Courage and Sacrifice: The Pillars of A Life Well Lived

The man at the center of this story was in Vietnam the same year that I was, 1968. He was born in South Dakota, a state that I lived in for four years in my youth. I did not know him in either of those places, but I would come to know him many years later when I was teaching at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution in Seattle, Washington. He had graduated from Seattle University, and, when I met him in the late 70s, he was again deeply involved in several ways at Seattle U, not the least of which was with the ROTC Program.

Patrick Brady was a retired U.S. Army Major General when I first met him, as well as a recipient of the Medal of Honor. As you will see and hear in this Medal of Honor interview, he is a man of uncommon courage and faith. That combination will become apparent to you when you hear his words at the end of this short video.

Photo: YouTube/MedalOfHonorBook

Brady attended Seattle University and was in the ROTC program there, because, at the time he graduated from high school and went to college, ROTC was mandatory. He didn’t want to be in ROTC, but he speaks of his experience in that program as being one of the best things that could have happened for him at that time in his life.

After graduating from ROTC in 1964, Brady volunteered to go to Vietnam. He went to helicopter flight school and became a “dust off” pilot, that is, he flew medical evacuation missions. He soon gained a solid reputation as being one of the best helicopter medevac pilots in Vietnam.

Photo: YouTube/MedalOfHonorBook

That reputation would be solidified for good on one particular day in 1968 when he flew four separate sets of medevac missions in one day. On that day, he saved a total of 51 severely wounded soldiers. Over the course of the day, he flew three different helicopters, because each time he went into heavy enemy fire, setting his aircraft down on the ground in the middle of ongoing and active firefights, he was taking rounds.

On the first mission that day, Brady had to fly back into the field of battle under fog and heavy enemy fire. He went back there seven times to get all the wounded out. On the second mission that day, he went into the kill zone of yet another firefight four times to get the wounded. On his third mission that day, he was called to another active battle to pick up more wounded.

Photo: YouTube/MedalOfHonorBook

On that occasion, he was given incorrect information as to how to approach on the first attempt and flew in right over the enemy. Taking rounds, he pulled up and out and came back again from a better direction. His helicopter had taken many rounds that time, one of them coming through the floor of the helicopter and going through some control lines. He still brought his plane in and got the wounded out and back to safety and medical care. His plane was damaged so badly he had to take yet another one out on the next mission.

In the air again that day for the fourth time, Brady got called to pick up the wounded crew of another helicopter who had gone in to help soldiers who were caught in a minefield. That helicopter had set down on a mine and set it off. The soldiers caught in the minefield were frozen, no one moved. Brady’s crew chiefs jumped off of the helicopter and ran through the minefield and began bringing some of the wounded out. On their last effort, they themselves set off a mine and were wounded but were able to get the other wounded soldiers to the helicopter, and Brady lifted off and got everyone back to the rear. This attests to the uncommon bravery and self-sacrifice of the medevac crews as well.

Photo: YouTube/MedalOfHonorBook

For his actions that day, then Major Patrick Henry Brady was awarded the nation’s highest medal for bravery under fire, the Medal of Honor.

Brady speaks about that day with a soft-spoken sense of calm. That quality was consistent with the nature of the man I came to know a decade after both of us had left Vietnam. Gen. Brady was a leader of great courage and fortitude, but he is also a deep thinker, a philosopher of sorts. Listen to what he has to say here at the end of this video. What he reflects on at this point may be the most important message you will hear.

He says that on that day he never experienced fear. He explains why too. He says his faith substituted for his fear. He says another remarkable and very true thing here as well. He says, and I am paraphrasing here, “We are not born equal. Some are stronger, smarter, or better looking, but we are all equal in matters of courage. We can all act courageously when it is necessary.” He speaks about courage being key to living life well. And so it is.

Photo: YouTube/MedalOfHonorBook

But he adds another virtue to the mix as well: the virtue of self-sacrifice for the good of others. He says that sacrifice is the nature of the soldier. To sacrifice whatever is necessary in the effort to save one of your fellow soldiers is a good thing. Courage and sacrifice are the byproducts of a mature sense of responsibility to others beyond the self. This, in my humble estimation, is what makes a man or a woman worthy of the name.

Major General Patrick Henry Brady served in the U.S. Army from 1959-1993. Besides the Medal of Honor, he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Medal (2), the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, The Distinguished Flying Cross (6), the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device (2), and the Purple Heart.

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