Preparing to leave tomorrow for San Diego, I think back 45 years to the times we looked up at flying meat wagons and tipped our warm beers towards them. Everyone but the dinks would promptly chime in “Our Father who art in Heaven, Howard be Thy name…”. A few nervous laughs and we’d all become silent and look down at our own bodies which were still in one piece back then.
Looking back on that , it amazes me I never got to know any combat medics until long after the war. It does make sense considering they were in the business of saving lives while my friends and I were just as busy trying to organize beer summits between the Pathet Lao and Howard. Being an ambulance service, they had to take patients regardless of their political beliefs.
Our defining commonality was that we all flew towards the sound of gunfire and bombs. In fact, when I got up country, it amazed me you could actually hear small arms fire below over the roar of the engine. 7th Air Force TACC frag orders called it trolling. I nicknamed it Airicide after about a week. How dustoff pilots ever got used to doing pickups in hot LZs flatass escapes me. How they managed to keep doing it is the bigger mystery. In a Huey of all things. Here, in this day and age, the REMF weenies would demand about $350 K worth of ordnance and an hour of A-10 strafing passes before they’d let medics land and extract.
I sat on a flak jacket wrapped around my balls. I smoked about ten Marbs a minute. When those lazy green tracers started ascending, your skin tingled in anticipation. Just imagine landing in the middle of it. Day after day.
The Air Force had the same mentality back in 1970. They’d call in the Udorn rapid response F-4s with the 45 minute on-site guarantee and a few Sandys from NKP. After about an hour and a half of CBUs and twenty Snake eyes later, the BUFF would go in with another one hovering a couple hundred yards astern at his six.
The funny thing is, if it was out on the Plain of Jars in the open, an Air America rotorhead would often zoom in without waiting and snatch them with no air support whatsoever. PICs had that ingrained Dustoff mentality that no bullet would dare strike anything important enough to prevent flying the mission. That gene must be acquired by birth. No one over 20 in their right mind had enough testosterone to do things like that. And no. We did not get paid a $1200 bonus for grabbing downed pilots. The effort was spontaneous and purely altruistic.
I look forward to being in the august presence of some of the most unsung heroes of the entire ten year Boundary dispute. Consider that there are only 850-odd thousand of us left alive. The fact there are any Dustoff personnel left to have a reunion at all speaks volumes on my theory about luck. If you don’t have luck, then it must be Karma. Maybe Howard had a special place in His heart for them back then.
Another shortcoming of being a Dustoff, be it a pilot, crew chief or medic, was that you were promised medals for every big action but somehow they just never got a chance to write it up. Of course, the same fellows doing the writing always found time for theirs. I take solace, gentlemen, in the fact that it still costs them the same for a White Chocolate Mocha Vende with extra creme on top at Starbuck’s® as it does us unmedaled peons. Medals don’t make the man- insane bravery seems to.
I heard the other day that (Colonel) Senator Lindsey Graham of So. Carolina was recently awarded a Bronze Star for his service above and beyond as an attorney in the AF during Iraqistan. When you hear things like that, the whole medal idea sours a bit in your mouth. Go figure. A lawyer. He probably threatened to sue or cut off appropriations if they didn’t give him one.