Joe Galloway, newspaper reporter and columnist, had a few words to say to the 2011 Convention of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association:
I had the chance to say some good things about all of you at the Memorial Service at The Wall on Sunday. I meant every word of that..... and more. You chopper guys were our heroes in Vietnam. You were our rides....but you were much much more than that. We were always either cussing you for hauling our butts into deep kimchi.....or ready to kiss you for hauling us out of it.
I have a feeling that without you and your birds that would have been a much shorter and far more brutish war. You were our heroes, though, first last and always. You saved us from having to walk to work every day. You brought in our food and ammo and water.....and sometimes even a marmite can full of hot chow.
To this day I think the finest meal I ever ate was a canteen cup full of hot split pea soup that a Huey delivered to a hilltop in the dry paddies of the Bong Son Plain in January of 1966. For a moment there I thought if the Army could get a hot meal out to an Infantry company on patrol maybe.....just maybe.....we could win the damn war. Oh well.
I think often of all that you did for us.....all that you meant to us: You came for our wounded. You came to get our dead brothers. You came....when the fight was over.....to give us a ride home from hell. There isn't a former Grunt alive who doesn't freeze for a moment and feel the hair rise on the back of his neck when he hears the whup whup whup of those helicopter blades.
What I want to say now is just between us.....because America still doesn't get it.....still doesn't know the truth, and the truth is: You are the cream of the crop of our generation.....the best and finest of an entire generation of Americans. You are the ones who answered when you were called to serve.....You are the ones who fought bravely and endured a terrible war in a terrible place. You are the ones for whom the words duty. .honor. country have real meaning because you have lived those words and the meaning behind those words.
You are my brothers in arms....and I am not ashamed to say that I love you, would not trade one of you for a whole trainload of instant Canadians.....or a whole boatload of Rhodes Scholars bound for England......or a whole campus full of guys who turned up for their draft physicals wearing panty hose. On behalf of a country that too easily forgets the true cost of war.....and who pays that price....I say Thank you for your service!
On behalf of the people of our country who didn't have good sense enough to separate the war they hated from the young warriors they sent to fight that war.....I say we are sorry. We owe you all a very large apology.....and a debt of gratitude that we can never adequately repay.
For myself and all my buddies in the Infantry I say: Thanks for all the rides in and out....especially the rides out. It is great to see you all gathered here for this reunion. A friend of mine, Mike Norman, a former Marine grunt....wrote a wonderful book called "These Good Men" about his quest to find and reunite with all the survivors of his platoon from Vietnam. He thought long and deep about why we gather as we have done this evening and he explained it thusly: I now know why men who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep.
Comrades gather because they long to be with the men who once acted their best.....men who suffered and sacrificed.....who were stripped raw......right down to their humanity. I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the military. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation.....the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made.....the reason we were so willing to die for one another.
As long as I have memory I will think of them all.....every day. I am sure that when I leave this world....my last thought will be of my family and my comrades.......such good men. I'm going to shut up now and let us all get down to the real business of drinking and lying.....er.....telling war stories.
Thank you. I salute you. I remember you. I will teach my sons the stories and legends about you. And I will warn my daughters never ever to go out with aviators......
Word to the wise, that last.