Hard Landing

The worst moment in my life was a hard landing at Danang, Vietnam in early 1968. On a normal day, the only bad result would have been my obligation to pick up the bar tab at the Tuy Hoa Officers Club that night. But this was a special trip. We were carrying wounded GI’s from Dong Ha to Danang.

Dong Ha was a postage stamp strip just 5 miles from the North Vietnamese border. That area of Vietnam is oddly like an English moor, rolling grass plains and few trees. At night, they lit the 2,600 foot strip with those little round kerosene lamps they used around construction sites through the early 50’s. Dong Ha was a place where a wounded soldier, minutes from the field, would be transferred from a helicopter to a C-130 rigged to carry 72 litters, plus medical staff. We could get them to Danang in 15 minutes and the worst cases would be put on another chopper for a three minute trip to the hospital ship in Danang harbor. That afternoon, I was told as they loaded on the litters at Dong Ha, we carried a kid with a sucking chest wound.

I normally had no trouble landing the C-130 – John Robb will confirm that it’s a tractable, responsive and forgiving aircraft. But every pilot just gets it wrong once in a while, and we typically made a dozen landings a day, so the law of averages caught up with all of us every month or so. But at Danang? Jeezus, the runway’s 2 miles long and 300 feet wide and it was broad daylight. It was just a bonehead mistake. The landing was really hard. Not a bounce, there was no airspeed left to afford that, just a crunch that would make you wonder if the gear was OK, if you didn’t know how tough these planes are. Normally, the crew would have burst out laughing, having a good-hearted guffaw at my expense – just one more of the many delights of hauling stuff around Vietnam, since most of our cargo was things, not people.

But today no one said a word. No doctor running to the flight deck to yell at the miserable clod who just jarred the teeth of all the people in back who still had a face. No conjecture on how was the kid with the sucking chest wound. I’ve done a lot of things to regret, but nothing as irredeemable as that hard landing at the wrong time.

The Kids Matter

I was reminded of that moment when I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 this weekend. Michael Moore’s purpose is to shock us with the images of our guys and their people maimed and killed by the carnage of war. He’s been criticized by those who think he went too far. Those of us who’ve witnessed the combat know that Moore understates its effects. If he aired more extreme footage for three hours, he’d still understate the horror of those scared, confused and suddenly mortal 19-year-olds, whose lives will never be the same.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

– Dwight Eisenhower

That is why combat veterans don’t talk much about their experiences. Only distant observers like me, witnessing the action from on high or the results lying in the cargo bay, can even broach the horror. We’re silent not because we’re strong but because we cannot comprehend how stupidly the inexperienced bulk of society speaks of war as a rational option that we’re entitled to use on people the way a company might launch a hostile takeover: Boys with tin soldiers, attempting to seem grown up.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

– Dwight Eisenhower

Ah, some say. You’ve been scarred by an unfortunate personal experience that blinds you to the necessity of expressing America’s rights in the global arena. We honor your experience but not your conclusions. Like history’s great leaders, we must wage foreign policy with the objectivity demanded of real adults like us. Why else would we be in power, if we were not a better judge of international realities?

You do not lead by hitting people over the head-that’s assault, not leadership.

– Dwight Eisenhower

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

– Dwight Eisenhower

We merely want to live in peace with all the world, to trade with them, to commune with them, to learn from their culture as they may learn from ours, so that the products of our toil may be used for our schools and our roads and our churches and not for guns and planes and tanks and ships of war.

– Dwight Eisenhower

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

– Dwight Eisenhower

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they never existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book

– Dwight Eisenhower

I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.

– Dwight Eisenhower

I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.

– Dwight Eisenhower

Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and co-operation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.

– Dwight Eisenhower

No easy problems ever come to the President of the United States. If they are easy to solve, somebody else has solved them.

– Dwight Eisenhower

12:51:35 PM   ]

 

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