April 31, 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War with the fall of Saigon.
According to many, there was really no good reason for the U.S. to join the conflict other than politics. But whatever the reason, hundreds of thousands of men and women left their home country to serve.
Mack Payne was one of them. Two of his 13 years of active duty were served in Vietnam toward the end of the conflict in the 70’s. During that time, he was a pilot of the Cobra helicopter—“the sports car of helicopters,” as Mack calls it. He spent the first year with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands and the second with the 101st Airborne Division up north at Hue/Phu Bai.
He was part of the gunship “hot crew” and had to be ready within two minutes to fly a mission. Many of those missions were not exciting, Mack explained, as he was flying support for the Hueys or other transport copters.
Mack preferred flying the aerial rocket artillery, which only took off when “something was happening,” Mack explains. “When we were going out where someone was going to die.”
After leaving the military, Mack ran two businesses, which he says was much more difficult than anything he did in the military. When he retired, he was looking for something to do and ended up joining Toastmasters. There were no clubs in his area at the time, so he started his own.
For years, he didn’t talk about his time in Vietnam, because he had moved on and didn’t really think people would be interested. One day, though, while giving a speech for a Toastmaster’s event, he talked about one of his missions. Afterward, a book agent suggested he write a book about his experiences.
After some pressure and arm twisting, he did it—his first book is titled, Vietnam Veteran Memoirs, The Adventures of a Florida Flatlander in Vietnam.
Now, the best way to sell a book is to get the word out about it. So, Mack did what he knew how to do—he got on stages to talk about it.
When he was finished speaking, other veterans would come up and inevitably ask, “When were you there?” “Who were you with?” and “What did you do?” After swapping stories with dozens of other veterans, Mack got to thinking about ways he might help get their stories out, as well.
A friend recommended podcasting as a way to have his own mini radio station. The lightbulb lit up as Matt said, “Yes, that’s it!”
He transitioned from talking on stages to talking on air. His show, Vietnam Veteran News, is devoted to telling the world about Vietnam Veterans via a mix of news, issues, interviews, and commentary.
His mission is to tell their stories about the conflict and enhance the reputation of the generation—to show people how fortunate we are to have these veterans as citizens, because they have done so much for our country. He hopes to correct the erroneous stereotype that Vietnam vets are “mental cases with PTSD and flashbacks of the war.”
Mack has been on air for about eight years now and has over 1950 episodes at the time of this writing. His audience is mostly veterans and those who love them, but everyone can benefit from listening to what happened to these heroes and how they overcame challenges. Their stories are absolutely inspiring.
And while Mack says he podcasts for fun—that he would “go barn crazy during the COVID-19 shutdowns” without it—that it is a means for “running your mouth and not being interrupted by the audience,” he also has stories of how his podcast has directly and indirectly saved lives. As a result, he was recruited to speak to Congress on behalf of veterans suffering from Agent Orange. His talk inspired Congress to pass legislation mandating that the VA treat all veterans suffering symptoms of Agent Orange exposure, not just veterans who had “boots on the ground.” He also has heard about veterans who were going to commit suicide, but changed their mind because of a connection they found on one of his episodes.
His trademark quote is: “The Vietnam veteran generation is as great as ANY that ever heeded the call of duty from our country.” When these men and women came home from Vietnam, they were older, wiser, stronger, and better able to deal with adversity than the non-Vietnam contemporaries.
Through his books and his podcasts, Mack shares the veterans’ strength, courage, and determination to make a difference while living productive and rewarding lives.
Mack’s second book is a collection of stories from some of his favorite interviews: Conversations with Vietnam Heroes, Stories about the Vietnam War you never heard in school (vol. 1). And although he says he is not a writer and would rather talk behind the microphone, he is currently working on a new book, Light on the Skids, a reference to taking off from the ground in a helicopter. It will be packed with more tales from his time in Vietnam, stories of adventure and achievement, and without giving away the ending, will also reveal his own biggest disillusionment. It’s not what you would guess!
May 2021 Issue