Nine who served in Vietnam team up on Veterans Day copter mission in Iraq
November 12, 2004
LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Iraq — They fought in a war that ended 30 years ago, but now find themselves fighting another one, alongside soldiers young enough to be their children.
A group of veterans of the Vietnam War who have joined their country’s latest fray marked Veterans Day Thursday by making up the crew of two Black Hawk helicopters and executing a mission.
It is not unusual for the Vietnam vets to fly down in Iraq, but they have never flown a mission made up of so many veterans of that war. Nine of the 10 crew members on the two aircraft were in Vietnam.
The 10th, Sgt. Jose Perez, a crew chief, is the grandson of a Vietnam vet.
“It’s an honor,” Perez said before the mission Thursday morning. “I’m doing this for my grandfather. He lives in Puerto Rico.”
The nine veterans had combined for more than 8,000 hours of combat flying in the war. Their time in Southeast Asia ranged from 1968 to 1971.
The idea for the mission came from Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Chapman, 55, who flew UH-1 gunships in Vietnam for the 92nd Assault Helicopter Company and is now with the Louisiana National Guard’s 244th Command Aviation Battalion.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said of the mission, which was to fly personnel to Fallujah. “It depicts that we’re still here and we’re still doing our job. We still have full dedication to God, duty and country.”
The helicopters that went on the mission were from the 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment
When these veterans first flew in combat more than three decades ago, the concept of using helicopters in battle still was new. They were on the frontier of that entire strategy.
Now, the Army is more likely to enter combat without helmets than helicopters, thanks, in part, to the aircraft’s success in Vietnam.
Staff Sgt. Bona Dyal, who was a crew chief on a UH-1 in Vietnam, is now with the Florida National Guard.
“It means a whole lot,” he said of the mission. “At least we’ve got survivability.”
It is hard to compare today’s soldiers with those of Vietnam, he said, because of the different technology and training. One thing, however, hasn’t changed.
“[Soldiers] still got the same heart,” Dyal said.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Wyatt Jr., 57, who was an air cavalry captain in Vietnam, said the biggest difference between the two wars is the lessened threat level in Iraq.
In Vietnam, “if you made it past 30 days, you were considered a veteran,” he said.
In Iraq, the threat from enemy fire is minimal. He said he expects to leave without having lost a single soldier in his unit. That was unheard of in Vietnam.
Of Thursday’s flight, he said, “It’s sort of a memorial for the ones that are no longer flying because they can’t or they didn’t make it home from Vietnam.”
There was little time for talk as Chapman, Dyal, Wyatt and the other six veterans — Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Lanning, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Erickson, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Don Berres, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ben Roche, Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Eden and 1st Sgt. William Wellmon — joined Perez for a pre-mission briefing and then rushed to their choppers.
They did, however, stop to pose for a group shot as a memento of the day, kidding one another about gray hair and no hair as they formed two lines.
Despite the wrinkles and the signs of age, the men are fit and ready to fly. They are doing one-year tours in Iraq just like their younger brethren.
“It’s a country worth fighting for,” Wyatt said.