During one of my recent author journeys to Texas, I met Ray Ivey, Director of Administration for the Azle Independent School District in Azle, Texas. He had served in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, the first I’ve ever met personally, though I’ve had many friends who had served in Vietnam. He served in Vietnam from April 1969-April 1970 with the 189th Assault Helicopter Company, Ghost Riders, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group. As we talked, I concluded that he is one of the most genuine and personable administrators I’ve ever met. School districts that employ administrators like him are sure to do well and serve both students and community.
Mr. Ivey gave me a book entitled, Reach Out Your Hand: Touching People with the Love of Jesus. The stories in the book were compiled by Lewis F. Shaffer, a well-known local historian and author. The book contained a story he wrote, “Aircraft Down,” a true account, that I wanted to share with you in today’s blog entry. Ivey’s story in its entirety is lifted from pp. 108-111 of Shaffer’s book.
We got the call “aircraft down.” The recovery team scrambled and launched in our recovery helicopter within minutes. We were well trained for this mission, but this one had a new twist. We would have to go into the crash site on wire rope ladders. The training we had was in route to the site–about a thirty-minute flight.
Once over the downed aircraft, our bird hovered and we rolled out the ladders. As team leader, I went down first, swinging and swaying until I was on top of the downed aircraft. The trees, where the aircraft crashed were too high to allow our aircraft to hover any lower. With all my weight, I held down on the ladder so it would not swing as much, and down came my team members.
Wind and noise were detractors, but there was no sign of the enemy and having no enemy fire was a welcome relief in a touchy recovery operation. The area was secured by South Vietnamese soldiers in a security perimeter around the site.
One on the ground, we rigged the aircraft to allow a larger aircraft to pick up the damaged one as it hung below a larger aircraft, it would be flown as a dangling mass of metal to an airfield for repair.
We radioed that we were ready for the “big bird” to come in and pick up its payload. the call was answered, “Negative, Caretaker 6. No big birds available. we are coming in to pick you up. Aircraft pickup set for tomorrow.”
“Negative to tomorrow,” I said over the radio. “If we leave it here, Charlie will be ready for us tomorrow. Let’s reset some priorities and get the big bird out today.”
“Negative on today, Caretaker; the sun is setting soon and we’re coming in for you. The ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) will secure the area.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. “Charlie will zero his mortars and artillery for the pickup tomorrow; we put ourselves at risk; we put the aircraft at risk; we have to go now!” I shouted. “I am telling you . . .”
“Break, break, this is Ghost Rider 6. Cease and desist. Get on the aircraft and get your team out of there! Do you read me?”
“Roger. Caretaker 6; out.”
The pickup Huey was over us in seconds. Down came the wire rope ladders. As we stood on top of the downed aircraft, one by one the team climbed up as we held the bottom of the rope ladder to keep it taught. Then there was me, and I began to climb, but no one was there to hold the rope ladder taut. It began to swing and sway and was very difficult to climb. As the bottom rungs swung around, they caught on a piece of the downed aircraft,a nd I felt the ladder go taut and looked to see why. I could see the ladder start to slip, and I laced my arms and legs through the rungs and braced for the inevitable snap that could pop me off the ladder. It came and I held on but was totally drained of energy. Then sporadic enemy fire erupted and grew as Charlie took the chance to shoot down another Huey. The ARVN returned fire. Our recovery bird opened up with suppressive fire from their M-60 machine guns as our aircraft hung in the air like a sitting duck.
I motioned for them to fly, but they kept shaking their heads no ande waving me up, up, The battalion had lost a Recovery Officer in the past few weeks in a similar situation. Too tired to hang on to the rope ladder, he had dropped to his death as the aircraft tried to get him to safety.
But we were under fire. “Go! Go!” I screamed. heads were shaking “no” aned yelling for me to climb.
I climbed to within a few rungs beneath the skids of the Huey, but was totally drained and feared that without the strength to grip I would indeed fall the 150 feet to the ground. I once again locked my arms and legs around the rungs and screamed, “Get out of here! Go! Go!” as the exchange of fire increased. “We are all going down if they don’t fly,” I though to myself.
Heads kept shaking “no.”
SSG Getchy, my NCOIC, climbed out on the skids, knelt down as his one arm was held by team members in the aircraft, he extended his other arm to me. We overlapped arms and he gripped and began to drag me up, up and then pushed; I was in the aircraft. Away we flew.
I had swurvived that day due to the commitment of a few who willingly risked their lives to save me.
Don’t we have “people down” today in need of saving? I think that we are the ones in the aircraft looking down. We ahve the option to fly away to save ourselves or to choose to do some risky work, expend some of our resources, and reach out to life another life up. Will we do that? We are answering that question each day as an individual, as a community, as a state, and as a nation.
Will we overpower people with political, economic or military controlling forces? Or will we take the great blessing of God and overwhelm people with the sacrificial giving of Jesus Christ? Will we risk our lives for another? Christ did. He stretched out His hand and died to save me.
Join your church or the caring center in your community, or other groups that act in the name of Jesuis to reach out a hand in the spirit that Jesus was speaking of in Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV):
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see you ungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ”
Prayer: Thank You Father for what YOu ahve given me of Yours and the hope I have in You. Please strengthen me to override my needs for security in this earthen vessel in which I travel and give that which You have blessed me with to another who is in need. In Jesus’ Name, amen.