Freedom Fighters: Dudley Henderson - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: Dudley Henderson

(Source: KLTV) (Source: KLTV)

Dudley Henderson joined the army to get a direction in his life, but when he had the chance to go to army flight school, he knew he had found a career.

"I have flown for over 35 years. I've got over 8,500 hours flying."

2,000 of those hours were combat assault hours in Vietnam, picking up wounded soldiers or bringing life-saving supplies.

"Vietnam was tough. You saved a lot of lives though. Did I ever."

While getting the wounded off the battlefield and into the hospitals in record time was crucial, helicopter crews put their lives in danger with every flight.

"Out of 58,000 people that were killed in Vietnam, 10,000 of them were flight crews, mostly helicopters," Henderson said.

With every second crucial in saving lives, Henderson landed in rice fields, flew around trees to land in forests and almost always dodged bullets in war zones.

"Think about it, you're flying around in plexiglass and tin and that doesn't stop many bullets in the day."

Henderson's bullet riddled helicopters attest to his many narrow escapes. And his two bronze stars and 34 air medals are proof of his success in saving lives.

Ironically, one of Henderson's first missions was picking up the dead.

"When we got there we found that the 173 airborne had lost an entire battalion, 500 and some odd men. They'd been laying out there for five days because they were surrounded and nobody could get to them."

There were so many bodies, the military had run out of body bags and had to use ponchos. After four bodies were put on Henderson's helicopter, he heard a flapping sound. Fearing a poncho had come loose, he turned around to look.

"There was a blonde headed, blue eyed Lieutenant looking right at me."

Henderson says he never got over that and thinks it's one reason for the post traumatic stress disorder he's experienced. He also thinks the constant bombardment by mortars aimed at his sleeping quarters is also to blame.

"Of course they always try to target the pilots quarters."

In spite of all he experienced in Vietnam, Henderson says the worst experience was on his return home at the Seattle airport.

"People literally lined up and spit at us. How do you think that made us feel? You've been over in Vietnam in a war zone getting shot at, getting killed, and you come back and your own people treat you like that."

Dudley Henderson retired in 1980, after serving 20 years in the U.S. Army. A time he looks back on with pride.

"I cannot tell you how I feel. I've been a blessed man."

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