Out of 210 who went to flying school for a certain Vietnam War squad, only 55 came home alive, veteran Bill Voss told middle schoolers at Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka on Friday for their Veterans Day observation program.
Voss, a Wildwood resident who now works as an American Family Insurance agent, told Sacred Heart middle schoolers as the guest speaker of the day that he still loves to fly.
"I survived (war situations) by keeping my faith and praying for calm," said Voss, as he related what it was like to have to perform low-level helicopter maneuvers moments after flying above 1,500 feet out of firing range.
Sacred Heart teacher Connie Bachmann also encouraged a veterans hall of honor at the school, for which students brought copies of photos and stories about their relatives who were military representatives. World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War were all represented. One veteran lent his Navy model ships, which can be viewed in the photos that accompany this article.
Veterans and families joined the school in celebrating Mass Friday morning, followed by a special musical singing tribute from students.
Voss told students he turned 21 years old while in Vietnam from Nov. 21, 1969 to 1970. He said he served in the military two years, two months and 15 days.
Students asked him about tunnels in the ground, and he explained how human "tunnel rats" worked in them. They also asked about his scariest moment. He shared what it was like to be assigned to helping soldiers who had to live in the jungle, sometimes for an entire month, and getting shot at all day long as he tried to get food rations or medical assistance to them.
Voss said sometimes he'd have to land on mountain tops, or in precarious places, and he would say to himself: "OK, Lord, where's my rosary. Let's do this again."
He said helicopter pilots never wanted to land, that it was constantly about "touch and go."
"If you were somewhere on ground for a moment, that was too long," Voss said.
He also told students sometimes it was not about his own fear. "Often, it was about the fear you feel from the soldiers and the situation down on there on the ground. Sometimes, you just couldn't get in to help people. Unlike on TV, you couldn't hover."
Voss said he was proud of his time spent serving the United States. "It was a team effort. And there was respect for each other, and a great bond. Flying was something I was good at. The best part about my experience was I felt like I accomplished some worthwhile things."