Bob Brady’s helicopter came under enemy attack while he hosted a CBS news crew on a flight to pick up three wounded U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.
First, those onboard heard something hit the tail as the aircraft was making its landing north of Danang Jan. 21, 1971. The helicopter, piloted by Brady, also became the target of rapid gunfire as it took off on the return flight to a field hospital.
“We took a little fire on the way out of this pickup area,” TV reporter Morton Dean said in the seven-minute clip shown 43 years ago on “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.”
And then, Dean experienced something profound in journalism when he became part of the story as one of the injured soldiers unexpectedly clenched his hand for comfort. Dean pauses at that point in the newscast, appearing for a few seconds to have been unsure what to say next.
“It choked him up pretty significantly,” said Brady, a retired Washington attorney who now makes his home in a recreational vehicle in Santa Barbara, Calif.
None of the three injured soldiers suffered life-threatening injuries, with the most seriously hurt man requiring facial reconstructive surgery.
Brady was a 20-year-old warrant officer assigned to a medic unit known as a Dustoff crew based at Hawk Hill, 350 miles north of Saigon. He would fly more than 800 missions during his one-year tour in Vietnam, and helicopters he piloted were shot down twice before Dean paid him a visit in 1971.
Brady also provided the South Vietnam forces with air power during Operation Lam Son 719 in Laos, one of the bloodiest missions of the war in a battle won by communist troops.
Dean’s reports from Vietnam, and especially the one involving Brady, were so compelling they earned him the stateside assignment to file reports on all of the Apollo space launches, Brady said.
“This was a very big deal to him. It helped his career,” he said.
Over the years, Dean and Brady kept in casual contact until three years ago, when Dean and his cameraman in Vietnam decided to attempt to reunite the helicopter crew with the injured soldiers who were unknown to them on that harrowing flight.
“It’s just the right story,” Dean said to his cameraman, Greg Cooke, in a promotional video for a documentary being made about the project.
Dean conducted research at the Pentagon before setting out across America to reunite these men, a task he eventually accomplished.
He specifically wanted to know from them if they still were haunted by the Vietnam War, as well as what they might have to say that could help today’s veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brady said.
He said he drank a lot of booze after returning to the United States, and felt then as if he didn’t fit in any longer.
“Being a Vietnam veteran is not something you wanted to broadcast,” he said.
Eventually he went to college, finished law school and made a successful career as a high-profile criminal defense attorney with an office in the Washington Trust Building.
“I believed I was insulated from the stress and had put Vietnam behind me. I concentrated on forgetting about Vietnam.”
He began noticing during his last five years with the law firm that he was having problems concentrating and completing tasks. He explained to Dean in an interview for the documentary he convinced himself to get away from the business and start a new life in a “fresh place.”
“I had to get out here and get involved in therapy,” Brady said. “The doctor I am working with encouraged me to talk about Vietnam, lay it out and see where it goes.”
Dean posted his interview with Brady and the original news report from Vietnam at www.vietnammedevac.com. Dean currently is seeking an outlet on which to air the documentary, Brady said.