By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Billy Gaddy was 19 years-old when he joined the army.
"I was trying to avoid the draft and finally I said the heck with it and I joined up."
He went into flight training, specifically, to be a Cobra helicopter pilot. Then he went to Vietnam. It was August 1969.
"It was a scary, scary deal. He went in as a replacement soldier with the 235th Aerial Weapons Company."
The Cobras were attack helicopters.
"The co-pilot is in the front seat and he has control of the turret guns that are under him. You got a mini-gun that shoots 6-thousand rounds a minute and a 40 mm. We had rockets on the backside.
If you know you're getting shot at, it's scary. We were in combat most every day, most every day. We were kind of like a hired gun."
Gaddy says he was shot down more than once. He remembers one instance that he was lucky to survive.
"We were taking fire. And we lost a tail rotor. And some of the dry self coming forward in the aircraft came out too. That blew our center of gravity off. Went into an auto rotation. That's when you lose an engine.
When they tell you that you can see your life come before you, I went through that. When we got down low on the ground, I could tell we were going to hit hard and I was scrunching down in the seat, trying to get as low as I could. That blade was about that low above my head."
They made it out safely once they were on the ground and they were rescued within minutes. But it wasn't his most harrowing experience. That description is reserved for the day he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross.
"Vietnamese helicopter pilots would insert these Vietnamese ground troops. We had an operation to insert troops on a tree line. We started going in and we were covering the slicks, the Vietnamese slicks putting them in and they set down, pick up and turn to go back the way they came and one of em was shot down. We started shooting everything we could at the tree lines. And no more of them were shot down."
His chopper was the last one standing. The 235th also worked with the air force on defoliation and flew phantom-three missions.
"The Phantom 3 mission was where we could go to an area and shoot anything that moved. And when I first went over there, if there was a water buffalo around, we'd shoot him. And after a while we'd come back to where we shot this water buffalo and they'd be out there butchering him and we would get some more people, you know."
Gaddy returned from Vietnam and went to work with the National Guard where he flew multiple high profile Mississippians, including Governor Winter. He had to stop flying due to diabetes.
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