The U.S. military is not only the world's most powerful fighting force, it's also responsible for some of the most significant humanitarian service in the past two generations.
That role largely found its genesis in Operation Dust Off, a concerted military venture in Vietnam to rescue troops and civilians in harm's way. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Patrick Brady is a Medal of Honor recipient and was a critical figure in the humanitarian success of the war. He tells the story of the humanitarian work in Vietnam in his book, "Dead Men Flying: Victory in Vietnam The Legend of Dust Off: America's Battlefield Angels."
"The great thing about the Vietnam War was the humanitarian effort that went on over there – something that the media never covered," Gen. Brady told WND's Greg Corombos. "The tip of the spear in that was the Dust Off pilots rescued some one million souls – men, women, children, enemy, friendly, a few scout dogs. If you were hurt, we were going to come get you."
Brady's book pays tribute to Maj. Charles Kelly, who orchestrated Operation Dust Off and ultimately gave his life for this country. Brady said the missions served as the template for the rapid-response rescue missions of today's military. He said many lives were saved and many people in Vietnam are still grateful for the compassion of the Americans.
"Thanks to Dust Off, if you were shot in the jungle of Vietnam your chances of survival were greater than if you were injured on a highway in America. Remarkable, remarkable survival rates in that war," said Brady. "In previous wars, we just bombed and destroyed everything in our way, including civilians. In Vietnam, in the heat of the battle (the American GI) was still building medical facilities, vaccinating those kids, educating them, adopting them and doing everything in every way to care for and care about those people. In my trips back, I can see the kids have grown up. They appreciate it very much. They've treated me very, very well. They're wonderful people."
Brady describes the pioneering strategies for rescuing Americans and Vietnamese alike and the toll it took on his unit.
"We developed techniques to get into the battlefield day or night, in weather. In my case, my faith was a great help to me. The good Lord showed me the way to do it in the fog and in the weather," Brady said. "Of course, our primary mission was Americans. That's why we were there, but if there were civilians hurt we had enough resources to take care of them as well."
"We had 40 men, a small detachment. We had six helicopters. At any one time, three of those would be flyable because of maintenance and we had one shot up about every four to five days," he said. "Twenty-six Purple Hearts. Of those 40 men, 26 were shot. Some of those were repetitious. In a nine-and-a-half-month period, we carried over 21,000 patients. Do the math – three aircraft. There was 100 other Dust Off aircraft in country doing the same thing. So we were able to provide those people with treatment and medical care that they'd never seen before."
Gen. Brady also said Maj. Kelly and his subordinates flew into villages and provided basic medical care to many different people in Vietnam. He said it's regrettable that the communists won the war, but he sees a brighter day ahead for Vietnam.
"I think communism is pretty much dead there. They just don't know what to do with the corpse," he said. "Eventually those people will emerge. They are a very productive people, and they're going to do great things."
America recorded two victories in Vietnam, according to Brady. In addition to the stunning humanitarian accomplishments, he said American troops won every battle they fought, and the politicians in Washington are the ones who lost the war.
Brady said it was tough for Vietnam veterans to come home to an ungrateful and even hostile public. But he said that national embarrassment has been corrected, and American troops are now lavished with the honor and adulation they deserve.
One of the general's main criticisms of how the war was prosecuted in Vietnam was the failure of the government to call up reserve units. He said keeping the numbers up in the military is key to our national security, and the current budget sequestration dangers would be terrible for our readiness.