He Who Finds Mercy series

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Dad, My Hero



I was born an Army brat to an officer father who was already a veteran of Korea.  Being immersed in Army life until I was almost 13 years old, I took things for granted that civilians didn't notice or understand, such as the regimen of our days (the 5 o'clock post cannon and Taps meant time to go home for dinner) and constant moving (I went to five elementary schools in five states: Hawaii, Kansas, Virginia, Texas, and Louisiana).
Me in my Daddy's boots
But one thing I took for granted was that my Dad was my hero.  He was tall and handsome and looked sharp and commanding in his uniform.   
My parents at a military ball in the early 1960's
I didn't learn until many years later how dangerous Dad's assignment in Korea had been.  He was an expendable second lieutenant in command of a remote camp training Korean and Chinese POWs to be agents, gathering intelligence among the enemy.  After beating the odds that year, he and a buddy fortunately managed to miss their flight home, because the plane went down shortly after takeoff and over 200 lost their lives.
My Dad hunting near a Korean village
After TDY (temporary duty) for the CIA, which is where he met my Mom, Dad went to flight school.  He later went to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot the summer I turned eight.  I had NO idea how dangerous it was to be a chopper pilot in Vietnam.  I was more interested in drawing pictures for him, writing letters, and making reel-to-reel tapes.  Later my Mom and sister and I would make up care packages to send to the men in Dad's unit as well as for the orphanages.
My Dad and his Huey
When he came home, he showed me the healing bullet wound in his arm, but I still didn't understand what he'd been through until we attended a parade and service in which my Dad would be awarded medals: the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

While listening to the commendations, I shared an incredulous look with my Mom.  This is what happened to him?  He'd really been in danger?  Now I finally understood my Dad was a hero to more than just me—he had saved many, many lives and nearly lost his own.
My Dad receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross
His Distinguished Flying Cross citation says this:  "Major Huth distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while flying as flight leader of ten unarmed helicopters on a combat assault to seek a known enemy force.  On final approach into the landing zone, the ships received fire from both sides.  Unhesitatingly, he continued his approach into the area.  Upon take off from the area, he received heavy automatic weapons fire, damaging the collective pitch changes links and was wounded.  Despite the damage and his wound he instructed the aircraft commander to fly in such a manner as to distract the enemy's attention and to shield the rest of the aircraft in the flight from danger."

In other words, with a damaged chopper and bleeding from his wound, he made himself a target so the others could get to safety. 

He later wrote in his understated way about something which saved his life that day:  "The helicopter, which was new and on its first mission, had been hit 14 times and got a good initiation.  The maintenance officer was a little surprised with the extensive repair work that had to be done, but I had to thank him for being able to get some armor plating installed in the seats before the mission.  This consisted of installing steel plating in the bottom and back of the pilot and co-pilot seats (also installed plating under door gunners).  As it turned out, two bullets hit the bottom of my seat and without that protection, my entire day would probably have been spoiled."

Earlier that same day while landing at another site, my Dad's chopper tripped a defective explosive device.  He said an IED was pointed right at his head not three feet away, but thankfully did not detonate.
Dad's retirement photo which we used at his funeral
Two years ago tomorrow Dad lost a ferocious battle with his final enemy.  My sister and I both thought it would be entirely appropriate for him to die on Veteran's Day, 2011, but he waited one more day.  Poetic, actually, for a man who always put others before himself.

Thank you for your service, Colonel.  You'll always, always be my hero.

2 comments:

  1. Typical hero - never said much about it.
    I would caution you, however, to make one small but utterly important change.
    An IED is an improvised Explosive Device; An IUD, on the other hand, relates to a birth control device. So if you are referring to why you have no other siblings, this might be relevant - but scarcely a proper topic!

    Incidentally, you're not the first to make this mistake. The grandfather of a young man I know stated that he was severely wounded after stepping on an IUD in Afghanistan.

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    1. Oh, Doug, thank you for catching that! I was re-reading my Dad's account to write this, and of course he didn't make that typo. Ugh!!!!!

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