Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Veteran shares remastered photos he took during Vietnam War as he went from fresh-faced recruit to hardened soldier

A former soldier who arrived in Vietnam a 'barely mature' man 20-year-old and left just over a year later as a 'cynical and sometimes angry' man has shared his remastered pictures of the conflict as it reaches it 40th anniversary.
James Loesch, now 68, was only just out of his teens when he was flown from his home in suburban New Jersey to Phu Loi, South Vietnam, in 1967 - more than a decade into the 19-year conflict which would leave as many as two million civillians dead.

Loesch, a keen photographer, immediately set about documenting his time in the war-torn country - capturing images of the war and his own transformation from a fresh-faced recruit to a battle hardened soldier, disillusioned by the very nature of the conflict. 

He would later describe those months as 'the longest year of my life'. 

'We were the Cowboys - that was the company nickname. Sometimes this shot makes me laugh, sometimes it make me cringe and wonder, who was the person?: James Loesch has shared the pictures he took during his tour of duty in Vietnam in the 1960s

Star power: Henry Fonda, surrounded by delighted soldiers during a 23 day tour of American forces in 1967

Flying: Loesch - seen here cleaning and inspecting tail boom - was part of the helicopter companies during his time in Vietnam

'I saw some of the most beautiful things in my life in Vietnam and some of the most awful - sometimes in the same day,' Loesch recalled.

'Whenever we landed in a relatively safe area, kids would appear out of nowhere, sometimes looking for handouts, sometimes just really being kids.
'It's an experience I would not wish on anyone but having survived, it is something to remember for all my life.'

Loesch's pictures offer a fascinating insight into life as a U.S. solider during the Vietnam War: reminders of just how young the men sent half way around the world to fight were, and of the innocent children whose lives were changed forever by a conflict they were too young to understand.

In total, some 58,200 American soldiers were killed, with the average age being just 22 - four years younger than the average age of men killed in World War Two.

Delight: Some of the best times in his memory are those when they were surrounded by Vietnamese children

Memories: 'Whenever we landed in a relatively safe area, kids would appear out of nowhere,' recalled Loesch

Welcomed: Early in Loesch's tour with the 128th AHC, handing out treats to the children who gathered

Death toll: Loesch in Vietnam, where some 58,200 American soldiers were killed, with the average age being just 22

Loesch began his tour with the 128th Assault Helicopter Company, assigned to the tool shed handing out specialized equipment to the helicopter mechanics, but he was soon promoted to flying as a gunner, and later a crew chief. 

'We always lived very close to the flight line so when there were emergency missions we could run to the ships and get in the air as quickly as possible,' he said.
Loesch was transferred after about six weeks to the 335th Assault Helicopter Company - or 'The Cowboys', as they came to be known.

Learning on the job: 'Me as a rookie crew chief on a B model Gun Ship,' writes Loesch on his Flickr page

Career: Loesch began his stint with the 128th Assault Helicopter Company and ended up with the 335th Assault Helicopter Company

Time out: Loesch looking relaxed in between missions during his time in South Vietnam

Villages: The view from the helicopter as Loesch and his crew flew across the Asian country

Facial hair: Loesch jokes on his Flickr page this picture captures 'an awful attempt at growing a mustache'

Before that, he was treated to a little bit of Hollywood glamour, in the form of screen legend and decorated Navy veteran Henry Fonda - who opposed the war, according to IMDB, but was persuaded to go on a 23 day tour to rouse the spirits of the troops.
The picture he captured shows Fonda surrounded by soldiers, delighted at his visit. 
'Seeing Henry Fonda was pretty funny and gave us all a big lift at the time,' recalls Loesch. 
'He came through the company area in a jeep and he was kind of waving at people like the Queen does. I never saw him again.'
It wasn't the only highlight of his tour. 
'Some of the highlights came when we landed in secure areas and when kids came out to greet us,' Loesch said.
'They were almost always polite, shy, funny and they really appreciated any handouts we might have.'

Young: This picture was taken in the middle of 1967, when Loesch had not been out in Vietnam long

Hardened soldier: The strain of the war 'as an old crew chief' - this picture was taken six or seven months after the one above

Day to day business: A Chinook helicopter rescuing a damaged one, captured by Loesch during his months in Vietnam

But there were moments which are far harder to remember. 
In late 1967, Loesch was involved in some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire conflict culminating with the battle of Hill 875 where the U.S. Army saw more action and more losses than at any other time.
He said: 'It was hairy.
'I arrived as a barely mature 20-year-old and left as a cynical, sometimes angry 21-year-old who had been put in a terrible situation, along with hundreds of thousands of other young men.
'It was such a waste. We had a saying, usually used in the worst of times, and it went like this: "It don't mean nothing, just do your job."
'That's how we got by. Fortunately for me, I came home to a good family, job and to the best woman in the world.'

Happy ending: Loesch left military service in the winter of 1969 - six months later, he married his high school sweetheart Judy (left, today)

Pictures: 'It's an experience I would not wish on anyone but having survived, it is something to remember for all my life,' Loesch said
In total, Loesch served in the army for three years, training for a year at Fort Dix, New Jersey, then fighting in Vietnam for a year.
On his return to the States in 1968, spending a year working on helicopters in Savannah, Georgia, before leaving the army in 1969.
Back home, he rejoined his father in the family business, the Trenton Elevator Co., where he had worked before he was called up for military service.
Then, six months later, he married his high school sweetheart Judy in 1969. 

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