JENNINGS -- "There are six of you. You are four miles from the nearest friendly troops. The enemy is so close that you have to whisper into the radio. It is 2 a.m. You want to go home. You call your taxi to come and pick you up; you know he will come."
These are the words of a man who survived an enemy attack in the Vietnam War over 34 years ago. Dr. William "Bill" Carpenter never knew he would find the pilot who pulled him out of an ill-fated mission the morning of April 23, 1967.
Jim Bracewell was surprised and touched to receive a thank-you for his actions more than three decades ago as a 25-year-old warrant officer. After 20 years of active Army service as a helicopter pilot, Bracewell flew many missions and saw many faces.
On July 29, 2001, he came across a Website dedicated to the First Cavalry Division Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) Rangers, for whom he flew during his first Vietnam tour.
He signed the Website's guest book and received a response the very next day from Carpenter, an LRRP Ranger he helped rescue after the team had come under enemy fire.
According to Bracewell, an LRRP team consisted of five to seven members whom a pilot would drop into the jungle to find and follow the enemy. "These few guys would go out there and follow them around and determine their strength, what kind of unit they were and find out where they were going," Bracewell said.
An LRRP was a military unit temporarily detached from its permanent unit for a specific mission.
Although Bracewell has a vague memory of what happened that morning because of the number of those kinds of missions he flew, the remaining LRRP Rangers from the team have a vivid recollection of events that transpired.
Carpenter, who is now a practicing veterinarian in West Virginia, was on his first and only mission detached to the LRRPs as a 24-year-old infantry private. He knew Bracewell only as the "anonymous" pilot who pulled them out that morning, until he discovered Bracewell's name and time of detachment to LRRP on the Web site.
"Jim and I apparently came to LRRP at about the same time," Carpenter said. "He was an officer, and I was a new private. I may have saluted him a couple of times, but that would have been it."
Carpenter spotted Bracewell's entry on the guest book and hoped he was the pilot responsible for pulling his team out. Carpenter wrote, "I have always wanted to thank the man who washed my blood off the floor of his chopper. This is the closest I have come to finding that person. Without people like you, I would not be here today."
Sure enough, Carpenter had found the man. Carpenter, in and out of consciousness, had seen only the back of Bracewell's helmet that morning on the floor of the chopper, he said.
Carpenter suffered serious wounds, including a shot through the left hand, left forearm and left hip. He also lost sight in his left eye and suffered hearing damage in his left ear as a result of a grenade that went off beside his head, according to a letter he sent home to his mother while in the hospital.
A member of the patrol, David A. Ives, who was positioned beside Carpenter, became the unit's first casualty. The remaining team members on the mission were team leader John Simones, assistant team leader Doug Fletcher, and Art Guerrero and Geoffrey Koper. Guerrero and Koper were also seriously wounded.
Guerrero, who is now president of a paralyzed veterans organization in Denver, Colo., remembers being loaded into the helicopter like "sacks of potatoes." He said he remembers thinking Carpenter was dead.
Guerrero said that it took expertise that morning to get the chopper in and out, and get everyone on board while surrounded by Viet Cong. "It's a feeling of security knowing someone's saving your butt out there," he said.
Koper, who is an architect on Cape Cod, Mass., was 20 years old and had been in the service about 16 months, eight of those in Vietnam. He remembers crawling toward Ives to try to help him and getting shot at the same time. When he realized Ive
s was dead, he crawled back beside Guerrero, who was firing his grenade launcher toward the ambush, Koper said. As the Viet Cong fired at them, team leaders Fletcher and Simones were able to fire directly into the ambush, eliminating enemy fire.
"We also made a distress call, which is what Jim responded to. He flew in with no support and not really knowing the conditions on the ground . . . We owe our lives to the Jim Bracewells of the world. They always came to get us no matter the situation . . .," Koper said.
As for Bracewell, he said he feels that the LRRPs were incredibly brave. "I was always just in awe of those guys because it just seemed to me like it took some really, really gutsy people to do the things they did, or any infantry for that matter, but particularly when there are only five or six of them."
Bracewell was awarded 47 medals during his service in the Army, the highest being the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism. But he is humbly more appreciative of the stream of emails he has received since signing the LRRP guest book.
"I can't express how I feel about the accolades received from the LRRPs. They mean more to me than any of the medals I received ... I was just one member of a crew of four in that aircraft. There was a co-pilot and two door gunners on board ... Any chopper pilot I know would have done the same thing, and did many, many times."
Bracewell resides in Jennings, Fla., with his wife, Sonja. They have two children and four grandchildren.
He comes from a long line of veterans. His great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, his father fought in World War II, and his son, Maj. Walter Bracewell, who is stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., fought in Operation Desert Storm.
Carpenter plans to attend the First Cavalry reunion next July in Denver. "I would like to meet all of the people involved with my extraction and thank them for what they did for me," he said. "How can you tell someone that you literally owe your life to them? What else is there to say? 'I was just doing my job.' I guess after that, we could show each other pictures of our grandchildren."
To contact reporter Susan Veal, please call 244-3400, ext. 254.