John Bercaw's journey to Vietnam started at the beginning of the Korean War when, as a young boy, he thrilled to see his first helicopter as it defied gravity and common sense by flying. A circuitous route through troubled teenage years and four years in the Marines led him to Fort Wolters, Texas, and the US Army's Warrant Officer Rotary Wing Aviation Course. For the first time in his life, he felt a deep sense of belonging. John's successful struggle to master the beast called helicopter earned him an all-expense-paid trip to South Vietnam and the opportunity to prove himself as a combat pilot. His year of war was not as expected. Awed by the lush landscapes of Vietnam and the unexpected moments of war's savage beauty, Bercaw changed his mind about war and its effect on the men who fought in it. He found himself able to overcome fear and doubt in combat and do his job to the best of his ability. Based on the books he had read and the movies he had seen, he had not anticipated the addiction to the highs and lows brought on by the intensity of war. The difficult part came at the end. Leaving Vietnam before the war was over, the sudden end to the daily adrenalin rushes and the sense of being part of something important-aggravated by the shameful reception experienced by all returning veterans-initiated a period of depression that haunted him for years.
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