Honor Flight Keynote Speech (3)

Continuing the text of my 11 May keynote speech:

After U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1973, I was named the head of the covert NSA operation in Vietnam. I was still there on 29 April 1975, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. I had succeeded in getting all 43 of my subordinates and their families safely out of the country. The night of 29 April, in the pitch black and pouring rain, the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. I escaped in a little Huey helicopter. No sooner were we airborne than I saw the tracers coming at us. We took so much lead in the fuselage I thought we were going down. But we made it. I flew out to the 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea.

The pilot headed straight for the flag ship of the 7th Fleet, the Oklahoma City. In the dark and pelting rain, he flew over the ship and circled. And circled. And circled. Finally, he went down very slowly and landed on the flood-lit helipad of the ship. He told me later that he, a civilian Air America pilot, had never before landed on a ship.

Aboard the Oklahoma City was a young Marine lieutenant named Ed Hall. Ed is now the commander of this American Legion Post, 156.

As a result of what I went through on the battlefield and during the fall of Saigon, I developed an acute case of something we didn’t have a name for back then. Now we call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). I had all the classic symptoms—panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and irrational rages. I call it “injury” rather than “disorder” because it’s so obviously the result of an external wound to the soul, not a case of the mind internally going awry.

What made it worse was that, starting in about 1968, as I returned from Vietnam, coming in with the troops landing in San Francisco, personnel on the plane warned us to dress in civvies so that people wouldn’t recognize us as returning troops. It didn’t work. Time after time, we were met by angry mobs who spat on us and called us “baby killers” and “butchers.”

More tomorrow.

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