The helicopter is for me, and for many veterans, the symbol of the Vietnam War. Historically, helicopters entered the theatre of war in Vietnam. For the soldiers, who took part in the multi-purpose activities of the ‘choppers’, they brought an equal mix of emotions.
There were ‘gunships’ – firing rockets and machine-gun fire or tracer rounds at the enemy. They were the adrenalin producers and, for many, a source of relief.
There were troop transport “choppers”. They took us into the fields of war, and later lifted us out of those same fields. As they landed to take us out on an operation, they brought with them a veil of dread and apprehension. As they came into an improvised landing zone to lift us out, they filled us with physical and mental relief and exhilaration. I never felt better in Vietnam than when being lifted off the ground to return to Nui Dat base camp.
There were the ‘medivac choppers’that took our wounded to hospital. They were a bad omen because somebody had been wounded or killed. They brought anxiety to those attempting to get our wounded to them before they lifted off empty. They brought hope of life-saving help for our wounded.
There were the ‘resupply choppers’ that bought us food and ammunition, for more time in the field of war. We were never going to receive a banquet – only the usual starvation rations. It was like waiting for the postman who only bought you a bill – a sense of disappointment and thoughts of what might have been.