Shot down seven times: Sharpsburg pilot recounts trauma in Vietnam

Veterans Voices

SHARPSBURG, Md. (WDVM) — Seven turned out to be Steve Showe’s lucky number. That was how many times his Huey helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War, but he survived and so did his co-pilot, crew chief and door gunner.

“Lifting South Vietnamese and American soldiers into landing zones in the Mekong Delta was a piece of cake,” said Showe, as he sat at the kitchen table in his home on the edge of the Antietam, the site of America’s single bloodiest day in military history.

The bloated bodies of Confederate soldier laid for days in a sunken roadbed called “Bloody Lane” at Antietam before they were buried; many in unmarked graves.

But nothing the South Hagerstown high school graduate [Class of 1966] saw in Vietnam came close to what occured in his backyard near Sharpsburg, Maryland where the Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862.

The first half of Showe’s combat tour was relatively uneventful, but two weeks after his 21st birthday, Showe lost the first of seven aircraft.

“Upon making an approach to the side of a mountain in the Mekong Delta, we received heavy fire as I hovered at 15 feet. Upon terminating my approach, the aircraft started to spin violently counter-clockwise and a that point I said we’ve been hit.” Showe said he cut the fuel off, chopped the throttle and picked a spot to crash land.

“The aircraft literally beat itself to death until it stopped. The main rotor blade came through the fuselage, missing the co-pilot and his seat by inches.”

Heading into another hot landing zone, a Viet Cong guerilla fired two rounds from his AK-47 assault rifle as Showe flared the helicopter so ARVN troops could leap out. “Two of the bullets came through the plexiglass windshield and barely missed my head,” said Showe who was given a section of the windshield with the bullet holes in it and one of the slugs that buried itself in the cockpit’s headliner as souvenirs of his close call with the Grim Reaper.

On another mission, his helicopter was blown to pieces when he sat it down on a land mine that the Viet Cong had planted in a landing zone.

“I literally saw the aircraft blowing apart in front of me; rotor blades and pieces of the fuselage,” said Showe, “The main rotor blade came through the fuselage; missing the co-pilot and his seat by inches.”

Showe has never told his two sons what he did in Vietnam, and he doesn’t display his decorations like other veterans do. “I just keep them in a spot where I don’t have to look at them,” said Showe, who admitted that he suffers from PTSD, post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“I denied for many years that there was anything like PTSD, but after knowing what my father [who landed on Omaha Beach during World War Two] was like, I saw the same symptoms that I have,
lamented Showe.

I apparently touched a sensitive nerve when I asked the combat veteran, “Was the war worth it to you?”

Showe, a man of few words, said, “It was then, but I deny it now.”

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