Niles veteran relied on camaraderie
Published 12:03 am Wednesday, November 10, 2010
For Donald Brown, the sound of gunfire was comforting.
Stationed in the middle of the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi during the Vietnam War, the First Air Calvary helicopter repairman knew it meant he was being protected.
“Sometimes the place where I slept would shake and rattle when those big guns went off,” he said. “But it was comforting, because I knew the shells were going out toward (the enemy) not toward me. And that felt good.”
Brown was working at Kawneer, an aluminum manufacturing company in Niles, when he was drafted in 1968. He admits he had no idea what to expect going from a small Midwest town to a war zone.
“I hadn’t even heard of Vietnam,” he said. “I didn’t find out until much later what the hell we were doing over there, and I still don’t quite understand what we were doing there.”
He said when he arrived in Vietnam, he was “petrified.”
“I might have been the biggest chicken in the Army,” he said.
But his fears were slightly calmed shortly after he arrived.
The first person he met was Grover Hazel, who happened to also be from Niles.
Hazel had gone to Niles High School, while Brown was a Brandywine alum. Hazel knew Brown’s cousin from playing each other in baseball in high school.
The coincidental meeting turned into a strong bond between the two during the year they were stationed together.
“He was a great guy and we developed a good friendship,” Brown said. “It helped immensely to have him. We were all in the same boat together.”
Working in the helicopter repair unit, Brown ordered and tracked helicopter parts on a computer and helped with repairs to the equipment.
“I always liked mechanics and stuff, but I had never worked on a helicopter,” he said.
He was forced to learn fast.
Brown said he was lucky in comparison to the other servicemen since he had air conditioning in his office, because his computer had to be kept at a certain temperature to function properly.
“I was very fortunate during my entire time over there,” he said. “I had a good job every place I went, had good duty stations.”
After his discharge, Brown moved back to Niles and continued to work at Kawneer.
He currently lives at West Woods of Niles nursing home. He and the other military veterans living there will be honored on Veterans Day Thursday at Riverfront Cafe.