2:28 | Rocky Bleier remembers making use of his running back skills to retrieve a precious gift from home during a Vietnamese artillery attack. (4-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steeler. www.rockybleier.com)
Keywords : home care package bunker mortar chocolate
Rocky Bleier tells his story of determination--from the football fields of the U.S. to the rice-patties of Vietnam, and back again despite a life-changing injury he suffered during the war. (4-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steeler.)
Rocky Bleier remembers the "foxhole prayer" that he made as he lay wounded after a grenade explosion in Vietnam. (4-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steeler. www.rockybleier.com)
Nineteen and invincible, newly minted helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski was singing on the 26 hour flight to Vietnam. Assigned to work with a Korean unit, he began to familiarize himself with the area he was based in, determined to be the best pilot there.
It was a forward element for purposes of quick reaction. Dick Dyer was part of a deployment of a few helicopters to a nearby rubber plantation without any additional security. That didn't last long. They went back to Bien Hoa air base, where the pilots and crew lived off base in an interesting arrangement.
Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
When Ed Zielinski returned home from Vietnam, he took fire immediately, a spitball from an anti-war protestor. His entered a trying time in his life, but continuing to fly was a big help. He joined the National Guard and taught new helicopter pilots the real life skills they would need, the ones not in the book.
As the war went on, Ron Rutowski felt the culture and morale of Vietnam change for the Vietnamese and for the Americans. In an effort to create an outlet of peace for Viet Cong defectors, they began a pamphlet program to let them know how to effectively surrender should they want to.
It was hot at Fort Polk and he was getting picked on by the 1st Sergeant. Ed Zielinski found out why he was getting the business after he graduated from basic training, then it was on to flight school. Terrified at first, he gained confidence, especially when he made the switch to Hueys. At the end of the training, all the men played a prank on the platoon leader.
During firefights in Vietnam, there are always challenges that Rutowski and his unit always had to overcome. During one particular encounter, they had to worry about their position being compromised as they crouched in the woods hoping to stay hidden.
Helicopter pilot Dick Dyer was sent to pickup supplies from a ship in the Mekong Delta, but when he approached, the call sign and frequency he was given for contact elicited no reply. Circling the ship, he saw other helicopters land and take off so he went on in. Then he got an earful.
He was days from going home so helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski had an easy resupply mission with a green co-pilot. They were done and heading back when the mayday call came in. Two Cobra pilots were down and fighting for their lives. He turned to the rookie and said, "OK, we're going to the war."
Dick Dyer and Jim Thorne were in flight school together and they both were deployed to Vietnam with the 145th Aviation Battalion flying Hueys. There was a great need for pilots and every one of them practically had a helicopter strapped on.
Army brat Ed Zielinski had always been fascinated with flight. As a child he just knew he would lift off on a windy day with a long coat for wings. So when the draft loomed he decided he would try to fly over the rice paddies rather than slog through them.
The Koreans didn't speak much English, at least to him. They would point to a map and helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski would take them there. On one mission, he had to set down and wait. This gave him an unexpected opportunity to utilize his Texas quick draw skills.
The call went out. There was a unit in trouble and they needed casualties evacuated. Huey pilot Dick Dyer responded, but as he was taking off with the wounded, there was a loud boom. He settled back on the ground and then he heard from his crew chief. This helicopter wasn't going anywhere.
What was Operation Lam Son 719 like? To helicopter pilot Dick Dyer, it was a "gaggle." There were so many aircraft flying at once, it seemed to him like hundreds. A recurring problem on these big troop movements was overloading caused by eager soldiers. On occasion, the pilots were tasked with transporting reporters.
The officers club for the helicopter pilots was one of the best in Vietnam, says Ed Zielinski. If only he could have figured out how the Korean officers were cheating at dice. There was another kind of wildlife there, elephants, which could also be enemy trucks, deer and wild pig, which you could barbecue, and monkeys, which you better not shoot if Ed was around.
The veterans today have it easier than Dick Dyer did when he returned from Vietnam. The mood is supportive, and when he wears his Vietnam Veteran hat, he gets a little of the love he missed back in the day. He is very proud of the role that helicopter pilots like himself played in the war.
How did the rules of engagement in Vietnam affect helicopter pilot Rd Zielinski? He worked for Koreans and says that's all you need to know. He flew other missions and on one clandestine foray into Laos, he spotted two MIG fighter planes on a makeshift runway in the jungle. Could he be the first helicopter pilot ace?
In Vietnam, helicopter pilot Dick Dyer was reminded of what he was taught in ROTC, that you can't get too close to the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. When he wasn't flying, he corresponded with his wife and family and even a few random citizens who got his name from the paper back home.