I would not be surprised to find Bob Touhey’s picture in the dictionary under “American Patriot,” but Bob – a retired Navy Captain, former Navy test pilot, and highly decorated Vietnam War helicopter gunship pilot — would be surprised. He didn’t and still doesn’t think what he did was anything special. He believes that everyone should be willing to fight and possibly die for his country. Enough of the friends with whom he served died as a result of Vietnam to give him the right to speak on that topic.
Bob, who lives outside of Warrenton, VA, came to me because he needed help getting his story out of his head and onto paper. His book is Seawolf, Where You From?: A Warrior’s Tales. “Seawolves” were Navy helicopter gunships that were so effective against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars that they had a bounty on their heads of what would in today’s dollars be about $33,000 per crew member. Bob was a command pilot and a detachment commander in a Seawolf squadron. He only got shot down once, but it wasn’t for lack of being where the bullets were flying in both directions.
In his book, Bob reflects on the beauty of Vietnam.
Vietnam was an amazingly beautiful country. With the yearly monsoons, the inland vegetation is lush and full…. Vietnam is part of what was once known as French Indo-China, and the French military stationed units there to protect their interests. Many of the French soldiers married or lived with Vietnamese women. Their children, especially their daughters, were some of the most beautiful people I had ever seen.
Bob uses his book as an outlet to tell about the ugliness of war.
Some of the beautiful women would walk up to guard shacks protecting the entrances to some of our bases. They would start flirting with the guards there until all the soldiers or marines had gathered around them, and then they would blow themselves, the guards, and the gates up with bombs strapped to their bodies. Then the regular communist troops would attack during the resulting confusion.
In the honesty of his book, Bob speaks of the unspeakable.
In January 1969… my friend Ed Palowski was shot down…. He was in his early twenties, a good pilot, and a really nice guy. We had become friends. His fire team had made the mistake of trying to attack a mountain near the Vinh Tay Canal….
…[I]t backfired. There were all sorts of .30-caliber and .50-caliber machine gun bunkers in the mountain. So when these two gunships tried to fly straight up to the mountain, a massive crossfire of machine gun bullets hit one of the helicopters and shot it down. When it crashed, it burst into flames.
Ed was trapped in his seat…. Ed was screaming because he was burning, and the SEAL [who had come on the mission to spot Chinese advisors] saved Ed from burning alive – which was the only other option. He used his .45 to save Ed from that agony.
Seawolf, Where You From? covers Bob’s life from his patriotic upbringing in upstate New York to the weird event that allowed him to attend the Naval Academy to his stint in the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis to the perfect storm that almost sank his carrier in the Atlantic to his assignment testing captured Soviet aircraft as a Navy test pilot to his tour of duty in Vietnam to his post-retirement career as a counter-terrorism consultant – with some very interesting chapters at the end of his book.
Bob earned so many medals in Vietnam that he finally asked his commander to quit putting his name in for them. Many writers will try to define what it means to be an American hero. Bob demonstrates it.
If you would like a copy of this highly entertaining and informative, hardbound book, you can get it through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or just send $35 to Bob Touhey, P.O. Box 577, Warrenton, VA 20188. If you tell him that you heard about it from me, he will ship it to you at no extra charge. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.