"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taming the Demons

It was just another typical hot morning up at Hue. Each of us downed a cold breakfast and geared up for another mission. 

We had just transferred a few UH34 choppers up north to Hue, from our headquarters down at Da Nang. That morning we were flying huge bags of rice out to some village.

I had no idea where our mission would be that day, but that flight would stay hidden in my subconscious mind for years to come.

After my discharge, I was like most young men coming home from Vietnam. We all had our bad habits and mine was excessive drinking. Being young and bullet proof, I thought that was the perfect way to spend my paychecks.

Finally, I slowly brought myself to the reality that if I ever wanted anything in life, it would require a lot less drinking and a lot more working.

The transformation wasn’t easy, but soon I was working twelve to fourteen hours a day, sometimes six days a week. By then I had married and we had two beautiful children. It’s sad to acknowledge, but my family took second place after my work. I would never mention Vietnam at my workplace and very little was said in my family circle.

The years rapidly went by and I began to slow down, forty-two years, to be exact.

One particular day at work, one of our customers was wearing a vest and cap with Vietnam patches on just about every square inch. For some odd reason, we struck up a conversation, during which we shared where we had been in country. He had been in the Army and I had been in the Marine Corp.

At that time, he was the Commander of the local VFW. The conversation turned to Agent Orange and to be honest, I knew very little about that deadly chemical. I only knew our squadron had two choppers equipped with tanks and we sprayed on several occasions.

Soon he started questioning me about the symptoms associated with Agent Orange. I think the first question was about Diabetes and sure enough, I had been diagnosed with Diabetes just a few years prior. He said the VFW was holding a workshop in our area a couple of weeks away and he insisted that I attend, which I did.

It didn’t take long, with the VFW's help, for the Veterans Administration to approve the Diabetes claim. During this time I began to explore other areas in my life.

Like I said, I had never mentioned Vietnam, wishing instead to put it a safe distance behind me. Little did I know Vietnam was living deep in my subconscious and I refused to accept that fact. As I began to slow down, those memories became more and more vivid. During those many years, I had many strange and crazy dreams, but I brushed them away because I had a duty to my work.

One day I had a regular appointment at the VA Clinic. Out of the blue, the primary doctor requested that I see a psychiatrist at the clinic. Believe me, I was astonished as to why. He was seeing something that I had refused to accept. So, after many questions, I agreed to go.

The first couple of visits were a get-to-know-you deal, but soon some serious questions started coming my way. During one visit, the psychiatrist turned to reoccurring dreams. She had just opened a door that, for many years, I had tried hard to keep locked. 

She asked me to share with her, in detail, a dream that kept returning night after night. After much hesitation, and being asked to repeat the dream several times, some deep-seated memories started returning.

The dream was about an old Vietnamese man shouldering an old weapon, and it was pointed straight at me, with a scared-as-hell look on his face. "Who was this man she asked?" 

"I don’t know,"  I replied, "just an old man." 

She asked me to go home, write out the complete story, and give the old man a name -- a name I would never forget. 

After a few weeks, I began to write out the story and I gave the old man a proper name. All of a sudden, I realized who he was. 

That morning up at Hue, when we were flying those bags of rice to some hamlet, we were advised to hold up on the landing because they were being hit with rockets and mortars. Finally we made our approach, landed, and threw out the rice. 

As soon as we finished, several scared refugees got aboard, getting the hell out with fear all over their faces. As we were lifting out, I looked across to see the Crew Chief, Sgt. Louis Henson, trying to get my attention. 

He screamed in my ear that the Captain had seen someone come aboard with a weapon. We began searching the refugees and soon I found a pistol tucked away on an old man. I took the weapon and he started raising hell and fighting me. 

Sgt. Henson motioned for me to pitch him out. Without any hesitation, I picked him up, carried him to the door, and pitched him out. By that time, we were several hundred feet from the ground. 

As I pitched him from the door, I saw the absolute horror on his face. His eyes were gripped with fear and I could tell he was screaming. This was the same man locked away in my mind all those years, returning night after night.

As I started writing, I did as she instructed. I gave him a proper first name. I selected the name Dong, because I will always remember the Vietnamese money (Dong). A few days later, I finished writing the story and stored it away. 

In the written story, I talked to the old man. I told him I was just doing my job and I was sorry it had to end with his death on that day. While writing the story, I never apologized, but I told him I hoped one day we could become friends. 

A couple weeks later, I had the same dream. In it, Dong was standing in the exact same spot, at the same time, but the dream was different. This time in the dream, his weapon was not shouldered, nor was mine. 

We talked -- Dong spoke in Vietnamese, and I of course spoke in English. I didn’t know a word he said and he never smiled, but instead of it being a nightmare, this time it was altogether different. 

Maybe one day we will understand each other.  Maybe both of us can lay down our weapons, but at least we were not ready to fire.

I hope over time, I’m able to finish other stories of the late night dreams. Maybe I can put to rest other demons.   Maybe this will also work for you ...

C David Ramsey

[Dave Ramsey went to Vietnam in June 1964 and spent 13 months in country. He was attached to HMM-162 Marine Helicopters out of New River NC as a mechanic. He then qualified for Med-Evac and door gunner. "Then it was off the ground and into the sky." ~C David Ramsey]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale


  1. I think this is an exceptional and important story. There must be thousands and thousands more like this. You are doing a terrific service, CJ, giving people a platform on which to stand and share such key tales. David Ramsey has done a great job of sharing.

  2. Hello, Kay! It's nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind words about Memoirs From Nam. Dave did do a great job -- it's always hard to access those parts of us that we would rather forget about -- trouble is, when we do that, they have a way of tormenting us over and over, whether in dreams, or flashbacks. He faced one of the demons and put it to rest ... thanks again, Kay!

  3. Thank you for writing this story, and sharing it. Thank you for your service to this nation, our home, under God. USAF 1987 - 1992.


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