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  • Writer's pictureSusan Reetz

Letter from Jim, a Vietnam Veteran

young U.S. Vietnam War soldier poses in tent
Jim Daniels poses in tent

As a combat veteran of Vietnam, I returned home and didn’t talk of my experiences for many years, just as my mother and father, veterans of WWII, did before me. My mother was a nurse aide in New Guinea, my father a marine and veteran of the battles of Bougainville and Iwo Jima. Yet, no stories of theirs came forth, and oh how I forever regret not having asked.

I was in the jungles of the Central Highlands. The terrain was tough. We moved every day. We were filthy, thirsty, and rarely saw a Firebase. We got clean clothes thrown from a chopper door once a month and we never took our boots off, day or night. It could be peaceful one minute, the next we’d be in a full firefight. It was quite the existence. But the average grunt respected only two things. Our medics who seemed to have no fear when shit hit the fan, and the helicopter pilots.

The pilots of the Vietnam War were everything to the men on the ground. They brought us our food, ammo, replacements, and our mail, always placed in a bright red bag… and as that distinctive ‘whomp whomp’ sound of the chopper approached the perimeter, the first thing we all looked for was that red bag. But those chopper pilots also meant hope. Besides bringing things in, we counted on them to take things out. If one of us was wounded, you knew a chopper would get you out. If you were in a battle, you knew choppers would soon be there. When your tour was done, a chopper was the first step of your journey home.

The pilots that flew those helicopters were every soldier’s hero, along with the medics on the ground. I saw pilots maneuver their craft into impossible situations, on the side of steep hills where the grass was being mowed down on one side, and soldiers climbing in on the other, to small jungle clearings where branches were explosively disintegrated by their blades. They would do anything to get to us. Pilots were our saviors, and their stories need to be told.

As a VFW member, I’m proud that our Post 8280 has contributed towards the production of “Honor in The Air” and the telling of Scott Alwin’s story. His heroism is worthy of being told, worthy of sharing, worth an individual chapter of the Vietnam War, worth talking about a real hero.

Having worked on many occasions with Sue Reetz as a writer in my pre-retirement television occupation, I know for a fact that Scotts’ story will be told in the way that it should be told. I know and trust Scott’s story is in good hands.

I must add that to this day, nothing takes me back, nor snaps my memories to my time in Vietnam more than the sound of those helicopters…. Sounds which are heard, and felt, long before the helicopter is seen. Captain Scott Alwin was a pilot’s pilot. Scott wasn’t a hero. He IS a hero. And, as long as his story can be told, he lives on.

Jim Daniels

SSG U.S. Army 1/12th Inf Regiment – C Company 1969-70 (

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