PDT Staff Writer
“It never goes away,” Wendell Skinner said, standing in front of the veterans memorial Monday morning at Tracy Park. “You think about it every day. When you are in combat, you see things and you do things, and they are with you 24/7.”
Skinner remembers exactly when the helicopter he was on was shot down in Vietnam.
“It was Jan. 30, 1968, about four hours before the Tet Offensive. I was a door gunner on a Huey D Model, and we were on a night extraction, and we were picking up LRRPs (long-range reconnaissance patrols) near Bearcat, and when we went in, they weren’t ready to come out,” Skinner said. “They kept hitting the blue strobe light, letting us know where they were. Finally they got to where they were supposed to be. And while we were out there circling, the VC (Viet Cong) were setting up for us. And when we went in, they couldn’t care less about those five guys, they wanted that helicopter. That’s when we got shot down.”
Skinner credits the hand of God for leaving him trapped under the chopper, which was supposed to have four people on board, but this day a fifth man, known as the “belly man,” was on board, and when the Viet Cong came to get them, they thought there were only four people on board.
“I kept coming to, but you know, the one good thing about that, was that I never knew the fix I was in, because I had been shot in the leg. And the way the helicopter was laying on me, it was actually stopping the bleeding,” Skinner said. “That’s a God thing.”
When he woke up, he was in a ward of amputees, fearing looking down, not knowing the extent of his injuries were. Later a doctor told him he would never walk right again. He overcame the injury. Skinner overcame the physical scars, but has never overcome the emotional and mental scars.
“Unfortunately, I have chronic (post) traumatic stress (disorder),” Skinner said, with a tear in his eye. “People who don’t understand that, it is just something that is always there. I have a guilt complex about losing my friend.”
One person on Skinner’s mind as he looks at the names on the wall is a very special friend.
“To me, it’s about losing a very close friend in Vietnam, Clyde Evans,” Skinner said. “I’ve got to do everything that he didn’t get to do. That is very sad. You join to serve, and you take orders, and you do what you gotta do, and Clyde died in a helicopter crash. It’s sad not only for him, but the family and the extended families.”
Skinner said he often is in touch with the people he served with over the Internet.
“We don’t talk about war stories and stuff. It’s just everyday activities,” Skinner said. “It’s just good to be connected. And when you talk to a veteran, they understand. That’s the key. When you talk to a non-veteran, and I don’t mean to be degrading, they’ll listen, but they don’t understand what it’s like to be in a situation where you don’t know if you’re going to come out alive or not.”
Skinner said even when he goes to a restaurant, he still sits where he can see everybody, and even though he knows in his mind nothing is going to happen, it is something he has always had to deal with.
“It’s always with you,” Skinner said. “I left Vietnam, but Vietnam never left me.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.