The Vietnam War was ended before Congressman Mark Amodei reached draft-eligible age, but nonetheless he is pressing for recognition for one special group from that conflict.
He testified before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee recently in support of H.R. 4298, the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Memorial Act. He said he introduced the bill to honor the nearly 5,000 helicopter crew members who died while serving in Southeast Asia by placing a memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
“I’m working a deal where the folks at Arlington National Cemetery told the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association — about 10 percent of the casualties in Vietnam were helicopter pilots, crew members, medics, other folks — told them, you can’t have five square feet for a memorial for those folks who died in the helicopter war,” Amodei said in a recent interview.
The Secretary of the Army declined the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association’s proposal for a memorial and instead granted the VHPA a tree marker, which Amodei said has never been used to honor a common sacrifice of this magnitude.
In the past 25 years there have been four memorials erected at Arlington, the congressman said, adding that he understands not everyone can have a memorial erected, but in Vietnam the helicopter was the iconic technology of the time and the crews of those helicopters suffered a disproportionate share of the deaths.
The memorial would be for all branches of the military because all employed helicopters for various purposes, from close air support to deployment to rescue. He said the association is only asking for a square foot for every 1,000 people they lost.
“Can you imagine how many names aren’t on the wall because of the work these guys did?” Amodei asked. “Not just rescue, not just medevac, but close air support, resupply … they affected all aspects of combat operations.”
During my year in Thailand working on McNamara’s Wall inside an air conditioned building on a computer the size of my house, the most danger I was ever in was the potential to fall in the Mekong after drinking too many Singha’s at Johnny’s Ice Cream Parlor in downtown Nakorn Phanom. (“Johnny” kept the beer in the ice cream freezer.)
But a couple of hooches over were the Jolly Greens — the bravest, craziest and hard drinkingest SOBs in the Air Force. Their job was to fly helicopters into Laos and beyond to rescue downed airmen from the three-tiered jungle by parajumping down a cable suspended from their hovering helicopter, often while under fire.
The Jolly Greens had several beer-filled refrigerators outside their hooch. It was the cheapest beer on base. They reportedly dipped the feet of short-timers in green paint to leave footprints on the ceiling of the officers’ club. Not being an officer I could not attest to this. Those whose time was coming to an end would boast of being short-timers: “I’m so short I can’t see over the top of my boots.”
I think they deserve a bit of recognition.
Amodei’s remarks to the House Armed Services Committee starts at about 6:00 and lasts about five minutes:
The following video was posted by a Jolly Green who was at Nakorn Phanom about the same time I was:
This video has footage of an actual rescue: