Kresgeville man had a guardian angel
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Robert Turnicky of Kresgeville reminisces about his days in 1966 as an U.S. Army crew chief in the Vietnam War, as he looks over photos from a scrapbook
In 1965, Robert Turnicky received a letter from Uncle Sam, "inviting" him to come for a physical.
At the time, Turnicky was totally against the Vietnam War.
"But I felt it was my patriotic duty to serve," he says.
Born and raised in Doylestown, he graduated from Central Bucks High School in 1963 and was working as a meat cutter. He had just had a hernia operation, was experiencing stomach problems and suffered with allergies. He was rejected.
Six months later, he received another letter telling him to report to the Doylestown Courthouse on May 10, 1966. He was 21 and going into the U.S. Army.
"It came as a gigantic surprise," says Turnicky, 69. "It was a rude awakening."
He knew he was destined to end up in Vietnam.
He visited his minister and asked him, "Does it make it right to kill over there?"
His minister replied, "You live by the law of the land. You do what you've got to do."
He arrived in An Khe, Vietnam, Nov. 17, 1966, as part of 1st Cavalry Air Mobile Division.
He says South Vietnam had some of the most beautiful countryside he had ever seen, before napalm ravaged most of it.
He poured concrete, constructed buildings, did KP and guard duty. Next, he was shipped out to Bong Son plain and placed in helicopter maintainence.
After two weeks as a door gunner on a UH-1 Iroquois (Huey), he was made a crew chief, assigned to one helicopter. He flew in that helicopter every time it went up, and if there was a problem, he would tell the pilot to ground it.
"Every time we went in a hot LZ (landing zone), it was our job to put out the fire," he says.
He was a little afraid at first. "But after a point, adreneline kicks in. Once it starts, you almost look forward to it," he says of flying into danger.
When the adreneline was up, "We'd come out of having drawn direct fire and the pilot would ask, 'Wanna do it again?' and we'd all yell, 'Yeah!'"
He flew 550 hours in four and a half months, sometimes flying 12 to 14 hours a day or night. They did everything from hauling troops, alive and dead; dead Viet Cong; and animals.
"We helped people move, and they took their animals with them. Their animals meant more to them than family. We had one soldier tell us how a woman had a baby in one arm and a pig in the other. When she was told she could only take one, she left her baby behind because she said she could always have another baby."
The biggest mission he was ever a part of consisted of 52 helicopters.
One of his flights involved having to go in and clean up a U.S. platoon that were all killed because its guards fell asleep.
Turnicky believes he had a guardian angel while over there.
"The entire time I flew, my helicopter never took a bullet. The one day I grounded my helicopter for a problem, the guy who took his helicopter up in my place took 13 shots."
When the new crew chief of Turnicky's Huey took it up, the helicopter took 20 rounds.
He says his guardian angel was watching over him as he was in Cam Rahn Bay waiting to come home.
"We had like a day to spend there. We were playing the slot machines and got word our flight had been moved up and we had to leave. We learned later that right after we left, the place had been mortared."
With a rank of sergeant, he came home in November 1967, just missing the Tet Offensive that began Jan. 30, 1968, one of the largest military campaigns of the war. He knows if he had stayed, he would have been in it.
Since Vietnam, he has had only one flashback.
"My dad wanted to take my son, 12 years old at the time, up in a small plane. I went along. When we got up there, I thought I was back in Vietnam with a machine gun in my hand."
He and Sharyn, who now live in Kresgeville, have been married 42 years.
He has two stepdaughters, Christina and Carolyn; a son, Michael; and five grandchildren. He likes to hunt in his spare time.
He has no regrets about being drafted and sent to Vietnam. "It was the best and worst of times."
It was also the biggest growing-up experience.
"I was a victim of the circumstances back then. Today, I'm content with myself. I never made a lot of money, but we've managed to survive."
He has an album filled with photos of his year in Vietnam. He doesn't think he's had it out in over 30 years.
"My wife doesn't like for me to look at it. It tends to stir me up. Some vets don't like to talk about it (Vietnam) but I think it's good to share. There were 65,000 of us killed over there. There are more than that that died from suicide as a result of being in that war."
When Turnicky returned home, his main hope was that the United States would have learned something from Vietnam.
"We were somewhere we didn't belong. We haven't learned that lesson."
Name: Robert Turnicky
Age: 69 years old
Military branch: United States Army
Years of service: 1965-1967
Medals: Vietnam Service Medal, flying wings as a crew member