Lives lost at war are a grim reality. We lost more than 58,000 just in the Vietnam War. But Don Beasley's mission was about saving lives at war, as part of an elite team.
Don was a pararescueman in the Air Force, flying by chopper into hostile territory, to lift downed pilots to safety.
Don says, "If you go and you give it all and you get shot down, we're going to come and get you. And we did."
He calls it the most rewarding thing he's ever done, starting with his first rescue.
"You pick a guy up. And he gets to the door. And you reach down to pull him in the door. And all he does is grab you by the ears, and just plants a big kiss on you for thanking you. And you saw the look in his eyes. And you're hooked," he says.
Pararescuemen are part paratrooper, gunner, and medic. Don was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism for one of those rescue missions in the fall of 1968 to save an injured downed pilot who parachuted into the trees in the middle of an enemy stronghold.
As his chopper looked for the pilot, Don says, "They said pop a smoke. He popped his M-13 (smoke flare)," Don said. "He's sitting there right in the middle of that damn thing. We said, oh boy, this is going to be good."
Enemy soldiers on both sides of the chopper fired rifles, as the pilot made a run for it.
Don says he fired the choppers guns to give the pilot cover, and keep them from being shot down.
"They had two guys after him," Don recalled. "And we took care of them. And he got on the penetrator (hoist), got up, and came out."
Don says of his crew on those rescue missions, "No fear. We trained to do this stuff and that's what we're going to do."
Don's first experience on rescue missions were assisting with attaching flotation collars to the space capsules after two of the first splashdowns by NASA.
Late in his career, he flew on a support plane along with the first helicopter to fly around the world in 1982 -- the Spirit of Texas.
For his 31 years contributing to America's air power heritage, Don was chosen as one of nine honorees for this year's Gathering Of Eagles.
"It was probably one of the best things to ever happen to me," he says.
Don lives in Bossier City, with his wife, Mitzi, who finished out her own Air Force career at Barksdale. Don has continued his commmitment to the military, with service for the Disabled American Veterans and the Louisiana Veterans Affairs Commission.