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Interview with Galen Frederick DeGraff [10/30/2003]

Emily C. Smith:

This is Emily Smith. This is Emily Smith with Dr. Galen DeGraff. On...today is October 30, 2003 [3:30pm]. He was born on September 21, 1944 and currently lives at 3210 Noble Ave. in Richmond, Virginia.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

That's July 21.

Emily C. Smith:

Oh July, I'm sorry. [laughs] July, and we are in a lounge of the Business Department in Chandler Hall of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and, I just have a few questions to ask you [for the Library of Congress Veteran's History Project], what branch and rank were you?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I was with Army aviation and my rank was separations (?) chief warrant officer grade 2, CW2.

Emily C. Smith:

Ok, and you were enlisted, right?...You enlisted?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I enlisted. I volunteered, yes.

Emily C. Smith:

And you enlisted into what branch?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

The army.

Emily C. Smith:

The army.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I had been on a Navy Scholarship at the University of Virginia, but I had a motor cycle wreck...

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...which cost me the scholarship...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...and when I was patched back up again...I decided well what I really want to do is fly. I knew I was going to head into the military somewhere and I was very very draftable and I realized if I enlisted I would have some choice of what I got to do. And...so I was put together well enough to pass the marine corps flight physical but the (marcats) weren't taking anybody, so the army was and I enlisted specifically for aviation.

Emily C. Smith:

Oh I see. So that's why you went into the army?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I would have been drafted probably, otherwise.

Emily C. Smith:

Ah, ok, and where were you living at the time that you enlisted?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Charlottesville, Virginia.

Emily C. Smith:

In Charlottesville. Ok, and you were in the Vietnam War and what job or assignment did you have?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Well, after flight school, I went to the 11th combat aviation battalion and from there to the 173rd assault helicopter company in Lai Khe, Vietnam. They were known as the Robin hoods, and it was about just a few days before the TET offensive of 1968.

Emily C. Smith:

Ok

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

So I was a (combat), and I, this, this was a combat assault helicopter unit, their primary job was, unlike the Aircav idea, we were basically farmed out to carry troops in and out of combat zones.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And we were flying hewies D-model Hewies at that point. Later I flew some gun ships and after that flew battalion (?smoke ship?).

Emily C. Smith:

Ok, just to, so I can get an idea, have you seen the movie 'We were Soldiers'?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

No...

Emily C. Smith:

Does anything...because it...

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I have an autographed copy of his book because I was on a panel with Joe Galloway, and he addressed the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association of which I'm member once I, in July, I think it was of 2000...but no I haven't read the book [laughs]. I have an autographed copy of which I'm told is very valuable, but that, see, that, I believe that took place just before we were there.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm, ok.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And I was more interested in studying what happened during TET of '68. Ronald Spector's book, TET The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam, is probably a good description of what we went through. Lai Khe, Vietnam is about 43 kilometers up from Saigon, right next to the Hobo Woods and the Iron Triangle, which were big areas of battle just before I got there..

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...and of course during TET.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

It was really very near where the tunnels of Cu-Chi were located, and so that's the general area I was in, but no, I don't know 'We Were Soldiers'.

Emily C. Smith:

The only reason I ask, is there were helicopter pilots in that would deliver and then pick up a lot of the soldiers and I didn't know if that was in any way...

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

That's what we did, sometimes I took, you know, sometimes ten of them a day...

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...combat assaults, and you, the thing of it was they weren't all hot. Sometimes you get shot up and sometimes you wouldn't.

Emily C. Smith:

Yeah. It just seems, like, just that you were thrown into it. One minute you're just kind of flying around, and then you're just thrown into the middle of it. That's what the movie made it seem like.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

uh -huh EMILY SMITH : So

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Well, it was, I can, I can describe the first assault I made. There was a young fella. I was, when you, when you start out, everybody's watching to see whether or not you're a decent pilot so they always pair you up with a seasoned aviator, and you fly what's called a peter pilot seat. You see, we have in the helicopter, you have an air craft commander and a pilot. That way you can always log first pilot time which we all thought we wanted to get a lot of if we wanted to go fly for the airlines, you know, they don't count much for co-pilot time, but they count a lot for pilot time. So we could fly pilot, or you could go air craft commander, and the air craft commander of course was in charge. Well, the first person they paired me up with was Henry Perez. He was a young man who was going to come back in time for the 1968 election, but although he was old enough to fly helicopters for his company he wasn't going to be old enough to vote. He wasn't yet 21.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And as, we our job was to pick up some troops at a battalion headquarters and move them through a small village that was [pause] almost within hovering distance, but it was, TET was going on at this point. It had already kicked in, and, and the Vietcong had attacked this village, and so they were in the village and the tanks were outside the village firing in, and our job was to airlift troops and bring them around. So we, we took off, gained some altitude and then flew back around to come in to, to land.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And I looked down, and I noticed, I mean, this was quite a pitch battle going on. There was stuff blowing up all over the place and, and Henry says to me, "Well, here, do you have a grease pencil?" We all carried these little grease pencils that we could write stuff on the inside of the windshield, it was kind of like a handy (tablet). And he said something to the effect of, "Write A plus," and I did, and he says, "Now write a number..." let's just say it was 289.6. I wrote that down. He says, "now, that's my blood type, and if I get hit you call that radio frequency and they'll tell you how to get me to the nearest hospital. You have the aircraft."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Which meant, immediately I start to fly, and I'm thinking, "JESUS!"

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

"You're right in the middle of it now, sport." And we had to come in and land and I noticed as we were short (final) coming into to land, and I'm looking at this up here A plus [laughs] and this radio frequency thinking. "You know, I got nothing in front of me but a piece of Plexiglas and a little bit of aluminum that's about as thick as aluminum foil and they're shooting all around us, and you'd see tracers coming by. Cause they (?shipped?) at everything they were shooting at the tanks they swung up and shot at us, and there's these tracers coming by and they look about like basketballs, and there's some on one side and then there's some on the other and I know that in between each tracer there's four bullets. Of, you know, deer rifle size, and I'm thinking, "Well, here with a tracer on the right side, and now here's a tracer on the left and what happened to the four in between?"

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Damn, and I started to tense up and I knew I was tensing up and I knew I didn't fly very well when I tense up, and if I could see your pencil for a minute there. What they used to do in flight school, was if they saw student tensing up the flight instructor would probably tell the student, "Look you're getting white knuckles, loosen up you can't fly when you're tense." And the student would usually say, "Oh no I'm not tense. I'm fine." And so they'd give him a wooden pencil and they'd say, "Here put this wooden pencil in between these three fingers. Now fly." And the guy who's all tense would squeeze, and get tense again and then pretty soon snap that wooden pencil, and that's a pretty good indication. You try to do it, just this way without even, without thinking about it, it's hard to do. Well I saw myself getting kind of white knuckled and I thought, "You know, I'm gonna get tense. I'm gonna fly badly. I'm gonna wreck this damn thing and kill us all. I can't do anything about the bullets."

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

"What I can do is concentrate on flying this damn aircraft and land it like I'm landing on eggs and give these guys the best ride they've ever had." And I just, that was the first and most important lesson I ever got.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Ignore the damn bullets, you can't do much of anything about 'em. Take revenge as soon as you can.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

But you know, you can't, you can't let, you, you have to block them out. You can't let them distract you or you'll do a lousy job of flying.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh. That's true.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And I think that's what Henry wanted me to learn cause he gave me the aircraft first thing in. He had never flown with me before. He didn't know if I was a good pilot or not. I mean, he knew when I picked. Usually a pilot will watch the other pilot pick the aircraft up to a hover, and you, you know pretty much about their pilot technique and their, their touch, by how well they pick it up to a hover. If they're rough you'll see it right there. But you know, and he had of course a set on controls in front of him. The idea was, part of the reason you have two pilots in the air, if one of them gets shot the other one's got a set of controls he takes over immediately. So anyway, that, that was the most important early lesson I learned was just ignore that stuff. You can't do much of anything about it. If you're going to take one, you're going to take one, but you really have to concentrate on the flying. Clear your mind, and you're busy listening to about 4 radios and an intercom and everything else that's going on and it's crazy. So you really really have to focus your concentration.

Emily C. Smith:

Where were a lot of the, your friends, did you make a lot of close friends?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Oh yes

Emily C. Smith:

And where were most of the people that you knew from? Were they all over or was it just...?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Oh, let's see. I'm still friends with a bunch of them. We get together every once in a while, just Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, and we're all getting a little bit gray-haired and bald now, but..

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Joe (Harbison), my best friend, I went all the way through flight school with him. He was from Silver Spring. Art Price. [pause] Art Price, is a, is a real hero. Artie was, he grew up in the Bronx. He didn't even have a driver's license. He did well in flight school, and he ended up, at 19, cause he enlisted as soon as he could. At 19, he was leading a cobra fire team in the middle of the TET invasion. All the older guys got shot and here's this 19 year old kid leading two cobra gun ships into combat, and he didn't whine.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And he's still alive, and when we had that 2000 reunion we held our helicopter pilots reunion in Washington and we were given a permit to march in the Fourth of July Parade. Art and I knew each other from basic training. I didn't go through flight school with him, but we, we got reconnected again afterwards. He was walking along beside me on one side and Joe Harbison was walking along beside me on the other and we walked down Constitution Avenue and people clapped and said, "Thank you." And Art was wearing his black First Cav hat.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And he said, "damn," he said, "I never thought I'd walk down a street in Washington and have people say 'Thank you' and clap." And I said, "Aren't you glad you didn't wait for it?" So, Art was from the Bronx. Nowadays when my students complain about the difficulty of finance exam I sort of point out that at 19 Art didn't whine.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And, and, no, he was a, he was a legitimate hero. He was, he wonderful flying. [pause] There are several. (?Ed Dubs?) and I, well, we all went through, there were, there were several of us who reported to the same combat atta-, headquarters. Battalion headquarters, and, we were asked, "Are any of you want to go together someplace?" And we broke our first rule, which was never volunteer.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Because I said, "Well, Joe and I'd like to go together. We've been friends a long time." And, Al (Idom) who was a nice kid who made the mistake of showing up to flight school in a yellow corvette and they thought they had a spoiled rich kid of their hands.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

They always pick somebody and make an example of him, and then they wait to see if his friends would coalesce around him, and we liked Al. He was a good guy, and they'd keep messing with him, and so we'd help him out. You know we, they'd come in, in the morning for inspection during flight school and Al would get his display ripped up. They'd say, "There's water spots on that." You had a drawer and you had to put all your shaving gear and stuff in there and it had to be absolutely pristine, and if they wanted to they could screw with you all the time.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And they just were on Al like white on rice. I mean, they'd come in and rip up his display. So every night he had to rebuild his display, and we'd help him out because he was a good pilot. And Al said, "Well, he said, I thought." You know, and when you got demerits you had to walk guard duty lines and march, and wed joke with Al that he had so many demerits that when the primary flight school let out and the advanced flight school began, which was in Alabama, He'd have to walk all the way from Texas to Alabama [laughs] to walk off his demerits.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And so Al said, "Well, listen those two guys got me through flight school I better stay with them." Then Ed Dubs pops up and he says, "Hey, [laughs] wherever you send the three of them I want to go along just to watch." And I'm thinking, "Holy Cow, where do they need four pilots all at the same time? We just stepped in it."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And they sent us up to Lai Khe and sure enough, that unit had been ripped up badly.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And we had most of our aircraft were red-Xed, which means they were not flyable. Because the story I'm told the previous company commander, a West Point graduate and major, I'm told, had sent a bunch of, you know, flights of, we, we assaulted usually in groups of five helicopters. Well he sent flights of five after flights of five into an unprepared landing zone as they got shot to hell he circled around at 3,000 feet writing himself up for a silver start award for having participated in this fantastic action. The guy was crazy.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And he was killing a lot of people. We had a guy, one of, one of our people got a congressional medal of honor, one of the crew members for what he did in that landing zone. I helped write him up.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Anyway, that's another story. So we get there, and they've got a lot of shot up aircrafts and they're down at least four pilots, and sort of thought, "oh boy," and then just a few days later the TET invasion began, and it was shooting up all around the place. I mean, it's like the country went wild, cause they invaded and they were everywhere, and well, making along story short about TET, you know, its. I read The Tunnels of Cu-Chi, a book by some British authors written a number of years after the Americans had left Vietnam, and they said, "You know, it's amazing thing about the TET offensive. About 60,000 of them were killed. They came in, yes. They came into Saigon. They took over Wei. They assaulted all the little provincial capitals, but they didn't leave." We must have killed somewhere around 50 to 60,000 of Vietcong, but at the same time that was happening the American public said, "Oh my god, they've gotten into Wei. They've gotten into Saigon. We must be losing the war." And Westmoreland wants more troops and the British writers were saying at the very moment that we had the thing won militarily, because after that they had to bring in all the North Vietnamese...

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we had just about wiped out the Vietcong, according to them. At the very moment we had that going, the American public had lost the will to fight. [pause] And we used to joke, years later, and say, "You know, I don't know what you guys did, but we were winning when I left."

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Anyway...have I answered your question, I sa-

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You're reminding me of things and ...

Emily C. Smith:

Oh that's fine.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...it's just sort of strain of consciousness.

Emily C. Smith:

That's the point...Did you keep in touch with your family, while you were away?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Oh sure. I sent letters and tapes and slides home, you know every week about.

Emily C. Smith:

Did they send you anything?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Oh yeah.

Emily C. Smith:

Was it easy to receive packages?

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Yeah, yeah they'd send me cookies...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...and mom used to send me Almond Rocha, I remember, she'd, she'd wrap, see the trick was if you were sending anything delicate you'd send it in popcorn and then we'd eat the popcorn when it got there. We got packages from home, care packages from home.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I mean, one guy got a whole bunch of, he was a fan of salamis.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

He loved the stuff. An Italian fella, and his family just sent him all kinds of salamis and we'd just have a big old party.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You know, things were not...the aviation part was not, the living conditions were not bad. It was one of the reasons I chose aviation. My father had been naval officer in the Second World War, and he said, "Son, you know, the navy treats it's enlisted men a lot better than the army treats it's officers." But, I realized one of the nice things about aviation, or two nice things. Once the aircraft lifted off the ground, if you were the aircraft commander you were the boss.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And I told a General to roll his sleeves down and he got all upset so I put him out.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

When that thing's in the air, I'm the boss. [pause] The other nice thing is that you get some nice living conditions. See, you get to fly home at night if you live, and we had six people living in these big sixteen men tents, and we them divided up into little apartments. Six little apartments in this huge, we called it the circus tent.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And, we'd have ammo box armoires where we'd nail them up, and, you know, the rockets used to come in these big boxes and we'd just nail the boxes, and we could make bookcases and, you know, stereo cabinets and we'd line them with newspaper so when the dust season came the dust didn't get in there or if the helicopter landed close by it didn't blow dust all over the stereo gear. Everybody had a real good stereo and everybody had a real good camera.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And most of us were carrying AK-47 weapons cause when they got dirty they'd still work. Well, we carried them until one day people came in and said, "You know, we've got a crew..." I don't know whether it was CBS or NBC News "...coming to fly with us tomorrow and we're gonna take them out. Not into real dangerous areas. We don't want to loose any of these fellas, but, all those non-issue weapons you're all carrying, well, if they saw those they would, it would fuel the M-16 controversy." You know, the M-16 was highly unreliable.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

That's why we didn't carry them. And they said, "So, we don't' want to add to that problem. We have policed up all those non-issue weapons you have and we will be issuing you M-16s tomorrow morning." And this perfectly good AK-47, Chinese Communist Assault rifle I had, suddenly I didn't have it anymore.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

[laughs] And, and, we lost a lot of really good weapons that way.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Well, I'm sorry, your question was...

Emily C. Smith:

I was just asking about what it was like living around there.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Oh, living.

Emily C. Smith:

...and care packages and your family.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Yeah, we got care packages and we had the big tent and we each had a refrigerator and...to keep our beer in.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

We had an officer's club that was very nice. I, we had Vietnamese women who did our laundry and washed. We called them hooch-maids. They would sweep out the tents. The tents all had wooden floors in them, a little bit primitive, but not too bad. You, you learn not to trust the water.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I, I got some water in my ear one day when I was taking a shower, and it was non-potable water. You couldn't drink it, and the next day I have an ear infection.

Emily C. Smith:

Oh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

So you had to watch out for that kind of stuff...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...but other than that. We had a very nice officers club. See, the Robin hoods were a famous group.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

They had put together, some of the people who had been there before I did, had put together a folk singing group.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And this folk singing group had worked their way up and been heard about and been on the Ed Sullivan Variety Program on television.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

So everybody knew who the Robin Hoods were and we'd throw a party, we'd put out the word down in Saigon, you know the Robin Hoods are having a party. Be at such and such a landing zone. Now, a (Schanook) helicopter will carry about 40 combat troops.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

It'll also carry about 40 nurses and assorted females.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

So we'd just say they'll be, we used to, we used to bring nurse in by the (Schanook) load and have big parties. I mean, we had air conditioners every few feet along the wall, some of them illegally obtained, and, we'd just have a big ole party. So if the word went out the Robin hoods were having a party, we had a party. And so we had a big officers club, fully air-conditioned. Booze was cheap. Guys would play cards in the evening. You know, we, if we get through the day, the drill was, you were, you know, usually pretty tired and sweaty. So you'd go take a shower, put on fresh fatigues, or flight suits and go to the, the, mess hall, which had sand bags up to about four feet all the way around the edges, and, and, eat supper, and then we go over to the officers club and drink and play cards or carry on, which ever you want to do, lots of times I'd go back and write letters or I had other things I was doing, but, the problem was that with TET, this location that was out in the middle of a rubber plantation 43 kilometers north, northwest of Saigon was rocketed just about every day at lunch.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And supper and breakfast, and so, if you heard the rocket land, and, and they just, they you know they weren't particularly aimed very well. Sometimes if they mortared us, yes, they could, they could nail specific helicopters, I've seen that happen when we had a bunch parked there that wouldn't fly and then there was one in the middle that would, they would hit it.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Because they had the hooch-maids, we catch them walking square corners. We knew they were pacing off.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Because, you know, they came in from the nearby village and, we knew that, if the VC grabbed her kid and held a knife to her throat and said, "Look, you know, you make, give us the distances or we cut your son's throat." They knew that would happen, and we knew they were doing it. But, that was just the kind of war it was.

Emily C. Smith:

Yeah.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Or you'd find your unit barber who was a Vietnamese guy, you know, who was just being a barber to earn money. We found him dead in the wire one morning. He had been sneaking in at night trying to, he was a VC. He was a barber because barbers listen to guys talk and they pick up a lot of information while they're sitting around waiting to get their hair cut.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...That may give you a little bit of a picture. I mean, first of all you didn't trust anybody who was Vietnamese.

Emily C. Smith:

Yeah

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Well, I mean, you could be nice to them and all that, but you really didn't trust anybody because they were playing the kind of war where they weren't wearing uniforms and those VC didn't come running at you in black pajamas. Some of them of course were.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

It, it, it made you feel like, its its, it was like the Revolutionary War only we were the British and they were the Americans hiding behind trees.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And they were good. I had to admire them. I mean, if you want to get a feeling for it, read Tunnels of Cu-Chi. They were, they were excellent. They could, you know. The interesting thing was, when they tried to kill us, they were more interested in disabling the helicopters than they were in killing the pilots. They would, when they started to rocket or mortar they'd go for the flight line first.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

They never understood it took a lot longer to make a helicopter pilot than it did to make a helicopter.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And if you heard the first rocket land you'd just dive for the bunker. Get under those sandbags, and you might make it.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

We went through months of that. Morning, night, noon, and you got used to it, and I remember one day a new pilot came into the company and he was sitting sorta like you are across from me, and we were sitting at the mess hall eating supper and I said "Well, listen, by the way, when they rocket us tonight, you know, you just dive for the wall."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And he thought I was the old guy pulling his leg.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Giving him a bad time, and the first rocket hit [KAWOW!] and...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...and he ended up on top of me and he was closer to the wall than I was. Cause he didn't know what to do and I dove right through and hit the wall. You just learn this is what you do.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

If you hear the first one, it means it didn't kill you...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And you'll probably be undercover somewhere...living conditions. So you could live reasonably comfortably. The flying, I mean, that's what we were all there for, was to fly.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Forgive my language, but I remember we were sitting around the officer's club one night saying, what we, actually when we were in flight school and we had a bad day and the instructors were really pushing us, and you know, later having been a flight instructor I know why. They had a limited amount of time to get us ready to go to Vietnam, and if we weren't making adequate progress they'd really stick it to us. And we were sitting around, and, at that point we were non-commissioned officers. We hadn't been made warrant officers yet. You got that when you graduate from flight school, if you graduated. And we had all been having a bad day and I remember sitting there in the NCO club sipping a beer and saying, "You know, why are we working so hard to go over to Vietnam to get shot out of the sky?" It was sort of like asking about the right stuff, you don't talk about that. I was just pissed at that point, angry, and we knew we were all going to Vietnam. That's why were there, and some voice in the back says, "Cause I want to fucking fly."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And that, somebody said, "Yeah, that's right." And that was it. We all went back to just drinking beers. Said, "Yeah that's right. That's why were doing it."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

So forgive my language, but that was the answer we got, and that was it. I mean, everybody there was there voluntarily. They wanted to fly, and I met very few of the people in that program. Most of them had a little college. They were sort of bored with it. They wanted an adventure, and this was, well, somebody once described it as, you know, this was, Vietnam was the Olympics of my generation and helicopter pilots were the first team. I mean, we, we had to carry those troops in, but, by God, we got them out.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

They thought we were crazy. We knew what we were doing, and, and we knew that we could do it. It's, it was exciting. I don't think, I mean, I think one of the reasons I went on to graduate business school and went on to get a PhD was that I didn't want Vietnam to be the biggest thing that ever happened to me...

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

but it probably was.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Getting a PhD was a big deal, but, and I love, don't get me wrong, I mean, I love what I do, but I knew if I kept flying, sooner or later I'd probably have an accident. I was just very very fortunate, and when, by the time I got done I think I had about 1500 hours of combat time and another 1500 hours of instructor pilot time, which was also dangerous in it's own way. Students periodically tried to kill you thinking they were doing something brilliant, but, I'm in one piece with no holes. I've been scared to death, but I'm ok. You know.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And so, I'm, I'm very fortunate. I had a good war. I, I've been shot up badly, damn near killed I don't know how many times, but just, you know, [knocks on wood], I thought, "Maybe I better quit while I'm ahead." And then, I had to leave the reserves. When I came back out I finished my duty, and, I'm jumping way ahead, but I flew reserves for a while, but when I went back to graduate business school, they said, "Well, we notice you're flying reserves." And, I said, "Yeah." And they said "Well, have you completed your military obligation?" I said, "Yeah, I've served out my time." "Oh well, in that case, we consider this, you know, supplemental employment and you can't be employed while you're going to this school."

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

"You'll have to leave the reserves."

Emily C. Smith:

hmm

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

"Now if you need some money, we've already given you a full scholarship to this magnificent graduate business school you're going to. If you need some more money we'll make you low interest loans, and I still had some GI-bills that I was living on, and I was married at that point and my wife had a job. Well, she was a PhD candidate so she was working and teaching, and so, I had to leave the reserves.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Probably just as well. I mean, it's, I kind of miss, you ask me if I made friends with people, I mean, I met a lot of really nice, good comrades, and, see, that's the thing about a war. If you don't get killed, you have some [laughs] tremendous experiences and you meet some real neat people under very very stressful circumstances and you form tight bonds.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You know, and, I mean, here we are 30 years later as really tight friends, and every one of them knows. We got a rule. Somebody gets wild and crazy, the rest of us go get him out, and that's kind of good to know.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And, that applies now, and these are people that you can count on because they've all been shot at, and there's people, I mean, I don't know if my brother would do that.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

[laughs] So yeah, it's, but obviously, there's combat. I'm talking about the good side of things. I mean, at one point, we were hit badly during that TET invasion, very early on, and they hit the ammo dump. See, we were right across the, the runway from the headquarters of the first infantry division, the big red one. It was a big red (?) post, and we were told to scramble the helicopters, to get them out of there because we were under a lot of bombardments. Take them, to fly out and get down the battalion, and this was at night, and I'm brand new over there. And, so they paired up a lot of people and I did happen to be paired up with an aircraft commander. So I was one of the last to get scrambled and they said, "Well, listen, you go with this other fella. You're both Peter Pilots, but you'll find your way down to the battalion." And I didn't even know where the hell it was at that point, and it's at night. And they said, "Well, we've got this one aircraft that, has just been made flyable, barely, so it'll fly all the way down to Phu Loi, the headquarters. Take it. Go." So we got our gear on. We run out to the flight line. Rockets are going off all over the place.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

The, the ammo dump is across the runway from us, and it's exploding. There's shit going off all over the place, and we jump in the helicopter. We got it cranked up. We hover out and we had to take off down the runway right past that ammo dump, and I remember thinking, "It would just be my luck if one of those big (Howercher) shells cooks off and blows us right through us. Cause we're flying through all this shit that's blowing up all over the place, and we got airborne, and sort of breathed a sigh of relief and we, we drove up and sort of figured out, "Well we'll go up here a little ways, get some altitude, and we'll look for some lights and maybe we'll find Phu Loi."

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

[laughs] And about that time I heard the crew chief sort of whimper and I looked over and a jet aircraft was peeling off like this. So close to us that you could read the numbers on his wing.

Emily C. Smith:

Wow

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

He was on a bombing mission and we'd flown right into the middle of his flight path, and he just swooped off like this. He damn near killed us.

Emily C. Smith:

Oh my God.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And I thought, "Man, this is so chaotic. How in the hell am I gonna live through a year of this?"

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

It's not gonna happen. I'm a dead man at 23. EMILY SMITH [laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

[laughs] Well, we made it of course.

Emily C. Smith:

Yeah [laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I'm sitting here telling you this, but, I mean, it was so close. That poor crew chief had seen him coming. He hadn't even been able to press the foot mike and say, "Jesus Christ, turn left or something." It was just [WHOOSH]. The guys peeled off and it was so close, we were running, I could read his numbers in the glow of our running lights on the helicopter.

Emily C. Smith:

Wow.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

He was that close.

Emily C. Smith:

Wow [laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You know, yeah, we've had a few close calls.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs] Well...

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Anyway...

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I'm sorry, let me answer your question.

Emily C. Smith:

Oh that's fine. That pretty much answers any kind of questions I really had. Got a good idea of the whole thing...I do have the release form for you.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Yeah, I want to tell you one other thing.

Emily C. Smith:

Ok

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Is, if you want to make a comparison to artistic works, the, what was the movie, 'Platoon'?

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You know, I think most all that stuff probably happened, but not to one guy.

Emily C. Smith:

Yeah, I have seen 'Platoon'.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And the one bone I have to pick is, remember when they were taking off and the good sergeant had been left behind - END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE; BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE.

Emily C. Smith:

Let that little part go...ok...

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Ok, well, what I started to say was, that, I guess I'm telling you war stories and I don't mean to, but I can-, you sort of can't help that.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

And it, it makes. That, that my bone to pick with that movie is that I don't know a helicopter pilot alive who would have left that guy down there on the ground. That was wrong.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

We'd have gone back to get him. We didn't leave anybody, and if necessary we'd have gone back in to get the body if we could.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

If we couldn't get in, if we were very grossly over powered, I could see leaving a body there, but we wouldn't have left a guy alive on the ground like that. Not when they saw him running.

Emily C. Smith:

hmm, uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Yeah, so, that's one thing that the, the, the soldiers appreciated. I mean, you had to go in, sometimes into triple canopy jungle that was on fire getting shot at, and pick these guys up and get them out. That, but they appreciate it.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

It almost made up for the fact that we took them in there in the first place.

Emily C. Smith:

[laughs]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

You know. Now, so anyhow, the, this, you know that's sort of some vignettes about Vietnam. After that I went to battalion headquarters...after 7 or 8 months or flying combat assault they found out I had some business training and they wanted me to use it in another capacity on battalion staff, and then I came back and I spent two years as an (instrument), flight instructor and then an examiner, which was a whole different kind of flying. And I wanted to do something very different than Vietnam. I didn't want any, I had heard about people having flashbacks and other crap. I, they said of the groups that were in Vietnam, the pilots are probably the ones that had the least problem of adjusting to the concept of Vietnamization because whether we were carrying freight, or American troops, or Vietnamese, we were still doing our flight mission. We didn't get screwed up. You didn't, I didn't see any drug usage while I was over there except among a couple enlisted men.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Because you can't fly drunk, much less stoned or out of your mind on something.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...So that must have come along later. I have a friend who's a marine who saw bad drug usage along about 1971/72, but by that point, you see, they realized they weren't trying to win anything, and you can't send guys into combat not trying to win.

Emily C. Smith:

uh-huh

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

...It, it, does change things. I mean, I think one of our big lessons was don't send the troops unless you want to turn them loose. So.

Emily C. Smith:

Ok, well, here is a pen for you.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Ok. I have one.

Emily C. Smith:

You can just read over the...oh ok.

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

Now what is this... [signing paper]

Emily C. Smith:

[drops something]

Galen Frederick DeGraff:

I guess you can turn that off, huh?

Emily C. Smith:

Oh yeah, very much so. [laughs]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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