Aviator recalls two tours in Vietnam
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Retired Lt. Col. Charles Slimowicz is proud that he served fellow with Soldiers in Vietnam.

Known as Chas to his friends, Slimowicz was commissioned in 1965 after attending the University of Connecticut. He attended the Armor Office Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then the Aviation Flight School at Fort Wolters, Texas.

In December, 1966, at age 22, Slimowicz left Travis Air Force Base, California on a 3 a.m. flight headed for Vietnam. He recalled being tired from the long flight when he arrived in Saigon.

"I was tired but I think my senses were heightened," he said. "It was oppressively hot and I remember the smell of food mixed with body odors. I remember it was dry season and very dusty."

The next day, he was on the back of a truck headed to Cu-Chi, a suburban district of Ho Chi Minh City and the headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division.

Assigned to Alpha Company, 25th Aviation Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, whose call sign was "Little Bears," Slimowicz said he was full of anticipation because he knew a lot about the storied division.

While serving in the UH-1 helicopter company as a pilot, Lt. Slim, as he was called by his Soldiers, flew combat assault and extraction missions as well as reposition and resupply missions and evacuating the wounded.

"Sometimes we'd fly c-rations, hot meals, ammunition, whatever they needed," he said.

He said medevac assignments were the toughest.

"We'd take KIA [Soldiers killed in action] from the mortuary to Saigon," he said. "It was always a somber mission."

He served in Alpha Company until June 1967 when he moved over to the Bravo Company where he went from a pilot to a section leader of gunships and then to fire team leader.

He said he will always remember his first Christmas in-country. On Christmas Day, 1966, he was assigned to fly back-up support for comedian Bob Hope's entertainment show. He got to meet and was photographed with the entertainer and some of the show's cast, including Phyllis Diller, Anita Bryant and Joey Heatherton. He said his high regard for Hope and what he did for America's troops remains.

"He was able to connect with the troops and bring home to them," he said. "And he would make them laugh about their chain of command. He was always on the side of the enlisted."

Slimowicz left Vietnam in December 1967 and went to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, which was then a part of the Fort Rucker, Alabama aviation school, where he was assigned as an instrument flight instructor.

After attending the Army fixed-wing aircraft course in 1968, he returned to Vietnam in 1969. He flew 01 Birddogs as a platoon leader and operations officer with the 219th Reconnaissance Airplane Company. He said much of his time was spent flying the tri-border area between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

By 1969 the "phase out" had begun, he added. "We supported the 4th Infantry Division which by then was basically nonexistent."

He added that when President Nixon approved going in to Cambodia in May 1970, the mission combat fire support shifted to work directly with the batteries. "At that time, as operations officer, I was more involved with mission assignments," he said.

Slimowicz remained in the Army for 23 years and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1989. He married his wife Carolyn, a former head nurse at the APG Kirk Army Hospital, in 1977. She retired in 1990, also as a lieutenant colonel. The couple met at Fort Ord, California and accepted a joint domicile assignment to Maryland where he was assigned to Fort Meade while she went to Kirk. They settled in Bel Air.

Today he is a member of American Legion Post #39 where he also serves as a state officer to the Department of Maryland Boys State Program, a program for young men who have completed their junior year in high school, which teaches the fundamentals of democracy, citizen rights and the functions of local, county and state government.

Slimowicz still looks back on his Vietnam years with awe. Despite the nation's attitude toward the conflict he remains proud that he served, satisfied most of his time was spent helping fellow Soldiers.

"Those years give me an appreciation of why I might have been spared and for those who were severely wounded or didn't make it home at all," he said. "We had a special camaraderie and we developed deep friendships. Regardless of the ethnicity, we pulled together to do the mission. It was a way of life and I embraced it. People in civilian life don't have those kinds of experiences to relate too. We took pride in serving our country."

He said he doesn't hesitate to thank today's service members for their service and that he feels his war years helped shape the man he is today.

"It taught me to approach things as an individual effort with a can-do attitude," he said. "If you're going to do something, do it the right way the first time. There may not be a next time."