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By Pat Lisi

Remember the choppers?  They were the ‘workhorse’ of the Vietnam War for most of us, especially for soldiers in the Army.  Marines used them too, but ours were larger and held more men.  This wasn’t always a good thing, because if a chopper full of Marines was shot down it meant many more fatalities than if the bird had been smaller and transported a lot fewer people.

Either way had its advantages and disadvantages, but in the end helicopters served a huge mission in Nam.  Not only did they carry soldiers from one battle to another, they also took wounded and dead soldiers out of the field.  Without helicopters resupply would have been a nightmare in the bush.  Everything from food, water, ammo, artillery pieces, building material, and almost anything else was brought out into the field by way of choppers.

I read somewhere that during the war almost 12,000 choppers were shot down by enemy forces.  This is not an unbelievable statistic to me, because of their prevalence in country.  You have to remember, it was a big country and a lot of space to cover.  It is also easy understand how a machine of their size could be a target, especially since they have the capability to hover over the ground and basically stop and give the enemy a chance to take pot shots at it.

Chopper pilots and crew were some of the bravest heroes of the Vietnam War.  They took incredible risks to support the soldiers in the field.  No one probably knows for sure how many helicopters were hit with enemy fire during the war.  I was in helicopters a couple of times when they took hits from unknown snipers from below.  We would simply tuck our legs up underneath ourselves and hope like hell a bullet didn’t come up through the floor and the bench and hit one of us.  It was a frightening feeling to be taking fire while in the air, as there is really no room for error.  Of course, our door gunners would return the fire which seemed to work.  It was hard to evade the fire, because when we took fire it was while we were coming down to earth to land on an LZ.  In other words, taking ground fire was pretty much expected and we just had to deal with it.  When the bird touched down there was no grab-assing to get off — we exited the choppers in a hurry!

Thank God for helicopters.  They saved our asses too many  times to count.  Choppers were a friendly sight in an unfriendly environment.  There was security when the helicopters were in the air around us, and they were Angels when it came to getting us the hell out of a tough spot and carried us to safety.  I’ll never forget the chopper of the Vietnam War.


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