I have been asked to attend and speak at the upcoming prestigious VDA 2015 reunion in the Los Angeles suburb of San Diego. There, along the Pacific Ocean, Cupcake and I will meet a close cadre of Vietnam Vets who flew into LZs with absolutely no regard for their own lives. To add injury to insult, they did it in Hueys with a really nice bullseye painted on the sides in red and white.
Ignore for the minute the idea of clearly and colorfully marking your A/C to conform with Geneva Conventions Protocols. The mere absence of the door gunner(s)/rockets was a dead giveaway anyway. Add to that the obvious shortcomings of rotary wing aircraft in an environment where you did not enjoy tactical air superiority (read free-fire zone) and you had a recipe for lots of room temp. friendlies-and their patients.
I’m no stranger to high casualty statistics but that metric is predicated on combat-not rescue. The statistics for SAR were even higher over the fence from what I gathered at the time. Signing up to fly in Dustoffs would, to me, have almost been a guaranteed death wish. This is why I look forward to meeting the gentlemen of this profession. Their bravery under fire is a potent talisman. These Vets are lucky. Not rabbit foot lucky. Not “Holy Shit Batman” lucky. Not even Lotto Lucky. We’re talking Vets who could walk through a shooting gallery at Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth and remain unscathed.
Having said that, I’m sure there were a lot of Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and Air medals but few DFCs or Silver Stars handed out to our combat medics/chopper crews. Seems the guys who do the shooting always got the glory but the guys in the meatwagons were the ones who swept up the broken glass. Now, in retrospect, we worry more about our corn and tomatoes or grandchildren and less about medals. Until Starbucks starts giving me a discount on a smokin’ mocha for my V’s, it doesn’t pencil anyway. Nevertheless, I personally know the inner pride I’ll always carry after attending this reunion and embracing like-minded Veterans even if they’re rotorheads.
Veterans of the Vietnam Boundary Dispute are getting old. Unless you were born in June 1957 and got a pink slip daddy to enlist at 17, you missed the party. For all you guys at the AL/VFW bars, that means if you’re not at least 58 and one of the Few and the Proud on guard duty at the US Embassy in Saigon in late April 1975, then you weren’t there. Period. The numbers show 855,000 ± 5 K of us . That’s a mighty small group of folks forty five years later. The inexorable march of time and the deleterious effects of Agents Orange, Blue, Pink, White, Purple and Green have struck down many. Add to it the insidious diseases of Chronic Hepatitis B, autoimmune Hepatitis as well as Hepatitis C. Together, they combine to kill us before our time. These, to name just a few. I won’t go into the dismal statistics of Bent Brain Syndrome and homelessness. I trust the VA will come out with some new statistics and a catchy phrase to put a smiley face on it. My favorites are
Homeless–And Free to Move About The Country
Homeless Vets-Boldly Going Nowhere Medicated
Homeless Veterans- Fiercely Independent
The Few, The Proud, The Homeless Vets
Be there or be square, ladies and gentlemen. Here’s the skinny:
I think the WWII vets and Korean War vets may out live us. Let’s say 3 million served in- country in Vietnam, and only 855,000 are left living now. I served towards the last period the War of the time (1970) and I am 65.5 years old. Those who served in 1965-66 are probably 68-70 years old if they were draft age youngsters at the time. We, Nam, vets are dying young since about 2/3 of us are dead already. LIfe expectancy for males today is about 84 years on average. We are dying 20 years early by 66.6% of the cohort of our peers. Anyone born after 1960 probably does not even remember the Vietnam Holiday and Shooting Expedition. The public has forgotten us and the VA wants to forget us.
I studied it from several different angles, John. My father served there from June 66 to just after Tet 68. He was 48 when he got there. Lots of Lifers/ career path folks served a tour or two at the midpoint of their service. It’s not an anomaly that our numbers are evaporating. Our military had been severely depleted from the end of Korea to the beginning of the shutzenfest over there. The number of youngsters like us, by age, are the problem. We aren’t dying of old age. 2.9 million are said to have served- and I don’t mean the Navy folks in the So. China Sea. If this were a “Korea” phenomenon, we should expect to see the same numbers (many young draftees about 65ish like you and me) but we don’t. Lots of our buddies gave up early and sucked on the lead lollipop long ago or evaporated in the VA statistics. The living are all coming home to Mother VA to roost now and we’re breaking the bank. VA says 34% of the disabled are Vietnam-era. I see that climbing soon. If all of us with HCV get cured instead of dying out of the system, the Little Hospital on the Prairie in Denver will never get finished.