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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

My wife and I spent a couple of weeks on the Island of Kauai (Hawaii), relaxing and doing all the stuff normal ‘tourists’ are supposed to do.  Kauai, as far as I know, has the only “true” tropical climate among any of the 50 states in the Union.  This is particularly true on the north shore of Kauai where the Nepali Cliffs rise to more than 5,000 feet above the sea, and where the annual rainfall exceeds 500 inches.  One day, as we ascended a marked trail that penetrated the very dense jungle and amazingly thick canopy above us, two ‘sightseeing’ helicopters could be heard coming our way.  Their rotars were unmistakable as they chopped and hacked away at the air with that all too familiar cadence.

In Nam we used helicopters a lot.  They transported us to the battle field and back out.  They brought us food, ammunition, more Marines, and mail.  They took our injured to safety and our dead to the morgue.  There was nothing more satisfying when your outfit was pinned down behind the rice paddy dikes and you were fighting for your very life, than to hear those wonderful choppers screaming your way to put the fear of god into the gooks and get them off our backs with machine gun fire and rockets.

Watching helicopters ‘working out’ on the enemy was amazing.  At night, long streams of red death would rain down to earth as the gunners poured tracer rounds into their positions.  Rockets were fired at the same time and the explosions sent waves of glee through us as we knew the enemy was being pulverized for their bad behavior.  The crews on these birds were fearless and heroic.  Very few pilots would give up on a rescue attempt until their machine was shot out of the air or they ran out of fuel.  During the war more than 11,000 US helicopters were brought down by enemy fire.  The crews who worked on helicopters are all heroes.

On May 15, 1969 our company of Marines was ambushed by an estimated force of 85 NVA soldiers as we cleared a Hamlet in Quang Nam Province.  Our point squad had just about crossed over the first set of rice paddies and were hustling to secure the tree line on the other side, when the enemy soldiers opened fire.  The initial burst killed half the squad of Marines and wounded all of the others.  The fight was on, and it was brutal.  In the end, 44 Marines were wounded and 8 killed.  There would be 2 Silver Stars handed out later for actions that day, not to mention some Bronze Stars and Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medals.  It was a long day to say the least and it was now time to regroup and finish the mission.

So, that night we called for the extraction of our dead and wounded, and soon you could hear the approaching helicopters coming from the direction of the An Hoa Combat Base.  The huge propellers of the Sea Knights made a rhythmic “thwap-thwap-thwap” that cut the heavy night sky like giant vegetable slicers.  On the ground, we were elated to know that help was on the way.  Not only would the birds carry those of us who needed it to safety but they would also bring critically needed ammunition and replacements to our perimeter.  It was certain the NVA would regroup and attack again that night, and we needed to be ready for the next battle.

As the Sea Knight descended into the LZ that we had hastily prepared earlier using our K-bars, machetes, C-4 and our bare hands, the few NVA who were still in hiding shot a few AK 47 rounds at the bird to try and discourage the landing.  We didn’t pursue them, because the chopper came into our perimeter rather abruptly as all of a sudden there it was!   A few Marines hurried down the rear ramp, they were dragging boxes of ammunition behind them.  As quick as they got off we put our dead and wounded on.  One of the injured that I helped aboard the Sea Knight was First Lieutenant William Kirkpatrick, our platoon commander, who had been struck in the eye by an NVA bullet.  The wound blinded him in that eye for life.  The Sea Knight was airborne once again in less than 5 minutes, and Lt Kirk and the others were gone.  Two or three other choppers, Huey’s, circled low above our dug-in company on the ground and provided hazing fire down on any known enemy positions.   Then, they were gone and it became almost silent again.

Now on Kauai, my wife was shocked to see me on my knees off to the side of the red clay trail of the Nepali Coastal hike.  The 2 sightseeing helicopters were heading in the opposite direction down the beach and then flew out of view and earshot.  I noticed that my hands were trembling and I felt a sick nausea in the bottom of my gut.  Once I was confident that the choppers were gone and that there was no enemy action to worry about, we continued our trek.

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