Butch Pruzansky stomped down the stairs from his second floor apartment each morning on his way to work, his heavy boots and blue overalls testimony to his profession as a local plumber. For 20 years, he'd made his living on the Gold Coast of Jersey City, one of the many contractors needed to rennovate old townhouses into suitable facilities for the urban professionals moving ine.
A man with a handful of kids, now out of school, his long dirty blond hair a snap shot of the early 1970s when the hippie faded into working class as the kids on the street grew up. It takes a great imagination to shape a soldier out of him, although he talks sometimes about those days when he spent several tours of duty fighting in Vietnam.
Unlike many kids his age, he didn't wait for the draft to grab him up.
"Oh I was over there," he said. "I was over there for three years and I hated every minute of it. My last year seemed like five years until I got out."
Unlike other soldiers, whom came and went with yearly stints on account of the draft, Butch had enlisted, taking up helicopter piloting
"The other guys got to come back after a year," he says. "But if you had a job like mine you had to stay over there for three years."
Butch didn't know anything about helicopters; he just knew he didn't want to be on the ground where people got killed regularly. But he found out how treacherous the army could be with its promises. Men took the course and failed, finding themselves stomping through the jungle side by side with draftees.
"Some men just don't have it in them," he said. "They can't handle the machine or can't handle the motion, the up and down and sideways kind of thing."
Butch it was a lot like seasickness, but worse, with men losing their lunch whenever the vehicle had to twist and turn at an angle few ships on the sea had to go through.
"I had no problem with it," he says. "In fact, I liked it."
Years later, he would recall the three long years spent in Vietnam, though normally, he said, he doesn't talk about it. For years he feared to, because he occasionly taxied Special Operations forces into remote locations.
"I took them where they wanted to go and didn't ask any questions, except for once," he said. "That was when we went into Cambodia. I just wanted to make sure he knew what he was doing."
Helicopters, he said, were easy targets, and people were often seeking ways to keep stray bullets from finding them.
"Most of us when we went into a fight wore all kinds of protection. Some guys sat on their helmets when flying, some wore flak jackets," Butch said.
Butch flew a big Huey gunship that also did rescue work. He flew in, fought his way into situations and pulled soldiers out of the jungle, many wounded, some at the brink of being slaughtered."
He remembered many of the rescues, and the faces of the men he helped bring out of the jungle, men to whom he could not attach a name now, but will always remember the faces. He said he remembered going in to rescue a b‑52 pilot, an old man who clung to the top of the trees as enemy made their way towards him.
"Charlie liked to take his kind alive, bring them back, torture them to see what they knew," Butch said.. "We came in and saw the guy clinging to the top of the tree. He must have been hundreds of feet in the air and God only knows how long he had clung there. I looked at others and said `We got to get him out of there,' and they looked at me and asked me: `How?' I didn't know. We didn't have any ladder. Then one of the guysfound a rope. `A rope?' I said. `What good is a rope going to do?' But it was a long rope and a thick rope and we threw it down to that guy and he grabbed a hold of it and clung to it, even as we pulled him up out of there, and when we got him aboard, he couldn't stop thanking us. `You boys saved my life,' he kept saying. `I'm never going to forget this.' We never saw him again, but I'll always remember that old guy and how grateful he was for us getting him off that tree. Most of the soldiers were like that. They saw us as angels or something coming down to rescue them, and I guess we kind of were angels to them."
Although Butch came out of the war with a silver star and three purple hearts, he doesn't see himself as a hero.
"I was a kid and a bit reckless. Now I ask myself how I could have done what I did. But none of us thought much of it back then, we just did what we did. If I had to do it now, I'm not sure I could."
From time time time, Dutch still thinks about the danger and how close he came to dying each time he flew out, the ping, ping, ping of bullets striking the helicopter as sharp shooters on the ground tried to shoot out his rotor's motor. He once had to fly back with a damaged rotor, but the enemy never knocked it out altogether. He recalled fearing being stuck in the jungle, and armed himself fully on the chance he found himself having to make a fight of it.
"I had two shotguns and two forty fives strapped to me," he said. "The Army gave us a pistol with six bullets. I knew that wasn't going to be enough and I asked `What else do you have?' They showed me the rest of the stuff and I took everything I could get, including hand-grenades."
Dutch was wounded three times as a flyer, once in the ass, once in the foot, and once ‑‑ a glancing wound ‑‑ in the leg. Since his job was so critical and required so much training, the army didn't send him home for any of them, but fixed him up in various places like D'nang, Japan, and Australia, then sent him back into the war.
While Butch had little good to say about those who protested the war, he said he would not let his own kids go to war, especially with the way the government treats their veterans. The only veterans that got treated well were those who fought in World War Two.
"I suppose that's because they came back winners," he said with a long sigh.