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What the Sound of Helicopters Meant to Us

Helicopters were ubiquitous in Vietnam. They were transports for troops, ammo, supplies, even the heavy equipment of artillery and tanks. They were the intense aerial cover fire for us when we were caught between a rock and a hard place with the enemy, and they were our rescue, as well as our quick, effective delivery system for the wounded, getting them back to the more sophisticated care that they needed to ensure their recovery. Those helicopters came in a variety of sizes, shapes and functions, and they meant everything to us.

When I was on patrol with my Marine Recon team, we would be delivered to our patrol areas by helicopters, and we would be picked up by them 5-7 days later when our patrols were done. If the worst would happen and we found ourselves engaged with the enemy, Huey helicopter gunships, or the even more well-armed Cobra gunships, would arrive overhead after being requested by radio and begin to lay down very welcome and intense suppressing fire all around us. They had the advantage of altitude and could see movement that was not visible to us.

They would also draw a lot of the firepower of the enemy away from us, so that we could move to higher ground or to areas where the big double-bladed 47's could drop down out of the sky, lower their tailgates to let us run on board, then lift off fast and furious from the kill zone. They, too, would receive intense ground fire. Their door gunners would be pounding away furiously with their .50 caliber machine guns, keeping the enemy's heads down as much as possible. If we had wounded, the Huey's with the big red crosses would swoop down, pick up the wounded and be gone.

When a patrol had been successfully completed, we would radio our position and then we would wait, still keyed up with the adrenalin of knowing you are out in the middle of enemy country. The silence at those times was unlike any I have experienced since. Then, off in the distance, you would begin to hear the whup-whup-whup of the approaching helicopter. Your heart would start beating faster; then you would spot it in the sky, coming your way. As it drew near, you would "pop some colored smoke," and it would descend quickly, touching down just long enough for the Recon Team to hustle aboard, then lifting off so fast it could leave you feeling as if your stomach was sinking to your feet. Then you would be encompassed by the loud, steady throbbing roar of the blades all the way back to base. That whup-whup-whup of those twin blades in the distance was the sweetest sound you'd heard in days.

Those helicopter pilots and crews were some of the bravest and most dedicated soldiers and Marines in Vietnam. What they did, the incredible courage and skill that was required of them, is beyond my poor ability to describe. All I know is that they were our angels, our defenders and our safe return. For that, I, and all my Marine Recon brethren, will always be grateful. We thank them for all that they did. We honor all those who served in helicopters and all those who gave their last full measure in them in the supreme effort to bring their brothers back home safely. Oorah! And Semper Fi!

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