As the U.S. solemnly remembers the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, one highly decorated veteran has helped us to remember the sacrifices made by military air ambulance crews during the conflict.
In Dead Men Flying: Victory in Viet Nam, Medal of Honor recipient Major General Patrick H. Brady (Ret.) tells how U.S. humanitarian air medical evacuation efforts originated and eventually played a critical role in the Vietnam War.
These aeromedical missions were not limited only to rescuing American soldiers, but Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as well.
The heart of the U.S.’s airborne medical evacuation efforts in the war was comprised by the operation Dust Off, a very dangerous helicopter rescue operation. Each air medical crew in Dust Off consisted of four people: two pilots, a medic and a crew chief. Gen. Brady headed the 54th Medical Detachment, which was directly responsible for saving the lives of literally thousands of enemy and friendly personnel.
During his two tours as a helicopter air ambulance pilot in Vietnam, Brady rescued over 5000 wounded and flew over 2500 combat missions. For this, he is identified in the Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War as the top helicopter pilot in the war.
Gen. Brady received his Medal of Honor for a series of rescues during which he used three medical helicopters to rescue over 60 wounded. According to the Citadel, at the end of the day, Brady’s aircraft had over 400 holes from enemy flak and mines.
The sacrifices made by helicopter rescue pilots and military air medical crews has occasionally been overlooked in historical accounts of the conflict in Vietnam. In the midst of the killing, we sometimes forget the efforts of those who navigated incredibly hostile skies aiming to preserve lives on both sides of the conflict.
Air ambulance ops played a major role in boosting the morale of U.S. soldiers. In addition to (and because of) air medical crews’ unequaled ability to fly into battle zones, heal the wounded and preserve lives, they are still just as critical to troop morale today.
Following its institution, Gen. Brady had to hold his ground to maintain Dust Off’s autonomy as a separate military unit. Even today, controversy continues as some in power want to take away air medical units’ ability to operate as separate military units, making Brady’s experiences all the more relevant today.
Dead Men Flying (released October 18, 2012) is an insightful chronicle of air medical operations during the Vietnam War, complete with tales of sacrifice, courage, and above all human compassion that should be of interest to all history buffs and air medical personnel, military or civilian.
You can find Dead Men Flying: Victory in Viet Nam at Amazon.