"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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pilots and POW's: by Michael Lansford

Michael Lansford

Among other things, I want to talk about one OP I was privileged to be on, (which happened to be another 'right time, right place thing').  This happened when we were doing a long Recon looking for troop movement, counting manpower, and marking areas to bomb.

Somehow, an F-4 got shot down in a rice paddy.  They were too low to bail, so they pancaked in. We got to them just ahead of the NVA and we were under heavy fire.

Without any discussion, I took off to the plane to help them as I knew they had to be hurt and they couldn't get out, or they would have already extracted from their jet. 

The NVA were definitely on a mission to get them, because Pilots were bargaining power for the North to use at the so-called Peace Talks -- that still makes me laugh. Anyway, when I got to them, the pilot in the back looked okay, his legs were just pinned down. 

I asked him, if I could get him loose, could he run to cover, over to where we were.  I knew my people would suppress the enemy long enough to get him to safety. What the NVA didn't know was, we already had two people flanking them to help really ruin their nice day and great capture. 

I got him out and then went back for the pilot in front. Man, he was hurt bad. He was bleeding out and his legs were broken. Looking at him, I saw all his color was almost gone from so much blood loss. We already had a Medevac enroute. 

He looked up at me and asked if he was going to die. I wanted to get him back on track to live, but the only thing I could think of to say was, "If you die on me, I'll kill your ass." That got his attention. It made him laugh, his color came back, and my best guess is, he was so mad at me that he was going to live, just to show me up -- or shut me up. Whatever it was, it worked. 

It's strange, but in combat, when you know someone is hurt that bad and you have to carry them out, they really aren't heavy at all.  You don't feel a thing, except the bullets flying by in both directions, and you can move just as fast with the adrenalin rush and fear factor of being caught. Motivational On The Job Training 101.  I didn't know I could run so fast carrying so much weight.

Our guys kept the NVA real busy, as I never took a round.  Both pilots lived and we never even knew their names -- but as I've said before, names didn't mean much out there. 

We disappeared back into the jungle all over again. Just another day at the office. It took several days for the adrenalin rush to wear off, then reality set in and my brain said in a loud and clear voice, "What the Hell were you thinking?" 

In our world, when things like that happened, you simply reacted, regardless of the situation. If you didn't, then good people would die, unless you at least tried. The people I worked with all had that credo, grit, and courage, or whatever you want to call it. No matter what it took to save a life, we all did it, knowing full well we would more than likely die trying to save them, but no man ever backed down. We were coming to get you. Period.  No one could stop us.  Like I've said before, just ordinary men who did extraordinary things. 

We had a lot of guys who came and got us out along the way, too. All were just cases of the right people being at the right time in the right place, yet there we were, all still considered 'kids' back in the real world. If the world only knew half of the bravery that existed in our world, they would be shocked, afraid, angered, and all of the other extreme emotions you can feel. 

Those were just a few more things we lived every day and, going home, the free world wondered what was (and is) wrong with us, why we are the way we are. We, as Combat Veterans, know those answers, and others couldn't possibly begin to comprehend.  These are some of the demons we vets live with.

As for myself, I still can't help wondering if I'd only stayed a little longer, maybe I could have made a bigger difference, helped save more lives, or at the worst, given my life to save someone more deserving than I ever could, or will be. I was and am just a simple "nobody soldier", who went about his duties doing the best I could and I never asked for help. 

But I made a promise to never, ever forget all we did and remember all the people I was with the day I walked out of that Jungle on 13 Dec 1969.  Promises made, promises kept.  I took an oath to defend this country against ALL enemies, foreign and/or domestic. That oath has no expiration date on it. It never will.

I know people have seen and read some of what the media put out there about POW's. But I have to say, real life affected every emotion you could possibly have when you actually saw a prisoner of war.

The horror stories they told us, I guarantee the media, and everyone else connected to them, made sure the real torture never got printed. It made Hamburger Hill look like a picnic. 

I can give you a little sampling of what POW's endured in Vietnam. Most people saw on TV tidbits of their capture and almost all knew about the Hanoi Hilton. Naturally the media was biased. Everything they were allowed to see and film was definitely edited. (That's why we as Vietnam Vets thoroughly despise Hanoi Jane Fonda).  She was a traitor through and through, yet now days this generation looks upon her as some kind of iconic figure. 

Basic knowledge of POW's in their interment was so brutal, no one could possibly imagine the pain and suffering they endured 24/7.  Torture beyond reality and yet people whine about how we treat Muslims. Now that's a joke in the finest sense. We're talking about a people who's only goal in life is to KILL Israelis and destroy America in the most brutal ways they can get away with. 

Even back in WWII, POW's were totally damaged beyond comprehension. In our war there were two POW camps in Laos, which to this day, 'have never existed'.  Right.  

We had lots of POWs come into our fire bases on their way out that the special ops teams got to, before they got to the main camps. If you couldn't get to them before they got to a camp, then they were there until they either died, escaped, or finally released, as a so called gesture of 'good will'. 

I got to go out on a few missions to find downed pilots, before they were lost. More than likely that's what happened to many MIA's. I saw so many with broken limbs, etc., and it defies what we think of as reality. 

The NVA would take a prisoner and slowly torture him, just to get him to sign some fake paper saying he was wrong about bombing their innocent people. The same lies apply today. 

Here is an example of their torture. Basically, they would in some cases stake the prisoner out, cut off a finger today, a toe tomorrow, an ear, tie hornets nests around them, or ants, and always, it was just enough to make them suffer, but not die. 

We found one little camp with prisoners that had their skin stripped off them. They suffered so much they were asking for someone to kill them to stop the pain. No one did, but they died anyway and it was a horrible death. One POW had a machete stuck in his chest and he played dead, just to stop the torture. 

One of their favorite tortures was to tie a POW's hands behind his back, run a steel rod through their arms then jerk them up in the air, dislocating their shoulders, and leave them there for as long as they chose to.  Then when they cut them down, they just dragged them back to a cell and left them there, as is. 

Food if any was rotten and they ate any and everything they could to stay alive. I heard about this one POW who built a complete home piece by piece in his mind, just to endure the daily torture. They couldn't hurt him, he was already gone. 

Some had been there so long that they thought we were the enemy and they wouldn't leave their cells for fear of more torture. Some couldn't even speak English any more. A lot of these stories I got from the special ops guys first hand.  Some I saw for myself. 

What demoralized us the most was when Westmoreland was there and we had what was called "Search & Destroy". When Abrams took over, it was called "Seek & Clear".  I never understood exactly what that meant. 

Another part we hated was per chance the south Vietnamese were fighting with you, around you, etc, and it looked like we were losing.  They simply switched sides and started shooting at us. Our people never ever trusted them. 

Lastly, they had what was called a "Chu Hoi" program.  Leaflets were dropped by intelligence planes saying if they gave themselves up, they would be sent to a Rehab place, given medical help, free food, clothing and a brand new weapon.  Then they were let go, with us thinking they were on our side after that. 

I can't tell you how many of them we encountered in firefights that had just been "rehabbed" and here they were trying to kill us all over again. Plus, if it looked like they were losing again, they would just jump up, hold their arms up with that free pass paper, yell "Chu Hoi" and lo and behold, (here we go again), they went back for more aid. 

We weren't allowed to shoot them, if they yelled that, (or so base camp thought). Strangely enough, we hardly had any that made it back for a second pass. The oddities of war I suppose. Accidents do happen in war and you never know when some sniper might accidentally shoot their own guy. Bummer. 

So now days, when I see on TV where some do-gooders whine about how we treat prisoners, I think they really need to look up the history of ALL POW's in every war and get a dose of reality as to what the Geneva Convention rules state about fair treatment extended to prisoners. No one but us uses those rules. 

There are worse horror stories about treatment of our POW's by the NVA, but you get the basic idea. There was no limit to what they would do to you and no one ever stopped them.  After the war ended, not a single one was called in to answer for war crimes like they did in WWII.  

Imagine some of the POW's that were there for many years and they endured all that every day. People will never truly know and they probably don't even want to know. The truth really does hurt and they couldn't stand knowing, let alone live with the guilt, if they have a conscience. True, you can't undo it, but there are ways to make it so others won't have to endure the same fate. All they have to do is stand up, speak up, back our country, and help make a difference. 

"We, The People" can make a difference. It only takes courage to do the right thing and never back down, regardless of what some may say. It's called the "Constitution".  The government is supposed to work FOR US. We don't work FOR THEM. 

More food for thought ...

Other Articles by Michael Lansford:

The Last Firebase
Sayings and Poems
A Couple of Stories
The Last Road: A Vietnam Vet's Perspective
Holidays in The Nam
Dear Civilians
FNG Initiation and Humor
Life Prepared Me for Vietnam
Leavings at The Wall
Coming Home
Honoring The Wall
Life in the Jungle
In My Own Words: Part 1
In My Own Words: Part 2
Part 3: The KIA
Hill 937: Part 4

“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

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