The only grace there is

th-7One more post on the Vietnam war.

Yesterday’s post was about my friend Tim’s rescue of a downed Medevac helicopter crew in Vietnam in 1968. In researching that story I came upon a unique relationship on the battlefield during this conflict between the fighting infantry soldiers on the ground and the pilots and crews of the Medevac helicopters whose sole mission was to airlift dead, sick and wounded soldiers from the field.

Largely unarmed except for each crew member’s personal weapons, these medical rescue helicopters flew fearlessly into the heat of battle with one goal: to get the troops out of harm’s way. The radio signal for these missions came to be known as “Dustoff,” which stands for “Dedicated Undying Service To Our Fighting Forces.”

One Medevac pilot expressed his loyalty this way: “Even though I was only 21 years old, I am supposed to be the officer in charge, in command. Those other guys are looking to you and trusting your judgment. I always felt I owed it to them to put my personal fears aside as best I could. Secondly, and much more importantly, you’re going out to the LZ (landing zone) knowing what you are getting into, but there are those poor bastards on the ground depending on you to get them out. You have to try. You cannot let them down. The mission may fail, but you’ll always be able to look at yourself in the mirror later. To be in the safety of the radio room back at the base when a mission call comes in and make a judgment not to go because of enemy fire, or the weather, or because it’s dark — without trying — to me, that was totally unacceptable. The men in the field were counting on us to come, and we always went!” – Art Jacobs, 1st Calvary Medevac pilot.

There were two ways of getting them out when fighting in the thick jungle. One was the Jungle Penetrator, which was a contraption they could drop down from the copter through the trees and hoist the wounded out. It was the quickest but most dangerous for the helicopters and crew, because it required them to hover stationary above the trees, a sitting duck for enemy fire. The other was for those on the ground to wrap explosives around trees and blow enough of them away to create a landing site. This was more time consuming, but safer for the operation.

The helicopter crew Tim rescued had been trying to deploy a Jungle Penetrator when it was hit with a rocket grenade. Upon hearing the crash, Tim immediately set his compass, organized a rescue party and went after it. There was no question. If there was a chance any of the crew had survived the crash, he had to get to them before the enemy did. Their sacrificial efforts demanded an equally sacrificial response. That’s the way these guys felt about each other.

Waiting for the Penetrator

Waiting for the Penetrator

Isn’t this just like grace turned outward? Once you realize God has been unconditionally gracious in rescuing you, you want see others rescued in return. You don’t witness someone else crashing and think, “Well, too bad for that guy; I’m just glad I got out of there.” No, you organize a party and go after them. Isn’t this us in the world? It’s a perfect picture.

For those who have received God’s grace, there is simply no room in one’s mind for anybody else to go down when they don’t have to. Grace received, out of necessity becomes grace given. If it is not; it is not grace we got, but something else — something of our own machination that somehow allows us to still wish for someone else’s judgment, when we ourselves have been pardoned.

Grace turned outward is the only grace there is.

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5 Responses to The only grace there is

  1. TimC says:

    It sure is frustrating when the person you know who needs to be saved refuses your rescue attempt. You can lead someone to water but you can’t make them drink.

  2. Mark Seguin says:

    Amen to this: “Grace turned outward is the only grace there is.”

  3. Tim Lickness says:

    One of the mottoes of Medevacs is “Not ’til we get your wounded”. It came from a famous medevac attempted where the officer on the ground tried to wave off the helicopter because he thought it to dangerous. The pilot’s response became the motto. Another motto of some units was “Above the Best” referring to the infantry. We loved our pilots and there was never any question we were going to do whatever it would take to make sure they were taken care of. When the rescue of Dustoff 65 took place I had only been in Vietnam 5 weeks and only had been a platoon leader for 3 weeks. It may have been lost on many of us why we were fighting the war, but we always knew we would fight for each other. Tim Lickness

    • jwfisch says:

      Hey everybody, this is Tim, the subject of our last two posts! Tim … this is everybody. Welcome to our community.

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