The former Vietnam War helicopter pilot was in his element. Mingling with the crowd, showing off his photo albums, and proudly introducing people to his grandkids. It was his day, and it showed.
Carl Burns spent one year in the Cu Chi region of Vietnam as part of the 25th Infantry Division. These days he spends his time volunteering at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation. (Among a slew of other things, like being an adjunct professor at Rutgers University, Vice President of recruitment for the Rutgers Oral History Archives, and part of the Rutgers Alumni Association Board of Directors.)
On Saturday, June 27, Carl hosted a friends and family day at the memorial, inviting those closest to him to take a tour of the facility and grounds, but most importantly sharing in the memories of a very important year of Carl’s life. The tour was a way for those friends and family to get a glimpse inside what it was like for the soldiers serving in Vietnam.
The tour was extra special that day — National PTSD Awareness Day. Carl talked to the audience about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the importance of support for those suffering. And he knows exactly how important it is to find help.
“I was silent for 37 years,” said Carl. “It’s good for us to be able to share.”
Carl was an integral part of the restoration of a Bell-UH-1D helicopter (“Huey”), now on display at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Naturally, and that was the first stop on the tour.
The Huey hovers over the foundation building, a massive symbol of the important role those who flew them during Vietnam served. The primary role of the helicopters and their pilots during the war was to pick up the injured and quickly get them to medical care. And it’s due to these pieces of machinery and their pilots and crews that the survival rate in Vietnam was more than ten times that of the Korean War. The magnitude of this fact left the crowd of more than 30 people silent. And when the Huey noise was turned on, the crowd could picture what it must have been like to be in the pilot seat of a Huey.
The tour of the grounds of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial allows visitors to do three things: interpret the memorial in their own way; remember, heal, and honor; and have any questions answered. And these things are done in a very personalized way, lead by tour guides who take pride in what they do. It’s evident that this is a way for them to keep remembering, healing, and honoring.
Back in the foundation building, Carl showed a DVD of photos from his time in Vietnam and told stories of his more dramatic times in the country. Like the time his helicopter, Pancho Villa, got shot down over a rice paddy and hit the dyke on the way down, bouncing several times before coming to rest. Carl lived to tell the tale, and tell it well.