EUGENE, Ore. — KVAL's Honor Flight coverage begins this week as dozens of local military veterans embark on a lifelong journey to Washington D.C. where they will be recognized for their service to our country.
On Wednesday, we focused on one man's bravery - then and now.
Rikard Bellerue's story is one of bravery. But don't tell him it was about being brave.
“In Vietnam, you never knew who was going to do what when. I don't consider it bravery,” Bellerue tells us.
It was just his job.
“I just accepted it as a matter of course of being in the military, you know, you sign on the line. You know, that's a blank check right there for the government. So, you'd go in you do what you're told.”
But it takes a certain level of bravery to enlist in the Army in 1969 - the height of the Vietnam War.
“I knew that it was not going to be like playing Army as a kid, you know; it was going to real life stuff here.”
Bellerue requested off maintenance duty to be up in the helicopter.
“It's a lot cooler when you're up flying.”
But you also take heat in the air.
“We probably got shot at about four days, actively took fire.”
Bellerue was shot at hundreds of times.
He says a couple times, he was shot down.
It wasn't playing army as a kid.
“We all have anger issues. We have guilt - not for anything we did, but over the people we lost.”
And Bellerue lost a lot of people, including his roommate and friend.
“I ended up hauling his body back to our base camp.”
Bellerue served three tours.
“I said I'm keeping some 19-year-old kid from having to go over there, not knowing what he's doing. And probably going to get killed. I can go back. I know what I'm doing. I can still get killed. But you know, the chances are a little less.”
That guilt, anger and stress still lingers.
“Nobody can do anything to help alleviate the situation and you just have to work through it.”
For 51 years, Bellerue has been working through it.
Five decades later. That is bravery.
Bellerue went back into the military after the war, serving as a Military Police officer.