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The Stolen Story
By Tom Gery
One good turn deserves another, or does it?
It was the evening of the final day in my aviation unit. I had orders. DEROS: 7 Sep 69 EDCSA: (To USARV Rtne Det): 6 Sep 69 (To next unit): 9 Sep 69. I was elated and being in a celebratory mood found myself on the flight line by the Scout Platoon hooch getting high. I was introduced to pot in Vietnam, liked it, and thought little of it being a part of saying goodbye with some of the guys.
Smoking on the flight line at night was no big deal except when a jeep rolls up, and the first sergeant jumps out. He could smell the pungent odor of cannabis; I could smell fear, busted. Sarge said he knew all along the who, what, where, when of our little group and to get into the jeep. Needless to say, it was a long, fretful night for me. I saw my ticket home being given to somebody else and me being held up for some kind of Article 15 proceeding. It was worse than being shot out of the sky by a guy with an AK.
About four months earlier I was shot out of the sky by a guy with an AK. As Aeroscouts, our mission that day was to look for the enemy around Kien Long. I was the observer in the lead LOH (low observation helicopter) when we came upon a good size unit of "bad guys" who were quick on the draw putting a lot of rounds into our little Hughes aircraft. Oil pressure disappeared, my pilot was cooly advising the C&C ship that he was going to put the LOH down some distance away from where we took fire.
The memories to this day, a few weeks short of fifty years, remain vivid, like a piece of film on a movie reel that can be rewound and run through the projector at any given moment, over and over again.
It turned out ok, the cobras kept rolling in with suppression fire on a nearby tree line, our wingman flared in for us, we pulled the radios out of the ship, we were unscathed. The A/C (aircraft) sustained an inordinate amount of damage while still looking like a Hughes "bumblebee." It was sling-loaded back to Maintenance the next day. Many, many, many holes, with a prominent one, not more than 6 inches from where my 20-year-old helmeted head was bobbing around the day before.
The last little bit of information to pull this story together involves me and the platoon's First Sergeant meeting up a couple of years ago. I learned that he lived somewhere near where I was going to be spending some time. I left a short message on his voicemail mentioning I wanted to say thanks for not busting me that night on the flight line. The morning after the busted flight line goodbye party went as ordered. I grabbed some chow, my gear, a ride to the flight line and a seat on an outbound Huey. My trip back to the world had begun with no Article 15 in sight.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I arrived at the retired First Sergeant's house. He didn't look a whole lot different except for the passage of almost fifty years. We sat down, talked a bit, mostly about our respective life histories, drank some tea, and I said what I'd come to say. "Thanks, Sarge for not busting me that night many years ago. It could have set me on a totally different life course." I truly meant it because I could've gotten really screwed by the system. Instead, it was homeward bound. I had been through training in the States, a year, in "The 'Nam," and back home "on the block" in less than 20 months. To this day I am deeply grateful for my wonderful good luck through that time in the US Army.
During the visit, the host showed his wall of memories and commemorations. It was high and wide with many framed documents, plaques, pictures, military memorabilia. A rather accomplished career achieved over many decades, through war and peace. Hats off to the warrior!
One of the pieces on the wall involved some pictures of a shot up LOH, a paragraph quoting the pilot describing the number of holes in the aircraft and the fact that he and his observer had avoided any injury. Then I see another write-up, this one a summary of the First Sergeant's military career. A part of that biography told the story of flying in a LOH, getting shot down, receiving wounds from shrapnel and machine gun fire, the ship receiving 170 holes, plexiglass bursting. I thought wow, then looked at the date of the action, double wow, June 26, 1969, and the area Kien Long, "Oh my god that's just like my experience," mumbling to a very confused self.
I knew the truth especially because of the medal the Army awarded me for actions taken when the LOH was shot down on that 26th of June 1969. But hey, the guy did not flag me from jumping on that outbound Huey. One good turn deserves another. After all, I got my lucky course in life, and the First Sergeant got a story.
Note: I wrote this up not do harm to anyone but rather to share a very unusual story which was revealed after many years. I left out identifying information on purpose. If there is a question as to the veracity of this information I can provide documentation on a confidential basis.
Tom Gery served in the US Army and was overseas in Vietnam from 1968-1969. He is a retired social worker and proud parent and grandparent from Reading, PA.