|Vietnam Veterans of America|
One thing that sets the veterans of the war in Vietnam apart from Americans who served in the nation’s other wars is that we came home to an abysmal lack of welcome. The war left many of us feeling snake-bitten and then the public’s indifference was like a mule kick to the chest.
We casually refer to 58,000-plus American lives being lost in the war, while speculating that as many as 20,000 other lives were lost to suicide, drugs, and (sometimes slow acting, late-in-life) terminal diseases. Those numbers have caused my mind and heart to dwell on the men I knew in Vietnam—whether I was close to them or simply felt a connection because we interacted with one another. That I was allowed to survive and come home made me feel a sense of guilt and also made me wonder if I deserved the life I was granted.
Being confused about my own gift of longevity caused me to remain closed-mouth about the war for decades and to view the experience with great ambivalence. In layman’s terms, I was haunted by what I went through in the war. That troubling feeling finally made me decide to write a book as a way to perhaps release me from some of the more unpleasant memories of my tour of duty.
The book, Dustoff: More Than Met the Eye: Recollections of a Vietnam Medevac Pilot, came out in 2022 Researching and writing the book allowed me to take comfort in believing that the Dustoff evacuations made life-changing differences for the men we were able to get onto our Hueys and deliver them to the Evac hospitals.
I share this because, after finishing the book fifty years after the war, I finally felt a sense of real gratification. That euphoria was triggered by my transformation from writer to author. That, in turn, led to two things that I found to be particularly gratifying, what I think of as my “delayed gratification.”
The first thought is that the cousin of a fellow who finished the same ROTC program that I did approached me with questions about my experiences as a Dustoff pilot. He was referred to me by retired Col. Michael Herndon, the only other Dustoff pilot with whom I regularly confer.
The aspiring writer is Edward Cottman, who is working on an account of his cousin’s experiences doing the same job that I did, only his tour took place three years before I arrived in-country. Herndon and I were both touched by how Capt. Robert Lee Cottman, during his second tour, had perished after dropping off a wounded G.I. at a hospital before his chopper crashed, killing the four-man crew onboard.
The collaboration with Ed Cottman has made me appreciate how many people are alive today because a relative made it home to have a family rather than dying in a distant and foreign land. Not enough has been said about the positive impact of Dustoff units, their unarmed aircraft, and their courageous crews. Somehow, that perspective had escaped me until Ed Cottman helped me experience this revelation.
The second gratifying thing that touched me was an email from a young man named Andrew DeSevilla, the grandson of one of my own unit’s incredible medics, Bernard Ojeda. The medics in my unit, the 68th Medical Detachment, were magicians because, to the best of my knowledge, not a single man of the many that we extracted died after those 91B medics laid hands on them. We delivered them to gurneys and waiting orderlies at the 91st Evacuation Hospital and the 27th Surgical Hospital.
Andrew DeSevilla wrote that he was reading my book and wanted to thank me for my effort to safely land a damaged Huey chopper, thus saving my crew, which included his grandfather and our single patient, a Vietnamese baby. It was a rare, credible, and welcoming acknowledgement I truly appreciate.
It took me years to feel good about what I did in the war. I spent the first few years after Vietnam counting my fingers and toes and then distrusting that count. I thought about a little, innocent child I could not save and a man in my unit whose would-be rescuers arrived too late. No wonder I had so little to say about that damn war for so long. It was way too painful to think about, let alone talk about it.
The young men who did not return home from Vietnam should always be remembered and should be honored for leaving their families, their homes, and their land to take part in the war. The men and women who did return home should be honored, as well, and those who helped the wounded and injured make it back to The World deserve special honor. Though my part in that effort may have been small, I refuse to be ashamed to claim that we made a difference.
I hope and pray that surviving veterans of the war in Vietnam and all the conflicts that followed find a way to tell their stories and release themselves from the demons of silence. Their families need to know their truths and their country needs to better appreciate the true sacrifices we all made.
|The VVA Veteran® is a publication of Vietnam Veterans of America. ©All rights reserved.
8719 Colesville Road, Suite 100, Silver Spring, MD 20910 | www.vva.org | contact us