Memories of Vietnam

Marshall resident Dan Markell spoke about his military service in a talk at the Marshall-Lyon County Library

Photo by Deb Gau Dan Markell explained some of the patches on his uniform jacket from the Vietnam War, during a talk at the Marshall-Lyon County Library on Tuesday.

MARSHALL — Dan Markell calls May 8 his “second birthday.” That was the day, back in 1968, when he and the rest of the crew of a Chinook helicopter had a close call with death.

The Chinook had taken off with supplies for an American outpost in the Vietnam War. Then, Markell said, “All of a sudden, there were holes appearing in the aircraft, and we were on fire.”

Although the crew were able to make a safe landing and escape the burning helicopter, it was a memory that would definitely stay with Markell.

Markell, a Marshall resident and Vietnam War veteran, spoke to a group at the Marshall-Lyon County Library on Tuesday, about his experiences as an Army flight engineer and crew chief mechanic. The talk was part of a lecture and discussion series at the library, in conjunction with the PBS documentary series, “The Vietnam War.”

Markell enlisted in the Army in 1967, and served as part of the Army 271st Assault Support Helicopter Company.

“My base of operations was Can Tho,” Markell said. Can Tho is in the southern part of Vietnam, in the Mekong River delta. As a crew chief, Markell was part of a Chinook helicopter crew, which flew on supply and other missions.

A lot of the time, he said, “We would bring in pallets of ammunition, and resupply artillery bases.”

The crew was made up of five people, Markell said. There would be two pilots and a gunner, who would all rotate to different crews, and a flight engineer and crew chief. Markell worked together with flight engineer Jerry McBee, he said.

Markell shared photos and artifacts of his time in Vietnam, including cans like the ones that the crew’s C rations came in.

“Everything came in cans,” he said. “The main meal could be beans and franks, it could be ham and lima beans,” or a couple of other kinds of canned meals, he said. Some rations were more appetizing than others. “If you got the ham and lima beans, you had kind of drawn the short straw.”

Markell also had his personal diary and his log book.

“I kept a log of our flights,” he said. “We flew probably 15 to 20 days a month.”

Markell said the Chinook helicopters weren’t used in areas with as much active fighting as other aircraft, like the smaller Huey helicopters. However, his crew still risked being shot at.

That’s what happened on May 8, 1968. The helicopter was fired on, its hydraulic lines were damaged, and the aircraft caught on fire, he said. The crew attempted to put out the fire with extinguishers, but without success. The pilots were able to land safely, and everyone got out of the helicopter. After that, Markell said, the crew were rescued by helicopters from Binh Thuy Air Base.

Markell said the two Chinook pilots from that mission received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the crew received an Air Medal.

Not everything was serious for Markell’s crew, however.

“You kind of had to make light of a few things,” he said. During his talk, Markell shared a photo that he jokingly referred to as “my 15 minutes of fame.” In a lighter moment, Markell had posed for a photo where he was sitting on the helicopter’s ramp during a flight. With him was a bag of Bugles snacks that had arrived in a care package from home.

It turned out General Mills, the company that makes Bugles, liked the picture. The photo of Markell and his snack were featured in the company’s corporate magazine in 1969. He passed a copy of the publication around to the audience on Tuesday.

Markell said one thing that his experiences in Vietnam taught him was respect for the U.S. infantry soldiers.

“We had the luxury of going back to our bunks, back to our barracks,” he said. “The guys I admire are the infantry, because they suffered most.”

Markell said his military experience gave him “a whole different attitude” in life.