Vietnam: far and near

Posted on 15. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Featured

I was standing at the counter for gate 11 in the Atlanta airport when a tall, strapping man in his late fifties approached me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was holding a large bible. I steeled myself, anticipating an impromptu preaching. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good Irish Catholic boy, but being on day three of a 29 (flight)-hour, four-day trip, I was not in the mood for proselytizing.

“You taking us to Dallas?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

He smiled big; and I thought, here it comes.


“Retired Navy.”

His jacket opened slightly revealing the wings of a Combat Aircrewman (Army Door Gunner) and a Special Operations insignia, embroidered on his sport shirt.

“What did you fly?” he asked, as aviators always do, when they recognize one of their own.

“Antiques mostly; F-4s, A-4s and EA-6s.”

He smiled again big; “Man I spent a lot of time under those F-4 Phantoms. You ever fly a Mig?”

“No, I had a couple friends who did.”

“You would think that the USA would have got some to test during the war.”

“They did.” I responded. “That’s what was in Area 51, there are books out now so I can tell you.”

He pulled out his wallet to show me a Special Forces card; “I hear you, I can tell people what I was really doing now.”

I tapped on an Airborne patch about the size of a half dollar that was also in his wallet. “I did that back in the day.” I said, “When I was a Midshipman.”


“No kidding, Fort Benning?”

“Yep, 1979.”

We talked about Airborne and weapons, bonding instantly as only old Veterans can do. I told him about my son who just got out of the 10th Mountain Division and another son who is a B-2 Crew Chief. As we talked a wide body jet, probably a 767, suddenly ran up to full power on the runway. Even though it was partially muffled by the terminal, it was still loud. The abrupt sound was very similar to the distinctive noise a distant Arc Light (B-52 bomb drop) or artillery barrage makes. The old Warrior flinched and began to turn, to face the threat, before he caught himself.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “they give me medicine for it, doesn’t always work.”

“Man you don’t have to apologize to me.” I responded.

His complexion reddened with embarrassment anyway, in his mind he had shown weakness to a fellow Warrior. I shook his hand and said. “I’ve got to get to work.”

He smiled through his pain. “See you onboard.”

I thought about him and my two uncles, who also served in Vietnam, on the way to Dallas. When he came up the isle and shook hands I pulled him in the cockpit.

“When were you there?” I asked, “My Uncle flew AC-119 Gunships in 68, out of Thailand.”


“All of 67 and 68 through TET, your uncle flew Spookys huh? Man those guys saved our asses more than once.”

“Thanks for your service.” I said.

His smile and swagger returned as he backed out of the cockpit, adding “God Bless you”, his hand shake strengthened. It dawned on me after he was gone, that my uncle Bob had received a Distinguished Flying Cross for covering the rescue of an Army helicopter crew, shot down in Laos. I wondered.

For most people Vietnam is far away in distance and time; for some it will always be near.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

No Responses to “Vietnam: far and near”

  1. lavonne 17 October 2009 at 00:11 #

    Thank you for sharing that story, Chip. It helps me understand a little better.

  2. Rick 22 October 2009 at 15:36 #

    Didn’t know where to post this….but can you believe this??!!

Leave a Reply