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Talk Story with Bobby Paik

Bobby Paik, a Vietnam War veteran, is still waiting on a commendation.

But he plans on attending the 50th Vietnam Commemoration Anniversary presented by the Kauai Veterans Council on Nov. 11 at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club from 5 to 10 p.m.

“I wasn’t going,” Paik said. “But Harvey Maeda — he’s still waiting, too — gave tickets to Terry Daligdig and myself, so we’re going.”

Registration for Vietnam War era veterans is $25 if registering before Wednesday. After that date, prices go up to $50 for Vietnam War era veterans, and $75 for everyone else, or at the door.

“I can’t even get the campaign ribbon,” Maeda said. “I didn’t step foot in Vietnam. We were responsible for getting the ammo — ammunition, grenades and other explosives — in for the soldiers. Most of the time, we flew in, dropped the load, and flew out. But can you imagine what would happen if we caught fire coming in?”

That was what happened to Paik in December 1964.

“We were flying a non-escort (no gun escort helicopter) flight with two American colonels and three Vietnam generals,” Paik said. “We were flying low over the trees when all of a sudden, all hell broke loose.”

“We were flying low over the trees,” he continued. “The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Thruston, was shot in the head. I seen the guy in the tree and started shooting. I don’t know if I got him, or not. The helicopter was going down. I threw down the M60, jumped over two colonels and pulled the collector stick. The pilot’s head — he only had half a head — was in my face. I had to hold him from falling on the controls with his blood and brains splattered all over my face and mouth until we got back. We managed to get the helicopter back to the base at Na Trang with no other casualties.”

That incident took its toll on the helicopter crew chief.

“We, the co-pilot P. Cary Shelton — he was younger than me — started drinking,” Paik said. “Not just one or two. Every day.”

Unknown to Paik, Shelton had recommended Paik for a Congressional Medal of Honor, noting “Sp4 Paik saved the entire company of Americans onboard without hesitation by unbuckling himself in the open doorway of the out-of-control helicopter, moving forward completely exposed to heavy enemy fire to pull the deceased pilot from jamming the controls and allowing co-pilot Shelton to pull out the ship as it slammed through the tops of palm trees at 100 knots. Had Paik hesitated for even one second to respond to Warrant Officer Shelton’s cry for help, everyone on board would have died without question.”

Paik was a crew chief after spending a year at Fort Eustis, Virginia, training for all phases of helicopters.

“We learned everything,” Paik said. “We learned to fly, to start the turbines because some of the pilots came in and forgot how to start the engines. Hydraulics, electronics, turbine, transmission, and even how to tie wire.”

Following the year in Virginia, Paik was sent to Vietnam as a mechanic.

“The first four to six months, we just stayed on the base,” Paik said. “We worked at nights. We were at Qui Nhon, Vietnam, which was kind of central, and next to the ocean. We spent the days at the beach while the helicopters were flying. Then, at night when they came back, we worked to fix the helicopters, repair the bullet holes, and more. After a while, they wanted the mechanics aboard the helicopters so we could fix the craft while it was out in the field.”

Paik was promoted to crew chief, one of four from Hawaii.

“We didn’t really have a permanent base,” Paik said. “We flew all over Vietnam — a couple of days here, come back to the base, and then a couple more days there. We pretty much lived in a hotel. That’s when I got shot. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my family because I didn’t want people to know. On Feb. 10, 1965, we walked out of the hootch and the hotel blew up right in front of us.”

Paik was serving with the 140th Transportation that suffered 20 wounded and 22 killed in the incident.

“It was hard,” Paik said. “The chief wanted to put me in for a Purple Heart, but I felt bad because so many guys died. I told him to take my name out.”

During his tour in Vietnam, Paik earned 19 Air Medals with Valor Device for, as described in his first award, “heroism while engaged in aerial flight in connection with military operations against a hostile force. Specialist Paik distinguished himself while flying as crew chief/gunner on a UH-1B helicopter engaged in search and rescue operations in the vicinity of Quang Duc Province, Republic of Vietnam, where an Air Force C-123 aircraft had been shot down in hostile territory near the Cambodian border and out of range of immediate help of friendly ground forces.”

“Specialist Paik volunteered to go on the search and rescue operation despite the known dangers involved,” the. recommendation states. “As his helicopter approached the vicinity of the crash site, the weather became extremely bad with poor visibility, low ceiling, rain, and fog. Specialist Paik, with total disregard for his own personal safety, placed suppressive fire on the Viet Cong positions after the helicopter became the target of heavy automatic weapons fire on a low pass.

“The rescue was abandoned due to the bad weather, and the following day, Specialist Paik volunteered again to go on the rescue mission. The crew of the downed aircraft was located and carried up a steep slope to the waiting helicopter, Specialist Paik helping in removing the bodies which were badly burned, and carefully placing them in the helicopter. Through his expert marksmanship and devotion to duty, the downed crew’s remains were recovered,” the recommendation states.

“I didn’t know about the Air Awards,” Paik said. “The wait for the Congressional Medal of Honor started 13 years ago when I reconnected with Shelton. He even sent me a photo with the bullet hole (that killed the pilot). It had to go through two 3/4-inch plastic, and you couldn’t shoot from below the pilot. You had to be on level.”

Following his discharge where a package of paperwork for the Air Awards awaited him, Paik pondered the Purple Heart he withdrew from.

“When I saw the Purple Heart license plate, I wanted one,” Paik said. “But I couldn’t even get the benefits because my family didn’t even know I was shot. I tried to blank everything out. Manny Corregedor of the Veterans Services researched the incident, and through the medical records, I was awarded the Purple Heart in 1994.”

He is still waiting on the Congressional Medal of Honor recommendation by Shelton.

“My daughter took the paperwork to Sen. Daniel Inouye when he came for a visit,” Paik said. “But I don’t think they even look at the papers because when he left, he left the paperwork behind. Since then, I’ve gotten the paperwork to the offices of Sen. Daniel Akaka, Sen. Mazie Hirono, and even to Mayor Bryan Baptiste. Now it’s in the hands of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, but they tell me they can’t solicit for us.”

Paik said he is glad to be able to attend the commemorative observance with Daligdig.

“I don’t know if he was with the tank unit,” Paik said. “He was American Calvary. I pity those guys because I just fly all the time, and never got dirty.”

Vietnam War veteran Ed Kawamura of the Kauai Veterans Council encourages all Vietnam War era veterans to take advantage of the reduced admission by calling 246-1135 or emailing kauaiveteranscouncil@gmail.com.

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