Local vets share their stories
ESCANABA — On Wednesday’s 16th mission of Upper Peninsula Honor Flight, several Vietnam veterans shared their stories.
Like Casey Maki of Watton, who had more than his share of excitement during his stint in Vietnam.
He was a machine door gunner on a Huey helicopter, and twice was shot down but was never wounded while serving with the Army in 1967-68.
Once, while on auto-rotor following gun shot damage, “I had a bad one,” he said. The chopper plummeted to the ground “and it pushed my whole body to the top of the chopper and I kind of got crushed there.”
Maki normally used 60-caliber machine guns on missions, but also carried an AK-47 just in case his gun jammed. He also had a pistol, but they were not very effective at any distance.
The gunship carried rockets on each side, an M-40 rocket in the front and a grenade launcher. His machine gun had tracer bullets every fourth round so he always had an idea where his shots were going and how effective they were. He said missions usually ended with 10-15 bullet holes in the chopper, which flew at lower altitude. “We would make three runs and then re-arm at the closest base camp” before another mission, he said.
When the chopper got shot down, the pilot had already made a mayday call and Maki noted troops were already on the ground and would rush in for assistance.
“You were scared at first, then you get used to it,” he said. “But if you got hit, you got hit. You roll with the flow.”
Twin brothers from Marquette were also on this flight. In fact, Jerry (first squad) and Terry (second squad) Weigold claim they were the only twin brothers to serve in combat in Vietnam together. Both were wounded twice while serving with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, anywhere from the Mekong Delta to the western Central Highlands from 1968-69.
Jerry carried his brother out of the battlefield when Terry was wounded the first time, when he got shot in his arm and leg. “I couldn’t see any (bullet) holes in his body,” said Jerry. “I held up his pants leg and it was full of holes.”
Terry received one of his Purple Hearts from Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam at the time.
Terry said he would fly in helicopters at treetop level looking for enemy troops. “You could see the foxholes, we would draw fire and the gunships (above them) would shoot rockets.
“It was very classified secret missions,” Terry said of what he called “sniffer missions” around Cu Chi.
They also served as tunnel rats in that area, once finding a loaded recoilless rifle. Both served at the point and point flank on patrols through the boondocks, spending more than four months in various capacities. They would spend many nights on ambush patrols.
“We just wanted to stay out there and go hunting,” said Jerry. “Almost every night we were on patrol, or on listening posts (about 100 yards beyond the unit’s perimeter).”
The brothers agreed they worried about each other, but no more than they did with their fellow grunts. “We were all together, we were all the same,” said Terry. Jerry added “death was so common, you didn’t worry about it.”
They were both drafted after graduating from Marquette High School, and both eagerly discuss their adventures, which once had a string of 143 straight days when they were shot at by enemy troops.
“We live together, we hunt together, we talk about stuff all the time,” said Terry. “Sometimes Jerry remembers things, sometimes I remember things.”
One of their fellow soldiers who was killed in action was Ty Cobb, the grandson of the Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder who spent most of his career with the Detroit Tigers.
“He died in my arms,” said Terry, adding “I gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
They each earned three Bronze Stars and were also recommended for a Silver Star.
Chester Charles of Kingsford was an early arrival in Vietnam, serving from 1965-66 in the Army as an adviser to South Vietnamese Arvan troops with an artillery battalion in the west-central highlands.
He was part of a two-man U.S. team. “We couldn’t go anywhere unless we were fully armed,” he said. “We flew by chopper to the coast.”
He said the Arvan unit “listened and they were fairly well trained.”
Charles, who spent 20 years in the Army, said they would frequently move the 155 cannons “from one area to another at night.”
He had previously served in Korea in 1950 with the Second Division as one of the first Americans in that country. He was wounded in September 1950.
“I should never have survived Korea,” he said. “It was a matter of God’s luck. We ran out of water, food and ammo.”