After War, It's The Families Who Deserve The Honor
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Hale
November 10, 2020
I’ve lived across the street from Dennis and Melissa Stack for
three years. As far as neighbors go, I couldn’t ask for a better
couple to share a dirt road with. They are quiet, kind and always
willing to lend a hand.
While both are retired, Melissa keeps busy working part-time at a
local greenhouse and tends to the elaborate flower beds bursting
with color, perfectly arranged across their 2.5-acre property and
nestled outside a small Michigan town. Dennis, an Army veteran and
retired mechanic, can be spotted through the trees working on
projects or doing small engine repairs for those of us in the
neighborhood who aren’t mechanically inclined.
Dennis Stack, a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Army and former Crew Chief on a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter, outside his home in Michigan
on November 7, 2020. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hale)
Dennis served as a Crew Chief on a Bell UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter
(commonly known as a ‘Huey’) in Vietnam over 50 years ago. In that
role, he was responsible for the maintenance of the helicopter and
making sure it was always mission capable, conducting pre and
post-flight inspections as well as major inspections every 100 hours
of flight time. While in the air, Dennis manned the M60-machine gun
on the left side of the helicopter behind the pilot, so while
scanning his sector for the enemy, he could also monitor the gauges
and keep an eye on the cockpit instruments.
“We were an
insertion helicopter, putting troops in and out of the jungle up in
the mountains,” Dennis recalled. “We never knew what we were going
to come against during the insertions…at the very least it would be
small arms fire if not more, and most of the extractions we were
picking up Soldiers who were getting hit and on the run…it was
As gently as I could, I asked how many close calls
they had with that kind of mission and he replied without sharing my
hesitation, “hundreds.” There was no mistaking the gravity of his
answer by the look he wore on his face. “There were times we were
flying into a hot LZ (landing zone), 4 or 5 times a day.” On top of
the daily dangers of their flights, his base, which was located in
the Central Highlands of Vietnam, was being hit with mortar fire
Dennis was in Vietnam from April of 1969 to May
1970 with the 1st Aviation, 268th Battalion, 61st Assault Helicopter
Company. When he returned home he dealt with some of the same
struggles that only those who have faced combat can know.
had a hard time adjusting…and I still do…I can’t be around a lot of
people; not that I can’t work with other people, but I prefer to
work alone and avoid confrontation,” Dennis explained. “Not a day
goes by that you don’t think of the war, think of how many times you
were barely missed, or think of those who didn’t make it back,” he
Dennis also faced some of the horrific travesties
that were all too familiar during the Vietnam era when he got back
to the United States.
“I was chased down the aisle and spit at
and called ‘baby killer’ while getting on the plane to fly home
while in uniform,” he said shaking his head. For years he never told
anyone that he was a veteran because “we were looked down on.”
Today, it’s a much different reception for our service members
returning from wars, who are viewed as heroes. “That’s music to my
ears,” Dennis said, as his excitement rose above his normally quiet
nature while he talked about how it’s ‘cool’ to be a veteran in
today’s culture…“I’m so glad that’s turned around,” he added.
But Dennis isn’t one to take advantage of this change in our
culture or to tell others that he’s a veteran. You probably won’t
see him wearing a veteran hat or asking for a veteran discount at
the store. Not that he’s ashamed of being a veteran or doesn’t
appreciate the gestures; but after so many years of pushing it down
and not talking about his service, it’s just not something he’s
comfortable with yet. “There were people I worked with for 20 years
that didn’t know I was a veteran. It was just something you didn’t
talk about…but that started to change around Desert Storm,” Dennis
“Veterans Day is just another day to me because
it isn’t about me. For me, it’s like Memorial Day where I think
about those who didn’t make it back,” he said.
discussed his PTSD from his time in Vietnam, Dennis told me he
didn’t deal with the usual vices of drugs or alcohol that affect
some veterans. But his vice was closing people out, including his
“I could go days at a time where I didn’t talk to my
family…and I really didn’t mean to,” he said with a hint of guilt in
“I think it’s the families that deserve the honor
and the awards. They’re the ones who live in worry and wonder while
we’re deployed and then have to deal with a changed person when we
get home,” he said. “My family had to learn to live with me, not the
other way around…they did the hard work dealing with the effects of
Back then, his family also had to deal with the
reaction of others discovering that he was a veteran. “This was
years ago, but my wife lost friends when they found out I was a
veteran. They just stopped coming around,” he explained.
Melissa’s brother also served in Vietnam and she has a difficult
time talking about what Soldiers went through since it’s so personal
to her. “My wife cringes when it comes to what we went through, so
we really don’t talk about it much,” Dennis said.
our conversation, it was clear that Dennis does not suffer from a
victim’s mentality or blame others for the effects of war. He is
also very humble and cognizant of what others have had to deal with,
especially his family and the families of those who lost loved ones.
He took the greatest lesson learned through his time in the Army:
doing your job as if others lives’ depended on it; and has lived by
that for the last five decades.
I’ve been incredibly grateful
to have the chance to get to know Dennis these last three years and
I’ve been thankful for the stories he’s shared with me along the
way. My experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t come anywhere
close to what he went through in Vietnam, or when he returned home,
and I’m thankful to have a fellow veteran live across the street.
And even though Dennis doesn’t feel like he deserves recognition on
this Veterans’ Day, I’m happy that I get the chance to give a small
glimpse of his story and thank him and his family for THEIR service
to our country.
As our country takes pause to thank our
veterans this year, let’s make sure we also take the time to thank
their families…that’s the recognition that Dennis would want to see.
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