3/17 ARC Crest.Gif




Silver Spurs
A Troop, 3/17th Air Cav
Special Feature


In April 1987, the Rockford Register Star printed a series of articles courageously written by fellow Silver Spur - Dan Sutherland.

Dan served with the Troop as a Lift Platoon door gunner in 1970 and 1971 and like many of us then was just a young man who had recently graduated from the playing fields of high school to the battlefields of Vietnam. Fortunately, as a form of therapy after his return to The World, Dan put down on paper his personal experiences of war which has forever changed him. After seeing the movie Platoon a friend who was a journalist encouraged Dan to share his experiences and feelings with his community.

In 1987, the Register Star reported:

In 1987, the U.S. was sending advisors to El Salvador. It was Dan's hope to prevent another Vietnam. Perhaps his message is just as important today - if not more important - as U.S. troops are deployed around the world and as I write, U.S. troops are poised for another strike against Iraq for that country's refusal of UN inspectors to check for weapons of mass destruction.

This newsletter is not debating if such military action is warranted, but Dan's story - if nothing else - once again graphically illustrates that freedom is never free!

We thank Dan for having the courage to reopen his wounds and share those experiences with his community at that time and for sharing them with all of us now.

With Dan's expressed permission and profound gratitude we bring you a transcript of the series as it appeared in the Rockford Register Star in April, 1987.


Vietnam Relived...
by the Register Star - April 5, 1987

Vietnam Vet Tells His Story...

The Register Star -- April 5, 1987

Sometimes a story comes along that is so powerful reporters can't do it justice.

The only person who can tell the story is the one who lived it.

The Register Star begins publication of such a story today. Rockford carpenter Dan Sutherland was a youth of 18 when he was sent to Vietnam as a helicopter gunner in '1970. In the next year, he lived in a world of horror and fear and death -- day after day, night after night.

Sutherland, a victim of severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his combat, kept those memories to himself until he saw the movie "Platoon." That opened him up and he has been talking -- and writing -- about Vietnam ever since.

This is some of what he has to say.

    On surviving in Vietnam: "You didn't cry when you saw horror... I didn't cry when I pulled the shirt up over Lt. Ritchie's body. He took a direct hit with his head ... Our major said, 'Damn, we lost a chopper.' I didn't cry, but I almost turned my gun on our major for that."

    On fear: "Will anyone ever imagine how scared a person can be, or how much fear a man's mind can handle? I've been so scared I've eaten dirt. Just put my face right on the ground and started digging with my teeth. Find yourself in a mortar or rocket attack once and you'll know what I mean. I've prayed and I've sworn, and I've been humbled real quick."

    On survival: "In reality, we were outstandingly successful in the jungles of Nam -- we didn't all die."

    On life back home: "How could I describe what a family feels during mood changes, depression and abrupt withdrawals? How does a family handle a dad who has only three emotions -- sadness, guilt and anger?"

    On being a Vietnam veteran: "Every time you speak, you're labeled as a crazy Vietnam vet. I tell you, I have heard the screams and inflicted the pain and seen the death and no longer will I be silent about war."

Dan Sutherland's story, in his words, begins today in Section D of the Register Star. Excerpts will be printed each day through Thursday.

    TODAY: Tears were rare in Vietnam. There wasn't time. A soldier's job was to kill.

    MONDAY: Fear stalked soldiers night and day, and death was always close behind.

    TUESDAY: A day in battle. a day in a living hell.

    WEDNESDAY: Soldiers know the true meaning of rage.

    THURSDAY: The world takes on new shades of gray after seeing and feeling the horrors of war.


[Pictures as printed in The Register Star - April 5th, 1987]


Writing about experiences was therapy

By John Collinge

The Register Star -- April 5, 1987

When Dan Sutherland began writing his experiences as a helicopter door gunner in the Vietnam War, there was no pretense about having his story published or even showing the handwritten manuscript to another person.

Writing, for him, was therapy -- a creative outlet for exorcising the pent-up traumas of a war that he can't forget and many others don't want to remember.

It had been 17 years since Sutherland, a 35-year-old carpenter from Durand had confronted those 11 months and 20 days of non-stop combat. It took a movie -- the Oscar Award-winning 'Platoon' -- to prompt a re-examination of that suppressed nightmare.

"Too much has gone unsaid. But really, who wants to take the first step?" said Sutherland, apprehensive about the response his story might draw.

His biggest concern was the reaction of other veterans who, he feared, might see him as a prima donna claiming exclusive rights to the Vietnam experience. Sutherland says he does not consider himself a mouthpiece for Viet vets or an expert on what they went through.

He says he agreed to have his story published to promote public understanding of men, like himself, who still suffer the war from personal and societal perspectives. In a world where "Rambo" is the closest that many young people come to a depiction of war. Sutherland says it is vital that the lessons of Vietnam be remembered.

"I have to handle this very light, because I suffer from delayed stress and it's hard to deal with this in public. I have nightmares and sometimes have trouble functioning around people,' he said. "But it really bothers me that everybody seems to be forgetting about Vietnam."

'The recognition that 'Platoon' got was good -- long overdue. That's not enough, though. There are endless stories yet to be told."

Sutherland says he hopes and prays that it's not already too late..The day he submitted his manuscript to the newspaper, guerrillas raided an army base in El Paraiso, El Salvador, killing at least 43 soldiers and a U.S. military adviser.

Staff Sgt. Gregory A. Fronius, 27, of Greensburg, Pa., was the first American to die in battle in that country's seven-year civil war.

"It's coming along; Vietnam could happen again," Sutherland said. "It frightens me that they've got advisers down there in another civil war."

A winner of the Bronze Star and other citations for gallantry under fire, ·Sutherland survived one of the war's most hazardous combat assignments. The life expectancy for door gunners was not good, yet he escaped without being wounded.

"My mind's the only casualty," he said.

The experiences recounted in this series reflect his service with A Troop, 3/17th Air Cavalry, from August 1970 to August 1971. It was common for helicopter crewmen to come home with many vivid memories because of their constant involvement with "hot spots," or combat skirmishes, Sutherland says.

"Everyday was an adventure, but I don't say adventure in a positive way. Being in the air was a lot different than being on the ground because you could move around quickly. We were always at the hot spots," he said. "If something happened we were called."

"Vietnam was everyday, everyday. You could get rocketed, you could get mortared; everyday you were under the gun."

A graduate of Rockford West High School, Sutherland lives with his wife of 15 years, Vickie, two sons; ages 8 and l2, and a 14-year-old daughter. He says he agreed to submit his writings for newspaper publication after being urged to do so by Jack Broughton, a family friend and former journalist.

by Dan Sutherland - April 1987

Movie 'Platoon' brings back the horror...

The Register Star -- April 5, 1987

[Forward] -- Dan Sutherland of Rockford spent 11 months and 20 days as a helicopter gunner in the Vietnam war. Sutherland recently began writing about his experiences. This is the first of five excerpts that will be printed today through Thursday in the Register Star.

By Dan Sutherland

As I sat in the theater watching "Platoon," it was hard to control the shaking in my body as a tear rolled down my cheek. I recalled the horror of my 18th year.

Vietnam vets have kept quiet for so long. Myself included. The movie brought back the horror and the death.

I can only say I was there. And I only have to look into another vet's eyes to see that he has been there, too.

As I walked out of the theater, a woman looked at me with tears in her eyes. I had never seen her in my life. Our eyes met and she said, "Welcome home, soldier."

I turned as fast act I could and walked up the stairs, leaving my wife and friends behind. All night I couldn't help but wonder. Why did she do that? What did she see in my eyes? Another tear rolled down my cheek.
Thank you, lady.


The United Airlines pilot told us, 'That's it guys, the coast of Vietnam." I remember the breath-taking heat when we first landed. From the minute we stepped off the plane, the heat was unbearable.

We were taken to these buses which had screens on the windows. I didn't know what they were for, so I asked a guy next to me. He said it was so kids couldn't toss a hand grenade in on us.

Within two hours of being there, I was flying as a helicopter door gunner, behind a 60mm machine gun. On my first mission, I spotted green smoke coming through the trees and we landed in a clearing by a tree line. I had no idea what we were doing.

I recall so vividly seeing some movement in the tree line. As the movement got closer it looked as if a bunch of guys were carrying a couple of deer. Only when the boy's head hit the flight deck of my helicopter did my awakening become real.

The two "deer" were human beings. I came out of my shock to see that one boy had no legs and the other had no forehead. I can't recall being sick but do remember looking at them and wishing that they would just get up.

As we started our lift-off I looked at one of the grunts (infantrymen). He was looking right at me and I felt as though he was the devil. I cannot, no matter how hard I think, remember that man having whites to his eyes. He smiled at me and gave me a peace sign with two fingers.

I remember that night as though it were 10 minutes ago. I bunked in a little room made from rocket boxes and sandbags. I sat in there and I cried.


Watching 'Platoon' was the first time I cried again. In Vietnam, you didn't cry when you saw the horror. You ignored it. Your job was to kill.

You didn't cry when your best friend or crew chief bled to death and there was nothing you could do but look in his eyes and say goodbye. You didn't cry when there were so many wounded people around you that it stunk, when there was so much blood on the floor of your chopper that it was flowing out and the rotors were giving the chopper a paint job.

I didn't cry when they put a man aboard with no skin because he had been burned. Or when I looked at a man whose head was encased in melted plastic from his flight helmet.

I didn't cry when I pulled the shirt up over Lt. Ritchie's body. He took a direct hit with his head from an RPG (rocket launcher). No one else on board was hurt.

Our major said, "Damn, we lost a chopper." I didn't cry, but I almost turned my gun on our major for that.

I recall landing once as these three guys were walking toward my helicopter. They had their shirts off. We 'brought them some beer and mail. As they were walking toward our chopper, all of a sudden (as though God put his fingers down and plucked the middle man out) he was gone. Only his feet were there. Just his feet still in the boots.

I always wondered if that man had a letter in his sack. Needless to say, the dink who killed him died, too.


The compound is quiet. Everyone is asleep. It is an hour before dawn.

Suddenly, the silence is broken by a splashing roar that echoes out into the rubber trees. Somewhere, someone hit a switch and a horn starts its warning.

You come awake to see the flashing, and feel the ground shake. You start screaming, "Incoming!" and grab your rifle and bandoleer. Your heart is in your throat and beating fast. You have got to get on the perimeter.

Men are racing all around, screaming orders. Suddenly, you hear a 50 caliber machine gun start its deafening roar and M-16s begin to pick up the tempo. You pick up on a radio message ... Dinks are in the wire.

Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of a Cobra gunship racing down the flight line. You search the wire in front of you, keeping your hands on the claymore, praying it doesn't shake out of your hands. You are scared to death and, in a moment, you might be dead.

Suddenly the sky in front of you is broken by a Cobra, low leveling, coming in on your wire. Someone sets off his fu gas. The sky is bright with the flame, and then you see him.

Cong. Moving with his B40 rocket. You watch him with eyes like a cat. He is almost on your position. You have him right before you. It's do or die. Where is that Cobra? Your mind is racing wildly. You're half-praying, half-swearing. He has invaded your realm and that man must die. You do what is right. You push the switch and watch him come apart right before your eyes.

Thirty feet away, a human male is reduced to hamburger as hundreds of tiny metal balls hit him all at once (from your claymore). It's over. The noise is dying down now as your trance-like state diminishes. But like a vulture, you wait for more while your eyes frantically search the perimeter.

It's over. The ground attack has been repelled. Infantry are starting to race toward the Hueys sitting on the flight line. They are going out after the attackers.

You just lie back on the sandbags. It's your day to stand down. The sun is coming up, and you've got a whole lotta livin' to do.

As you take a deep breath and turn to go, you glance back over your shoulder once more to see the infantry guys moving slowly to that little man's body out there. You just walk away, glad to be alive.

Printed with permission of Dan Sutherland

Fear learned the hard way...
by Dan Sutherland - April 1987

Vietnam taught lessons soldiers can't forget...

The Register Star -- April 6, 1987

In Nam, many strange things happened. Once our infantry team was doing a sweep and they walked into an ambush. Seven men were wounded and one killed. One of my hometown friends from Rockford was in this ambush.

I was scared for my friend. I ran for the courier chopper assigned to take the equipment and men to that hot spot and told that gunner I was going in his place. In case it was bad, I would see Shaky's mother when I got home.

As we were flying to our destination, the infantry called and said they would pop green smoke where they wanted us to land. They told us that due to intense enemy fire, they weren't able to get our wounded yet, so we should just drop the stuff and wait for word to medi-vac.

All the while we were transmitting, the gooks were picking it up and so they popped green smoke and we started coming in. The place they popped smoke was all trees so the pilots told us to kick the supplies out and he called the platoon leader on the ground to find out why he didn't put us down in a clearing.

We started throwing the equipment out when all hell broke loose. The infantry man was screaming, "Abort! Abort! Negative Green Smoke!" The pilots were screaming for us to get on the guns. The other gunner and I scrambled into those gun mounts like squirrels in a tree and started firing.. Watching my tracers, I saw two NVAs go down. All of a sudden the windshield broke into a thousand pieces as rounds started hitting our chopper. The whole ground was nothing but muzzle flashes.

The infantry broke over the radio again screaming, "You're trailing smoke!" The pilots hit the guard button and started calling, "Mayday! Mayday! We are on fire and going down."

Our pilot started calling grid to our infantry telling them our location as the other gunner and I tightened our belts, waiting to crash. I found time to pray in all that, asking God to not let us crash in the trees.

As we hit a clearing, I was bent over in crash position. The pilots brought her down pretty good and we didn't hit hard enough to hurt us, although it did spread the skids.

Our pilot told us to get the 60s and flank the chopper. We all knew if the dinks had seen us they would coming to finish us. My crew chief and I were setting our places about 10-15 meters from the downed bird when we heard the whop-whop-whop of our unit's pink team.

The most heart-throbbing sight I'll ever remember as when five Cobra gunships topped that clearing. It was a sight to behold. They fired up the treeline as six helicopters loaded with infantry landed all around us.

I was never so scared and so happy all at once.


Will anyone ever imagine how scared a person can be, or how much fear a man's mind can handle? I will tell you how scared I've been.

I've been so scared, I've eaten dirt. Just put my face right on the ground and started digging with my teeth. I've clawed on a wall with my hands, trying to squeeze my body through the wood until I got slivers and tore off fingernails.

Find yourself in a mortar or rocket attack once and you'll know what I mean. A heartbeat so loud that it's blowing your eardrums apart. And a shake so bad that you can't stop vomiting.

I've prayed and I've sworn, and I've been humbled real quick. I've known the silence of fear and I've smelled the presence of death.


One morning, about 6 o'clock, our flight platoon sergeant woke us and told us to go to the flight line after breakfast and get our ship ready for a combat assault. I was lying there with last night's party still in my brain when I started hearing the rockets, a swoosh, and then boom.

My roommate and crew chief, Gil, came flying out of his bunk and started screaming at me to get down on the floor. I guess I didn't move fast enough, because frantically he hollered "Incoming! Get down NOW!"

I dived on the floor, and my first thought was to get to the bunker about 30 feet outside our door. I started to get up and run out the doorway. The noise was close and deafening. it seemed the whole earth was shaking.

Gil jumped on my back in a type of body block, still screaming at me to stay down. The look on his face was unbelievable. Still, something told me to get to that bunker. It was what they had trained us to do.

I low-crawled out into the hallway of our hooch. There were four men running out, also trying to make it to the bunker. I was looking at the doorway of the bunker. The last man cleared it and they were on the stairs when the bunker took a direct hit, killing all four men on the stairs.

I was first out the door and the sight I saw was not pretty. A man's chest cavity can be awful sickening. Two of the men died of massive head wounds and there were other men outside who were also wounded.

After the rocket hit the bunker, everything was chaos. There were fires and ambulances everywhere. Our flight platoon sergeant came running, telling Gil and me to get on the flight line now. All the helicopters were warming up and standing by for medi-vac.

The Air Force barracks had been hit bad. There were over a hundred wounded. The line in front of their mess hall had taken a hit and many of the tin quonset huts were hit, with men lying in their barracks.

One man had one hand gone and both his feet. He was smoking a cigarette with his good hand. He looked up at me; I will never forget it. He said, "I guess I'll be going home now." I nearly threw up. The other man had been sliced open and his guts were lying exposed under a sheet. He seemed dead...

We flew medi-vac many times that morning. One time I almost lost it. We had a man whose arm was gone and he had a chunk missing from his leg. The man screamed beyond description when the corpsman grabbed him and the stretcher and just threw him down the flight line. I wished I could have killed that corpsman, but I guess he was about fed up with all the pain and suffering that day.

I watched one amputation in our chopper. I was holding onto the plasma bottle and the flight surgeon was on board. He said I was to give him my flight helmet, and I said no, it was against regulation. He told my pilot and the pilot said I was to give it to him so he could talk to the hospital.

I was half berserk. He just cut off the man's leg. My crew chief Gil threw up and cried.


We were sitting on this road one day, waiting for our mission, when this little girl -- maybe nine years old -- started toward us. I moved toward my weapon, gently clicking off the safety. In Nam, we were real leery of children. They could be deadly.

As she came closer, I noticed she was limping, and I saw a bread bag around her foot. She had cut her foot on something and it was bleeding bad. The bread bag was bloated like a water balloon filled with coagulated blood.

I checked her out and tried to get her to let our medic give her aid, but she said, "No can do, VC kill family." She pointed at a C-ration can I had on my 60. I gave it to her and she limped over to two other children by this stump. I watched them for the longest time, and I remember thinking I would have killed her if she'd had a grenade. There was no doubt in my mind. I know I would have.

In Nam, you didn't choose your enemy. Your enemy chose you, and whether it was man, woman or child made no difference. It was part of Nam. Just the way things were.

Printed with permission of Dan Sutherland

Gunner and Viet Cong share picnic and moment of peace...
by Dan Sutherland - April 1987

"Why didn't he kill me? Maybe he thought I was too young.... maybe he was just tired and wanted to quit for a while" -- Dan Sutherland

The Register Star -- April 6, 1987

By Dan Sutherland

Vietnam to me had a kind of mystic attraction. Sometimes, I think because I saw her naked beauty beyond the war, she grew to own me.

Nam, in reality, was a paradise. Places I'd never dreamed of. There were temples hundreds of years old, painted really bright colors where Buddhist monks lived. Sometimes they were on jungle-covered bluffs.

We flew over a temple once and the Buddhists were outside moving logs with elephants. I was awed. After hundreds of years, to them, civilization didn't mean anything.

I saw those little brown people work all day filling bomb craters in their rice paddies, using handfuls of mud. I always admired the Vietnamese farmers with their ox carts and water buffalo. They had stamina, believe me. One time I saw a fisherman in this river. He was rowing his boat with his feet and fixing his net with his hands.


The base camp we worked out of was called Quan Loi. It had been a beautiful old French Country Club which sat on a large hill in the middle of a rubber tree plantation.

There was an old swimming pool surrounded by white columns and these were covered by thick vine roses. Next to it, up the marble stairs, were three tennis courts. One court had been hit with a bomb.

Off to the side of the tennis courts was a large building where sometimes I would stand looking in the windows. I could only imagine how it must have been to live there a long time ago.

There were huge columns and hand-carved stairs with balconies, verandas and stuffed animals of every species. The ceilings were high with paintings on them beyond your imagination. The floor was checkerboard terrazzo (black and white), highly polished.

It looked best in the morning, although I loved that place anytime of the day.

One day I took some bug bread (French bread), Spam and mustard, walked out into the rubber trees and had sort of a picnic by myself. As I was sitting there, this man came along and I nodded my head to this man.

He looked at me and cautiously came over to where I was. I pointed to the ground beside me and then to the big sandwich I had made from the bug bread and Spam. I took out my survival knife and cut it in half as this fellow and I stared into each other's eyes. We sat there for almost half an hour, eating and smiling, drinking two sodas I had brought along.

When we had finished our lunch, the man got up and pointed to our base camp. He said in English, "Go." I started to pick up my 16 (rifle) and ammo and he stuck out his hand. I looked at him, we shook hands and proceeded. I turned around to wave at him and, eerily, he was gone.

I thought about him before I went to sleep that night. I couldn't put my finger on it. What was so strange about that fella? Was it his smile, was it the fact no one was in the rubber trees but us?

As I thought, my heart began to beat frantically. That man was a Viet Gong. He was a point man for a VC patrol. How do I know? I was so wrapped up in my surroundings in the rubber trees, at having a picnic and just living, I failed to register that he had been carrying a Chi-Com pistol.

Why didn't he kill me? To this day, it haunts me. I will never know. Maybe he thought I was too young to die. Maybe he didn't want to jeopardize his mission. Or maybe it could have been that he was just tired and wanted to quit for a while.

What shall I say about that guy? I hope he made it and enjoyed many more picnics. It was a good picnic. We sat and enjoyed each other's company. I failed to get his name, but someday we will meet in heaven and enjoy each other's company again.

Printed with permission of Dan Sutherland

A Trip Through the 'Gates of Hell'...
by Dan Sutherland - April 1987

'Death in Nam was just a heartbeat away,' soldier writes, as he recalls one afternoon of horror...

The Register Star -- April 7, 1987

By Dan Sutherland

In reality we were outstandingly successful in the jungles of Nam -- we all didn't die.

Out in the jungle our bush soldiers were under stress constantly. They were driven and pushed by zealous officers, sometimes to the brink of mental breakdown.

Sometimes after we dropped infantry for a sweep through the jungle, a sniper would become attached to them, killing them at random. If they didn't find him and kill him, he would follow them and kill them. When you live in the sights of a sniper, you had better do some fast living because you ain't got long.

On top of that, you had bunker complexes and booby traps to contend with. It amounted to 365 days of trying to stay alive in a place where everything you touched was potential death.

I remember we used to joke about life expectancy, but in the bush it was no joke. If you screwed up, nine times out of 10 you never got another chance. Death in Nam was a heartbeat away.


Early in 1971, we began a series of major attacks into Cambodia, jointly planned and carried out by American and South Vietnamese forces.

Air Cavalry support was provided to South Vietnamese ground forces who crossed over the border into Cambodia.

I had been assigned as a door with the 3rd Squadron, 17th Air Cavalry. I was then just 18 years old.

Our unit received orders to rendezvous at a border base camp called Haymaker where we were to link up with a South Vietnamese armored brigade which was to proceed north and relieve the battle-weary soldiers under siege at Snoul, Cambodia. At Snoul, they were ordered to retreat south toward this armored column and to link up with them.

At Haymaker, the orders were given to begin the operation and the large column of infantry supported by the 5th Armored Cavalry Unit proceeded up the highway toward Snoul. They were to open the highway and make a safe route home for their beleaguered comrades at Snoul.

American high command gave strict orders that no American ground forces or advisers were to be used on ground operations -- an order that was never carried out due to disobedience and humanitarian reasons.

We were flying gun cover over the column, flying up beyond their rear. I remember the helicopters were as thick as bees around a beehive.

Our Kiowa and Cobra gunships were working the flanks of the jungle along the road. It was pretty heavy jungle on either side of it, kind of like a tunnel without a roof.

Armored personnel carriers (APCs) and tanks were each carrying 20 to 25 Vietnamese infantry soldiers. The column was moving fast and had no warning of what was to be their doom.

The NVA were dug in heavy on the side of the road and allowed the point vehicle to pass by. When the major part of the column moved in just right, the North Vietnamese hit them with everything they had.

Their trap was deadly, and I had a front row seat.

We were coming up the road, low leveling over the column, carrying some advisers to scout the road ahead with a Vietnamese colonel. Below us, not more than 75 feet, tanks and APCs began blowing up. Others were getting trapped behind crippled vehicles.

It was the beginning of the end for them. Tracers were flying everywhere. Armor was backing up and going forward, slamming into lame vehicles trying to dislodge them so they could somehow form a line.

Vietnamese infantrymen who were riding on the equipment ran desperately from the exploding vehicles. As I watched, trying somehow to shoot into enemy positions, I saw soldiers fall from the intense rocket and machine gun fire.

The officers and Vietnamese colonel on our ship were frantically trying to communicate to the ground forces, but everything was chaos, and they started screaming at the pilots to put them on the ground.

In a matter of minutes, 80 tanks, tracks, trucks and jeeps were sitting disabled on the red dirt road. I watched as 2,000 Vietnamese soldiers were running for their lives down the highway, some fighting back if they still had their weapons, with North Vietnamese regulars right behind them in slaughtering pursuit

Gunships of the "Blue Max" [2nd Battalion (Aerial Artillery), 20th Artillery - 1st Cavalry Division * ] were now arriving on this horrendous scene and they started to lay down a blanket of fire to cover the retreating Vietnamese. Some were shooting into the tree line, anything to stop the slaughter.

Back toward Vietnam, you could see the helicopters traveling back and forth, ferrying out wounded to the aid stations and re-arming their rockets.

At this time, about an hour into the battle, I had been carrying wounded. Several times I had to kick in the face Vietnamese who weren't hurt, because they were trying to climb on board with the wounded. Some of the cowards even fired on the door gunners who had thrown them off.

I had two inches of coagulated blood on my flight deck and still we were taking out wounded. I remember one American captain we picked up looking at me in shock. I had so much blood on me and my chopper, he threw up.

I don't think anyone can imagine the horror we saw that day. All day we were taking the wounded to the Loc Ninh hospital. That place looked like the gates of hell. There were wounded men everywhere and bodies that weren't bagged with tags on their toes and shirts.

Advisers were in shock. Men were crying. Medics and surgeons were giving up. We continued to fly all day and as the sun was going down, were ordered to fly back to our base camp.

I can still feel the air I felt that afternoon. Nobody was talking. Our chopper was a mess. It was quiet except for the whop, whop, whop of chopper blades. I remember looking at my body as though my eyes had left my head and were somehow looking back at me.

That night I laid on my bunk and thought about tomorrow. Maybe we'd fly dust off. Maybe we'd be shot down. That night, I thought maybe I'd just put a .45 in my mouth a blow my head off...

Printed with permission of Dan Sutherland

* - Webmaster's Footnote: From late April 1970 until the Troop's departure from Vietnam in 1973, the Silver Spurs were under the operational control (OPCON) of the 1st Cavalry Division. Records indicate not long after the '71 incursion above the Troop was moved to Lai Khe and Quan Loi security was completely transferred to ARVN.


17 years haven't erased the guilt, the Nam memories...
by Dan Sutherland - April 1987

The Register Star -- April 9, 1987

By Dan Sutherland

When I came home to the world, it never seemed quite the same anymore. Friends I had known didn't stay my friends. Neighbors had nothing to say to me, other than a stare, then a nod of the head. My brothers and sisters and I weren't quite buddies anymore.

I could never put in words how I felt the day I returned from Vietnam. After we boarded the plane, everyone was real nervous and deathly quiet. I think we all expected rockets to come slamming onto the runways at the next moment.

I remember the airline stewardess walked up to me and said, "Sir, would you like a pillow?" It was like I had gone nuts. She was smiling when she repeated the question.

Everybody was in the clouds when the airline pilot came over the phone to show us the coast of California. When the wheels touched the ground, the roar inside the plane was deafening. Guys were screaming and hollering, grabbing the stewardesses and throwing pillows.

It was over! We had come home!

As we went through the doors to the terminal, our happiness was torn from us. There was a group of hippies and they started pelting us with eggs and tomatoes. Some were spitting on us and screaming, "You murderers, you baby killers, you're our American Nazis."

Some of the guys began to fight back until the MPs pushed the hippies away from us. We were taken from the airport to the Oakland Army base. It took about eight hours to process out of the Army. We were given a free steak dinner and around $600.

In Chicago, it was the same thing with the hippies, only this time I was alone. I put one man up against the wall. I would have killed him, and he knew it, but we were both rescued by airport security. They ripped off my battle ribbons from my uniform.

My fiance picked me up at the airport that day.

How can I describe what a family feels during mood changes, depression and abrupt withdrawals? How does a family handle a dad who has only three emotions --sadness, guilt and anger?

I can see my family's caring and understand and I can hear my family telling me they love me, but still, I have something inside me which says never let yourself be put in a position where something matters.

Instinct of survival, perhaps. But I carry the burden of guilt for that on top of everything else.

Since I returned from Vietnam, there is not a day which goes by that I (and other vets) don't suffer greatly from that war. I live my life constantly with flashbacks and nightmares. Memories of events I have lived are brought back to be relived in my mind.

I have been diagnosed as having severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of heavy combat experiences in Vietnam. What it means to me is that, "He's seen his share of hell."

Vietnam was an experience of physical, mental and severe emotional trauma. Upon returning I found that the war, for me, wasn't over.

I am fortunate to have an intelligent and caring wife. Her sense of understanding and wisdom helped me beyond any detailed account. I owe her my life. Without her, my world surely would have crumbled.

I remember once going down by the river and sitting. I thought of before the war, and I thought of after. I thought about guys still in Nam and I thought of how I wished I was back there. I almost started crying there but I put it in my soul with the rest of the crap and it's been bottled up there ever since.


I sit sometimes and try to think of the day my mind will let go of the war. When I returned home from war, I wasn't some hero who had changed the course of history. Nor did I come back as some incredible survivor of that war in Vietnam.

I just came home, broke and weak. Sometimes, inside of my inner self, I feel that somehow I have escaped from hell, and as a result I am forever destined to live a life that has no meaning. Sometimes, I am confused and most always I feel alone.


The other day, my oldest son came to me while watching the news. He asked, "Dad, where is Nicaragua?" I looked at him and my thoughts went to another day, when I sat in the third grade of St. Anthony's Grade School, looking at a map of Vietnam. I recalled asking my teacher, "Where is Vietnam."

I turned and hugged my boy. I hugged him and I told him, "No matter what, you won't ever have to go there." I didn't tell my son about what is happening in Nicaragua, but like a newsreel, my mind started its never-ending film of bomb craters, tree lines, highways, villages, death and destruction.

Inside of me, I cried. Once more I was at the gates of hell. It has been 17 years since I left the battlefields of Vietnam, and still I cannot put the war of Southeast Asia behind me.

Printed with permission of Dan Sutherland

This concludes this series. Our most sincere thanks to my fellow Silver Spur Dan Sutherland for sharing. In 1987 his home town learned from Dan Sutherland. Now with his articles reposted here the entire world can learn the cold, harsh realities of war. Our generation was brought up with the tv shows of Combat and The Rat Patrol -- shows which depicted war in an unrealistic light -- where the "good guys" seldom died.

War, win or lose (if there truly is a "winner"), is a horrific ordeal for all those involved. Both for the combatants and the citizens - especially the children - of the countries involved. And through the courage of those like Dan perhaps one day when U.S. Armed Forces again answer the call those who serve in their hell will receive the debriefings and counseling they will need prior to being discharged. These are but a few lessons from the Vietnam war....

Poems by Dan Sutherland