On Vietnam Veterans Day, A Tribute to Those who performed the Most Dangerous Job

Published 12:28 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2016

by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

The jungle was thick, the heat insufferable, and the enemy fire never-ending.

During a particularly foggy day, one pilot had to trade out three separate helicopters due to damage from heavy enemy fire.  He counted more than 400 bullet holes in his choppers by sundown.

Despite the odds, an elite group of U.S. servicemen carried on performing what’s now considered by many to have been the most dangerous job in one of history’s deadliest conflicts.

The Vietnam-era ‘Dust Off’ crews, as they were known by their radio call sign, flew unarmed helicopter ambulances into hostile areas to rescue the wounded, providing critical emergency treatment as they evacuated troops out of harm’s way to medical facilities nearby.

The characteristic thump of the Dust Off choppers became a welcome sound of safety and hope to those in battle.  Although most wartime radio call signs were changed frequently to confuse the enemy, the Dust Off call remained consistent – those crews were too vital to the American effort to lose communication, even temporarily.

These four-man Dust Off crews bravely performed their mission in the face of terrible odds, which dealt them a one in three chance of being killed or wounded.

But it wasn’t for nothing.  We owe more than 900,000 lives to these crews.

Some of these Dust Off veterans have been recognized for their selfless dedication to saving American lives, even earning Medals of Honor.  All members of these heroic crews deserve to be honored, and I’ve introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would make this group of brave Americans eligible to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.

Texas is the proud home of nearly 1.7 million veterans – including many Dust Off crew members.  The remarkable story of the Dust Off crews is a truly Texas story – these heroic pilots were trained to fly at Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells and at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and the UH-1 ‘Huey’ choppers they flew over the jungles of Vietnam were proudly built in Fort Worth.

Of course, our state has a proud tradition of support and appreciation for all those who have served.  But this Vietnam Veterans Day, 43 years after the last American troops left that nation, we especially honor those 500,000 Texans who served there, the more than 3,400 Texans who died in the conflict, and the more than 100 Texans that went missing in action.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense is holding events all across Texas, including many in conjunction with Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29th.

So whether we honor these brave soldiers in person at one of those special events, with a private moment of silence, or by learning what those brave soldiers laid on the line for their country, on behalf of 27 million Texans, I want to thank those who served in Vietnam, and to all who have worn the uniform of our great nation.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.