Provided by Bill Laurie
|Vietnamese Pilots, U.S. Soldiers Reforge Bonds|
The two old soldiers survived some of the fiercest combat in the Vietnam War, fighting side by side as they ducked behind enemy lines to run secret missions in Laos and Cambodia.
But when the war ended for J. Stryker Meyer in 1970, his Vietnamese helicopter pilot, Tuong Nguyen, continued fighting until Saigon's fall in 1975 and then was shipped off to a Communist reeducation camp for eight years.
This year, Meyer, who lives in Oceanside, discovered that Nguyen, 59, now lives in Santa Ana. Another pilot, Thu X. Huynh, 60, lives in Vista and runs a dry cleaner's. The two were among an elite group of Vietnamese helicopter pilots -- called Kingbees -- who flew Meyer and other U.S. Army Special Forces troopers "across the fence" to wage the secret war in the neighboring countries.
Forged in combat, the bond between the U.S. Green Berets and the Vietnamese pilots has survived time and distance.
"We are all old now," Huynh said. "But none of us can forget. It's good that our American friends never forgot about us."
Meyer recalled Christmas Day, 1968, when Nguyen flew his lumbering Sikorsky H-34 helicopter into a hail of automatic weapons fire and plucked Meyers' team of commandos from a burning hillside, pulling them away from attacking enemy soldiers who were already within hand grenade range. It was not the first time Nguyen had saved his life.
"Kingbees" was code for the South Vietnamese air force 219th Special Operations Squadron, which flew Green Berets from the Studies and Observations Group on some of the most dangerous missions of the war, often extracting U.S. soldiers from the jungle amid heavy enemy fire.
"We worked very well together and protected each other," Huynh said. "The squadron lost many good pilots, and the Americans lost many brave men. But I have no regrets."
ike the Kingbees, Meyer -- who led Spike Team Idaho -- and the other Americans who served in the Studies and Observations Group teams, were volunteers. The men -- Vietnamese and American -- were cocky and, some would say, carried a death wish.