Vietnam War veterans reflect 50 years after U.S. pulled out of war
HOCKESSIN, Del. (CBS) -- Wednesday marks 50 years since the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War. Many veterans are reflecting on what the war meant to them personally and to their country.
73-year-old Ken Johnson still bears the scars from the day his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam.
"It sucked the air right out of me," Johnson said. "I said 'We're burning. I'm gonna die.' I couldn't get any breath. So I passed out."
It was May 21, 1971.
Johnson was an army specialist looking for enemy activity when a rocket propelled grenade hit the back of the chopper, causing it to crash and explode. The pilot, Tom Bell, miraculously wasn't hurt and pulled Johnson from the wreckage.
"I recall putting my arms under his armpits and you know, grabbing him and dragging him probably 30 or 40 feet away into a bomb crater," Bell said.
Johnson was taken to the hospital on another helicopter with serious injuries.
"I broke both my legs," Johnson said. "This was a compound fracture, my right leg, dislocated my shoulder. Had some facial injuries."
While Johnson was still in the hospital, he was given the Purple Heart, an award for soldiers wounded in combat.
"I'm reminded of Vietnam every morning, every day when I put my shoes on," Johnson said.
Johnson made a nearly complete recovery but says he never knew who the pilot was until a mutual contact introduced them 48 years later.
"It was unbelievable to find out what happened to me, and find out the guy that really actually saved my life," Johnson said.
On the 50th anniversary of the U.S. pulling out of Vietnam, Johnson is reminded of the sacrifices he made for his country.
"It's a special day for me because I went through so much when I was there," Johnson said.
Johnson proudly wears his Purple Heart cap with no regrets from the past because he says it created a bond he cherishes with two fellow Vietnam vets.
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