushion of air. It also put the guy behind you in a bind because he couldn't plan on just where your momentum would let you stop and he was left hanging in the now screwed up ground cushion that you left behind. The guy behind him had it even worse and so on and so on. Add to the fact that no one knew just how proficient the others were and you now have some very wide eyed crews.
Lead took us in as planned and with a little extra spacing between ships we landed downwind without incident and the cameraman got his combat footage for the nightly news. We were let go with a simple Thank You from someone over the radio. Little did that colonel know he had just played his trump card. Word soon spread of what he had done and it would not happen again. I thought of the little boy that cried wolf on the way home. OPS was told of the incident but I don't know if anything was ever done about it.
There is one TV network that I no longer watch for the news and it's anchor was a very credible man at the time. After returning to the states I began noticing a lot of TV news footage that had things wrong with it. I now take what I see on the TV with a "grain of salt", as they say. Our views are being manipulated and things are being done to us even today that we know nothing about. Look what's coming out now from the past. It's a shame though that it takes a deathbed conscience clearing to bring things to the open. By then it's too late.
I believe wars should be fought, if they have to at all, the way the Israelis do. Let the military do their thing and get it over with by supper.