America’s most decorated living veteran is presenting a radical new perspective on the Vietnam War with important lessons for American foreign policy today.
WND books is reissuing “Dead Men Flying – Victory in Viet Nam, The Legend of Dust Off: America’s Battlefield Angels,” by Gen. Patrick Henry Brady and his daughter, Capt. Meghan Brady Smith.
Gen. Brady, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, contends that America’s greatest victory in Vietnam was humanitarianism.
As commander of the 54th Medical Detachment, Gen. Brady led his unit as it rescued over 21,000 wounded – enemy and friendly – in 10 months, while sustaining injuries that resulted in 26 Purple Hearts.
It’s a story that Gen. Brady says has been all but neglected as many historians and pundits seem determined to view the Vietnam War as a terrible American crime.
By contrast, Brady provides many examples of how American servicemen and medical personnel risked their lives to care for the Vietnamese people. They also brought new technology and technical know-how to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese civilians, including introducing basic dentistry and solving protein deficiencies among the children.
Brady also tells the forgotten story of America’s indigenous allies in Vietnam, including the Montagnards, a fierce warrior society that lost half of its adult male population in support of the American effort in Vietnam.
Most importantly, Brady tells the story of “Dust Off,” the helicopter rescue program that achieved legendary status during the Vietnam War because of the willingness of pilots to prioritize rapid reaction time even in the face of extreme danger.
Maj. Charles Kelly, the almost mythical father of “Dust Off,” set the example of the heroic creed of the air ambulance program. Kelly had to fight both on and off the battlefield to secure the position of “Dust Off” as an independent and autonomous unit with its own moral code that put patient survival first.
Kelly died in combat after flying into thick enemy fire. His last words, “When I have your wounded,” set the example for everyone who was to follow.
Brady and his fellow pilots spent the remainder of the war trying to live up to Kelly’s standards. Brady himself personally rescued over 5,000 wounded in over 2,000 combat missions.
He credits his survival in the war to God.
He says, “I cannot emphasize enough the role my faith played in any success I have had.”
When flying helicopters into almost zero visibility, with death all around, Brady says “God’s good will” was indispensable in coming out alive on the other side.
Unfortunately, Brady’s thrilling tale of courage and faith in Vietnam has more troubling modern implications. He contends that the U.S. Army has forgotten lessons that so many died for.
“I am afraid that Charles Kelly is turning over in his gave,” writes Brady.
The Army has placed the “Dust Off” mission under the control of Combat Arms Aviation. This means that “Dust Off” operations have lost their autonomy and are subject to a torturous approval process before missions can be launched.
According to Brady, risk analysis is prioritized above reaction time and the “Golden Hour” that is critical to the survival rate of wounded soldiers. Most importantly, the essential creed of “Dust Off” is being compromised. Current pilots see the problems but are afraid of speaking out because of repercussions.
For example, a wounded soldier was left overnight in the cold on a mountain in Afghanistan, even though the enemy was on the other side. Even relatively safe rescue missions are not being approved. “Dust Off” helicopters are also the oldest in the fleet with potentially deadly consequences for troops.
Brady contends that the main problem are “obsessive command and control issues and ignorance among the ASO (Aviation Staff Officers); the lack of a champion and leadership in the Medical Corps are contributing favors.”
High ranking officials, including four-star generals and senators, have heard the about problems but seem unwilling to do anything that will actually solve them, he said.
Brady calls for a return to the founding principles of “Dust Off,” with air ambulance operations prioritizing saving patients and wounded soldiers above everything else, and with specialized pilots and equipment wholly dedicated to a medical mission.
“Dead Men Flying” is not just a revisionist look at the Vietnam War. It’s a combat thriller, a testimony to the power of faith, and a powerful challenge to the political and military leadership of the United States that is repeating the mistakes of the past.
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