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Sam Echols uses humor to deal with Vietnam War memories - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Sam Echols uses humor to deal with Vietnam War memories

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SHREVEPORT, La -
Fighting wars for the U.S. was in Sam Echols' family.  So he joined the Army while he was in college and trained to be a helicopter pilot for the Vietnam War.

"I flew out of country on my 21st birthday, and flew back home on my 22nd," Echols remembers with a smile. "Happy birthday to me.

"I was called upon by my country and I went and did it. Too bad they didn't let us win," Echols says, critical of the how the war was managed in Washington. But he was happy to serve.

"Greatest flying in the world -- except when they shot at you," Echols added. "Got shot down twice."

He unzips a canvas bag containing his old pilot's helmet, still showing streaks of blood.  Echols was but by his chopper's plexiglaPlexiglasld afwindshield fire downed it into a tree.  

Another time a bullet came through the chopper and grazed his leg. But Echols survived nearly 1,100 hours of combat flying.  Does he feel fortunate?

"Oh sure. Guilt as well," Echols says. "Why did I make it and they didn't? Why did my friends die and I didn't? 

Echols saw many of his buddies and other troops die.  It was always dangerous, whether he was commanding a gunship to hunt and shoot the enemy; or when he transported troops, which is how he started his hitch.  He remembers that first mission when he was new to the situation.

"I looked over at the tree line.  What a nice pretty day. And people are taking my picture! Little flashes!" he says jokingly. 

"They were bullets, muzzle flashes," he continued, making sure his visitor got the picture. "Bullet comes through the windscreen on my first combat assault. And I go, 'Wuh oh! This is serious!' It gets real serious real quick. 
"They put us in a weird situation. Just learn to deal with it. Have to live with it. You never get over it.  There'll be snakes in my head until I die," Echols says of the memories and flashbacks.

He deals with it by keeping his sense of humor and staying positive.

"It's easier to do that. It's a lot easier to smile than frown. Less muscles," he explains, again jokingly. "And it's a good deal to smile and be happy." 

Echols says the Army not only gave him a chance to serve in combat. It also him a career.  After his war duty, Echols continued flying choppers in the medical and energy industries.
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