A Definition of Courage
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Brig. Gen. John Dailey '62 of Wakefield, N.H., retired aviator and parachutist, was shot down three times in Vietnam. A helicopter pilot, he later organized and commanded the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, which was featured in the movie "Black Hawk Down." He was the deputy commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command during Operation Desert Storm.

Q: Tell me about the Night Stalkers.

A: Toughest flying environment in the world. Imagine driving home on a stormy night. You're squinting so you can see the yellow line to make sure you're on the right side of the road. These pilots fly in those types of conditions 50 feet off the water or sand, using night vision systems. Under the radar. It only takes a second—if you make a mistake, you're in the water. We had the best pilots in the world to do the toughest flying in the world.

Q: What's it like in those helicopters?

A: Sometimes we fly all night long—eight hours of darkness in marginal weather. You're tired. It takes total concentration. You cannot make a mistake. If you make a mistake, people get hurt. We fly the ground force to the target—all eyes on target. No matter how much you plan and train, something always goes wrong. Could be a hostage situation. We come in real quick, drop the Delta Force in. They'll attack that target, get the hostages out, then we'll come back and pick them up. I always sat with the Delta commander going in. Then if something goes wrong, we can look at each other and make the decision.

Q: Can you talk about a mission?

A: In Panama, an American was imprisoned by Noriega. As we were going in, it was on American TV—the commentators were second guessing the time of attack. Bad situation. We were two hours ahead of the main force, but they were waiting on us. We got the guy out alive. Two aircraft shot down, one pilot badly wounded. Tough mission, but it was well done from our standpoint. Not every mission comes out the way you want it to.

Q: Have you seen the movie "Black Hawk Down"?

A: We don't desire to have books written about us, but it's not our choice. [Director] Ridley Scott did a good job in terms of making the movie as accurate as possible. Those guys were my good friends. Michael Durant, from Berlin, was one of my young pilots. He's a real hero. We don't look for people with big egos. We want people who can be part of the team, and be individuals when they need to be. We tell them there may be missions where six of you go out and only three come back. It can happen in any unit, but it's more likely to happen in this unit. My wife had a very hard time getting through the movie because she knew the men and their families. I have the greatest admiration for the young men and women in the armed forces. They're the ones who pay the price of freedom.

Q: How do you define courage?

A: In wartime, you have to learn to control your level of fear to get the job done. One of the toughest missions, and the most rewarding, was medevac. You tell a wounded soldier, "You'll be in a hospital in 10 minutes." You can see that he knows he's got a fighting chance. I have a lot of respect for the Army Nurse Corps. Tet '68. We dropped off two badly wounded guys. Rockets were coming in. This one nurse, a black lady, covered them with her body. She looked up at me as we hovered over them. She made sure those kids didn't get hit again. She didn't get hurt but rockets were hitting very close by. I saw her again years later. I was the ROTC commanding general, and at an event I spotted her—she looked at me, I looked at her, we're both much older now. I said, "You were in Tet '68." I talked about the two kids and how she covered them. I said, "I was the pilot looking out the window at you." She could have run but she didn't. She's my definition of courage.

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