Scared To Death #2

     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 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.

    Condrey didn't make it back.  After going into guns for some excitement an RPG (rifle propelled grenade) hit/explode the nose of his right, fully loaded, rocket pod killing all four crew members instantly.  James Dayton, the pilot that was with me in my "Marble Mountain" story, was the other pilot in that ship.  It took a "lucky" shot to get all four, (Condrey, McCoig, Dayton, & Paschall), and that is the price of war.  Before they died though they left one heck of an imprint with the guys fortunate enough to have been around them.  To us, they are not just simple numbers but real people, who will be remember until we ourselves pass on.

    I guess you could say I was the closest thing to a son that Condrey was to have.  In just the span of a few months he had taken me from a no-nothing and nurtered me until I too became not just and AC but a 281st AC.  He let me fall when needed and picked me up as well.  I got chewed out and praised as he tried his best to bring me up to his standard in the short time he knew he had with me.  He didn't just teach me, he gave me his "mind set".  That Condrey "mind set" kept me alive not only for the rest of my time in Vietnam but throughout the rest of my flying career.  I do believe my becoming an AC gave Condrey the same feeling a parent has as they watch their child graduate from school.  Back then I couldn't understand why it seemed just the best were always taken.  There were a couple of guys I would have gladly substituted for Condrey or McCoig.  I have matured quite a bit since then and now it seems things are all coming together.  I believe Condrey’s and Mac's purpose in life, as so with the others as well, was to nudge others, such as myself, in the direction we needed to be nudged in order to do what we have to do.  Just as I'm nudging my 9-year-old son now, so Condrey and Mac nudged me.  With their jobs done they were called to another assignment.  That's the best I can explain it for now.
    The 281st has now established "Remembrance" Memorial sites for both Condrey and McCoig as well as many others.  To visit either of those sites just click on their name.
     A lady e-mailed me that she had just finished reading my stories and that she felt it was the best "read" she had in a very long time.  She said she laughed with me and cried with me as I went through my mood swings.   That was the way it was over there and I am honored to be the messenger for very few Veterans wish to talk about it.  Now you understand.
       Like so many others, I had joined the Army to fly helicopters and not just to fight evil though knowing I was on the side of right sure helped.  After a month or so of Vietnam and war my main goal became just to stay alive and keep those around me alive as well because we were all so dependent on one another.  Now, as somewhat of an old man, I feel for those now taking their turn fighting for "right" as well and keeping "wrong" over there away from our kids and family for as long as possible.  If things started to go really wrong and there was a big call up of us old-timers, I would go without hesitation and probably be one of the first.  You see I have had a rather good life but my son and the sons of those all around me are just starting theirs.  Condrey and McCoig and Paschall and Dayton didn't get that chance yet I did.   If my going to war again allows just one more young soldier to stay home and have that much more time with their kid it will be worth it.  If a life is to be forfeited then let it be mine and not theirs.  My son, now 15, can make do because he has know me and knows what I stand for and that will give him the foundation he needs for his own life.  That's the way we air soldiers think.     
      Now I have two questions for you because I am curious.  What story in the "Vietnam" section did you like the most and which one do you think is my favorite and I do have a favorite?

    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.