Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Vietnam Veteran's Memories

On June 9, 1969, the day before our second wedding anniversary, my husband took off from the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, and headed for Vietnam. At midnight, he crossed the International Dateline and totally missed our anniversary that year. So I have celebrated one more anniversary than he has! 

As an infantry officer, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne. In that assignment, Bob was involved in something called “fireflies”--night operations with helicopters. One large helicopter was equipped with a big searchlight made of large aircraft landing lights. A couple of other helicopters carried rockets and bombs. The operations helicopter would fly high above while the others flew near the ground. At night they'd fly in the dark with no lights until they were over their target. Then, the top helicopter would switch on the lights, which made it an easy target for the enemy, while the other two would fly in from the left and the right, crisscrossing under the operations helicopter, firing rockets and dropping bombs. It was hazardous. Some of his friends cracked up doing the same thing and died.  

Bob says, "Every night I’d have to wait for a helicopter to come to the fire base to pick me up. The waiting was the worst part. I began to understand fear. I’m not talking about just being scared. I mean a fear that gnaws at you and tugs at your nerves. The fireflies took place about one or two a.m. I used to wonder if I’d see the sun come up in the morning. Once, we got caught in a monsoon rainstorm and couldn't see in any direction. I really learned about fear that time. During those months, I began to draw closer to the Lord. That well-known hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” often came into my heart and mind. I kept thinking that no matter what happened, with Jesus, it is well with my soul. I can handle it. I did. And I made it through.

"One time, as my unit was being relieved by another unit at a fire base, I got into the command chopper with my pilot, and we lifted off. Immediately, the command chopper of the next battalion landed. Other choppers were coming in behind him. Suddenly, Viet Cong soldiers sprang up out of the grass right next to the landing area and fired away, killing their S3 officer and severely wounding the others. The VC had infiltrated during the change over and were already in place when I jogged to my chopper. The man sitting in the same position in that helicopter that I sat in on my chopper had his arm and leg shot off. I thank God that He protected me on that occasion. I didn’t even get a scratch."

The 82nd Airborne went home after six months, and Bob had six more to go, so he was assigned as an intelligence officer, S2, on an advisory team to a Vietnamese unit in Tay Ninh Province. "We had to ride in helicopters a lot. I made it a practice not to fly unless my job required it. Two weeks before I came home, my best friend, Major Barton, the S3 officer on the advisory team, invited me to fly along with him to visit the province chief that Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day, but I said no. I wanted to go to church and then write letters to my wife. That day his helicopter crashed, and all on board were killed."

At the end of the longest year of our lives, Bob returned home on Memorial Day, 1970. Although he suffers from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, I am especially thankful every Veteran's Day that my husband came home from Vietnam unharmed.

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