For those who believe that gun ownership automatically equates with safety, I humbly offer this story. It is indeed anecdotal. But it may shed a bit of light on a volatile issue in society, the rights of gun owners vs those who demand saner licensing and oversight of weapons.
From Chapter 12 of The Sky Behind Me, a Memoir of Flying and Life.
The friendly fire incident is a reality of war. Take a passel of scared, twitchy young men, add a dash of self preservation, a measure of loaded weapons, and a dose of official sanction to go forth and kill something, and the table is set for a tragic mis-identification accident.
Vietnam had its share of those sad events. One of them almost had my name scribbled in the After Action Report. It happened close to home base, and in a reasonably secure location, which likely factored into the episode.
It was late October 1970. I took off that morning with Gil, a new-in-country Peter Pilot I’d not flown with and a rookie door gunner, a fellow I’d just met that morning. I’ll call the new gunner Ken to protect his ‘exotic’ behavior.
|Byron and his Huey|
As I passed over the bridge builders once again, my new door gunner’s .30 cal erupted, spraying deadly rounds downward into the jungle. Bullets snapped and crackled outward, bracking like a buzz saw. The hair on my arms prickled. My heart went ballistic. Out of instinct, I wrenched the controls hard left, and jerked in power. The Huey arced over like a scalded cat. The next few seconds were a blur.
Gil screamed at the gunner. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“They’re building a bridge down there!” Ken screamed, as his gun fell silent.
Gil scrambled across the cabin. He shoved Ken away from the gun, and jerked the belt out of the weapon’s magazine.“Those are friendlies!” Gil yelled.
My radio squealed the frantic voice of the pathfinder. “Bad guys out there?”
“No bad guys,” I said. My heart slammed, hoping no one was hurt. “Any casualties?”
The pause lasted maybe five seconds, the longest five seconds of my life, while the pathfinder checked with the bridge builders. To my everlasting relief he said, “Everybody’s okay...pretty shook up, though.”
I apologized for the incident, and made sure Gil had the new man’s weapon secured. Then I raced back to Camp Eagle with ‘Ken,’ and personally escorted him away from my Huey. He never flew again. I could only conclude that he’d been spooked, or had pot for breakfast, something.
For days afterward, I dissected the event, wondering what I could have done to avoid it. I shuddered, thinking of what might have happened. Dead men, grieving families, official inquiries, and the ongoing component of military operations for all time—bereavement calls, chaplains at front doors, flag-draped coffins.
“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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