U.S. Marine Corp Sgt. John J. Gebhart of Zionsville has written a second book "Spray and Pray" about his four years serving as a Huey helicopter door gunner during the war in Vietnam. Gebhart is holding a bullet-riddled tail rotor blade from the Huey he served on.
Sgt. John J. Gebhart never planned on writing two books chronicling his service in the Vietnam War. Gebhart, a Huey helicopter gunner during the conflict, says he decided to begin writing about his experiences with the goal of earning induction into the Enlisted Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor. He received that honor in November of 2003 aboard the USS Yorktown at Patriot Point in Charleston, S.C. The owner of the Iron Triangle Paintball Club in Zionsville, Gebhart realized that he had three chapters worth of a book.
In 2007, his first book – "LBJ'S Hired Gun: A Marine Corps Helicopter Gunner's War in Vietnam" – was published. Last year, with plenty of stories left over, Gebhart completed and self-published his second book: "Spray and Pray Vietnam from behind a Marine's M-60."
The title comes from his time in Vietname, where Gebhart said he "sprayed the enemy" with bullets from above and "prayed they didn't shoot back."
Both books cover his experiences on 240 combat missions, as well as his many misadventures on and off the military base. "They are all about the good stuff and the bad stuff," said Gebhart, 71, a Philadelphia native who served two tours in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967.
In his first book, he described the country as a "tropical paradise filled with lush green forests and mountains, endless rice paddies and beautiful beaches with clear, green water. You got all the free ammunition you wanted, endless cold beers to drink and boom boom girls to party with. Who could ask for more? Of course, there were some minor problems like all the VCs and NVAs who wanted to kill us."
Both books, which he describes as not political and politically incorrect, detail the people he met as well as some of the pranks he pulled, including one about a sergeant and a dead boa constrictor snake. "When you join the Marines you meet all kinds of crazy people," Gebhart said. "A lot of funny stuff happens to people. People think war is only dead bodies everywhere. But there's so much more."
He also exposes the dangers of combat in the air, as well as the helicopters' impressive artillery capacity, which included rockets as well as outboard and inboard machine guns.
"We called it a platform of destruction," said Gebhart, who served as a gunner for 18 months.
His unit rescued Marines pinned down and in trouble as well as escorted larger medical helicopters, according to Gebhart. He earned 12 air medals during his service, and escaped two combat-related helicopter crashes uninjured.
"If a group of guys got in trouble they called us," Gebhart said. "Hopefully we could get there in 5 or 10 minutes."
Gebhart ended his four years of service in 1968, then finished his education at St. Joseph College, earning a degree in business administration. He opened an employment service near the intersection of13th and Market streets in Philadelphia.
Gebhart said his 40 years of experience running the service will provide the source for his third book, titled "A Job Man."