Luther “Russ” Russell: We are here for each other No Rank Just Brothers

Posted on March 19, 2011

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Charlie Troop 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry Regiment has a Yahoo site where we can talk back and forth through “Posts”. While Charlie Troop had more enlisted men than officers it seems as though there are more officers than enlisted on our site. There are reasons for this. Most of our officers went through prolonged schooling with each other to learn to fly the various helicopters assigned to our unit. Their brotherhood started there. After Vietnam, there were organizations such as the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot Association (VHPA) where once again their brotherhood flourished. We enlisted have only started coming together over the past 10 years or so. A lot of the chatter on our site is between pilots but we enlisted can chime in anytime we want. I for one also took it the wrong way at first until I realized that the chatter was pilot to pilot and NOT officer to officer. Our unit and now tour chat site is a strong brotherhood. Sometimes it is just hard to understand.

I have been fighting with myself for quite a long time with what I am going to say here but here it goes. During my tour in Nam I never felt like I was an NCO and those that I flew with were officers but it seems as if on this site there is a huge distinction. It makes me so uneasy. Why do you all suppose that it must be this way? More than likely I am just full of it and am wrong. Please help me to understand. I have huge issues with the war and rarely am able to sleep. I was hoping that by being a member of this group that I might find some answers and maybe finally be able to come home………I would never say a thing to hurt any of you for I love all of you.

Love, Loyalty and Respect…

Michael G. Choate AKA MadMichael

Michael

First and foremost, this is the place where you say what you need to say. Put it out there. Over the last eleven years that we have had this site, we have heard some of everything. You might say something that offends someone but… So what? Someone might say something that offends you and you do as you have in the past… you ask them to clarify their intentions. Over forty years ago we were all drawn together in time and space. Many people have tried to define those years and events to suit their purpose. No matter how they define those years they still happened. We survived. Some didn’t. Through us their memory is kept alive. We go back in time and ask ourselves if our memory is clear or if our intentions were pure. There is no straight edge, no “one size fits all”, the truth is always modified by perspective.

I have heard your question in most of your posts. “Did I do the right thing back then?” The simple answer is HELL YEAH! However, the actual truth takes a long convoluted path. You first start with what you believed back then. If you’re like most of us you believed that you were doing the “honorable thing.” I grew up watching cowboy movies and war movies. The good guy ended up walking out, on the main street, at high noon, sucking up the courage to face insurmountable odds in the name of good. We were seeded from the age of four or five to grow into men of courage and honor. In the war movies, John Wayne or Robert Mitchum would wave their hand forward and you would charge forward with the American nationalistic music playing in the background. In either scenario the movie would end with you walking off with the beautiful maiden as proud defiant nationalistic music drummed away at you. No matter how rational you were, the shit was contagious.

I grew up in the Forties as Colored then we changed to Negro in the latter half of the Fifties, and accelerated to Black in the Sixties. BELIEVE ME I had every reason to know that all of American Justice and freedom for all was pure bullshit. But the whole concept is magnetic. I remember one particular afternoon at Fort Wolters. I was a WOC in the Brown Hats (4th WOC Bn.). We marched down to the parade field, on a hot afternoon, with the last two hundred yards on a “dusty ass” road. As usual we had to stand around forever waiting for the ceremony to start. Finally we were called to attention and the band struck up The Star Spangled Banner. The feeling caught me so much by surprised, my lungs swelled, by back became ramrod stiff, I got light headed with pride and the feeling of brotherhood for the guys standing there with me. I had thought back, on that day, many times and asked myself… What the hell got into me?! Needless to say, after living
with those guys twenty-four hours a day for nine months, sharing the tribulations and great joys of learning to fly you do share a lasting bond of love and brotherhood with the others.

We all learned to label and categorize the war protestors: Draft dodgers, Punks, Cowards, Commies, assholes etc. I was proud of my uniform and I always wore it when I traveled. It had many advantages: cheaper flight cost, it let people know where you stood so you cut out any introductions, if a young lady wanted to talk to you the uniform would give her a place to start talking, people in general would tell you about their father, uncle, or brother who served or were still serving. I just found it as a way to cut thru barriers. On several occasions I even had the Panthers ask me… “If you’re willing to go kill for the white man why won’t you kill for the cause?” I used to smile and tell them because their benefits weren’t worth a shit. They never asked it in a derisive manner. But, to finalize this thought, I was proud to be an American Soldier!!

I, like everyone else, had to do a quick reassessment of my priorities the first time the siren went off or someone yelled “INCOMMING!!” Our mammalian brain reminds us of the first biological urge-to save one’s ass. After we got past that first biological urge we then looked around to save our brothers. When I was in Vietnam I followed most of the rules especially those that were convenient. Once one of my fellow soldiers was in danger I seemed to forget all of the other rules. In fact, given a few seconds I was able to override that first and main biological law about saving my own ass. I sometimes had bad dreams concerning whether I would be able to make that “High Noon Walk Down Main Street.” Fortunately I always came up with enough of an adrenaline rush where courage never became a question. In most cases the people I had to worry about first were my crew. That was usually enlisted personnel. When I went out to fly I had a door gunner and
an observer sitting within two feet of me. We were definitely in it together. That’s why we decided that our reunions should consist of Officer and Enlisted. We were attending the VHPA in D.C. in 2000 when we all agreed that C Troop was C Troop not pilots and EM and we would be totally inclusive.

As far as the type missions and the way we went about warfare, we were not guilty of anything but a warriors mentality. The only way we could go out and face the possibility of death every day was to say to ourselves “Let’s go kill those __________s. We used names like “Dinks”, “Gooks”, “Gooners”, “Slopes” because it was easier than convincing ourselves that it okay to kill Nugyen Hong father of three who was also fighting for his country. I had my personal mantra (I did not make it up, I heard it and loved it so much I adopted it). When I briefed my crew I would start with “This is free fire, this is check fire, this is no fire, and it’s all bullshit. If you see them kill them, if they’re old shoot slow, if they’re little shoot low, and if they’re pregnant shoot em in the belly and we’ll count em twice.” I don’t really feel that way but what do you say when you get ready to go out? Gee guys nobody going to get hurt today? Horseshit! The guy is
on his third roommate in two months. We just substituted the “whup-ass” for the whining and crying. In my short time with C Troop I heard first hand what others thought of us.

On September 11, 1969 I was scouting a trail which later was discovered by Bravo Troop and they named it after Major Jollys. We passed over an area and some NVA just started running and my gunner was on the mike saying.. “They’re running! They,’re running! I started circling back and said.. “Well shoot em GODDAMN IT! I directed the Cobra into the area and he opened up on the NVA. It was a “turkey shoot”. By the time it was over we wiped out an entire Artillery Company. We didn’t know it, until two days later, but one of the NVA got away. (It wasn’t our fault, he had two bullet holes in his pack.) He surrendered to an infantry unit about three miles away. We were passing thru their area and we heard them on the radio asking for someone to transport the prisoner to Song Be. I went up on the radio and told them that we were headed back to Song Be and I would take the prisoner. The guy responded… “That’s a negative Cavalier bird, we need to get this
guy back alive.” WTF???

On another occasion we were asked to recon an area that others had gone over several times. I was not in the mood for a GF so I told them to give it one of the new guys they needed the training. They insisted they wanted me to do it and as an incentive they told me that if I got them some good incentive they would give me the coordinates of a VC friendly village that we could shoot up. WTH???

I don’t know if Kurt remembers his first flight out with me and we were flying convoy escort. As we flew up and down the road in front of the convoy we passed over several ARVN positions. Each time we passed over one we took a slight dip and slowed down a little. The ARVN Advisors did not know that we were up their push and we heard them say… “That little bird is eying our people kind of funny. I hope he doesn’t mistake them for the bad guys.” Just for the hell of it I called them up and I asked how do I tell your little guys from the bad ones. The guy came back and said “Ours are wearing red scarves.” So just in a joking manner I asked… “It’s okay if we shoot the ones not wearing red scarves?” The guys went nuts on the radio. He started yelling and screaming at his people and as we flew past the ARVNs they were waving red scarves like crazy. WTH??

Yes, we went out and relentlessly hunted people down and killed them anyway possible. No-We were not guilty of anything. We were tools, no different than a hammer when it’s used to pound a nail. You cannot weigh your actions forty years ago based upon todays facts. You must consider your actions based on the information available at that time. We were “Stopping the spread of Communism.” We were serving “God and Country.”

I’ve always loved Shakespeare’s line in McBeth. The scene where McDuff shows up at the gates of Burnam Castle. McDuff is much younger and larger than McBeth so McBeth knows that he is about to die. He looks at McDuff and says “I do all that becometh a man he who doth more is none so lay on McDuff.” Next scene shows McDuff walking out of the castle with McBeth’s head in one hand and his sword in the other. I read that when I was 15 and I always took it to mean that we choose our actions based on what we see as right then we accept the responsibility of our actions without apology. We acted in an honorable and forthright manner when we went to Vietnam. We owe no one an apology for our actions. I served with and fought beside some of the bravest young men I’ve ever met while in C Troop 1/9. The fact that we are back together forty years later is a blessing.

Before I go on into my old age rambling, let’s go back to the point. No. This is not Officers and NCOs this is Charlie Troop and our extended family. Sometimes one or two people get on a string and they may air out a lot of garbage but we have all agreed that is acceptable. Most of the things they are talking about now can be found in the archived messages on this site. We have been at it for eleven years now. The ones who don’t say much now were the ones who flooded the site in the beginning. The main point is feel free to put it out there we can discuss it. If you don’t feel great airing it out send it to one of us as individual mail. We’ve got some great guys and we’ll be here when it’s time.

Russ

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Posted in: Luther Russell