Terry Fincher grew up idolizing Sgt. Chip Saunders, the character played by actor Vic Morrow on the 1960s "Combat!" television show. Fincher wanted to join the Army just like his hero.
Fincher signed up and went on to serve 25 years in the military, including a year in Vietnam with an aviation unit. After leaving the Army in 1973, he joined again in 1975 for the infantry because he wanted to return to Nam to help finish the fight. But the war was over.
"I actually thought they were going to do a buildup and go back in," said Fincher, a quality assurance specialist in base operations for the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works. "That didn't happen so I spent four years straight-leg infantry. That's one of those things that didn't happen the way I expected it to. But it's one of those things, you take the good with the bad and you live with it."
He first joined the Army in May 1970 in his hometown College Park, Georgia, near Atlanta. He went from Fort Meade, Maryland, to Korea. After six months in Korea, he volunteered for Vietnam.
"I was just looking for somewhere warm because, I got to tell you, I did not like the cold," Fincher said laughing. "They said 'you're crazy' and I said well, maybe."
His year in Vietnam went from March 1972 to February 1973. He was a UH-1H Huey helicopter repairman in Da Nang with 1st Aviation. After Da Nang fell to the Viet Cong, he spent the remainder of his tour in Pleiku.
Fincher would fix helicopters, he would go on crash recovery missions to retrieve parts or destroy downed aircraft in place and he would serve as a door gunner.
"To me it was just a job. You do what you've got to do," he said. "I volunteered to go over there. To me you take the good with the bad. I know people who got shot up and never returned. You try not to think about the worst and went on with whatever job you had.
"You look back on it now: The year went by pretty fast because there was something to do seven days a week. I was there the day they signed the ceasefire agreement."
And when he rejoined the Army on Jan. 27, 1975, the recruiter thought he was crazy for taking the infantry instead of returning to aviation. Fincher wanted to be on the ground with the troops this time. "Possibly we were going to go back there (to Vietnam) and finish the job we started," he said of his plan which didn't happen.
Fincher's father, Douglas, was a veteran of the Korean War who served 10 years in the Marines. After his infantry stint from 1975-79, Fincher served in the Tennessee National Guard from 1982 to 2000. He retired as a master sergeant.
After returning from Vietnam in 1973, Fincher experienced the same reception as many of the troops coming home from that war. He remembers being called "baby killer" when he got off the airplane in uniform.
Fincher, 62, came to work at Redstone in October 1985 and worked for a series of base maintenance contractors until he became a government employee in August 2010. DPW's base operations office serves as the primary liaison between Redstone and the base maintenance contractors to ensure the buildings receive proper maintenance.
A resident of Meridianville, Fincher has three grown children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Daughter Misty Taylor, 32, works for DPW; son Patrick, 34, works for H&H Heating and Cooling, of Athens; and daughter Robin Tucker, 39, also works for H&H Heating and Cooling. Fincher enjoys riding and working on motorcycles, fishing and hiking.
"My goal now is to try to stay as healthy as I can, and enjoy whatever time I've got left," he said.
He is in favor of this nation's commemoration of the 50th year since the Vietnam War.
"That was the first war, or police action, where Soldiers weren't greeted when they came home with acclamation, pats on the back," Fincher said. "Most everything they saw was derogatory. Anything that would bring good light to their service is well-worth having."
Editor's note: This is the 13th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.