The purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who died while serving America in the military.
Specialist 6 Terry Yates was immersed in the carnage of the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Army. A helicopter medic, Yates witnessed the sacrifices soldiers made for their country on a daily basis – with many young men making the ultimate sacrifice and dying for America.
“The helicopters weren’t supposed to be on the ground for more than 60 seconds,” said Yates referring to rescue missions.
“We’d land and they would rush out of the jungle with the injured soldier and we’d take off as fast as we could. When we got airborne they’d always tell me, ‘Doc, don’t let me die.’ I would say you’re not going to die today.’”
Yates admits some soldiers sadly did not make it to the hospital.
“It was especially bad if they threw two soldiers in the helicopter,” said Yates. “It was just me as one medic and I’d have to care for two soldiers at the same time. We lost a couple in the helicopter. Sometimes they were just too shot up.”
Yates, a Lebanon resident, will be the keynote speaker at Warren County’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at the airport. Start time is 8 a.m.
Yates served in the Army from 1968 to 1971 and served a full year in Vietnam from July 1969 to July 1970. U.S. Army helicopters in Vietnam were under constant fire. Specialist Yates said he was well aware any mission could be his last. He said his helicopter only crashed once and that was due to running out of gas about 50 feet off the ground.
“I remember my first day of flying the pilot asked me what our count was,” said Yates. “I told him we picked up four injured and transported them. He said he wasn’t talking about that count. He wanted a bullet hole count. So I looked over the helicopter and counted 11 bullet holes.”
Yates said the Vietnamese would aim for the hydraulics unit or the tail rotor of the helicopter. He said if either of those became nonfunctional, the helicopter would crash.
“We were under fire all the time,” said Yates. “They’d shoot mortars at us while we slept because we were near the Phan Rang Air Force Base, which is where they had the F4 Phantom Bombers. They wanted to take out those bombers because in the military you always want to take out the biggest gun first. If you’re on the ground, you want to take out the machine gun first. That’s the thinking.”
Yates said his Memorial Day speech will address the fact many Americans don’t appreciate the significance of what the holiday represents.
“The American public has lost interest in what Memorial Day really is,” said Yates. “They see Memorial Day for the sales. It’s the start of summer. It’s a three-day weekend. For so many people, it’s not about the soldiers who were killed to protect our freedoms.”
Warren County’s Memorial Day ceremony will begin one hour later than its traditional start time and begin Monday morning at 8 a.m. at the airport on Old Nashville Highway.