Vietnam veterans were honored during the 2016 Vietnam War Commemoration luncheon held at the Frontier Club, November 15. During the event, guests were treated to a short clip of the National Geographic documentary Helicopter Wars.
In the video, event guest speaker, Jack Swickard, joins his fellow Soldiers in telling the story of how he and a fellow pilot had to keep flying in and out of war zones to be able to transport Soldiers, mostly injured, out of the intense battlefield. Swickard, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, native, was a UH-1 pilot with the 118 Assault Helicopter Company in Ben Hoa, South Vietnam, from 1967 through 1968.
During his speech Swickard talked about his time after the war and what he did to forgive and move forward. Because of the documentary, Swickard was given the opportunity to return to Vietnam in 2008.
“I always thought in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back to Vietnam but it wasn’t high on my list,” he said. “It just didn’t feel like a place I needed to go back to, at the time.”
He was surprised at how much closure the trip brought him, he even befriended a Vietnamese veteran, Dinh Ngoc Truc, whose job it was to shoot down aircrafts during the Vietnam War. They became such good friends that Swickard brought back his wife to have dinner with Truc and his wife.
“(Dinh) turns to me and he says, aren’t you glad we didn’t kill each other during the war, then we never would have become friends” Swickard said, during his speech. “That summarized a lot of the things I had running in my mind.”
He said he’s returned to Vietnam four more times after to meet with Truc. Truc has also come to visit him in New Mexico as well. In September of this year, Swickard took a group of 12 Vietnam veterans to Vietnam in September. Upon meeting Truc, the 12 veterans invited him to the annual Helicopter Pilot Association Reunion in the United States. Swickard said he had his reservations about Truc’s appearance but he attended and became the star of the reunion.
“My experience in Vietnam, going back…closed a chapter in my life,” he said. “I think it’s important, it was for me, to go back to Vietnam. When you get pulled out of a combat area, you leave a big unfinished part of your life over there.”
Swickard said that seeing the people who are now living in a civilized, happy society with no grudges held, helped him to move forward.
“I just thought that was wonderful,” he said.
Areas where blood was shed are now recognized as sacred, Swickard said. You pay respect in those areas even if the blood lost was those of the Vietnam Soldiers.
“I encourage people to go back,” he said. “When I approach people, it’s usually the wives who encourage them to go, but once they’re there they don’t want to go home.”
He said the most common excuse he’s heard from veterans who don’t want to return to Vietnam is the idea that they didn’t lose anything during their time there.
“I think, in my mind, we all really did lose something over there and we need to go back and find it,” Swickard said.
After leaving the Army Swickard returned to Albuquerque and began working as a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, he was later promoted to city editor. Swickard went on to become editor of the Roswell Daily Record and moved on to become editor-general manager of the Daily Times in Farmington, New Mexico.
White Sands Missile Range Garrison Commander Col. Dave Brown and WSMR Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. William Wofford presented Swickard with a plaque to thank him for speaking to the WSMR community during the event.
Prior to the award presentation, Brown personally thanked Swickard and encouraged the WSMR community to watch the entire documentary. Brown said he was entranced throughout the entire one-hour documentary.
“He is a true American hero,” Brown said.