From Both Sides Of The Coin...
When I was first asked to write something for the web site in this section,
it was discussed that I write it from the ground troops point of view.
You see, I had the most unique advantage of seeing that lovely bikini clad lady from both sides.
I saw her from the gunners well, and from the ground as a recon team member,
running across a clearing to jump inside, while firing behind me at advancing NVA.
Neither picture is especially pleasing to the mind at times, yet both were exciting,
and unforgettable memories that bring a smile to my face.
From the ground, the approaching lady, scantily clad in red, was an angel sent from heaven.
Her mere presence a promise that there was one more day to fight Charlie, drink, laugh, and cry.
One more day that, most assuredly, would not be there if she had not come.
Gunners and pilots were more welcome than a Playboy Bunny stripped nude and willing,
and that rough metal floor, when you jumped on board, felt better than satin sheets in Hong Kong hotel while on R&R.
Words cannot properly explain how it feels to know four guys flew through a hail of lead,
and risk their very lives for you, a total stranger.
Not too many written expressions can explain what that feels like.
Be that as it may, as time went on, and as I was becoming more and more pressed to write this essay,
I discovered that even as precious as those moments as a ground troop were, in respect to seeing the 170th come charging in,
that was not the story I wanted to write.
The words I wanted to appear from me on this web site were words about emotions felt 30 years later.
You see, after the reunion in Nashville, I took on the assignment of writing a book.
A collection of stories about the mission and the men of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company.
I felt qualified, I write books for a living since I retired, had written several non-fiction,
some fiction, proprietary material for the government, and I knew the subject matter well enough.
What I discovered, however, was none of that mattered.
No one, not a soul in this world, is ready for the flood of emotions, the pride, the pain,
and the happiness that all comes rushing in with such a task.
From that first group of men that braved the seas aboard the USS John Paul to dock at Qui Nhon,
to the last Bikini, who signed the final orders on the hood of a jeep, over and over again I found myself in awe.
The first man who died in the 170th, forged the blood pressure reading on his flight physical,
at Fort Benning, Georgia, to assure he was accepted to fly in Vietnam, knowing the real numbers were too high.
He was a man willing to do whatever it took to go with his men, and do what had to be done.
Starting with him, the tradition of confidence, professionalism, ingenuity, and yes heroism,
repeated itself over and over, year after year, story after story.
I found myself working 16 hours a day and worrying over having to pay my long distance phone bills.
Some nights I lay awake thinking of the story I am working on, and marvel at the type of men that I served with in the 170th,
and the men who came before, and after us.
Every story held certain common threads that slowly came to the surface.
You men of the 170th, from the first, to the last, are forged from a special kind of metal, and then shaped and molded by circumstance.
Pilots were grilled, and hammered, by the older pilots, to perfect their flying, learn the special techniques that worked for SOG and the Central highlands of Vietnam.
Crew Chiefs learned to treat their birds with the care and love of a classic 55 Chevy,
constantly watching it, caring for it, assuring every little detail was watched after.
Gunners were taught to improve their weapon's fire power, when to shoot, and how to shoot.
Maintenance men were taught to do miracles with minimum supplies, and do it over night.
Always assuring the birds would bring our men and their passengers through impossible situations and conditions.
From the first group of Bikinis, techniques and strategies were tried, perfected, and used.
These traits were passed on to the next group.
Each rotation honing, improving, and then passing it to the next.
And, with all of this came courage.
Courage men did not even know they had.
Courage that was not the bravery most people think about, but the courage that comes from refusing to let the rest of the team down,
and refusing to leave our charge on the ground because the LZ was too hot.
Courage that is forged from determination, confidence, and then cooled with inner pride.
Over and over again these things were shown.
The crew who is lost because against all odds they went in a hover hole to extract a team who was fighting against impossible odds;
the pilot who put himself on the flight manifest when he was supposed to be processing out to go home; or,
the crews who the pilot gave the option of going into a known hell storm of bullets to get men out or not,
and the crew votes to go.
It is a courage that is done because it needs to be done, not for honor, or for heroism,
but simply because the men of the 170th felt that was what had to be done, so they did it.
As I write and research, I also discover the men of the 170th did not leave those qualities behind either,
but took them with them in all they did since Vietnam.
We have men who fly SpecOps missions even today, using those same skills we perfected three decades ago.
We have teachers, lawyers, computer gurus, bankers, and retired old professional soldiers.
Everyone of them ingrained with that "what ever it takes" spirit that was molded in the mountains of the Central Highlands of Vietnam when they were little more than kids.
I have sat and cried, laughed, hurt, felt pride, and anguished over the stories of the 170th.
I am determined to make the stories you men have to tell as gripping, humorous, frightening, and moving as I possibly can.
So forgive me for not entering a war story for you here.
Any story I could possibly tell would pale to what I feel now, writing your stories, for your book, about your acts.
Instead let me simply write - no man has ever been as proud as I am to have been a part of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company. Each and every man on our manifest alive today, should be proud of himself, and of any man he knows who served with this unit in any capacity. For those of us who did not come home, we remain as a testament to their uniqueness, their courage, and their memories.
To them and to you, I salute the 170th Assault Helicopter Company.
COL. (Ret) Donald C. Summers