Major General Patrick Brady

Major, U.S. Army, Medical Service Corps, 54th Medical Detachment, 67th Medical Group, 44th Medical Brigade

Near Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, 1/6/68

“I believe you will agree with me that there is one virtue that is key to all others for it secures them—courage. No other virtue, not freedom, not justice, not anything, not anyone, is safe without courage. Courage then, both physical and moral, is also the first trait of leadership.

“I believe the key to courage is faith. In combat, I coped with fear through my faith. It’s a great source of calm, of comfort, and it gave me great confidence. I think because of my faith I was able to do things that, for me, would have otherwise been impossible.”


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Maj. Brady distinguished himself while serving in the Republic of Vietnam commanding a UH-1H ambulance helicopter, volunteered to rescue wounded men from a site in enemy held territory which was reported to be heavily defended and to be blanketed by fog.

To reach the site he descended through heavy fog and smoke and hovered slowly along a valley trail, turning his ship sideward toblow away the fog with the backwash from his rotor blades. Despite the unchallenged, close-range enemy fire, he found the dangerously small site, where he successfully landed and evacuated 2 badly wounded South Vietnamese soldiers.

He was then called to another area completely covered by dense fog where American casualties lay only 50 meters from the enemy. Two aircraft had previously been shot down and others had made unsuccessful attempts to reach this site earlier in the day. With un-matched skill and extraordinary courage, Maj. Brady made 4 flights to this embattled landing zone and successfully rescued all the wounded.

On his third mission of the day Maj. Brady once again landed at a site surrounded by the enemy. The friendly ground force, pinned down by enemy fire, had been unable to reach and secure the landing zone. Although his aircraft had been badly damaged and his controls partially shot away during his initial entry into this area, he returned minutes later and rescued the remaining injured.

Shortly thereafter, obtaining a replacement aircraft, Maj. Brady was requested to land in an enemy minefield where a platoon of American soldiers was trapped. A mine detonated near his heli-copter, wounding 2 crewmembers and damaging his ship. In spite of this, he managed to fly 6 severely injured patients to medical aid.

Throughout that day Maj. Brady utilized 3 helicopters to evac-uate a total of 51 seriously wounded men, many of whom would have perished without prompt medical treatment. Maj. Brady’s bravery was in the highest traditions of the military service and re-flects great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.

In my youth, I attended 10 different schools the first 9 years of my schooling. My brothers and I were herded from relative to rela-tive and in and out of boarding schools. We were in Catholic schools on and off and boarded with Christian Brothers of Ireland where I developed and found great comfort in my faith. Without parents or lasting friendships, the Brothers and Nuns became my mentors. I learned early on that the only lasting relationship one has is with our self and with God. Some long forgotten Brother or Nun convinced me that I always had a friend in Jesus, and just talk to Him.

I enjoyed the quiet time at Mass and Jesus became my one true friend and mentor. I got in the habit of talking through my prob-lems with Him, not always in a prayerful way but casually in the heat of competition or what was at the time a desperate need. I do to this day. Success for me in any endeavor was based on my state of grace and my state of friendship with the Lord. If I was doing well in these areas, I knew He would listen to me.

I was a Dustoff pilot in Vietnam. Our job was to pick up the wounded from the battlefield much like 9-1-1 ambulances do from the streets of America. One in three of the Dustoff crews became a casualty in this work. More of those casualties were the result of a combination of night and weather than enemy action. Dustoff was the most effective combat operating system in that war. Survival rates of our combat troops were phenomenal and, in fact, there was a greater chance of survival if you were shot in the jungles of Vietnam than if you were in an accident on the highways of America.

During my first tour in Vietnam, most of my flying was done in the Delta, a large force landing area. There was not a lot of relief. It was mostly flat, moist terrain with few mountains. In addition, it was filled with canals connecting every possible pick-up site. Even in the roughest weather, and at night, one need only get on a canal and follow it through intersections to the patients. You could turn on your landing light, or searchlight, or both, and hover along at low-level much like driving from point to point on a highway. Day or night, it was difficult to keep us from a patient.

You can imagine my concern when I returned for a second tour, this time to the mountains of I Corps. We were in Chu Lai, just south of Danang. The terrain along the coast was flat and full of rice paddies, much like the Delta, but unfortunately it gave way inland to rugged mountainous terrain. This was where most of the fighting took place. It was an area of violent storms characterized by thick early morning fog that covered the valleys about 500 feet up the mountains. In the afternoons you could expect the tops of the mountains, key military terrain, to be covered with clouds about 500 feet down. This was the type of weather and terrain that killed so many of my fellow Dustoff crewmembers.

My concern was heightened by the fact that all but two of the pilots in the unit were right out of flight school with no experience in combat. There was nothing in flight school to match the chal-lenges they would face in this terrain and the intensity of combat that existed upon our arrival. In fact, all six of our aircraft were damaged by enemy fire on one day in the first week we were opera-tional. Of the 40 men in this detachment, 23 would get Purple Heart medals within 10 months. But it wasn’t the enemy that con-cerned me as we moved the unit from Fort Benning and began to set up operations at Chu Lai. There was no way to avoid him. It was the weather and the mountains that terrified me.

For those who have heard the anguish of a soldier pleading for someone to come and save the life of his buddy, there is nothing else in life to equal it. The challenge was always to save that life and not kill the 4 crew members on your chopper doing it. To do this you had to overcome the challenges of nearby enemy fire, the ter-rain, and the limitations of the aircraft and those operating it. And all of this had to be done in a timely manner. The troops could die if you waited for the fire or weather to lift, or for the sun to rise.

As I mentioned, the first week was murderous; several crew members were hurt and all our aircraft damaged. But no one was killed, and we had not come face to face with night weather mis-sions or tropical storms.

It had to happen. We got a call one evening about a soldier who was bitten by a snake at a fire support base on one of the mountains just west of Chu Lai. As I approached the area I saw to my horror that the mountain-top was engulfed in thick clouds. As always, I turned to God for help. What in the heck did He want me to do? To fly into zero-zero weather without being on an approved flight plan on instruments to a proper let-down facility was against all flight regulations. A mishap under those conditions could end my career even if no one was hurt. I was required to turn back. By this time the troops were on the radio screaming that the patient had gone into convulsions. They were begging for help. God gave me a hint. I knew I had to try. I started head-first up the mountain right above the trees.

The good news was that if I got disoriented, I could fall away from the mountain and I would break out in the valley. And that is what happened several times. The troops were pleading for me to help them and I was pleading with God to help me. The crew was very tense. (I had on board a new mechanic and this was his first mission. He refused to fly again after this mission.) Each time I got in the clouds I would get disoriented and, with much luck, be able to fall into the valley. On what I promised to be the last try, I really messed up. We were blown sideways and I was looking out my side window for a place to go in when I discovered that I could see the tip of my rotor blade and the tops of the trees. I had two reference points, and I knew I was right side up. Thank you, my good Lord. I turned that baby sideways and hovered up the mountain watching the blade and the treetops, right into the area. The troops were de-lighted and we got the patient to the hospital. As a bonus on this mission someone said “God bless you, Double Nickel” (my call sign) on the radio. I knew God had blessed us although I was a little upset that He took what I thought was a bit too long to do it.

I did not get court-martialed and, in fact, used this technique many times for several of the missions on the day I was to receive the Medal of Honor. In the citation they said I flew sideways and blew away the fog. That was the only way they could explain it since one cannot fly visually in instrument conditions. God taught me that such is not the case. The truth is that you can see about 40 feet in the thickest stuff and if you have a second reference point, you can go anywhere, albeit slowly. Some day when you are on an air-plane in the clouds look out the wing or when you are driving in the rain, compare your visibility out an open side window with the visibility out the windshield, and you will see what I mean.

We had solved the low valley fog and the mountain top cloud problem, but the night weather mission was still lurking. The call came during the night in the middle of a tropical storm. I was al-ready sweating before we had all the information. The unit had suf-fered several loads of casualties in the valley beyond the mountains. Okay, Lord, what now? I started with the technique we used in the Delta and tried to stay under the weather and hover forward. I turned my searchlight on and had the crew lie on the floor and look out the door to the rear. The lights of a village were kept in sight as we hovered from light to light into the mountains.

It was pouring rain and the searchlight reflected off the rain and blinded me. It was like flying in an inkwell in front and we were losing the lights to the rear. I knew I would hit a mountain if we went any further, and it would eventually require instruments to fly. I had a bird that was not fully instrumented and that was risky. I de-cided to go north to a break in the mountains and see if I could follow a river down into the patient area as I had done with canals in the Delta. I was in my usual mode of conversation with God, wondering why He was doing this to me, and how He was going to help me get those patients out. I got to the river and had the same problem with the blinding rain and the searchlight. Then I had a vi-sion.
Thank you, dear Jesus.

On a previous night mission I had flown a routine pickup into the valley that we called “Death Valley.” As I sat on the ground loading the patients, I was enjoying the usual paradoxical beauty of the night on the battlefield. The flares drifted down through the mountains illuminating the beautiful landscape in light and dark multiple shades of green pierced occasionally with the deadly but beautiful mesmerizing streaks of tracer fire. I absentmindedly looked up and noticed that one of the mountains was covered with clouds but in perfect silhouette from the flares.

The vision came back to me and I now knew how to get those guys out. I called back to the base and told them to get me a bird with good instrumentation. My plan was to fly instruments above the mountains to the pickup site and then let down into the moun-tain visually using flares. We would use our FM homing device to find the patients. Once we had the patients on board, I would do a steep instrument take off into the clouds and weather above the mountains, fly out over the coast and let down over the water near the lights of Chu Lai. That’s what I did, four times. I used 3 copi-lots that night but got all the patients out.

We used this technique on other occasions and never failed to get the patients. We now had solutions to the night weather problem. As I said, we had 23 Purple Heart medals, but we never lost an aircraft or a crew member due to the night or the weather. This was despite the fact that we flew thousands of night and weather missions, had some 117% of our aircraft damaged by enemy fire each month and carried over 20,000 patients in 10 months. In the three months following our tour, the same small unit had 5 crew members killed. God had certainly watched over us.

I received the Distinguished Service Cross for the night flare mission and numerous other awards for my flying in Vietnam. As a result, one encyclopedia lists me as the war’s top helicopter pilot. The truth is that I was an average pilot who came within an eyelash of busting out of flight school. My instructor pilot said I was dan-gerous and there are to this day some of my copilots who will swear I can’t read a map. There is no way I could have flown the missions I flew on my own. I will not say that God was my copilot because I could not have made it without the copilots I had. For my part, I had a strong faith that shielded me from fear, and I cared about the troops. But it was God who showed me the way, who was my Light as I stumbled through the darkness and the fog and the clouds of
my doubts.
—Pat Brady