The More I Prayed in Vietnam, The More Trouble I S
Review Written by Bernie Weisz Historian, Vietnam War, February 28, 2012 Pembroke Pines, Florida, USA. BernWei1@aol.com
Are there atheists in foxholes? What does a crew chief think when they are in a Huey helicopter 2000 feet above ground level at 110 knots, watching the craft they are in get all shot up, burnt and going down fast? Then who is the meanest dude in the "Valley of Death?" Look at some of the combat art on the noses of Huey helicopters, Chinooks, helmet gear of soldiers, or Zippo lighter engravings of those who served in South Vietnam. A warrior thought he had something happen when he put on his battle attire with a moniker emblazoned protecting him from death. Feeling a magical power, making one invisible or giving secret strength, mantras such as "NVA Killer, "Macho Joker," "When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my butt" and "The Invader" all lost significance as NVA bullets cracked within inches. And who would know more about this false bravado than James Visel, a man who would do three tours of Vietnam during 1966-1968 as a highly decorated crew chief with the "Robin Hoods" of the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company. As Huey helicopter pilot and author of "Marble Mountain" Bud Wills said; "Throughout history, soldiers have been and will continue to be a special breed of people. Those who volunteer themselves for battle, any battle including those who failed in their attempt to become soldiers, are all in a special class. I do not exclude the men who fought against us, like the scrappy bunch we faced in Vietnam. I have personally never known a soldier who killed his enemy out of hatred; rather, they did it from a perceived sense of DUTY. And any soldier who claims not to have been scared to death while exchanging gunfire with the enemy is either a liar or a total idiot."
Where does a higher power fit into this? This will definitively be answered as you read and absorb Visel's awesome account. Not for the weak stomached reader, there are some gruesome descriptions of death and carnage the author witnessed and was forced to cope with. However, Visesl tempers the horrid with the bizarre, the hilarious and the divine, eventually changing a war ravaged man into a devout Christian. Although not "Being Saved" until four years after returning to "The World," this conversion's genesis is eloquently related in "Devotions for Boots on the Ground." Shot down or crashing by virtue of a mechanical failure seven times as well as wounded twice, James Visel uses these experiences in the Vietnam War as his road map leading to his spirituality. Explaining, Visel asserts; "Possibly there is nothing more conducive to thoughts of the eternal than having one's face slammed in red, wet muck, with explosions so close your body arcs and bounces off the ground, hot shards burn in your flesh, and concussions are bright flashes of fire beating a tattoo on the light receptors in the back of your eyes. Your head aches, from visual shock waves. Time has come to an end. What's it going to be like on the other side? Is there an "other side?" For some, satisfactory answers never seem to come. For myself, may I pro-offer both scorching experience, and incredible answers learned? Then, should you ever fall into a similar adventure, you may go into it better prepared than me." These experiences are told in riveting fashion, holding the reader spellbound. Within two weeks of being there he was shot down twice, the first from Viet Cong .50 caliber fire and the second from a compressor stall. Visel recalled; "My dad was very religious; he used to stop by and light a candle and pray for me at church every morning while I was in Vietnam. I had just informed him in my last letter that he better light two; that it was impossible for God to live in hell...which of course was where we were. I was quite sure God didn't live in Vietnam."
Things would alter fast. From rescuing a downed airman in an area where an imminent air strike was coming in right on top of him to another situation where a rope was dangling dangerously near the rear tail rotor of his Huey, Visel changed. Recounting, he wrote; "The ends were flopping up and down, inches below our tail rotor. One whip around, and we would be in the same trouble as the ship we had just rescued. "God help us! We are in trouble!" It was the most sincere, most visceral, and most direct prayer in my twenty two year old life." As the reader will find, God intervened many times in this memoir, even helping him cope with some of the more gruesome occurrences like medically evacuating two badly wounded soldiers, one with a sucking chest wound, the other with no face. The Lord would even be there for Visel when he unloaded a CH-47 Chinook carrying forty American corpses and one head. Of that he lamented: "Numbly, reluctantly, I bent to pick it up, and saw that it belonged to a boy barely eighteen, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Blond peach fuzz lined his cheeks, and he was trying to grow a mustache. I reached up with my thumbs and closed his soul-less eyes, and carried it outside." Between learning about and forming a deep relationship with his savior, Jesus Christ and acquiring coping skills dealing with "Survivor Guilt" with the help of Doug Ward, Visel came to this conclusion; "I certainly haven't completely, but it was only many years down the road in reliving experiences in that hellhole that I realized that God was there for me, even when I did not know Him personally yet. His incredible protection has and still does surround me, preparing me for what is yet to come. I still stumble over it and life sometimes. Yet in His incredible way He uses sometimes horrific experiences to shape our character and future." Aside from being an incredibly inspiring and an important historical memoir, James Visel makes it known that a relationship with God is the number one priority for meaningfulness of life. This is a book that will please, inspire and inform all. In short, "Devotions for Boots on the Ground" is spiritually, historically, and morally motivating and instructional! Highly recommended!