That was the plan for Pickard when he signed up for airframe repair after being drafted by the U.S. Army in 1968.
“When I was growing up it seemed like everybody that ate steak and drove a Cadillac worked at Lockheed. And what did they do at Lockheed? They worked on airplanes,” said the 66-year-old Pickard.
In 1967, after leaving Berry College, the Navy had declared Pickard unfit for military service because his vision failed to meet standard requirements. A year later, Pickard was drafted.
“… I get a letter, the only letter I ever got from the president, inviting me to join his army. I was raised to believe you do what you’re supposed to do, and if your country calls, you answer. But I told everybody — I was young and cocky — I said, ‘Don’t worry about this. I got it covered,’” Pickard said of his documentation from the Navy concerning his vision.
“When I got up to the desk where the guy was sitting, he looked up at me and I got my wallet out and unfolded that piece of paper, and — I actually did this — I took and I spun it so it would land in front of him. And he looked at me and he looked down at that paper and he said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘Read it and weep,’” he said. “And he picked it up, and he looked up at me, looked at it, looked up at me and wadded that paper up and threw it in the trash. And these words came out of his mouth, ‘Get your ass in line. Our standards are lower than the Navy’s.’”
Nine months later, in March 1969, Pickard landed in Vietnam.
“My twin brother had been over there about eight or nine months before I got there. And one of the first questions they asked me when I got there was, ‘Do you have any brothers in country?’ I said yeah. So they took my orders and put them inside this little tent thingy and told me to go see Red Cross,” Pickard said.
When he arrived, the sign on the door declared the staff out to lunch. Pickard picked up his orders and got on the last departing truck, taking him to the 190th Assault Helicopter Company.
On May 9, 1969, Pickard’s brother, Richard J. “Dicky” Pickard, was killed in Phu Yen. Pickard would come home — but only briefly.
“While everyone was trying to decide what Danney should do with his life — my memory is all these people arguing about what I’m going to do, I just packed my stuff and went back to Vietnam and finished my tour and signed up for another tour,” Pickard said.
He returned to Bartow County in the fall of 1970. Pickard, who is now the Safety and Human Resources director for Chemical Products, went back to work in the mining business, where he would stay for 37 years.
Two years ago, more than 40 years after leaving Vietnam and the 190th AHC, Pickard would be led back.
“April two years ago I got bored. I googled our unit, the 190th Assault Helicopter Company. It didn’t exist in the Google world,” he said.
Pickard was able to locate other units from the same area. On one website, he left his name and email.
From there, Pickard received a roster for the 190th, and he and his wife, Linda — or as he affectionately calls her, “Mama” — began searching the web for those in the 65 to 70-plus age group.
“You never think, ‘Back then, why didn’t I write these names down and try to remember them?’” he said. “I got to thinking, ‘Why don’t we try to find these people and see if we can get them together.’”
A website was born. The 190th AHC site, which Pickard set up and maintains, has located 377 members of the unit. In September, the first reunion for the 190th was held in Carlisle, Pa., more than four decades after it folded in December 1970.
Calling the website a “blessing,” Pickard said he believes God has a purpose for him and his role in connecting his military brothers.
“This whole thing, I believe, began by divine appointment,” he said. “Why was I bored that Saturday? Why did I go to the computer and say, ‘Wonder if I can find my unit?’ … Didn’t exist, led me to the 145th, led me to the guestbook, put my name down there, got an email, sent me a roster, started looking. Well, why hadn’t someone else done this before? Not my problem. Do it.”
The humble Pickard maintains the project is for those he declares more important than himself.
“It ain’t about me and it ain’t about Mama. It’s about a great unit of people that answered the call and did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “Some of them didn’t make it home and nobody brought them together. Now they say thank you for giving us a home. Well it ain’t my home, it’s our home.”
According to information published in March by The New York Times, during the Vietnam era, 1964 to 1975, about 9.2 million Americans served in the military. It is estimated that, as of 2013, roughly 75 percent of Vietnam-era veterans are alive, the NYT article, “How Many Vietnam Veterans Are Still Alive?”, stated.
Service members in the Vietnam era faced a criticism not encountered by others, something Pickard said he is glad to see has changed with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“[Veterans are] the ones that stood in the gap so we could do what we do over here. So we could protest in the streets if that’s what we want, so we could dodge the draft if that’s what we want. They’re the ones that answered the call,” he said. “Now I’m so appreciative that the American public appears to really support the soldiers today. They didn’t when we were there. I didn’t have no bones with that. I got the call, I made the decision. That’s what you’re supposed to do. … Would I do it again? If I was young enough and the odds were in your favor, probably.”
His service in Vietnam is something Pickard said he made peace with after returning.
“I didn’t know what we were doing over there when I got there. I didn’t like the Vietnamese. When I got back home, I started reading the history. I asked the Lord to forgive me for the way I felt about them because they were people just like we were. Some GIs cuss me for saying this because they hate them to this day, but you ain’t supposed to hate people,” he said. “They were fighting people for centuries, the Chinese, the Japanese, the French. That’s all they knew.”
Pickard returned once to Vietnam, in 2000, bringing home a carved, wooden Huey helicopter from the Vietnam era that began the collection gracing the shelves of his Chemical Products office.
Today, Pickard can be heard expressing appreciation for almost everyone — military, law enforcement and even a newspaper reporter.
“You need to appreciate them. I go out of my way to tell them I appreciate them,” he said. “I really don’t see how the guys survive today because the Army, ours was a 12-month tour. … We’ve got one of our ladies … her son is now a company commander. He’s pulled nine, 10, 11 tours. They send them over there; they bring them back. I don’t think they get enough time to reset and get all that stuff out of their system. We had stuff in our system when we came home. If we’d had these sirens that blow on Wednesday at 12 o’clock when I got back from Vietnam, it’d have run me crazy. Why? Because when they mortared and rocketed the air base, the sirens would already go off after that stuff started falling.
“… I don’t know how the guys deal with it today because they get blown up, their brains get scrambled. I don’t know if they have the help they should get when they get home. Somebody needs to put their arm around them and love them because, if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking.”
On Monday Pickard will mark Veteran’s Day with a visit to his brother at Sunset Memory Gardens where he will “say hey and thank him for his service.” He’ll avoid parades, preferring to spend time with family and an online gathering of 377 military brothers of the 190th AHC.
“I didn’t do this for Danney and Mama Pickard. I did this for some guys someone should have done this for a long time ago, tell them they loved them and appreciated them,” Pickard said through tears.
To find out more about the 190th Assault Helicopter Company, visit http://190thahc.com/.