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Fly through the pages of a veteran's Vietnam war experience from the treetops

Posted at 6:23 PM, Feb 09, 2022

Russell Pettis is a Vietnam war veteran. He was a sophomore in college, just 21, when he was drafted in the war. He wound up spending an entire year in Vietnam, from 1968-1969. He was in the 1st Cavalry Division in the U.S. Army. He flew in an aircraft called a Mohawk.

"I was what was called a technical observer. I sat in the right-hand seat. Only two of us in the plane, the pilot and the observer," said Pettis. He explained how he "ran the belly camera, the nose camera and the infrared target detection systems."

Every Mohawk he was in was unarmed, strictly used for surveillance.

"In the daytime we would usually do low level tree top flying using the camera to do a river recon or trail recon," said Pettis. "We'd get a couple hours of sleep. Ten at night, we'd get ready to fly infrared missions that last all night."

Out of the 365 days in the year Pettis was in Vietnam, he flew 315 missions with over 1,000 hours of flying time. As you can imagine, he has plenty of stories during that time. Over the last 50 years, he compiled those memories. Because of COVID, he was able to put all those thoughts together in a book - "Mohawk Recon."

"My intent was to take the reader and put them right there in the cock pit, look out the window at the b52 bombs that almost blew us up," he said.

Pettis spent a lot of time in the air in Vietnam. His very first mission was to the A Shau Valley, a very dangerous place.

"We have people above us shooting down at us, people in the ground shooting up and people on the side shooting directly at us," said Pettis.

They quickly got out of there!

According to U.S. Army records, 1 in 6 Mohawks assigned to Vietnam were lost to enemy fire or accidents.

One of his closest calls was when he was on the ground, on base, during a volleyball game.

"Just about the time someone served the ball we got hit with a rocket and mortar attack," said Pettis. "As I started to go into the bunker, I felt something hit me right here in the side of the head. As I get in the bunker the fellow that was living in there, yells... You’re hit! You’re hit! You're hit!"

When it was safe, he got cleaned up and found the culprit, a piece of metal shrapnel. He said, "30 feet away I found this guy laying in the sand with some blood on it and I said you sun of a gun!"

These are just a few of Pettis' stories, if you'd like to hear more you can order his book - Mohawk Recon: Vietnam from Treetop Level with the 1st Cavalry, 1968-1969.