One Veteran’s Story – Doug Kahler
The following is the account of the experiences of one Martin County veteran, Doug Kahler, and his time in Vietnam aboard a UH-1 Huey Helicopter. “As one might expect, a helicopter on missions in Vietnam would frequently be the target of enemy fire. Such was the case with the helicopter that Kahler was assigned to during his tour of duty.” The full account of his experiences are as follows.
Martin County’s Veterans’ Memorial Site will have a Bell Cobra Rotary Wing Attack Helicopter on display. This helicopter was a stalwart of the U. S. Army’s attack aviation serving in both Vietnam and Laos from 1968-1971, often saving the lives of many American soldiers. There are many Martin County veterans that have experienced helicopter service as well. The following is the account of the experiences of one Martin County veteran, Doug Kahler.
“Vietnam has long been known as the “Helicopter War.” The distinctive “thump-thump” of UH-1 Huey choppers is seared deeply into the memories of Vietnam veterans, and even many Americans who only heard it on the evening news or recall it from Apocalypse Now. It was where the Army rolled out its notion of “air mobility”—skies full of helicopters rushing troops to the front, plucking them from trouble, rescuing the wounded, and bringing home the dead.”
Fairmont native Doug Kahler enlisted in the Army on May 15, 1968, serving until he was honorably discharged on June 17, 1970. His basic training was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Since he had an electrician’s license, he was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to be involved with construction. However, that area closed and he was subsequently trained to fight fires. As a result, he then volunteered to be on a crash and rescue helicopter primarily in the Fort Rucker area.
He wasn’t particularly satisfied with his assignment at that time and, consequently, in May of 1969, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was assigned to an aviation company in Vietnam, however, they didn’t need a firefighter. Therefore, he had the choice of being a mechanic or a door gunner on a helicopter. He chose being a door gunner.
Kahler served as a door gunner on a Huey Helicopter with an M-60 machine gun. The Huey had a crew of four, two pilots and two door gunners. They would fly approximately four to five missions weekly with much of their work being in the central highlands of Vietnam. He served in this capacity from June of 1969 to April of 1970.
Some of their missions involved dropping Special Forces in Cambodia. In one instance, they took Green Berets to Cambodia where they parachuted in at night. However, that mission was compromised as the enemy could see the parachutes. Consequently, they had go back in and pick the Green Berets up in their helicopter. In another mission, special forces captured an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) Sergeant and they helicoptered him and the special forces back to the base. This was a very important mission as the captured NVA Sergeant could, and did, provide very useful information as U. S. forces were closely monitoring Cambodia at the time.
As one might expect, a helicopter on missions in Vietnam would frequently be the target of enemy fire. Such was the case with the helicopter that Kahler was assigned to during his tour of duty. In one instance when the helicopter was under fire one of the rounds, including some shrapnel, hit Kahler in the leg. He was taken to a hospital in Pleiku, Vietnam, and then sent to Japan for surgery. He spent three weeks in a hospital in Japan prior to being honorably discharged in June of 1970 as the recipient of a Purple Heart.
Although wartime service is both challenging and dangerous, Kahler feels positive about his time in the military. Although being young at the time, he stated that it was an experience that provided him the opportunity to meet many different people and see parts of the world he would not have seen had it not been for being in the military.
Kahler also feels that having the helicopter displayed at the Martin County Veterans’ Memorial Site is a very positive symbol in commemorating the experiences of Martin County veterans in the Vietnam War.
Following his military service, Kahler returned to Fairmont working at Kahler Electric Company and continues to work there today.
The Bell Rotary Wing Attack Helicopter will be dedicated on August 1, 2020, at the Martin County Veterans’ Memorial Site on Winnebago Avenue in Fairmont. Watch the local media for exact time of the event and other activities planned for that day.