His name was “Chopper.”
“Chopper” wasn’t his real name of course. It was a name that he earned in the Military. I knew him after his Army days, but I heard the stories – a few from him directly, but most from his brother. “Chopper” himself was somewhat reticent to talk about his time in Southeast Asia.
“Chopper” was a young Irish boy from Cleveland. He came from a family of Firefighters who lived life like it was a nonstop wedding reception. If something was worth doing – it was worth doing at full speed.
In the late 1960s “Chopper”, like so many other young men, had his number called by the Selective Service – The Draft. In those days if you were drafted it was a good bet that you were headed for Vietnam and War.
I met “Chopper” in 1974. He and I worked for competing companies and came to know each other as friendly adversaries. A year or so after meeting we ended up working together for a new, startup, company. That was when I heard the stories about how “Chopper” earned his name and why he was jovial, but with a hair trigger.
In his time in Southeast Asia “Chopper” was a “Grunt” – a foot soldier who saw the war face to face and day to day. He was a strong, healthy young man – bright and intent on making his family proud.
He picked up the name “Chopper” because his weapon of choice was a large and heavy machine gun that was usually mounted on a tripod or on the back of a vehicle. A .50 caliber machine gun weighs more than 80 pounds. He carried it like it was light as a feather. That gun made him an extremely deadly battlefield foe. When “Chopper” was in a “Firefight” he would quickly become the dominant figure.
“Chopper” had gained a reputation in Vietnam. He was admired by his fellow soldiers, but feared and hated by the Enemy. One day when he was on patrol through the jungles and rice paddies he saw something nailed to a tree. It was a picture of him holding his machine gun. The picture had obviously been taken inside their secure base camp at close range.
It was a Wanted Poster.
The Viet Cong had posted “Chopper’s” picture offering a reward for his head. Not for just his death, but his head.
I cannot think of anything more chilling than that. Even now, forty years later, it makes my gag reflex twitch.
“Chopper” survived his time in War. He returned from Vietnam, married and started a family of his own. He never acknowledged to me that he had carried part of the war home with him, but I was there on the next barstool when outside on the street a truck backfired and he dove to the floor. I was sitting next to him in his VW Bug when he lost his temper about the traffic and he punched out the entire windshield. I was there when he threatened to throw me out of a fifth floor window about something long forgotten.
“Chopper” was young man who did and saw things most people would never even imagine. I haven’t seen him in forty years. I hope he is well and happy and that he is finally all the way home.