“Yesterday’s Memories Tomorrow’s Dreams” by Carmen Tom – Vietnam


Where is Vietnam, it is a small country in Asia, until the war between the south and north, which lasted from late 1964 to 1975, over ten years, few people had heard of this country. The way I got it, the war was supposed to drive the commies out of the country, which really never happened. The communists still rule the country. We do have a pretty good relationship with both the South and North. For over ten years our government tried to find a way to end the war. How many really understand why we were ever there? We lost over 58,000 men and women, the Vietnamese lost over two million. The cost of the war was in the billions, tax payers are still paying for that war. ??? and after the war inflation here went sky high. I remember buying a new ford for 3,000 dollars in 1964, after ten years it was worth 10,000 dollars.

In April of 1975 the U.S. forces fled Saigon, helicopters were flying the last ones out they were standing on the roof of the U.S. embassy. The Viet-cong troops entered just hours after we left. Why in the world did we ever get involved in the first place. Our government leaders, both parties, had got us involved in too many places we never should have been. What are we doing in Iraq? How are we ever gonna get out, without more of our men and women dying? Inflation again will start going up and up. Taxpayers will be paying for this war for years. In the end, will we have won, I don’t think so! I no longer trust our leaders of both parties and election is only a few months away. The big question is who are you going to vote for? I know who I’m voting for, Bush. I don’t agree with him on many issues, but Kerry sure doesn’t have an answer for anything. How can you be a Christian and believe in murder, which abortion is. Bush believes in god and he is not a afraid to say so. I can not and will not vote for anyone who does not believe in god and his laws, this would be men of both parties. The war with Iraq, I pray this is. As people everywhere want to be free and they should be. I still do not believe it’s the U.S.’s job to free everyone that should be up to the United Nations. That’s enough talking about the war.

In 1967, I was 41 years old, I had a wonderful business and family and was really happy. Never did I dream our government would be asking me to come and help them out of a big mess, one we never should have been in the first place.

I got a call one day from my old buddy Clarence, he was living in Texas. He asked me if I had a call fro the War Department. I told him yes, they told me they had also contacted you. He said they sure did, he told me they would be contacting both of us soon, and they sure did. They told both of us they had this special job they had to get done in Vietnam. But why us? They have all the men they need to do any job they want to get done. We both should have been suspicious right then. But like big dummies, we fell for their lies and trap. A Lt. Commander Warlick called us both and told us we would be it he M.S.T. and would be working with the Navy and Marines.

Clarence had worked at many jobs since I had last seen him. He was and still is a very brilliant man. He had worked as a motorcycle cop in Tennesee, he taught at a Lauge college in Texas, he worked with the EB.I. and also the I.R.S. He had worked at A Special Rescue work flying helicopters. I had not worked with Clarence since 1945, that’s a long time ago. We both had done special work in France and Japan at that time we were not allowed to talk about our missions for years. I had been living in Sough Dakota and North Dakota for a short time. I got married in 1949 to Donna, I went to school at N.D. School of Science in 1949 and 1950. In 1951 we moved to Seattle, Washington, we have lived here ever since, it is now 2004, we have been married 55 years. We have a beautiful two and half acre farm in Maple Valley and a beautiful winter home in Arizona. Quite a number of years ago I learned to fly helicopters, I just loved it!!! It cost $200 an hour to rent and I don’t go up much anymore. As I write this, my legs are both bad and I’m unable to fly or even ride my motorcycles. But I can ride my big motor scooter, I pray I will be able to ride a motorcycle again soon. Since 1946 I have worked at many different jobs, I was a boot maker for a few years and I worked at painting signs, this I really enjoyed. In 1958 I started a Motorcycle store, I just loved it! I continued painting signs for a few years. I did all our signs at the store, but by 1962 I was just too busy selling motorcycles so I had to quit painting. As I was working at the store Donna worked right with me, she did all the paper work and books, she sold parts, motorcycles, she could run the store if needed. She has been a wonderful wife now for 55 years. Now, I better get back to my story.

Lt. Commander Warlick explained to Clarence and me the job he had for us. It was Special Rescue work, flying helicopters in Vietnam. We would be paid really good for this work, the Army had lots, just too many choppers. Clarence had done lots of Special Rescue work in Alaska and other places. The U.S. Navy had this special work in Vietnam they told us they just could not trust the Army or Marine pilots to do this, we again should have been suspicious. Be we just couldn’t believe the government would be this dirty. The Navy sent us to San Diego, California for 2 weeks special training. We would be using _??? Choppers, these are slow, under powered, but they work good for this kind of work. We were now in the M.S.T. but most of our work would be with the Navy. We ate with the Navy, slept in the same tents, etc. Again Clarence said we should not have taken this job. We both agreed we would try to find a way to get out soon. We were too late, the next day we got our 1st orders. We agreed we got to find a way to stay alive and get back to the U.S. fast. But how? Clarence said we got about I chance in 1,000 of getting out alive. We were told we could never talk about this work for at least 38 years, why 38 years I never did find out. We both kept our mouths shut, till now. About 1:00 we got our first orders, we were to fly north from our camp and follow the river. One side of the river was a real high hill with a cave in the side by the river. Our orders claimed we could not miss the cave, they were right. As we flew low, close to the water and the cave, 2 men came out of the cave. They signaled I was to fly dose, about I foot above the water as there was no place to sit the choppers down. One man got into each of our choppers, we flew back to the camp, neither man would say one word to us. We both thought that was funny. We made it back to camp, no problem before we could get out of the choppers a Nave officer gave us our next orders and just said, go fast. We said we needed to gas up, he said, okay then leave at once. We got a chance to read our orders while the Navy filled our choppers. We read the orders, they looked about the same as the last one, only this time, fly down the river further until we see this island and get back to camp fast. I said to Clarence, there’s something funny going on here, any pilot could do this job, Clarence said this job sticks. We got in our choppers and lifted off, down the river. As we got close to the island, 2 men came toward the shore. We both noticed both men, looked real dirty and unshaved, their clothes looked old and worn out, the men had no shoes on. I thought to myself, these men could be prisoners, and they turned out to be just that. We found out later the North Vietnamese had been paid big money to get these men out of prison. I at once picked one man up, Clarence picked the other one up. We tiled to get high in the air fast, we got about 150-200 feet high when guns started going off. It looked like they were shooting at us, the sky was all lit up. We were both scared, but tried to gain altitude, just then I noticed my chopper had taken a hit, I kept flying. I noticed that Clarence’s chopper had taken a hit too, his chopper was smoking, it looked like it was on tire. We both kept flying as best we could, we both knew if we went down her it would be all over for us.

We got about 5 minutes out and the sky lit up again, it looked like lights at the 4th of July fireworks. We did get up to 500 feet, we kept flying back to wards camp. All of a sudden I noticed that Clarence’s chopper was going down, he had taken a big hit. I turned and flew back towards him, his chopper went down hard. I got as close as possible, I noticed that Clarence was wounded. bad, bleeding all over, the man he picked up was dead, most of his head was gone. How Clarence managed to get out only God knows.

Clarence got into my chopper, he had to sit on the passenger’s lap, we had no seat belts and he had to hang onto the passenger. I had a hard time lifting oft, it was real hard to get any attitude. It was especially hard with all the weight off to the side. It was very hard flying, the chopper kept wanting to go down. The highest I could get was 300 feet, my chopper started misfiring. I did not know what else to do but keep flying, if we went down it would be all over for all of us!

I thought if I could make it back to camp we should be okay, but it would be hard landing. Clarence said to me, old buddy you’re bleeding your arm looks real bad, I knew that as it hurt, but I had to use it to fly. My left leg was also hurting, I could not see if it was bleeding. Old Clarence was having a hard time hanging on, my chopper was misfiring bad and smoking. I looked at the oil pressure, it was way down, thats really bad, if the engine stops, we’re all done. I noticed the camp up at my front, I at once flew close as I could to the level area, I tiled landing my chopper, it hit the ground real hard.

Old Clarence fell out at once, he was bleeding bad, at once I shut the chopper off, it was smoking real bad, the engine sounded like it was ready to fly apart and gas was coning out. I said to myself I had to get away fast, the passenger was out fast. All 3 of us got as far away as possible from the chopper. The chopper blew up, parts flying everywhere. All most at once 10 – 15 men me to us, they all helped us up. Suddenly there was a 3 Star General that cam over to us, he grabbed my passenger and left at once, never said anything to any of us.

We were taken to a small aid station, a young doctor treated us, he got the bleeding stopped on Clarence, he was realty hurting and there was nothing I could do for him. A Major cam over to me and asked about my passenger, I told him the 3 Star General had taken him away. He asked about Clarence’s passenger, I told him he was dead, we left him on the ground. He said how do you know he was dead, I said his head was gone, I’m sure he was dead. He said don’t get smart with me, I’ll have your head also. I said sorry sir but I’m just telling you the facts. The men helped both of us into the back of an Army truck. The driver took oil at once, no one said anything, we drove for about an hour.

We finally came to a camp, they at once rushed us to a 50 bed hospital, it looked real dirty. The doctors treated our wound the best they could. One young U. said you’re both lucky, no broken bones, just flesh wounds. Another young LI. came over to us and I asked him if we could get something to eat, we haven’t eaten all day. Another officer a Major said, why should we even feed or patch you guys up, you both screwed up bad today. Clarence that was hurting pretty bad said, why because we screwed up 2 new choppers today and one man. We could see he was real mad, he said to hell with the choppers, it was the passengers we wanted. I said sir, we did the very best we could, we were under tire all day. He just said, you both get paid real good, you should be more careful not to get hit or hurt I kept my mouth shut, we both said no more. We both agreed this would be our last job working for the government.

The next day we were flown to a large Navy hospital ship. They had lots of doctors, they all took real good car of us, treated our wounds, etc. They fed us real good too. I said to myself I wonder what’s up? Almost at once we were taken into a large room with many high ranking officers, they questioned us for hours then finally left us alone. The doctors told both of us it would be months before we could fly again. We both agreed, now is the time to get out of here.

We have to find a plan going back to the States and find one fast, and we tried the best we could to find a way back to the States. I talked to a Lt., he tried to tell me something but I could tell he was afraid to say anything. I could tell he did not Ike his job and what was going on in Vietnam. Clarence and I were sleeping one night when the voice of the same officer woke me. I could hear him talking about the war and saying it was all about drugs and bid money. He thought we were both still sleeping. Another officer told him to shut up, you have said too much, you could get us both killed.
The next day we heard of a plane going back to the states, we immediately tried to find out if they had room for us. One officer said, yes we have to take care of you Navy men, I did not say anything, we were not Navy men, we were just given some Navy clothes to wear because we had lost our. We finally got on the plane, both of us said nothing, we let everyone think we were Navy and had been wounded, this helped us, as they always take good care of their own.

After a long flight, we landed in Los Angeles, California, got off the plane and walked away as if nothing had ever happened. We caught a Taxi to the office of the M.S .T., we told them we were and we would like to get paid for the jobs we had done. Some big shot Officer seemed to know all about us and what we had done. He again said, you both keep your mouths shut if you want to stay alive, you do just as you are told. We both agreed to say nothing and told the Officer that maybe someday you can use us again. One big Commander said, I’m the one that does all the hiring and firing, when you guys heal and can fly again, get in touch with me. We both played dumb and said sir, we sure will. But, when we got away and were by ourselves 01 Clarence said, are they crazy, do they really believe we are that dumb?

We said nothing for 37 years and this is why I wrote this story, now we could tell it all. When we did try to telling some high-ups they all just said you were both big suckers. They told us that what happened 37 years ago is history, who really cares? We tiled telling some reporters, they just said forget it, that’s old news and no one wants old news. So we just said nothing more.

It is now 2004 and we are both still hurting from that war, I am 78 years old and I forge how old Clarence is, but he’s up there too. We both still ride our motorcycles and have not ridden to Sturgis since 2001, but sure would like to ride one more time. I can’t fly anymore, my feet are both really bad, without good feet you can’t fly. Besides, renting a small chopper cost $200 an hour, that’s too steep for me. Clarence had to quit flying a few years ago, he’s lucky to be walking, he has been hurt just too many times. I still try to fide my bicycle 4- 5 times a week, but even that is hard to do. We’ll both just keep riding until God calls us home.

Clarence rode by our home here in Maple Valley just this past week, he had bought another BMW, a beautiful black 1100, only had 11,000 miles on it. He has 3 BMWs now, claims he’s owned over 50. A lot of people like to buy and sell a lot, he’s had so many cars this past year I’ve lost track.

The weather is beautiful here in Seattle and as I write this, it looks like we got 4 more good months of riding the rest of 2004. Then I’ll head south to our home in Arizona, one can ride there in comfort all year around. I thank God Donna and I have the best of 2 worlds, summers in the Seattle area with our family and winters in Arizona.

One Response to ““Yesterday’s Memories Tomorrow’s Dreams” by Carmen Tom – Vietnam”

  1. Dan says:

    I’m enjoying your stories. Thank You for your service Tom

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