By Mikey, Retired LAPD
Annually, March 29th is National Vietnam Veterans Day. At the March Field Air Museum, we celebrate the day with an open house, open to all veterans, of all conflicts. This year will be no different but let me tell you about last year’s open house.
In hosting the day, the museum brings on additional docents to assist the museum’s guests and answer questions. Nelly, one of our docents was asked to docent at the museum’s Vietnam support base exhibit. The area contains several helicopters flown in the NAM and the exhibit is configured to resemble a support base, but, on a smaller scale. Several hours had passed since the museum opened for the day and things were going smoothly when I saw Nelly enter the museum. Nelly was crying and when I approached her, she told me that she needed a little time to compose herself, but that she was ok.
Several of the vets who had gone to the support base entered the museum and I could tell that they had been crying as well. So, what happened? I proceeded to the support base but found nothing amiss, so I had to patiently await Nelly’s explanation. Nelly finally approached me in the museum’s hangar and somewhat composed, she told me the following story.
Several vets had gathered around one of the museum’s Huey (Bell HU-1) helicopters and some small talk between the vets netted a couple of stories. The vets were standing next to the aircraft when one of them shared a story about a lift mission his squad had experienced in 1967 as an Army grunt. He was standing at the opened cargo door looking at the passenger seat as he told his story. According to Nelly, who was standing near the vet, he named the NAM location and other information pertinent to the event. The mission started normally but as the chopper neared the landing zone (LZ), the machine took hits from ground fire and the landing went badly. Several of the soldiers were killed and some injured. As the vet continued with the story, another vet who had been standing in front of the chopper turned his walker and faced the rear of the aircraft intently listening to the story teller.
He walked toward the story teller and stopped next to him. The story teller noticed the vet standing next to him. Both men looked at each other. The vet with the walker asked some pertinent questions about the crash. The story teller told the other vet that he was on a Huey that crashed, and it sounded like his incident. The story teller said that an unknown soldier had pulled him from the burning helicopter, but he never knew who it was. The injured soldier was medevac’ed out before he found out the identity of his rescuer. The first vet asked the second vet to describe what he looked like at the time of the incident and the second vet described to him his appearance at the time. The first vet said, “It was me who pulled you out!” They both went on, through tears and hugs to describe the event and its aftermath.
According to Nelly, there was not a dry eye on that support base. What were the odds for that chance meeting?
“Welcome Home Vietnam Vets” took on a whole new meaning that day for Nelly and those Nam vets.
This year, I hope the two men attend this year’s celebration, I’d like to welcome them home personally.