Doug Escher: 'It just didn't seem right'

Sep 7, 2017

Doug Escher spent 14 months in Vietnam during the war. A U.S. Army helicopter crew chief and left door gunner, Escher experienced some harrowing times in the air.
Credit Emily Hunt/WXXI

Doug Escher’s 8-year-old grandson, Rafael, calls him “Pow.”

He also calls him his hero.

“We went to one of his plays in the morning,” Escher said, and afterward, the families had a chance to view the students’ pictures on the “hero wall.”

Escher spotted Rafael’s creation.

“He says, ‘Pow’s my hero because he fought in the war,’ ” said Escher. “Tears came.”

That moment wiped away decades of inner conflict, said Escher, who fought in the Vietnam War.

“I always had this thing,” he said, “I really had a problem with Vietnam because it was wrong.”

After seeing Rafael’s tribute, though, he was finally at peace.

“So I said, ‘Paid in full. That service was worth it,’ ” Escher said. “It was over for me, that struggle was over. It transferred to some value to my grandson.”

Doug Escher and his grandson, Rafael, pose with the artwork that Rafael created to honor his grandfather as a hero.
Credit Provided

Escher served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War as a helicopter crew chief and left door gunner. He enlisted in January 1968, which allowed him to choose what job to train for, he said.

“And I was fascinated with helicopters,” he said. “So I went for the helicopter route.”

After basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Escher said he received helicopter training at Fort Eustis in Virginia. He also went to paratrooper school in Fort Benning in Georgia.

Then he was with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That’s when his orders came to go to Vietnam. He arrived July 4, 1969.

“Once you get there, you never know where you're going to go,” Escher said.

He said “by the grace of God,” he was assigned to Nha Trang, a coastal town and a somewhat safer home base.

But in the air, anything could happen. He went on one mission that he’ll never forget.

“We'd gone through this pass,” he said, “and the helicopter that was in front of us got shot down. We made it through, and the helicopter behind us got shot down. And it was just one of the eerie, eerie things, so I said, ‘OK, I'm done with this. I'm done this time,’ and that probably was my last mission.”

A toothache protected him from another incident; Escher had to go to the dentist, so another soldier subbed for him on a flight.

“They didn’t get shot down, but they did get hit pretty bad,” he said.

Door gunners Tom Higgerson and Doug Escher served together in the Vietnam War.
Credit Provided

He spent 14 months in Vietnam, but he said it took only a few weeks for him to come to a conclusion about the Vietnamese people’s feelings about U.S. troops in their country.

“I said, ‘I don't think they want us here, in the degree that we think that they wanted us there.’ And right then and there … I said, ‘It just didn't seem right.’ And never — my opinion never changed. It was, ‘What the heck are we doing here?’ ”

Escher said for every front-line soldier, there are multiple support servicemen and women, and he doesn’t think anybody escaped the war unscathed.

“It’s just a terrible, terrible way to live in a war zone, no matter what you do,” he said. “So, my hat’s off to the guys and ladies.

“I hope they get the peace that I have gotten through my grandson.”