Part 3 of 3 parts: story of Vietnam Vet Don Wilmot


Time fails to heal all wounds. Some feel like yesterday. 

A crew chief/door gunner with the Marines HMM-361 helicopter squadron, Don Wilmot of Sterling Township was all of 21 when he landed in Vietnam. Now 65, the Wayne County native talks about his ongoing battle with PTSD.


Time fails to heal all wounds. Some feel like yesterday. 
A crew chief/door gunner with the Marines HMM-361 helicopter squadron, Don Wilmot of Sterling Township was all of 21 when he landed in Vietnam. Now 65, the Wayne County native talks about his ongoing battle with PTSD.
“If I’m outside and a helicopter goes over, right away — having been in a helicopter war — I’m back to Vietnam. I don’t have to think about going there. I’m there. I would say, everyday, at least 30 times, I have flash backs of the war,” he says.
“They’ve learned that, if they take the veterans today, as they come out of combat, they de-program them. They process them. And they’re hoping it will help ...In our case, we’ve gone too long with the war memories. I was in a major battle one day. Two days later, I’m sitting home drinking coffee, watching the war on TV. There was no de-programming. They just yanked us out and sent us home. And we’ll never be cured, some of our conditions can be controlled,” he said. “You see your best friend shot in the head and he’s dead, there’s no way of taking that memory out of your mind.”     
The hand of comfort
As he examines the past, another memory surfaces. It’s pain-filled, steeped with sadness and a feeling of inadequacy.
 “On one of my medivacs, we got a call— Marine shot. It took us like four minutes to get there. When we landed, they had six Marines that had been shot,” Don says. “We had to get out of the zone, we’re under fire. They’re just throwing them in. Well, when we lifted off, as soon as we got airborne, we could leave our guns. Both the gunner and I left our gun and started doing what we could to help.”
“This one fellow laid right by my feet on the floor. And we’re flying. He looked up and made eye contact. And I looked down and I could see he had a chest wound. And every time he breathed, you’d see the air and the blood coming out. And we put a compress on it,” Don said. But it didn’t look good.
“He looked up at me and he just kind of raised his hand up. And I raised my hand down. We’re flying. Well, here I am with a helmet, I can’t talk over the noise of the aircraft,” he says. The noise of the rotor overhead canceled out any chance of being heard. He felt helpless, wanting to do more for a dying soldier. “Looking at him, and all of a sudden, he just died. My worst thought is, here this man dies in this world. What does he see? Ugly me, with my flight helmet on. You can’t talk to him and you can’t converse. That’s the last thing he saw in his life. War is so tragic,” he says.
“I wasn’t his mother. I wasn’t his girlfriend. I wasn’t his father. At least he had a hold of my hand when he died,” he says. 
What Don doesn’t realize is how much of a difference he made that day. How the warmth of one man’s hand transferred strength to another, to let him know, without words, that he wasn’t alone.