Reverend D. Michael Hackbardt, the CEO/Executive Director of God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society, is a veteran of the Vietnam War. This is his story of deliverance from certain death on the Hồ Chí Minh trail.
There was so much blood and screaming, as 7.62mm AK-47 rounds ripped our UH-1 chopper apart, and then as napalm burned the remaining enemy forces alive.
It was hell on earth!
It all started as a routine mission in the late spring of 1969, when I strapped my 22-year-old frame securely into the cramped “sling” position on the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
I was one of two door gunners on that chopper trained to handle the powerful weapon known as the M-60 machine-gun. Should anything go wrong, we were the crew’s last bastion of hope.
On this, my first CIA classified-ops mission in Southeast Asia, I began by asking the chief warrant officer if I could pray for God’s protection as I stared at the scripture verse I had taped to the inside of the chopper’s fuselage:
I look up toward the mountains.
Where can I find help?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
The mission was simple: fly from our base camp to a certain location along the Hồ Chí Minh trail within southern Laos, and land one mile or so ahead of a large North Vietnamese Regular troop movement.
There, we would drop our “cargo” of three Air Force intelligence officers, who were set to rendezvous with a special-forces unit already on the ground to call in B-52 air strikes against sizable enemy troop movements.
As we neared our target, the chopper pilot’s voice crackled through our helmets and headsets, “End of the line, guys.” Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing how right he was.
As the Huey descended, it became clear that something was very wrong. Instead of being greeted by a team of Green Berets, we were setting down smack dab in the midst of an entire battalion or two of North Vietnamese Regular troops. In a split second, the tense voice of the chief warrant officer filled the aircraft—“Abort! Bad intel! Abort!”
But it was too late.
A barrage of furious AK-47 fire pierced every nook and cranny of our Huey. With little-to-no armor, the bullets cut through the helicopter like a warm knife through butter.
In the storm of gunfire, the enemy shot off our tail-rotor, leaving the pilots helpless to control the doomed chopper.
We were now in a 100-foot spiral to the ground below. After whirling through the thick, hot air for what seemed to be an eternity, we crash-landed on a levy separating two very large rice paddies.
There we were. Six hundred or more of the enemy surrounded our four-man crew and three Air Force Intelligence Officers. All that stood between us and them was me, our second door gunner, and our M-60s. I should have been scared to death. Heck, everyone else was.
Yet, as I instinctively fixed my sights on the enemy’s helmets as they crouched behind the levy to our west, I remained calm. You see, as I stared towards them, out of the corner of my eye I also saw that small portion of God’s word taped to the fuselage and I remembered my prayer. At that moment, I knew God was with me and would sustain me. Then all hell broke loose…
“Get on the floor!” I screamed to the pilots and Air Force officers as 7.62mm AK-47 rounds ripped through the aircraft again, killing the door gunner covering my rear.
A moment later, our co-pilot took a bullet in the neck as the plexiglass front window shattered.
Blood was everywhere as our UH-1 chopper crumbled around us.
With each passing second, the enemy attempted to position themselves closer and closer, tightening their noose around our perilous position.
Terror set in among the remaining crew and Air Force officers. But in the relentless and deafening hail of gunfire, God kept my mind focused on Him, His promises, and—of course—the enemy.
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
Bullets struck my lead-lined vest from nearly every angle. Even with the armored vest, each piece of flaming lead felt like a hammer blow to my body. If the situation wasn’t bad enough, now a platoon of North Vietnamese combatants approached from the water behind us.
Seeing this, I unleashed a hail of gunfire on the enemy in front of me…BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!... release trigger…. repeat…. making sure the M-60 barrel didn’t overheat.
Before jumping to the rear gunner position to fire on and kill the enemy approaching from the water behind us, I screamed to the Air Force officers:
“You know our position. Call in air support and just burn ’em!”
After returning to my sling position, seconds felt like minutes as platoon after platoon of North Vietnamese Regulars attempted to charge our location on the levy.
In the heat of the moment, the officers gave our closest support aircraft the correct coordinates. Just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold off the enemy any longer, I saw the most beautiful sight of my life. Two F-4 Phantoms streaked low through the sky, dropping their payloads of napalm that tumbled like huge fireballs on the remaining enemy forces in front of us.
A tense half hour or more later, a rescue helicopter emerged through the thick smoke and carnage.
Salvation had arrived in more ways than one. God had rescued me, the chief warrant officer, and the three Air Force officers from this fiery trial.
From that day forward, during each rotation of duty, everyone I flew with became Bible readers. They had personally witnessed God’s deliverance and protection and I believe they wanted to trust the Lord as I did.
I never again entered the skies without being asked by the chief warrant officer to repeat Psalm 121:1-2 and pray with the crew and intelligence officers: “Lord, the mountains are the challenges we might face today from the enemy. Where does our help come from? It comes from you. We pray for your protection. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”