Dustoff in the Panhandle: Vietnam War helicopter rescue crews reunite in Amarillo

Dustoff in the Panhandle: Vietnam War helicopter rescue crews reunite in Amarillo
A special group of troops during the Vietnam War risked their lives to fly helicopters in and save their fellow soldiers. Decades later, they're reuniting in Amarillo. (Jami Seymore)

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - They were unarmed and on a mission.

A special group of troops during the Vietnam War risked their lives to fly helicopters in and save their fellow soldiers.

“Dustoff was the group that flew unarmed into battle to pick up wounded and dead,” said former Amarillo mayor and Vietnam veteran, Paul Harpole. “I was 18 years old, 19 years old when I did that. Most of us were very young. We didn't know the implications of it but we knew we had some guys out there hurt."

Dustoff in the Panhandle: Vietnam War helicopter rescue crews reunite in Amarillo

Decades after the war, those surviving veterans come together, remembering their unique tasks during the war as medics, pilots and crew chiefs.

“We flew with a four-man crew, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all weather, all against an enemy force,” said Steve Vermillion, President of the Vietnam Dustoff Association. “In order to do that, we were a single ship. All the decisions were made inside that aircraft.”

This weekend, a reunion is bringing Dustoff veterans and their spouses from around the country, right here to the Panhandle.

"They're from all over the country, they came from Dover, Delaware, from California, from Washington State, from Arizona, we had two that canceled because of the hurricane from Florida, but we've got them from everywhere in the country and they all came and gathered here,” said Harpole.

Those in town for the reunion, along with other local Vietnam veterans, came together for a ceremony at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial to remember those brave soldiers no longer with us.

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For many, the trust that came with their mission keeps them reuniting.

"If you didn't trust those people, the mission would not be successful,” said Vermillion. “So that's what brings us together now is that bond, that trust that we built among ourselves and it's just like a big family.

Years later, each remembering that original mission and motto: ‘so others may live.’

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