Veteran Salute: Army Captain saved many lives in Vietnam

Veteran Salute

GARFIELD, Kan. (KSNW) – A veteran, from the small town of Garfield, said he didn’t want to be neck high in water so he learned how to fly.

The KU football player enrolled in the ROTC Flight Training Program.

Captain Kent Converse was part of the 9th Infantry, and he landed in the Air Cavalry.

“I haven’t changed a bit,” Captain Kent Converse said.

Converse got to hold his baby girl, who was only a few months old before he took a flight to Korea.

“There is a white uniform, you don’t see very often on an Army guy,” Converse said.

You do when Army officers are hosting a 13-course dinner, in the middle of nowhere.

“Football team, we had in the 7th division,” Converse said.

Page by page in a photo album, show how well Converse documented his time in the military.

He said he took a picture of a smiling little girl, on his one and only unauthorized landing.

“Very memorable, part of my life,” Converse said.

He vividly remembers his trip through the Panama Canal, while American boats kept watch.

He said he served with so many great farm boys in Korea, and then again in Vietnam.

“They were good people, they were patriotic people,” Converse said.

He said he was sure thankful for the guys on the ground, who kept him in the air.

“There’s the crew chiefs who worked on my helicopter,” Converse said.

He had already been flying a helicopter for several years when he volunteered to go to Vietnam.

“Mom was pretty disgusted with me,” Converse said. “I was going because I absolutely loved my commander.”

WWII Veteran Lt. Col. Sydney Hazard loved Converse, his main pilot, as well.

He once told Converse’s fill in,’If Converse can fly that helicopter upside down, you can too!’

Converse said he couldn’t really take it upside down, but he did fly the commander all over.

“Looking for the enemy was most of our job,” Converse said.

He said they also watched U.S. units.

He said one time a line was moving through the jungle, and one tank started straggling, so Converse was hovering above.

“All of a sudden the whole area erupted in gunfire,” Converse said.

He said they were under attack by the Viet Cong.

“My Commander Hazard said, fly me down on top of that tank turret,” Converse said.

He said then the tank blew up.

“I puckered it up, flew right down on top of that tank turret, he was out on the skids of the helicopter motioning them which way to run and those guys hopped off the tank, and all of them got out of alive,” Converse said.

The young pilot also made sure two burn victims got to the hospital.

“They flew out holding their hands up like this and their skin,” Converse said. “I can still see it hanging down there, just flash burned you know.”

Both made it out of the jungle.

“Both of them were very grateful for my flight out,” Converse said.

Those soldiers weren’t the only ones thankful for Converse, like the time his expert flying skills got him close to the enemy.

He said a machine gunner had American soldiers pinned to the ground.

“Then, I came in right behind him, and he didn’t hear me, and I came right to a stop, so my observer could shoot him,” Converse said.

He said then, as they made their escape.

“The bullet came in the left door, skimmed across the top of the seat, and through the fatty tissue of his butt, of my observer, and then down through under my left leg and hit my right leg and blew it up to the ceiling, from the impact, it was like a sledgehammer hit it,” Converse said.

You can still see where the 30 mm round hit just behind him, in his helicopter, and there was even more evidence on one rotor.

He said the impact really knocked him for a tailspin.

“When I wobbled around, finally got hold of everything and control of everything, I was one foot above the Mekong River,” Converse said. “I came that close to going into the river.”

For his heroics, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and brought a Russian rifle home.

“Through the Kansas City Airport, with this rifle, and no one ever stopped me or said anything to me,” Converse said.

He said the soldiers, he saved, had captured the gun in their last battle.

“They gave it to me, the land forces did, as the helicopter pilot I saved them from a lot of hurt,” Converse said.

For his more than 250 hours flying, Converse earned an Air Medal.

“I owe the government, instead of them owing me,” Converse said.

From his early days at Fort Riley, Converse says it was always about service, above self.

When he returned from the war, Converse went on to continue influencing lives and serving others, as a teacher and coach.

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