Recalling the heroic career of Vietnam chopper pilot Patrick Henry Brady.
presented by U.S. Bank
Anybody who has ever served in the U.S. military as a ground pounder (infantry) has loved chopper pilots and their crews. Choppers were first used in Korea for picking up the wounded and transporting them to the nearest medical facility. But it wasn’t until Vietnam when helicopters were used to their maximum potential.
Any chopper pilot who flew into a combat zone to resupply, obtain a medical evacuation, or retrieve the wounded soldier is a hero in my book. Lightly armored, relatively slow in speed, and vulnerable to ground fire made them easy targets, resulting in high casualty rates during the Vietnam war.
One of those unsung chopper pilots was Patrick Henry Brady. He attended Seattle University where ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) was mandatory for two years. He graduated in 1959 with a degree in psychology and subsequently commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps.
After graduation, a slot for Brady was found in the Army’s basic helicopter school. Despite nearly washing out, Brady earned his wings in December 1963. The following January, Brady volunteered for Vietnam and was assigned to the 57th Medical Detachment””Helicopter Ambulance, led by Major Charles Kelly. The unit’s call-sign was “Dust Off,” a cry for help, and one of the most famous Vietnam call-signs.
Major Kelly was in a battle to save Dust Off from ill-advised Army leadership who wanted to use Kelly’s helicopters for hauling “ash and trash,” pinning portable red crosses onto helicopters only when needed for patient evacuation.
Kelly was outraged and encouraged his pilots to prove their worth by evacuating patients under the most difficult of conditions””at night, in inclement weather, and during battle. Nothing was to come between the crew and the patient. Kelly became a legend and under him, Brady began to develop survival flying techniques for patient rescue in weather and under fire. On July 1, 1964, on a rescue mission, Major Kelly came under fire and was told to get out. Kelly’s last words were, “When I have your wounded.”
Despite efforts to change Dust Off, Kelly’s dying words became the standard and nothing more was heard about portable red crosses. Thanks to Kelly and his men, Dust Off would rescue some one million men in Vietnam, setting unmatched lifesaving records.
Brady left Vietnam and was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he continued to fly med-evacs in the H-19. In late summer 1967, Brady trained and outfitted the 54th Medical Detachment for deployment to Vietnam in August. The 54th was based at Chu Lai. The war had intensified since Brady’s first tour and instead of supporting 16,000 troops, Dust Off was now supporting half a million.
Night, weather, and challenging terrain were as deadly as the enemy. Brady furthered his flying skills and the 54th became specialists in combat pickups using techniques never before used in combat.
On January 6, 1968, Brady was called on to help with an extraordinary casualty situation. Despite repeated warnings that the missions were impossible, on three different missions, Brady extracted the wounded from areas where other aircraft had failed.
On two occasions, his aircraft was hit by automatic-weapons fire, and on a third, an exploding mine damaged it and wounded two crew members.”¯By nightfall, his three aircraft had over four hundred holes in them.”¯Despite that, Brady and his crews had rescued nearly a hundred patients.
Brady has said that day was much like most days for him and the men of the 54th. The difference was someone cared enough to write about it.”¯For his actions that day, Brady was presented the Medal of Honor by President Nixon on October 9, 1969.
In part, his citation reads, “With unmatched skill and extraordinary courage, Maj. Brady made four flights to this embattled landing zone and successfully rescued all the wounded. On his third mission of the day, Maj. Brady once again landed at a site surrounded by the enemy. The friendly ground force, pinned down by enemy fire, had been unable to reach and secure the landing zone. Although his aircraft had been badly damaged and his controls partially shot away during his initial entry into this area, he returned minutes later and rescued the remaining injured. Shortly thereafter, obtaining a replacement aircraft, Maj. Brady was requested to land in an enemy minefield where a platoon of American soldiers was trapped. A mine detonated near his helicopter, wounding two crewmembers and damaging his ship.
Despite this, he managed to fly six severely injured patients to medical aid. Throughout that day Maj. Brady utilized three helicopters to evacuate a total of 51 seriously wounded men, many of whom would have perished without prompt medical treatment. Maj. Brady’s bravery was in the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.”
In two tours in Vietnam, Brady flew more than 2,500 combat missions and rescued over 5,000 wounded.
Brady earned an MBA from Notre Dame in 1972, and served the Army for 34 years, retiring as a Major General. He and his wife Nancy have six children, 13 grandchildren, and one great-grandson. Two of those children graduated from West Point. Brady and his daughter Meghan, an Iraq War veteran, published the book,”¯”Dead Men Flying,” about his Vietnam experiences. It serves as his tribute to Major Kelly’s legacy and to the humanitarian effort of a Vietnam veteran unreported in the annals of warfare.
Today, Brady is active in the Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development Program, dedicated to teaching our youth how to become heroes and the importance of courage, sacrifice, and patriotism to them and America.
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