Today’s veteran: Robert Sales, 75
Born: Manchester, Conn.
Service: Air Force, 3 years
Duties: Helicopter pilot
Recognitions: Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; National Defense Service Medal
Duty stations: Vietnam; McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
His story: Robert Sales was an ROTC student who enlisted in the Air Force after graduation from college for a reason.
“I wanted to stay out of the action,” he said. “I figured the Navy or Air Force was the way to go.”
He was surprised and excited when his superiors told him he would be trained to fly helicopters. He also learned navigation during his four months in flight school.
Two weeks after he completed his training, Sales got orders to Vietnam as a lieutenant. He never had to attend officer’s candidate school because of his ROTC training in college.
“I married right in with four years of ROTC,” he said.
He flew missions every day, performing missions such as medical transportation from the field to a MASH unit. He also flew injured soldiers to medical transport ships anchored offshore.
Sales said he was so intent on staying airborne and completing the mission that he was never afraid.
“Stress didn’t play a role,” he said. “The medics took care of everyone in the back of the helicopter. You didn’t have time to think about anything but the mission.”
His helicopter took fire on practically every mission. Sales said he suffered multiple shrapnel wounds from enemy fire that pierced the fuselage of his helicopter and carries some in his body to this day.
Despite the dangers, Sales signed on for another tour of duty in Vietnam to earn a promotion to captain and to save lives.
“The newbies were the ones getting killed,” he said.
While he was in Vietnam, he made friends that would having a lasting impact on his life. They vowed to start a business together if they made it home.
“We had a goal, and it kept us together,” he said.
Sales and his friends made it home and kept their promise to start a construction company. He credits the business and the bond he established as the main reason he has been able to deal with the memories that still haunt him from 50 years ago.
“It regimented me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without military service. I treat every job the same. It gives you confidence in everything you do.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at email@example.com or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.