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"Our job was to support the infantry and their life was absolutely miserable, so whatever we did to make it better, that's what we did." (Video interview, Part 2, 1:47)

   John Lansford McCullough
Collection image
John L. McCullough in uniform, prior to leaving for Hong Kong; Pleiku, Vietnam [1966]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: Headquarters, 23rd Infantry Division; 170th Assault Helicopter Company and 155th Assault Helicopter Company, 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade
Service Location: Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Lee, Virginia; South Korea; Fort MacArthur, California; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Wolters, Texas; Germany; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Pleiku, Vietnam; Ban Me Thout, Vietnam; Chu Lai, Vietnam; Fort Rucker, Alabama
Rank: Major
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John McCullough's family tradition--two uncles in the Navy, his father a career Army man--served him well when he enlisted in the Army Reserves as a senior in high school. He had three goals in mind when he joined, though those changed a bit as he encountered certain obstacles. He had been in the Army for over ten years when he was assigned to the first of two tours of Vietnam, flying helicopters on support missions and training crews and other pilots. He did get to see his father, who was still serving and was in country during his son's first tour. McCullough's collection includes home movie footage shot in country, a visual accompaniment to his candid and detailed interview.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) | 
Download: video(3) (76 min.)
Multimedia Recordings
»8mm Color Home Movies (44 min.)
»Photo Album  (11 photos)
 Official Documents
»Untitled official press release by 2nd LT. Steven R. Gailar [12/30/1969]
 Other Materials
»Biography of John McCullough
More like this
»10th Anniversary
»Vietnam War: Looking Back, Part 2
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Three goals when he joined the Army: retire as Master Sergeant, become a paratrooper, and go to Ranger School; those changed as he decided to be a pilot; serving with his father in Germany and discussing those goals; going to officer academy and then OCS; altered his plan for advancement when timetable requirements blocked his path; Army training in those days was on Cold War footing. (04:23) Wanting to go to flight school and fly helicopters; Cuban Missile Crisis in fall of 1962; getting into state of readiness to drop into Cuba right outside of Havana; going to flight school after that passed; physical requirements challenging; graduated first in his class chose to go to Germany. (02:52) Aware of escalation in Vietnam and that he might have to go; talks about independence of military wives and support the Army offers them; forming a unit from all over the world and sailing for Vietnam; in assault helicopter, which he had trained for, though he did have to learn new tactics once they were in country. (04:31)
His first post in Vietnam, Central Highlands was lovely country; war could have been won in the mid-60s; politics intervened; on his second tour in 1969, he began wondering what we were doing there, taking back the same ground as before; too many limitations on how they could fight; too much emphasis on body counts; chasing the enemy around the country; cites the movie We Were Soldiers as accurate depiction of the war (04:12) Mission: take troops or supplies out, pull out wounded; situation on ground was always different; on call 24/7; there to support to the infantry troops whose lives were miserable; describes composition of his crew; training new men in country. (03:32) Pilot's attitude of cockiness; hot shots who take risks don't last long; important to understand the team concept; can't compare corporate and military worlds, as the former emphasizes "I" and the latter "team;" lost one soldier in his first tour, one in his second; "your whole perspective in life changes" when you hear that first bullet go past your head. (04:31)
Story about his first tour in 1966: rescuing a down pilot in Laos--where the U.S. was not officially fighting; he wants to get his men credit for that mission, which novelist W.E.B. Griffin wrote about in a 1988 book The Aviators; he had been given the mission with only 45 days left on his tour; getting R and R to Bangkok; rendezvous with his father, who was serving in Saigon; didn't have trouble getting back in the groove after his time off. (07:10) Vietnam in 1965-6 was a time when you had the assets you needed to accomplish your mission; coming back to the States, he had to learn more about working within budgets; knew he would be going back; second tour, assigned to Chu Lai; had wanted to go back to the Central Highlands; applying some discipline to hot-shot pilots; pulled off complicated rescue under fire of a downed crew; adrenalin doesn't kick in until you're back on the ground, because you're just doing your job. (08:49) Difference with second tour; after Tet, political environment had changed with the antiwar protests; troops were draftees who did good work in the field but when they got back to base camp they were "zombies;" people he flew with were better trained and motivated; though he didn't get the assignment he wanted, he was busy and did get to fly, accumulating a total for both tours of 3100 flight hours. (04:50)

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  October 26, 2011
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