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Veteran Spotlight: Navy Cmdr. David Vermilyea

By Wayne SoaresSpecial to iBerkshires
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FALMOUTH, Mass. — It was an honor to interview this week's Veterans Spotlight guest. Navy Cmdr. David Vermilyea served his country for 27 years, from 1962 to 1989. He was in the Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, flying an amazing 300
"It was not a big deal. Some guys flew a lot more than that," he said humbly.
He went to basic training in San Diego in April 1962 and described it as this: "It was a shock."
"It's a bear," he said. "The Navy turns you into a team player. If you don't know what you're doing a sea, your ship sinks. It also provided an excellent educational experience."
After aviation training in Memphis, Tenn., he received his first command in anti-submarine warfare with the VS-41 Sea Control Squadron, then went to flight training school.
"It was an adventure. I wanted to fly in the worst way," he remembered. He was commissioned in 1965 and flew the F-4 Phantom Aircraft.
When asked about his arrival in Vietnam, Vermilyea laughed then added, "it was again, another adventure and something I was looking forward to."
It would all come to a tragic halt when on his first mission over South Vietnam, he lost his crew. 
"Really brings you back to reality and lets you know you're at war," he said. "It really shook us." 
I asked him about the holidays and he said this: "We worked 12 on 12 off, busy 24-7. Normally you would stand on
condition watches then stand two hours in the cockpit of your plane, ready to go."
How was it to fly at night? "Scary — plain and simple. You get launched like a slingshot off the deck. Coming in is pretty hairy, too, definitely have to be on the ball," he recalled. 
I asked Vermilyea if any particular mission stood out in his mind. "Absolutely. We were flying to Hanoi and doing combat patrol in the 'Big Cat' (plane)…. MIGS shot my airplane nine times and they fired a missile at us! I kept yelling to my co-pilot, 'PULL GEORGE! PULL GEORGE!' several times. The MIG fired and it went right underneath us. Wingmen are so important." 
He continued that it "was June of 1966 and we were standing on condition 5 watch when we saw two enemy patrol boats and they fired at us. I got shot while we were on patrol. They hit the place on the plane which made it unable
for us to get fuel to the engines and had to eject ... got picked up a while later by a destroyer." 
What is the feeling when you have to eject from your plane? 
"Oh [expletive], we all had concerns of being captured by the enemy," he said. "I knew Bill Lawrence and several other guys that went to the Hanoi Hilton [prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam]. Not the place you want to end up."
What was coming home like? 
"I was very fortunate. My wife was a Navy brat and the support I had from my family was wonderful," Vermilyea said. "The toughest part was seeing the wife of my buddy who got killed ... that was really tough."
I asked Vermilyea if he had any animosity toward the protestors of the Vietnam War and he responded, "not really."
"They didn't know any better. I blame the politicians and the media," he said. "None of us wanted to be there, we were told to go and did.
"I'm proud of my service and was proud to serve my country — I'd do it again, if I could."
Cmdr. Dave Vermilyea, thank you for your service to our great country.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular, new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" and entertains our troops around the globe. He is also the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends," which will hold its international premiere Saturday, Oct. 29, at Proprietors Lodge in Pittsfield.
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