Vietnam War veterans share story of survival

Updated: Jun. 20, 2019 at 1:33 PM EDT
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FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWNY) - It was in July of 1972 when Colonel Dave Johnson and five other soldiers were shot down from their helicopter.

“We were under fire immediately and we called in the Mayday with no other support around and we were taking fire from three directions,” said Johnson, Vietnam War veteran.

Colonel Johnson and his crew were in Cambodia. Over in Vietnam, Major Bruce Grable was flying a Chinook helicopter, transporting supplies.

He heard the Mayday call and told his crew they were going to check it out.

“We heard the Mayday, it could’ve been a Mayday of a downed aircraft, it could’ve been anything, so what we ended up doing was saying, yup, let’s go for it and see what we find. Well we ended up finding a lot more than we thought,” said Grable.

What he found was Johnson and the others totally exposed, being fired at from all angles.

“I was a little disturbed at where they decided to crash,” said Grable. Johnson replied, “Sorry,” and laughed.

“It was like open, open and flat. I’m going, ‘Of all things,’” said Grable.

Grable went down anyway, opening the back platform for Johnson and his men.

“Well, we didn’t have to tell them to come on. They dove on the back of the ramp, and as soon as the flight engineer says, ‘They’re on,’ we powered and started to get the heck out of dodge,” said Grable.

When Grable landed the aircraft, Johnson had to run off to file the reports so the two never even met until last year when a public television program called “We’ll Meet Again” brought them together.

“I had long hoped that I could see him again and thank him properly,” said Johnson.

Now, the two are friends. Johnson even jokes that he’s hoping Grable will get a home in the same retirement community as him.

“If we hadn’t have been picked up there, we would’ve been captured or killed for sure, no way out.....I’m forever grateful to this guy. He saved my life for sure,” said Johnson.

The friendship and connection that these two have now, 47 years after that rescue, is a real sight to see.

They’re telling their story again at Mountainfest at Fort Drum.

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