SERVING OUR VETERANS: A Vietnam veteran—one of our own
As a young boy growing up in Pierce County, North Dakota, and graduating from Rugby High School in 1964, Tim Paul narrowed his future down to two options. He could go to college or end up in the draft. He chose going to college. But, it didn’t take long to realize the college route was not for him, plus his draft number was rather low (125). Leaving college, he knew his draft notice would be on its way. To avoid being drafted, Tim took a trip to Minot to see the Army recruiter. The recruiter at that time was Larry DePriest, also a Rugby graduate. In Tim’s words, “he worked out a plan for me not to become a ground pounder in the infantry.” Tim chose a military skill of becoming an aviation mechanic, working on helicopters, specifically the Huey, the single rotor helicopter, and eventually working his way up to a crew chief on Ch-47 Chinook, a dual turbines system helicopter.
Basic training began in January 1967 at Fort Lewis, Washington. In the two months there Tim said he saw sunshine on only two days, with fog and rain the rest of the time. As all servicemen know, basic training was hard work with extensive physical training to get young recruits ready for the next step of their journey. For Tim, it was off to Fort Eustis, Virginia, to start helicopter mechanic school. This next phase of training began by working on single rotor aircraft. Some his training unit, including Tim, were chosen to work on multi-engine, tandem rotor helicopters like the CH-47s. From first becoming a mechanic to eventually a crew chief was Tim’s path. Other courses were taken to familiarize oneself with all-system and air frames of the A and B models.
After graduating, Tim’s class was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, to put together a Chinook unit for build-up for service in Vietnam. It was not all training during this build-up time. Tim and a couple other soldiers got to coach Little League softball on base. The first company group went on to Corpus Christi, Texas, with the helicopters, along with pilots and some flight crews. The rest, including Tim, left for California and took a ship, the USS John Pope, for a 29-day trip to DeNang, South Vietnam. From there it was on to his home base at Chu Lai, as the 132nd Aviation Merical Division.
As a Chinook unit, their job was to supply two sister units in the field with ammunition, food, water, mail and other essentials needed for survival in front-line combat operations. Tim’s unit was also responsible for recovering shot-down and damaged helicopters and hauling the 105 cannons to where they were needed. For Tim, the 1968-1969 Tet Offensive was the worst part of his tour. Picking up soldiers who had been on the front line for a month was difficult to witness, as their clothes were in tatters and many were almost shoeless.
When his year of duty was up, Tim spoke of the pride that had developed in his 132nd Aviation Company. During their year in Vietnam, his unit never lost a helicopter and all 126 soldiers in his company that went to Vietnam came home. It was the first aviation company to achieve this. For his service in Vietnam, Tim was awarded by the President of the United States, an executive order, to receive the Air Medal for “Meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial flight, in support of combat forces in the Republic of Vietnam during a period 29 July 1968 to 12 January 1969. By his determination to accomplish his mission, in spite of the hazards inherent in repeated aerial flights over hostile territory, and by his outstanding degree of professionalism and devotion to duty, he has brought credit upon himself, his organization, and the United States Army.”
One of Tim’s most demoralizing incidents occurred when he left Vietnam with his unit and flew into the Seattle airport. There they were greeted by anti-war protesters carrying signs and calling them “baby killers.” In Tim’s words, “they felt like 3rd class citizens. There were no words of thanks for keeping war in another country.” Returning discharged Veterans were just sent home with no re-adjustment counseling. Fortunately, Tim was able to step back into civilian life with relatively few negative impacts. This was not the case for many of his comrades. Later in time, while in Las Vegas this really hit home with Tim. With emotion, Tim talked of seeing many homeless veterans suffering from PTSD and addiction problems. Many would not even follow through on picking up their VA compensation checks for service connected disabilities. “It was just a very sad situation,” says Tim.
In spite of these situations, Tim says he still feels “it was an honor to serve my country and keep my homeland safe. I am proud of those I served with and who we are.” When I asked Tim what he attributed to his successful life, and the successes of other combat veterans, he responded by saying, “It is because of work ethic, upbringing, family and being acquainted with good people.” I believe it is for these reasons, that veterans like Tim have done so well. They were able to obtain these instilled values and associations because of the support they had while growing up as residents of Pierce County and the state of North Dakota. It has always been part of our heritage and our legacy to demonstrate our patriotism, love of country and to support those willing to defend and preserve our freedom. So, we are grateful to veterans like Tim and all veterans for what they have done. Let this always be part of who we are. Thank you, Tim for sharing your story with me. Thank you for your honorable service representing Pierce County, this state and our nation. We are fortunate to have veterans like you to call our own.
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