- (Photo: Courtesy Westbow Press)
Gordon Helsel has a long history of serving his country and community; he served in the United States Army for five years and earned two Purple Hearts as well as the Bronze Star for valor. Helsel's unit was ambushed in Vietnam, and now he is proudly telling his story of service and how God convinced him to tell that story.
The Christian Post: Did you want to serve in the war?
Helsel: Absolutely not- I knew there was a conflict going on, and I'd only been married six months. The draft notice came, and I guess, I was devastated … Why me? Why would you want me, with all these single men running around? I actually got a reprieve from the initial draft notice. That group of people who had to go ahead with their draft notices went to Germany; 30 days later I get another draft notice and this one was for real. There was no way of getting out of that. My wife and I shed a lot of tears, and I couldn't handle it.
Over time I accepted my fate; I went kicking and screaming. I was only hoping that when I got to where I was going, they would give me some sort of job. I was asked where I wanted to serve and to work as a military policeman. Nothing could have been further from the Army's mind; when we finished basic training and sent us to Fort Jackson, we arrived and were told "Get it in your head- every one of you is going to Vietnam." I finally realized that I was going into a real war, that I could be killed in this place.
We shipped out, and when we got on the plane, all I did was cry. I wasn't strong a bit; I couldn't be. I knew I was on my way to Vietnam and that I could probably be killed. I didn't see anything good about going to Vietnam, but in the end, and as I've gone through my life, I've seen how the experience was good for me … how I grew up and turned into a man who just wants to share with other people. I don't want people to be hurt or upset about anything.
CP: What happened during the fight in Vietnam?
Helsel: I got through only because God wanted me to get through; the things that happened on that trail that day are miraculous. When hand grenades go off 10 feet from you, and you feel the ground shake, and nothing hits you, that's miraculous … when it happens twice, that's extra miraculous. It's something that over a period of three to four hours was a defining moment in my life.
People expected me to die, but I didn't. I went through two bouts with malaria and was quarantined for 12 weeks. I finally made it home nearly eight months later, and I spent my time in the hospital in Washington. Today, I have some disability in my arm and hand; it's insignificant when compared to those who died or had traumatic brain injury or lost limbs … This is just nothing for me to feel sorry for myself about.
I once got lost at Walter Reed Hospital, and I was looking for a certain clinic … I ended up walking through the traumatic brain injury ward. I knew I shouldn't be there; I'm in full uniform, and the men there were sitting in chairs with their heads down … I was told that that's where they are and that's where they'll almost always be. It's just miraculous- when I left the field and they put me on that helicopter- I was so glad to be on it. I knew that when it took off, the sky was a very strange blue that I had never seen before. When it lifted off, that's when I said, "God, if you'll get me out of this one, I'll do this and this and this …" Of course, I never did anything; I went to church, but that's not what I promised to do. I just did whatever I could to say, "Get me out of this!" I didn't do any of that stuff.
CP: What was it like when God showed up?
Helsel: Now, 45 years later, my wife and I were sitting, having coffee, and out of the clear blue sky, it hit me: "Do you remember what you promised 45 years ago?" It was a very clear message. I told Joy that, got a pen and paper, and I started to write.
I'm not a writer or an author- those words were inspired- I could not have written like that. I could just sit in my office and wait for the words- there was nothing difficult about it. Every bit of that came from this inaudible voice that told me to write and held me accountable. The feeling I had after the book was done was one of the best days of my life; I felt relieved, like it was my time to tell my story. I had said many times that I would, and now I had. I'm not a renowned speaker, but I can tell the story, and I'm doing that. Pretty soon it becomes interesting to some people, and I've received so many different responses from people. I always have to personalize the message when I sign books for people; this book is not about money but it's about someone recognizing my story and realizing that it could happen to them.
The message I received shook me to my roots ... I'd heard people talk about it but had never experienced it. God told me to fulfill my promise and write the book. It's amazing now the people I get to speak to and share stories with; I've been able to tell the families of the two men I dedicated the book to exactly what happened that day. I really wanted to use their names because they literally saved my life; I've been in contact with their families and told them exactly what happened that day. God guided everything I did that day.
I don't think about why I was spared because there's no good answer for it; I know it will all be explained one day. I just want to share my story and say that I am not ashamed to include God in my story. Even 10 years ago, I would have felt funny telling about God's involvement, but now I find it easy and enjoyable. I am staying busy running around to churches and sharing the story. I'm at peace with everything.
To learn more about Helsel or to order the book, please visit www.gordonhelsel.com.