April 1, 2010

By: Gary Vacin, Publicity Director


Veteran of Viet Nam conflict talks at Aero Club Meeting



Sun Lakes resident Rich Hippner gave Sun Lakes Aero Club members a first-hand account

of the war in Viet Nam during a presentation at the clubs February meeting.


I survived, but a lot of people I knew didnt, Hippner said as he pulled a piece of paper out

of his billfold that contained a list of all his friends who died in Viet Nam. I carry this list with me
all the time to remind me how lucky I am.


Hippner survived 315 combat missions during a year-long tour flying H-34 helicopters

during 1965 in Viet Nam, which he described as a lousy place to spend your time. My first

recollection of the country came while our aircraft was descending for a landing there, he recalled.

I started smelling a foul odor, and the lower we got, the worse and hotter it became. We were

anxious to land and get some fresh air, but when we touched down and opened the door, the

smell was all around us and it was hotter than ever. Life there was no bowl of cherries".It was hot
and dirty, the food was lousy, and people were shooting at you. I thought Guadalcanal was bad, but
this had to be worse.


Hippner said he flew most of his missions from ground bases. "There were no front lines in Viet Nam", he said. "As soon as we took off, it wouldnt be long before people were shooting at us".


He told of his experience flying off the aircraft carrier Valley Forge for a couple months. I loved being on the ship he said. " It was pure glory, getting away from the heat and filth. I was in no hurry to get back to the miserable conditions back on the ground. Hippner described four types of missions he participated in:


Re-supplying ground forces in the field. There were no front lines in Viet Nam. As soon as we
left the base, we were subject to being shot at.

Attacking the enemy. We would bring in a battalion of 1,000 troops or so. Forward air controllers went in first, directing artillery strikes at the area where we were going to land. Then came the air strikes, then wed go in with our choppers, land and offload our troops, taking fire all the way in and out.

Medical evacuation flights. Wed pick up injured troops who would be relieved that we rescued them, but then wed land and pick up more injured troops, and wed still be taking fire.

Rescue missions where wed pick up pilots who were shot down in hostile territory.


The veteran pilot said the bureaucracy was a big hindrance to fighting the war there. When we spotted the enemy and wanted to send in a B-52 strike, it had to go all the way to President Johnson for approval. I understand the rules of engagement in Afghanistan are even worse now.


For more information on the Sun Lakes Aero Club, check the clubs web site, The group meets the third Monday of each month at the Sun Lakes Country Club, Phase I. Refreshments at 6:30 p.m. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend our monthly meetings.