MG Brady received the Medal Of Honor for actions performed on 6 January 1968. You can view the full citation. In this interview MG Brady relates how he came to join the Army and become a pilot. He also gives a thorough account of 6 January 1968, which he describes as a day like many others during his two tours of Vietnam.
NOTE: In addition to the Medal of Honor, MG Brady also received the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Vietnam.
This interview was conducted 24 March 1987.
Interviewer: General Brady, could you explain to us how you got into the Army?
Brady: I came through the ROTC program at Seattle University. In those days of course, military service was mandatory. And for the first two years at Seattle U, you were required to get into ROTC. And so I must say that I didn't really like it, initially. I didn't like the whole idea of mandatory service of any kind. But I may have changed my mind since then. Then, the beginning of your third and fourth year, then you were serious. That meant you were going through to be on, and be commissioned. So I came back to my third year, and decided that since I had to go into the military anyhow, there was no way around it, that I might as well go in as an officer. And...frankly, I didn't like the idea of being in the barracks with a bunch of guys. So I thought if I was an officer maybe I’d have my own room, or something. Somebody told me that. So that was the motivation. And I got, went ahead and, by that time I was married too. So that changed my thinking a little bit. And that's how I went through as I came in the Army.
Interviewer: How did you get into pilot training?
Brady: When I came down here for training, for basic training, I applied for the schools that were available then. And ranger, airborne and flight school. Applied for all three of them while I was here. Fact, I took my flight physical while I was here. And at that time they needed people in Germany. So I was sent to Berlin, Germany. In fact, I was there during the time when they built the wall. And they lost my paperwork for flight school, somehow in the process, and everything. So I got a letter when I was in Germany saying I had been accepted for flight school. And then a few minutes, few days later I got another one saying whoops, you're already in Germany, we can't send you. Apply again. So I had to do a three year tour in, and I never got into the other schools too. Just straight out of here and straight to work. So then as I, after I left Berlin after three years, I applied again for flight school. And that's when I got in. I was old going through flight school. I was a Captain, when I started flight school. Which in those days was very, very unusual.
Interviewer: You had two tours in Vietnam, is that right?
Interviewer: When were they?
Brady: I was there in the early days in, for essentially the entire year of 1964. January to January. '64 to '65. And then again in '67, mid '67 to mid '68.
Interviewer: Were you a pilot both times?
Brady: I was a pilot both times. Fact I volunteered for Vietnam right out of flight school. So when I came out of flight school I went straight to Vietnam.
Interviewer: When you went in mid '67 what unit were you assigned to sir?
Brady: 67. I took the 54th Helicopter Ambulance Detachment out of Fort Benning, Georgia to Vietnam. My first tour I was there with the, or what they call now today the Original DUSTOFFs. Which was the 57th Helicopter Detachment. At that time the only DUSTOFF detachment in the entire country. And that was commanded of course by Charles Kelly, when I got there.
Interviewer: Could you describe for us the events of January 6, 1968? Actually not just that time, but the activities that you were involved in.
Interviewer: And then leading up to that day, and then what happened that day sir.
Brady: Okay. It was a, we had problems as you may know, a pilot has two things that are, two of the toughest things to deal with. And one is night flying and one is weather flying. And in Vietnam you had the problems of night weather. And then you also had the problems of the low valley fog in the morning, and the afternoon with the fog on the top of the mountains. Where you had instrument conditions, IFR conditions, when you, trying to pick up patients. So and one of these was involved in the day that you're talking about, the day that I got the medal.
But one day we were called out to evacuate a soldier who had been snake bit. And he was up on top of a mountain, and half way down the mountain the mountain was in clouds. Which is IFR conditions. You don't fly close to the ground in IFR conditions. You can't tell of course whether you're right side up or not. So we went out, tried to get in to get this guy. We started to fly up the mountain, straight into the stuff. And of course we went IFR, we couldn't see where we were, or whether we were right side up. I knew we could always fall off in the valley and we'd break out. And really worried about how we're going to get in and get this kid. They called to say he was going into convulsions, and everything. One trip up the mountain I was turned sidewards. And I thought I was going down, I looked out the window just to find a spot to go in, and I could see the tip of my rotor blade, and the tip of the trees. Which was about 30 feet away, or less. And I was in the stuff. So that told me I had two reference points. Told me I was right side up. So I knew I had it made. So I turned the aircraft sidewards, and I went up the side of the mountain sidewards, watching the tip of the rotor blade and the tops of the trees. And I went in and got the guy. No problem. The same technique worked in the valley. Now you had to have, be able to make an IFR transition pretty quick, or whatever. But, in the morning in Vietnam in the mountains, up to about 500 feet, there was nothing but dense fog. Straight IFR conditions. Very, very tough flying conditions.
So anyhow, I used the technique many times. And I’d go to the edge of bank, find a trail that I could find on the map, and then I’d work my way through that stuff sidewards. Can't see straight, cause of the attitude of the aircraft. You got to use the side window. It's like driving down the highway in the weather, if you ever do it, sometime just open your side window and take a look out and see how much better the visibility than it is through the, through the windshield. So anyhow, the day of the, when all this happened, and you're going to ask me for things, you know...as I said many times, that day was not unlike many other days. It just happened that on this particular day there was a bunch of people that saw this thing that went on, and wrote it up. Otherwise, you know, nothing would have happened. And the same is true of many other DUSTOFF pilots who had days like this. But I wasn't on, I don't think I was on duty that day. But one of our birds had gone out early in the morning to make a pickup. And it was a circumstance like I just described, with about 500 feet of low valley fog. And the patients were down in the valley, under the fog. And he had gone out and he couldn't get in. And, so he knew that I could use this thing and get in, or he thought I could. So he called back, and which they did on instrument flights usually, because I was the instrument pilot in the unit. So he called me back, said he had given it a try, and wanted me to give it a try. So that was the first mission. And it was a small outpost, as I recall. Which they say was under attack at the time. And so, and I believe there was two Vietnamese patients. Of course, we were carrying Vietnamese and American. And we carried the VC and the NVA too. We carried everybody that was hurt.
By carrying the enemy we hoped they'd stop shooting at our aircraft, and it may have on occasions. So anyhow, the first mission was a very routine mission. I went out and found the edge of the stuff. A little bit up the mountain, got a little bit of a trail. Turned that thing sidewards, slipped down through it, and worked my way up to the outpost. Hopped up over the fence and into the outpost, and we got two Vietnamese on board. They may have been mortaring the place or whatever, but they didn't get us or didn't bother us. So we took them to the hospital. And went about our business, and then got a call that out in the valley, where the mountains were, the real mountains were, that there was a tremendous fight going on out there. And they had had 50-60 patients. And we had sent a dustout, DUSTOFF crew out there the night before. And as I mentioned, I wasn't on duty. And they called back, they had had two aircraft shot down, and they couldn't get into the area. Because of this low valley fog. So I told them I’d be right out. And on the way out I asked for the frequency of the people on the ground. Cause that's all I needed to get in. I had to talk to the guy with the patients, so he could tell me what was going on in the area, and how many, and all that good stuff. We needed this information anytime we went to make a pickup. You couldn't do it relay. But the guy on the mountain wouldn't give me the information. They would not give me the radio frequency of the guy where the patients were. And as you may know, in those days we used to set up our fire support bases up on these mountains. Cut off the mountain, or cut off part of the mountain. We had our supplies, and to control the valleys in the area. Well they were set up on top of this mountain here, and about half way up this mountain was this fog, this whole fog bank. And down under the stuff they had been fighting all night, and they were being mortared and RPGed, and this was how they got all those patients. But the command post, the Brigade Commander, was up on top of that mountain. So, I said you know, what the hell you want me to do? You going to give me their frequency, or, you know, I got to know where they are. So they says come on into the outpost, the Brigade Commander wants to talk to you. And I had brought the division surgeon along with me, because there were so many patients. So we went into the outpost, landed. I found the guy and he was distraught of course. And as always in combat there's a lot of confusion and things. And so I said give me the frequency and I’ll go get them. He says, you can't go in there. And he said I’m not going to lift the artillery for you, and on and on. And I told him that, you know, that artillery didn't worry me. The odds of getting hit with an artillery round in flight are, you know, if that happens then you're supposed to die anyhow. Cause it's ridiculous. So what I didn't know, and it's kind of an aside that I heard later, that he went to my co-pilot and said, asked him, he says can the guy get in there really. And he said of course he can get in there. You know, we just made a pickup like this just earlier today. But he wasn't sure if he was going to, finally I got the danged frequency from him, the guy on the ground. And I says go about your business and let me go about my business. And I’ll get your patients. So I went out.
Got down underneath the stuff, and started working my way in, through the fog. And in fact we flew right over the top of the NVA. But they'd only see you for, you know, just for a short distance as you came through the fog, and then you'd go beyond them and they'd lose sight of you. I don't know if we took any rounds, or if they shot at us or not. I guess they did shoot at us. And we got into the area, and of course it was a mess in there. I brought in a medical team with me and there was, as I said, 50 or 60 casualties. Some of them very very serious. So we stacked them on. Dropped the medics off. And there was fire fights going on all over the place, underneath that stuff. And then I came up through...you don't go back out the same way, you don't have to. Cause you can do an instrument takeoff, and just come right straight up through the stuff. Cause I knew the mountain was up above me there. And that's what I did. And I guess the people were up on top of the mountain, watching. And all of a sudden they saw this helicopter come up through the fog. And that's one of the reasons they started to write, because they said it was kind of an eerie sight, or whatever. So I took them up, took them up, set them on the pad. And they said, well this is a good deal, we get the rest of them to go in with you, some other helicopters. So they lined up four aircraft, four other helicopters. And I explained to them how to do this thing. And they were going to follow me in. So we got in a line, and that kind of scared me. Because somehow when we got out there we got on the wrong frequency. I couldn't talk to these guys. But I went ahead and went on into the stuff. And they came up to the edge of the stuff and they didn't go in. Or they went in and they had some problems. It might have been because of the frequencies. So they went back. And I ended up having to get all of them out myself. I don't know how many trips I made in there. Three or four trips I guess. But we got them all out. And we got them up, come up through the stuff, dropped them on the fire support base, and then they had these other ships back haul them to the surgical hospital. So we cleaned the whole area out, and I don't think that we, I don't think we took, I don't know if we took any rounds or not. The airplane was still flyable.
So then we flew some other missions. And then the next mission that they wrote about was some guys were down in the, what we call the bravo sierra area. It was down around the My Lai area actually. And so we went down there, and they had some Americans who were hurt. And I don't remember how many. And it was one of those deals I think where they told us the area was secure. But we got into the area, and I couldn't find the patients. I was hovering around. What happened is, nobody would stand up. Patients were laying down, people were standing up. The people who were on the ground wouldn't stand up. And that was the only thing I ever asked of the people on the ground. You never debated or discussed security with the guy on the ground. Cause it didn't mean the same to him as it did to you in the area. You know, he says an area is secure, he may have 50 yards, 100 yards, whatever. Where an aircraft, take a quarter of a mile or more to get into an area. So it was stupid to even talk security to a guy on the ground, cause it didn't mean the same thing to you as it did to him. So you would simply try and find out where the enemy was, what weapons he had, and, you know, where they last took the fire from. So, and the other thing you'd ask him is, just, so it's secure enough that you'll stand up and help us load the patients. That's all. Well, this day I got in there, and nobody's standing up. So I can't find the patients. And we're taking fire. And so boom boom, then they start coming through the cockpit and screwing up the controls and stuff. So we jumped up out of the area then. I got up above them. Cause I never saw a patient. And then they got organized, and we turned around and came in a different way. It was a little better approach into that area than the first way we went. Cause we didn't know what we was getting into. Came in, slipped in there nice and neat, and got those patients, and got out. But the aircraft was screwed up so I had to get another airplane. And then the next...
Interviewer: Did you have to autorotate in on that helicopter?
Brady: No. Got back, when I got back there and the maintenance people got to the bird, they said there was only about so much between one of the controls and no control at all. So, we just barely did get in. And, then the next mission, I guess the last mission of the day. I was in a minefield. And I was working the area, and I could hear the traffic. A bunch of American soldiers were trapped in a minefield. A bunch of them had been killed, and a bunch of them had been hurt. And there was already a DUSTOFF aircraft in the area. And when he got into the area, I guess what happened is a mine went off near the aircraft, and it killed a bunch of the guys off to the side of the aircraft. And so he jumped up out of the area. But I saw him coming out, and I saw where he was. And the company commander was on the air that he was distraught, and had some guys in bad shape, really, really upset. So I went back in. Saw where the guy came out of. Went back in, and, he told me, he says don't go in, because a mine went off. But I knew that he had been in there, and if I could find his skid marks I’d be all right. So I went in and set down essentially where his skid marks were. Got it on the ground all right. And usually we, occasionally we worked the minefield you wouldn't land, you'd hover. But a lot of the times you could see a place to put your skids down and you'd be all right. But the guys who were, who performed minefield, were my medic and my crew chief. I can remember we set down, we just stopped and kind of hesitated and looked at each other, and I said, well go get them. So they jumped out of that bird, and they ran into the minefield, to try and find these patients. And started hauling them back to the aircraft. They're running through the damn minefield. Everybody else is either dead or laying down. Ain't nobody moving but my two medics. I'm just sitting at the controls. I ain't doing shit. So, then on the way back one time they, there must have been a mine right next to the aircraft. Because they stepped on it, the mine went off. But they were carrying a body, I think. And I’m not sure to this day, really if it was a body, or if the guy was alive, but the mine went off of course. And I think the body took the impact of the explosion. But it knocked both my crew members up in the air, and it just tore up the aircraft. I think there's something like 400 holes in the aircraft, from the shrapnel of that mine. And the instruments go buggy and...but they got, they both got up. They weren't badly hurt. Got the patients on board, and we came out of there. I really wasn't sure if that sucker was going to fly, that time. But it held together, and we got back. Got them in the hospital. And I think they all, if they weren't dead I think they all lived. Cause one of them is a Lieutenant that I’ve heard from since. A guy named Peacock. And then we got another aircraft and we went to work. Went back to work. And, like I say, that was no different than a lot of days. I used, I guess, three aircraft that day. I had one day where I used four aircraft. And a lot of two aircraft days, and stuff like that. But, as I said, there were people who started to write about these things. And, and that's how it happened. I think the award originally went in for a Distinguished Service Cross. And I in fact, right here at Fort Sam Houston, they had a ceremony for me here, and they awarded me my second Distinguished Service Cross. Which was for this very action that I’m talking about. And I thought, then somebody told me that was an interim award for the Medal of Honor. And one day I’m sitting in my office here and a guy calls me and said that he was from General Westmoreland’s office, and congratulations, you won the Medal of Honor. Of course, I took a lot of, everybody in the place was always joking and screwing around. So I thought it was somebody screwing with me here. And I had just, a week or two before, been picked to be the aviator of the year for this squad a. And so, you know, I was taking a lot of gas because of that. And so we thought it was a joke. In fact the commander then, or whoever our boss was, made us make a memorandum for record of this thing, so that we'd be sure that we had all our facts straight. And so, but anyhow it was, it did happen. And the other award was just an interim award.
Interviewer: Were you wounded during any of that action, personally?
Brady: No, not at all, that day. I was wounded on another occasion but not that day.
Interviewer: When you were in a situation like that, I know a lot of medics are going to wonder themselves, why do you keep going back in, why do you keep doing that kind of situation. Could you address that?
Brady: Well, you know, I think the, the...you don't want to ever, we, I never could imagine leaving somebody in the field. I'm not going to go home when there's somebody in the field. And if, you know, you kind of do that business as if it was you. You know, if you were out there, what kind of, how far would you extend yourself to get your own self out. And the greatest fear that I ever encountered was the fear that I might fail. That I might not be able to get these guys out. And in our unit we never went home without the patient. If one guy went, and he couldn't get them, he called for help. And the next guy went, and we did that until we got them out. We didn't leave anybody in the field. So we got, we got a lot of them shot up and shot down. And we got people hurt. But, you know, you just have to do that. That's your job. That's the thing you signed on for. So there's no way around it.
Interviewer: Do you have any advice for the medics today?
Brady: Yeah, I think if I was talking to the young medic today, I think the most important thing for them is to be soldiers first. And then medics. And, I mean, to be a soldier in every sense of the word. And not just, the medics have, sometimes have, an image that's not completely in the soldierly mode. But it's important for them not to be exceptional, or different, or whatever. They got to be soldiers. They've got to be able to keep up with the infantry. They got to be in the same physical condition. They've got to know infantry tactics and all that kind of stuff. Battlefield survival things. And still be a medic. And a guy who is going to be a medic, above all other solders, has to care. And, I mean it has to be a sincere care. He can't be in it for whatever. He's got to be in it because he cares about taking care of people. And he can never be bored with that. He can never get hardened by that. No matter how many casualties you see, or what kind of a mess you see in combat or in hospitals or anywhere else, once the guy starts to harden, or get used to that kind of stuff, then he's not good anymore. It becomes, he gets rude, and he gets indifferent, and he's not effective. It's the guy who is able to sustain and maintain a sense of caring, for long periods of time, through all kinds of this, all the bloody things that you see in combat and hospitals and everything. He never stops caring about whoever it is that's hurt. He's going to be the best kind of a medic. And how you select those kind of people, they're exposed in combat. You find the ones that are and the ones that aren't, awful quick, that don't care. So, but he has got to be a soldier, and he's got to be a soldier that cares. And he's got to be able to do what the guys he supports does, and then some. He has to be beyond that. And usually our medics are brighter people anyhow. That would be, that would be the thing. Not just the mental things, but the physical things. Medics are slack in the physical things. You know, the PT's. Maybe it's not like that today. But they need to be able to keep up with the tough guys in the infantry, as well as be as smart as they are.
Interviewer: Thank you sir.