James W. Visel

"Life isn't about waiting for storms to pass...
It's learning to dance in the rain."

This is a look at courage.  Life sometimes deals you a hand that requires grit, backbone, and guts. Everyone
has a measure of these some more than others. But what happens when you have used everything up, where do you turn?

About the author

James W Visel

James W. Visel

Born in 1945, in Pekin, IL, James Visel was second in a family of 12 siblings to Robert and Dorothy Visel of Tremont. The family, raised in a strong Catholic tradition, moved to a family farm near Bloomington in 1958, and after graduation from Trinity High School in 1963 James worked in earthmoving construction for several years… when Adventure called.

The Vietnam War was getting underway, and he enlisted in the Army in 1965. Family tradition runs deep, and just as his father before him had served his country in naval aviation during WWII; a generation later, Jim served in Army aviation in Vietnam. Robert had been a carburetor mechanic on the hot, racy F4U Corsair fighter, servicing heavily used and battle-damaged Navy and Marine aircraft that were facing off with the deadly Imperial Japanese aviators in the South Pacific. For James, helicopters were the newest "in" with the Army, and after training in Ft. Rucker Alabama, James found himself in the wet-blanket humidity of Lai Khe, Vietnam in mid-year 1966. It was to be a bloody experience.

The Michelen Rubber plantation of Lai Khe was to be home for the next 24 months. James was assigned to the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, which was itself attached to the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade. The 173rd “Robin Hoods” base camp, called “Sherwood Forest”, was nestled between rows of rubber-trees. At any given time, 17 to 20 UH-1B, and C- Model gun ships, and D- and H- Model "Slick" Hueys operated out of this location covering all of the III Corps area of South Vietnam, from the South China Sea to the Cambodian border…and occasionally beyond.

Helicopters allowed the Infantry access to nearly inaccessible terrain, flying combat assaults (usually in successive flights of ten choppers with 7 "grunts" per load). The Robin Hoods set new precedents and distinctions, among all other AHC´s in Vietnam; flight records of men and materials moved, serving not only with insertion and extraction of the troops, but also medical evacuation, resupply of food, water, ammo, and supplies. All these were carried out under threat of deadly, and sometimes intensive enemy fire.

Serving as flying crew chief and door gunner, Jim was charged with the tedious and sometimes bleary-eyed job of keeping his helicopter mechanically sound and flyable, often in primitive conditions. Wounded twice in 24 months, he was shot down or crashed due to catastrophic mechanical failure seven times; yet the downed ships and crew members were recovered each time.

Sometimes down a "hover-hole" blasted in triple-canopy jungle, plucking out terribly-wounded GI’s, flying where even the famed "Dust-off" Med-Evac ships were not allowed to go, supplying the "Grunts" with ammunition, a hot meal and fresh water, or darting in to surgically place ordinance on enemy bunkers, from which they had pinned down the hapless infantry, and or sadly removing the remains of KIA's (Killed in Action) from a battlefield.

America´s finest steely-hearted, soft-spoken soldiers often rose to the surface as officer-pilots and enlisted crew-members of the "Huey" helicopter. He was fiercely proud, one of these.

Flight hours were counted with Air Medals, a hundred hours per, at that time. James was awarded 31 of them; two with "V" device (valor). It was pretty common for Robin Hoods crew members to accumulate 1500-2000 hours of flight time in a 12-month tour of duty. He is the recipient of the Soldier´s Medal (the highest award given in a non-combat situation), Bronze Star with "V" and Cluster device (multiple times awarded), Purple Heart with Cluster, Air Medal with "V" and Numeral "31", Army Commendation with "V" and Cluster, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star, as well as a Vietnamese unit citation and several letters of commendation from various commanding officers.

Upon returning from war in mid-year 1968, James returned also to earth-moving construction, and eventually married his long-time sweet-heart, Susan McMakin, from Tremont, Illinois. They moved to Champaign-Urbana where he studied civil engineering for a time at the University of Illinois. The two became Christians in 1972, and were very much involved in the "Jesus Movement", a curious spiritual "happening" which hop scotched America’s college campuses at that time, where hundreds of young people every month dedicated their lives to study the bible and seek relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. The next year Jim, with Susan, now with two little daughters, re-entered the construction industry in a new capacity.

From the ground up, in 1973, first as a finish carpenter (Carpenter´s Local 44), and shortly after drafted to be a job supervisor, James spent a total of forty years as a builder. He was employed at various times by Broeren-Russo Construction, Felmley-Dickerson Construction, (both of Champaign-Urbana), and also Johnco Construction of Morton, Il. He attained a ten-year certificate of completion of continued education for Construction Supervisors by the Association of General Contractors in 1990, and took part in the remodel or construction of many University buildings, churches, schools, restaurants, commercial buildings.

During that time also, he co-owned and taught in Budo Renmei; a Japanese Martial Arts school, which specialized in Aikido/Aikijutsu, Karate, Judo, and the kata of ancient Samurai weapons. He was rated Yo-dan, and Professor of Aikido-Aikijutsu (Kokon-Ryu Aikido Renmei). Among his teachers, fellow instructors, and peers, with whom he shared a fondness for the arts were found Soke Dan "Doc" Grady, Soke Michael Kleppin, and Soke Art Beyers. The school served University of Illinois students, and students from the local community; some of these moving on to distinguish themselves bringing peace not only in restless areas of the community, but some on into the military, and international scene as well.

Susan Visel served over 18 years a neo-natal, intensive care RN, at Povena-Covenant Hospital in Urbana, IL. It was a high-proficiency tasking, replete with ever-expanding technical knowledge and skills, requiring innate and motherly cleverness and dexterity, to coax pre-maturely born infants into taking their next breath and nourishment. Although she saw tremendous technological and practice advances in her time, and in spite of her personal reputation which she built up, it was not without cost. It is one of the most high-stress jobs in the medical profession.

Jim and Susan were active in church, teaching Sunday-school for over 30 years. They raised three children, two daughters (Kim and Heather) and a son (Noah) all of which went on to have families and children of their own. In 2006, the two both retired, and planned to build a home. After moving from Champaign-Urbana, to Bloomington-Normal in 2007, they began construction. About half-way through, Susan was diagnosed with cancer. She fought hard, even gracefully, but passed away October 16, 2008. The two lived what they believed, and Susan was fondly remembered by family and friends in that way. "Devotions For Boots on the Ground", Westbow Press 2011, (authored by Jim Visel) is dedicated to her honor.»

Not everybody spends a career in the military.
Some spend two years, four, six or ten while others make it a life career. For nearly all the people who spend any time in the service, those days have a profound effect on the rest of your life. For some, it means "stuffing those experiences" and locking them away in the back of your mind. For others, the experiences change the way you live the rest of your life. James W. Visel spent three tours as a helicopter crew chief during the heart of the Viet Nam conflict. Now he shares with the world some of his own experiences, and some he shared with peers; and how these incidents became a fire which forged, then tempered the tough, brittle iron of his character into useful too-steel.

This devotional is not for the weak at heart. But then again,that is who it is meant for, not for one who still has something left of his personal resources, but for the one who is outnumbered, out gunned, and "left hanging out to dry", Now what? Some of the pictures he paints with words are extremely graphic. In a very real sense, the author is one of those who has been there, and shares what others often are unable to do so. He is humble, yet he is real, and apportions life generously, humanly.

Once you begin, you will have a hard time putting this book down. It will lock you in, capturing your soul. You probably know someone who needs a copy; either presently in the military, family of military, or past military. It is one heck of a read!