By Christine Bryant
As a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Lt. Col. Robert Adams often found himself in the thick of battle.
Many times, he didn’t know from which direction bullets were coming, or even who was behind the shots. His job was to complete the mission, and to do so, he focused on two things – the orders at hand and flying.
While many consider these acts of heroism as brave, the Grove City resident says it was simply his job. He was a pilot, and loved to fly.
On April 18, 1967, the then warrant officer was instructed to fly as part of an extraction mission in the An Lao Valley in the Republic of Vietnam. As one of several helicopter pilots assigned to the mission, his job was to evacuate a stranded unit under enemy fire.
Surrounded by thick jungle brush, the helicopters located the men, who had moved into a clearing where the aircraft could land. As the second to final helicopter to move in, Adams successfully extricated his group of soldiers.
“We were under heavy fire, but you don’t pay attention to that because it will drive you crazy,” he said.
Shortly after taking off, a mortar explosion wounded two of the remaining soldiers on the ground waiting for the final helicopter. Unable to quickly grab the wounded soldiers and still under heavy fire, the final helicopter extricated the final group of unwounded men, leaving the two wounded behind.
“I just swung back around and went back in again,” Adams said. “I grabbed the two troops and we got out of there. By then, I was overloaded, but I had burned off a lot of fuel, so I wasn’t super worried about it.”
With two severely wounded men aboard, Adams received permission to fly to the nearest hospital, where medical staff treated them as Adams and the remaining men flew back to their base.
This act of heroism earned Adams the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor in combat.
To this day, the mission was just another day in Adams’s life as a Vietnam Army helicopter pilot, but to many others, it was an act of heroism that has earned him a spot in the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor – a recognition he received earlier this month at a ceremony in the Ohio Statehouse.
Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage also recognized Adams at a May 1 city council meeting, reading a proclamation that commended Adams for his bravery in exposing himself to heavy enemy fire and successfully evacuating the unit from the hazardous landing zone.
To be recognized, especially as a Vietnam veteran, feels good, Adams said.
“When we came back, we were looked at as second-class citizens,” he said. “People called us baby killers and spit on us. You walk around, thinking I did what my country needed me to do. We were told before we left Vietnam coming back it was going to happen. We were told not to say one word to them, and it was the hardest thing to do.”
Adams retired in 1989 after 32 years of service, including two tours in Vietnam. He credits his wife for her support and encouragement throughout the duration of his service.
“Every success I had in the military was due to the support I got from Phyllis,” he said.
In fact, the two celebrated the mayor’s proclamation May 1 – the same day as the couple’s 58th anniversary.