In Vietnam, John Charles “Doc” Bahnsen was a captain and helicopter gunship pilot. In October 1965 he arrived there with with 118th Aviation Company. Peter, his brother, was a Special Forces officer who flew with him on a mission.
Bahnsen, a graduate from West Point and an armor officer for the 3rd Infantry division, flew support missions in Vietnam for the Marines, including one on Februry 2, 1966 during a 10-hour battle.
He evacuated three men who were wounded, which he received a Silver Star for. On May 22, 1966, his Huey helicopter was under intense fire from two enemy units while he was marking positions with smoke.
However, his work “disrupted a potential attack on the American base camp.” For his part in preventing an attack at Cu Chi, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Heading Back In
After leaving Vietnam in August 1966, he was called back in 1968. He wen to school to become a AH-1 Cobra pilot, a series of attack helicopters. His rank at the time was a major and he was the commanding officer for the Air Calvary Troop, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment.
In October of 1968, he led helicopter passes on the enemy units who were attacking U.S. ground units. He “landed n front of the friendly forces, in full view of the enemy elements, and began directing his troop’s advancement on the hostile positions,” according to his Silver Star citation.
He led his troops on an assault on the North Vietnamese and decimated them, earning him another Distiguished Flying Cross and got a third in December.
In January of 1969, he shot a rifle out his helicopter window while on the ground taking out two hostiles. His crew chief was injured, but Bahnsen evacuated him, got fuel and led five airstrikes until his helicopter was too damaged.
He got into a new helicopter and brought additional men and led an attack, capturing two enemy soldiers. For his actions here, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.
Bahnsen had the honor of being the only major in charge of a squadron, the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry. Before September, he received three more silver stars, due to him leading from the front lines.
On May 29, his actions led to a fourth Silver Star. While he could not land on the ground he went back to base “mounted a mechanized flame thrower and with his headquarters command group of cavalry assault vehicles moved under an air strike and through intense enemy fire to the point of heaviest contact.”
In 1986 as a brigadier general, Brahnsen retired to a farm in New Cumberland, West Virginia, his wife’s hometown.