QUEEN CITY, Texas -- Growing up during World War II made John Fox dream of becoming a pilot. It would become a tough journey, with no college education. But he finally made it to the controls – of helicopters – in the Army.
And at war over Vietnam.
John remembers that first approach to a hot LZ -- hostile fire in his landing zone -- with a formation of other choppers.
"All of a sudden this thing explodes right in front of me and goes down and people are tumbling out of this thing. And I'm watching these people fall to the ground," John recalled.
"My word, this is real," he remembers thinking. "Then we had to land."
John made it down safely. But there were other times.
"I've been shot down three times. But not crash and burn. We just had forced to land."
The first time, he’d arrived just in time for the Tet offensive in 1968. We lost 26 choppers in one day, including John’s, as he tried to deliver a load of ammo.
"I could see the rounds going off to my right down in the area," he says.
John has a framed picture of his crashed Chinook helicopter, after a round hit the back pylon.
"Set the aircraft on fire," John said. "I knew we were going to crash. So I controlled it as best as I could."
John and the rest of the crew escaped, except for a badly wounded tail gunner. But he was rescued by a young officer, nearby on the ground. James Michael Sprayberry would be awarded the National Medal of Honor. And he reconnected with John at a reunion in recent years.
John has his own high medals from three tours in the Vietnam War, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. His record also also includes combat missions in Huey utility and gunship choppers.
"I've always admired anybody who puts this uniform on. It takes courage to do that. Because you're willing to stand up and put your life on the line," John said, as the trim 84 year old slipped into his old Army dress uniform.
John retired as a Major after 26 years total military service, the last 20 in the Army after 6 in the Air Force. He’s enjoying retirement out in the country near Queen City, Texas.