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"The interesting thing was, when they tried to kill us, they were more interested in disabling the helicopters than killing the pilots.They never understood that it took a lot longer to make a helicopter pilot than a helicopter." (Audio Interview, 22:40)

   Galen Frederick DeGraff
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 173rd Assault Helicopter Company (Robin Hoods)
Service Location: Lai Khe and Phu Loi, Vietnam; Fort Rucker, Alabama
Rank: Chief Warrant Officer 2
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Galen DeGraff served in Vietnam as a pilot in the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, nicknamed the Robin Hoods. He arrived in country just before the Tet Offensive began and quickly learned that tensing up when he was flying through enemy fire diminished his abilities to maneuver out of danger. DeGraff saw the bravado of the pilots and the camaraderie among the crews as key elements to completing successful missions. On the ground, he couldn't let down his guard, as infiltration by the Vietcong made it difficult to trust the locals, even those who worked for the U.S. Army.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (34 min.)
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»Helicopters: The Multi-Mission Aircraft
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Arriving in Vietnam just before the Tet Offensive began; assigned to carry troops in and out of combat zones; also flew gunships and smokeships. (00:46) Explaining the distinction between pilot and company commander; first person paired with was Henry Perez, old enough to fly helicopters in Vietnam but not old enough to vote when he got back to the States that year, 1968; Perez instructing DeGraff to write Perez's blood type and radio frequency to call in case they were hit and Perez was incapacitated; flying amid tracers; tensing up and knowing he didn't fly well in that condition; wooden pencil test for tension; with two sets of controls, if one pilot is shot, the other can take over immediately. (04:29) Getting together with buddies from the Vietnam Helicopters Pilot Association; marching in the 2000 Memorial Day parade in Washington and being applauded; volunteering to go together with three buddies out of flight school, which is how they wound up together in Vietnam. (04:48)
Living conditions for aviators were not bad; once aircraft was off the ground, you are the boss; getting to fly home at night; large tents divided up into little apartments; everyone having a good stereo and camera; carrying non-issued AK-47s because they worked when they got dirty; having to get rid of them when a TV news crew showed up. (02:12) Robin Hoods had put together a folk-singing group that appeared on Ed Sullivan; their parties were legendary; bringing in nurses by the Chinookload; during Tet they were rocketed every day during mealtimes; Vietcong threatening locals who worked at the camp for information; hard to trust any locals. (03:13) Enemy trying to disable helicopters, not realizing that replacing pilots took longer; dealing with rocket attacks. (01:00)
Flying what they were there for; guys who wanted an adventure; Vietnam as the Olympics and helicopter pilots as the first team; feeling fortunate to have flown as many hours as he did without getting shot up; wanting to get a PhD. because he didn't want Vietnam to be the biggest thing in his life. (02:44) Going to graduate business school while he flew reserves; having to leave reserves because school considered it a parttime job; the camaraderie of serving in a war carrying over; he and his fellow pilots agreeing that if one of them is in trouble, the group will help him out of it. (01:36) During Tet, their ammo dump being hit; ordered to scramble the helicopters to avoid their being damaged; flying through the explosions; almost colliding with a jet bomber. (02:31)

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  October 26, 2011
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