When His Sister Came to Vietnam, This Door Gunner Left the Central Highlands For a Rare Family Reunion


On a typical scorching and humid Vietnam afternoon in July 1966, I used to be on a piece element at An Khe base camp, the house of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) within the Central Highlands, once I was instructed to report back to the orderly room tent. The corporate clerk instructed me I had a cellphone name from Capt. Kelley in Nha Trang, a coastal metropolis to the south. I picked up the handset and stated, “Hiya.” On the opposite finish of the road was my large sister, Joan Kelley, an officer within the Military Nurse Corps.

“Michael, that is your sister. I’m in Vietnam, and I need to see you as quickly as doable. Over.” When utilizing a tactical cellphone, you needed to say the phrase “over” after a whole sentence. I used to be very stunned to listen to Joan’s voice. I had not seen her since Thanksgiving 1964, when she was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. I used to be then a pupil on the Military Aviation College at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Joan had despatched me an airline ticket so I might spend the weekend at her off-post residence for a Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, who was staying with my sister for just a few weeks’ trip.

I instructed my sister that I didn’t know once I might go to Nha Trang to see her as a result of I used to be on flight standing as a helicopter crew chief and door gunner. Getting out of fight obligation was not simple. I instructed Joan I must request some go away from my first sergeant. We had a superb chat for a couple of minutes, after which I needed to get off the cellphone. “OK Joan, I’ll do my greatest to go to you quickly. Over.”

I requested to see my first sergeant to use for go away: “Prime (slang for first sergeant, the highest sergeant in a company-level unit), I would like three days’ go away to go to my sister down in Nha Trang.” The grizzled sergeant gave me a chilly stare. “Kelley, it is a rattling fight unit, soldier, not a rustic membership,” he stated. “We don’t have time to be screwing off on go away until you’ve gotten orders for some R and R. In addition to, your platoon is brief on manpower, and if you happen to’re not on obligation your fowl is not going to be flying on fight missions.”

“OK, Prime, I perceive the state of affairs. If you are able to do something for me to get a while off, I’d respect it very a lot.”

Capt. Joan Kelley poses with Michael at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio once they acquired along with their mom for Thanksgiving in 1964. He was at Fort Rucker, Alabama. The 1966 assembly was the primary time they’d seen one another since then.

“I’ll take it into account, Kelley,” the sergeant replied. “I’ll let you understand if I can do something for you. Now, get out of my workplace and get again to your element.”

Months slipped by as I acquired nearer to the tip of my tour of obligation and return to the States. By early November, I used to be frightened that I’d not get to see my sister. My unit had a brand new first sergeant, an enormous man from Samoa, who appeared like a bear however was as easygoing as a favourite uncle. With all of the braveness I might muster, I went to see the brand new high sergeant to seek out out if I might go to Nha Trang. With none fuss, he instructed the corporate clerk to fill out orders for a three-day go away for Nha Trang.

Off I went to the An Khe airfield to catch an Air Pressure C-130 cargo aircraft to the Nha Trang Air Base. It was a couple of 45-minute flight down the coast to Nha Trang, a ravishing metropolis on the South China Sea. The very first thing I noticed have been the little islands off the coast that appeared to have excessive mountains lined with jungle. It was improbable.

I noticed an Air Pressure snack bar and went in for a chilly drink and meals. The place had nearly all the things you can need: chilly beer, chilly soda, scorching canine and burgers. We had none of that in An Khe. These Air Pressure guys positive had it good. I ordered a chilly soda and a burger whereas two airmen entered the snack bar and sat subsequent to me. “Hey soldier, I see you’re with 1st Cav. How is the warfare going up north?” one among them requested.

“Yeah, I’m with the Cav,” I replied. “We maintain fairly busy up north.”

“What are you doing down right here?”

“I got here right down to see my sister on the area hospital.”

The airman instructed the prepare dinner they’d decide up my tab as a result of I used to be with the Cav. I instructed them they didn’t have to do this, however they insisted. After I completed consuming, they requested if I wished a experience to the primary gate to get off base. I climbed onto the again of their large blue Dodge airport pickup truck with the yellow “Comply with Me” signal on the again. As we rode down the road we handed a row of Douglas AC-47 planes on the upkeep ramp.

“Is that Spooky?” I requested them. They stated it was Spooky, the nickname for the AC-47 gunship. I requested them if I might get a more in-depth look. They drove their large Dodge onto the airfield and parked subsequent to a Spooky. Mechanics have been across the aircraft, and the man in cost stated I might test it out. I acquired my 35 mm digicam and commenced taking photographs of the well-known plane I had seen in motion up within the mountains. This was an superior fowl with fearsome miniguns that would wipe out a Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Military firm in 10 minutes. After I had my fill of the Spooky, I acquired again within the Dodge.

The airmen took me to the primary gate and dropped me off so I might stroll into city. However I didn’t stroll. A jeep stopped, and a full colonel driving it provided a experience downtown. He noticed my Cav patch and requested what unit I used to be with. I instructed him the first Squadron of the ninth Cavalry Regiment. “You should be one among Jim Smith’s boys,” he stated. Smith was my squadron commander, a lieutenant colonel. It appeared like my Cav patch was getting me a variety of perks, free meals and free rides.

I met up with my sister, “The Captain,” and he or she took me to her base on the eighth Subject Hospital in a child blue civilian jeep with just a few of her nurse mates. Joan launched me to her first sergeant who offered me with a bunk in a big World Warfare II-type Quonset hut barracks. He had just a few medics on non permanent obligation elsewhere, which meant there have been some empty bunk beds within the hut. Vietnamese ladies labored contained in the hut to maintain issues clear. I used to be shocked as they polished my boots, washed my uniform and made my bunk mattress, identical to resort maids. Up north, the Cav didn’t enable any Vietnamese on our base. We have been area troopers, who did our personal cleansing and slept in soiled sleeping luggage.

My sister took me to a seaside French restaurant for a pleasant meal. I don’t recall what I ate because it was all French delicacies. Joan ordered all the things, and I simply ate it. It positive beat the hell out of C rations beef stew and scorching canine and beans. On the stroll again to Joan’s villa, jeeps and cargo vans handed by and the troopers gave us a salute. I saluted again. My sister acquired upset with me as a result of I used to be not an officer. However my uniform made me appear to be a younger officer pilot—sleeves rolled up over my specialist 5 insignia, white air crewman wings on my cap and left pocket, and the gold 1st Squadron, ninth Cavalry, crest on my cap. I used to be having a ball as a result of enlisted males don’t stroll with nurses, so the troopers thought I needed to be an officer. It was so humorous.

Joan invited her nurse mates and a few docs to her villa for a celebration. I used to be the one enlisted particular person there. I used to be like a fish out of water. They have been amused that Capt. Kelley had a child brother who was an enlisted man. My sister was 31, and I had simply turned 21. These nurses have been removed from the true warfare and residing on their good base. It acquired late, and my sister instructed I keep in a single day and sleep on the bunk mattress of a nurse who was on night time obligation. I went to sleep on clear sheets and a pillow. After I wakened within the morning, I assumed I used to be dreaming. The sheets had the scent of fragrance and never the musty odor of my soiled sleeping bag.

When our “rendezvous in Nha Trang” was over, it was unhappy to say goodbye to my large sister. I’d quickly be going residence as my tour ended, whereas she could be left in Vietnam for an additional six months. She stayed within the Military for 26 years and retired as a chief nurse colonel in 1986. I stayed in for over 22 years and retired as a grasp sergeant. We expect we could have been the one officer and enlisted brother and sister to serve in Vietnam on the similar time. V

Michael L. Kelley served in Vietnam December 1965-December 1966 as a helicopter crewman in a weapons platoon on a UH-1B Huey gunship and later in a scout platoon on an OH-13S Sioux statement helicopter with Troop C, 1st Squadron, ninth Cavalry Regiment. Postwar Kelley was a contracts manufacturing specialist for the Protection Logistics Company, assigned to the Raytheon Missile System Division in Massachusetts. He lives in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

This text appeared within the February 2022 concern of Vietnam journal. For extra tales from Vietnam journal, subscribe and go to us on Fb.

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