SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Gen. Patrick Henry Brady said it is no coincidence that the day he flew a series of impossible rescue missions to earn the Medal of Honor was also the feast of the Epiphany.
He said he firmly believes it was his Catholic faith that allowed him to see what others could not.
It was Viet Nam, 1968, and the then-major in the U.S. Army was on his second tour of duty, commanding an ambulance helicopter, known as Dust Off.
He said weather conditions in the jungle were deadly, and the number of helicopters and crews lost was alarming. Brady had many close calls himself, rescuing fellow soldiers at night during driving monsoons and in blinding fog. He said he constantly talked to God, trusting Him to lead the way, and received several epiphanies that showed him how to complete missions, including flying his chopper sideways.
The day his flying earned him the highest military award was no different. Brady had heard 70 casualties were on the ground, lying in the rain and mud, that no one could reach.
After a diplomatic conversation with a superior, he convinced the colonel to let him try. Five helicopters approached the area but only Brady flew into the solid fog, not once, but four times, rescuing about 60 men.
That same day, his crew landed in a minefield, nearly losing their own lives and their helicopter when a mine exploded by them. When they dropped off their wounded, Brady and his crew took another bird and continued flying similar missions into the night.
The general, who ended up receiving the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor, attributes some of his success to his flying skill, but most of it to God.
“My Catholic faith has been the foundation of my life,” he said. “It is the source of any courage I had. I was praying every step of the way, and the Good Lord showed me new ways to get those men off the battlefield.”
Brady will be at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 for the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention, along with his fellow recipients.
The award dates back to the Civil War, with nearly 3,500 medals being given to America’s greatest heroes.
Now, only about 87 men are left.
Brady said it is hard to earn the award and that dozens of men were performing the same heroics every day. He said people were just doing their duty and didn’t expect anything extra.
The veteran added that methods of fighting have changed, and there isn’t near the hand-to-hand combat that led to so much personal heroism in earlier eras.
In fact, Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne, is the first living Medal of Honor recipient since 1972. Many others have received it posthumously.
Giunta earned the award by charging a group of Taliban who were trying to make off with a wounded comrade in Afghanistan. His actions allowed him to regain control of Sgt. Josh Brennan, and according to news reports he also saved the lives of other members of his unit who were caught in an ambush by the Taliban.
While they are here, the Medal of Honor recipients will attend a number of events. Brady said he is looking forward to visiting schools and sharing stories of patriotism, faith and self-sacrifice.
“The most important part of the convention is what we leave behind in the community,” he said.
One of the stories students might not hear is how he ended up in the military because, he said, he was infatuated with a “foxy chick.” Brady said he gave up a football scholarship to follow his future wife to a small college, where he joined the ROTC.
He and his wife Nancy have six children and live in San Antonio, Texas. He said they attend daily Mass and are active with the Knights of Columbus.
The retired general said he never intended to remain in the military past his initial service requirement, but found the people to be extraordinary.
His recently published book, “Dead Men Flying,” explains how important his religion was throughout his 35-year military career.
“I’m a guy who wears my faith on my sleeve,” he said.
He also wore it around his neck and carried it in his pocket.
Brady said his wife gave him a St. Christopher medal that he always wore inside his shirt. In his pocket he kept another medal from his mother and a St. Joseph prayer card that a group of religious sisters sent him after his family received the erroneous news that he was killed in battle.
He took a lot of heat from the guys for believing his medals would protect him, but the pilot said that’s all just part of the camaraderie and he ribbed them right back.
Brady only suffered one minor injury during his three tours in Viet Nam, and when he left, a soldier who was an atheist asked if he could have one of the medals. He gave it to him.
What was truly remarkable, Brady said, is that his original unit never left a patient in the field, day or night, in any weather — and it carried more than 21,000 patients in nine months.
No one was killed, and they never lost an aircraft at night or in bad weather.
“God surely blessed this remarkable unit; He most certainly showed me the light, despite my doubts in the darkness and in the fog. I may have been a willing instrument, but He is the Author of those two awards that were the result of two epiphanies,” Brady wrote in an article on the event.
The 2010 Medal of Honor Convention will be held Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 in Charleston. Visit www.medalofhonorconvention.com for public events.