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Two Vietnam Vets Reminisce

By Toni Becker

POPLAR BLUFF – David Kemna of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and Jay Brickell of Poplar Bluff held a reunion over the weekend to reminisce about their friendship that began in flight school in Florida, their service in the Vietnam War and to honor the 239th birthday of their Marine Corp. We met up at Colton’s Steakhouse. On the table lay Jay’s dress uniform cover (the military term for hat) and an appropriately-decorated Marine Corp birthday cake. The friends met at the Naval Air Station flight school in Pensacola Florida in 1964. Both men had volunteered for service while in college. Upon receiving a whole range of flight instruction, both men were selected to be helicopter pilots. They were trained to fly the Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw. It was the height of the Vietnam War. David and his wife, Alice, had a 2-yearold son named Paul. When David’s orders came in for deployment to Vietnam, Alice left their home in Illinois with their little boy to live with her parents in New York until

David’s return. David would spend his 25th and 26th birthday in Vietnam during his 13-month deployment. He recalled flying World Airways to Okinawa where he’d be processed for two days before flying out to Da Nang. “On the commercial flight there were many Marines and the atmosphere was jovial,” he said. “There was lots of joking. “But once we boarded the C-130 for Vietnam it wasn’t jovial. No jokes…no jokes.” It was June and sickeningly hot. David remembered feeling as if a clock started ticking off the moments of what he knew was going to be a grueling 13 months away from everything he knew back home. As a pilot of the H-34 helicopter, David’s job was to transport troops into difficult locations, deliver supplies and execute medical evacuations. The flights were always risky and the brutal images of war were a constant reality. David remembered missions where he witnessed air-

David Kemna and Jay Brickell honor the 239th birthday of the Marine Corp craft going down around him either from enemy fire or mechanical failure. Thirteen months in Vietnam was “very intense and seemed like an endless deal” at times. David recalled, “The most rewarding part of being in the war was being able to pull somebody out in a medevac. If you could think that you saved somebody and got them to the field hospital… it made it worthwhile.” He noted that flying medevac was always dangerous and many didn’t like to fly those missions because there was a lot of firing going on and the aircraft was often fired upon. But he felt it was important to keep the reward in mind through all of it as the months wore on. “If I thought I could … save somebody’s life; it was rewarding,” said David. Jay Brickell was 26 when he deployed to Vietnam. He left behind his wife, Ruth Ann, and their 6-month-old daughter, Geri. Brickell believed that the only way to survive in Vietnam was to just take it one day at a time. He knew that on any day, something could happen to him, but “you

were always hopeful that everything was going to be ok.” As a helicopter pilot, he also did recon, ran supplies and troops as well as rescued wounded Marines and Vietnamese. He recalled, “You never knew who your enemy was. They were Vietnamese today and Viet Cong tonight and it was tough.” Brickell recollected, “Sometimes, I’d be so nervous I could hardly write down what we were going to do, but once you climbed up in the helicopter and cranked it up…our job was flying the helicopter.” He told stories spanning his 14-month deployment of being involved in Operation Hastings, missions around the now-famous landmark called “The Rockpile,” and the Battle of Khe Sanh. Brickell mused that he was “very fortunate that the helicopter didn’t get hit too many times.” The men recalled how difficult it was being completely separated from loved ones for over a year. Unable to even call home, he said they really had to harden themselves to get through the war. They tried

Profile for Brian Becker

20141113 - Veterans Day  

Veterans Day Special Edition

20141113 - Veterans Day  

Veterans Day Special Edition

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