For Parkdale’s Dave Foster, healing began with an unexpected email.
The email arrived in Foster’s inbox on Aug. 29. Foster had spent 25 months in Vietnam — he enlisted in the Army at age 18 — and served two tours there, from 1969-1970 and 1971-1972, first as door gunner, and, later, crew chief.
“Dear Dave: My name is Geoff Carr. I was also at the Binh Dai incident, starting with our assignment to fill a spot in the flight with you guys before Mr. Crouch was killed ... I was immediately next to your aircraft when Mr. Crouch was killed. As we were all firing into the tree line, I had a very good view of you moving forward to remove him from the controls. I thought at the moment that it was a difficult thing for you to do under fire and my opinion about that has not changed …”
Foster didn’t know anyone had seen his actions on May 18, 1970, seven months into his first tour. Never even talked about it, although the experience continued to haunt him.
“All these years — almost 48 years — I’ve kept that to myself,” said Foster. “Never told the kids about it. My wife barely knew about it. (But) my Vietnam experience is centered on that day.”
In short, on that day, B Troop 7/1 Air Calvary’s scouts had picked up a battalion of the North Vietnamese Army who “had taken advantage of our invasion into Cambodia” to attempt the capture of the province of Binh Dai, and the decision was made to send in ground troops, he said.
“We flew in, kicked out the troops, and headed out for another load,” he said.
Taking off again after the third landing of the day, his pilot, Albert Crouch, was hit under heavy fire. Crouch would later die from his wounds.
Foster removed Crouch’s body from the controls while another pilot regained control of the aircraft. They flew Crouch to a field hospital in Tan An, then flew back, with newspaper covering Crouch’s seat, to the base at Vinh Long. “The pilot left. Sheet metal shop showed up and put a patch on the hole in the windshield,” said Foster. “My gunner and I washed away the day’s mess, (and) I did any maintenance necessary.”
He got up “and went flying the next day with a patch on the windshield, reminding me every day for the next five months.”
Largely because of that event, Foster is 100 percent disabled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It’s affected his family — he wasn’t always available, and he doesn’t socialize. But realizing that someone had witnessed the scene that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross was a step towards healing.
As was the gift Carr offered at the end of his email:
“On a related note, some other Vietnam veterans and I own and operate an airworthy UH-1H we restored to Vietnam era livery through a non-profit corporation I set up about 13 years ago,” Carr continued. “We keep it at the Hayward Executive Airport in Hayward, Calif. I don’t know where you live, but if you ever get out this way, we would be proud to have you fly with us.”
Carr’s nonprofit — EMU, INC. — seeks to preserve the history of the Huey helicopter and the men who served in the 135th Assault Helicopter Company, and all AHCs, in Vietnam; to make aircraft available to museums, air shows and public displays; and to offer emotional support to combat veterans with PTSD of all eras (hueyvets.com).
Carr has helped bankroll the $1.5 million project with half a million of his own money, and relies on donations to pay for flights. It’s the only Huey restored to Vietnam condition, Foster explained, and is a flying museum, giving veterans the opportunity to relive — and heal from — the memories it dredges up.
Foster and his family went to California on Oct. 21 — and spent 11 hours with Carr and fellow pilot Andy Perry, of Australia, who was also at Binh Dai. In all, Foster took four rides in the EMU 309, staying in the left seat he had occupied during the war.
“It was really something to sit there again,” he said, noting he now has a new date to mark.
But it was equally healing to meet Carr and Perry. Carr’s children had grown up with the story of that battle, even though they didn’t know who Foster was at that time.
“To be part of a story that has been told for all these years … and he just happened to have a restored Huey! What are the chances?” Foster said. “If it wasn’t for the internet, we wouldn’t have met.”
The validation was a turning point.
“It made it important,” said Foster. “Someone cared about what I did.
“These guys — it was such a healing thing,” Foster said. “I’ve never been to a Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day event. I can’t do it. I can never go to the Wall.
“This (helicopter) is something that brings all vets together. It’s done so much for me.”
Sitting in that seat, Foster felt at home — and after the visit, his family immediately noticed the effect. His daughter, Shannon Foster, said her previously silent father began to pour out stories she had never heard before, of his childhood and the war.
“Not everyone will have as dramatic a change as I feel I have been given,” Foster said. “I just happened to have had a person see me, who went on to buy a helicopter and then look for me.”
Now, Foster would like other veterans — of any branch, nation, rank or war — to know about Carr’s restored helicopter and its therapeutic flights.
“I think that any veteran would benefit from an experience like this,” he said. “A veteran’s family would love to have them back. My wife (Katie) convinced me I had to go and meet them. I was more afraid of meeting them than I ever was in Vietnam. But it’s the best thing she ever made me do.
“This helicopter will continue to save lives as long as we can keep this funded,” he added, noting it costs $3,000 an hour to fly and that all donations are tax deductible because of the organization’s non-profit status.
He also encourages veterans of all ages to seek free help locally by visiting Tricia Stevens, Veteran’s Service officer, or the local American Legion. “Don’t wait,” he said. “If you’re having problems now, it just won’t go away.”
Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-386-1080.