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"It felt like you were leaving something behind, that you should have finished." (Video interview, 1:16:31)

   Kjell T. Tollefsen
Image of Kjell T. Tollefsen
Kjell Tollefsen [detail from video]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 188th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) (“Black Widows”)
Service Location: Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Wolters, Texas; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Benning, Georgia; Dau Tieng and Landing Zone Sally, Vietnam
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer 3
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The son of Norwegian immigrants, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kjell Tollefsen wanted to serve his country--and he wanted to fly. Enlisting in the Army granted both these wishes. By 1968, he was serving with the 188th Assault Helicopter Company, a unit nicknamed the “Black Widows” with a reputation for talent and aggression. Stationed first at Dau Tieng and then at Landing Zone Sally near Khe San, the Black Widows provided direct combat support, ferrying munitions, food, and troops to the bush and back, often coming under enemy fire. His interview is a highly detailed, evocative account of life in a helicopter unit: he describes being shot down, aircraft names, good luck charms, and the culture of adrenaline. Despite the grueling conditions, the bonds he developed with his comrades made it difficult to leave Vietnam at the end of his tour of duty.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (10 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (94 min.)
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»Vietnam War: Looking Back Part 4
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (10 items)
Motivation for enlistment; family background; sense of patriotism that came from parents’ immigration story. (01:14) Arriving in Vietnam; assignment to the 188th Assault Helicopter Company. (02:25) Experience of going on his first mission; taking fire; whole experience was overwhelming. (01:01)
Responsibilities of the 188th Assault Helicopter Company; daily duties; total number of missions flown. (03:16) Incident in which his aircraft was shot down while providing combat support for a special forces unit. (08:02) Flying “smoke ships,” helicopters that pumped out clouds of white smoke to provide a visual barrier when troops were delivered to a combat zone. (02:17)
Aircraft names; personal nicknames; good luck charms. (02:03) Adjusting to the constant stress; living on the adrenaline rush; instincts being honed; adapting and changing so that he was able to react quickly; becoming more pragmatic. (NaN:NaN) Feeling sad to leave his unit at the end of his tour; arriving in the US and facing protestors at the airport; making his way home. (04:17)
Thoughts on necessity of war in general and of the Vietnam War in particular. (02:44)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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