In 1964, the Marine Corps was in South Vietnam in an advisory and support role. ARVN pilots were being taught the idiosyncrasies of flying helicopters, ARVN troops were being airlifted by our helicopters and pilots into combat zones, and our pilots and crews were airlifting food and materials to outlying hamlets. Although we called some of these missions milk runs, none was safe, and the chances of being wounded or killed by ground fire steadily increased as the Viet Cong became better at leading our helicopters. Leading is aiming a guessed distance in front of a moving target to compensate for the target’s forward motion and speed; a technique used by duck hunters. In 1963, aircraft damaged in a combat mission or milk run returned to Danang with most ground fire damage confined to the tail sections of the aircraft. As we moved into 1964, the VC became more accurate with their aim, and pilots, crew chiefs, and other onboard personnel were being hit more frequently. Pilots began sitting on their flak jackets instead of wearing them since much of the ground fire was coming from below. Our small sickbay was just a few buildings down from the enlisted man’s club. The sound of helicopters passing low overhead meant wounded were arriving. All hands would rush out to the softball field, now helipad, and as stretcher bearers, help carry the wounded to the infirmary. One one occasion, I was on one end of a stretcher helping carry a wounded Marine pilot. He looked very young and in bad shape. Upon leaving the sickbay, I asked a corpsman about the pilot’s condition. He said the Marine was hit in the spine and was paralyzed from the chest down. They were going to stabilize him and fly him out to a hospital in the Philippines. The corpsman did not think the odds were good that the young pilot would ever walk again. I forget about the beer I left at the club that day and went back to my barracks to write a long letter home.
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Striking out on this field sometimes meant loosing more than just a game.