The Story Behind the DUSTOFF Song

By John Michael Ferrari

Click below to hear the song.

Album Produced by Pepper Jay
� Pepper Jay Productions LLC 1991

I was 18 years old and the year was 1965, December, and I volunteered for the draft.
First, I was sent to Fort Ord California for basic training. Then, shipped off to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for infantry training. After that, I was shipped off to Fort Benning, Georgia, for completion of jump school training.

I remember the first thing I saw upon arriving at Fort Benning was the huge tall jump towers with people parachuting down from them. I thought, oh no, what have I gotten myself into? It turned out to be fun. What was scary was jumping out of planes.

I had the option of going to Ranger school or going to Vietnam. I opted for Vietnam. We left from Travis airfield with 200+ other soldiers bound for Vietnam. We landed at Da Nang Air Base. The humidity was terrible … I've never experience humidity like that before. After one night, we were caravanned to the 25th Infantry Division, located about 30 miles north of Saigon, in a place call Cu Chi. Company C. That was me: 25th Infantry Division, Fourth Brigade, Company C.

After two days getting our gear in order, we were flown by helicopter north to heavy jungle terrain. It was my first experience deploying from a helicopter. I learned quickly that the copter never lands. You jump with all your gear when the copter gets close to the ground. Surprise! I had lots of new experiences in a very short period of time.

It was early morning and we must have walked five or six miles through the jungle. We came to an open field. One never crosses an open field, always staying close to the trees. It was about noon. We were three or four platoons. Then, out of nowhere, we started receiving fire. Immediately, we lost several soldiers and there was total confusion. At that moment, I experienced almost every emotion possible; fear mixed with exhilaration. I had a front row seat. Lying in a rice patty, with the protection of one small dike, trying to locate the Viet Cong and return fire. It was the first time I killed anyone and my first experience with the realities of war and death and the evidence of destruction, of our own soldiers and of the Viet Cong. The lifeless bodies as they lied there; persons now gone. I could feel the heat and the wind as the bullets passed my head. As I spent time in Vietnam, these became familiar sights, sounds, and smells of war. I watched as the gunships tried to take out the Viet Cong, unsuccessfully. Then watched as the jets dropped their napalm. But, under all of it, we had our training and quickly went into action.

That night was my first experience witnessing the Dustoff, with its blinking red light. Seemingly without fear, the Dustoff scooped down to pick up the wounded and the dead. We provided the Dustoff with perimeter security. I learned later that the Dustoff was not supposed to even enter the perimeter until it was completely secured. But, instead, while still receiving fire, the Dustoff crew risked their own lives to help the wounded soldiers. One of my worse experiences was picking up our dead American soldiers and placing them in body bags and zipping them up for delivery to the Dustoff. We were pinned down from that afternoon until about mid-night when we started moving out. I spent the rest of that night submerged in swamp water waist deep with snakes everywhere. I hate snakes.

One of the injured that the Dustoff air lifted out was a “short-timer,” with less than 20 days to go. About a week later, when I returned to base camp, I wrote the song Dustoff, putting myself in the “short-timer’s” position to honor the Dustoff and its crew. I brought my guitar with me in a guitar case that was falling apart. You can see me playing the guitar in the photos I brought back from Vietnam.

As an aside, Vietnam was different from the wars of today. We didn’t shave everyday, didn’t shine our boots, and we didn’t file out in formation every morning. There was very little structure but a lot was self-discipline and responsibility. After my fourth month in Viet Nam, I started taking out my own patrols. I was still18 years old. The "powers that be" basically let us do what we had to do.

If I had it to do over again, I would have re-enlisted. Instead, 11 months 22 days later I was standing on a street corner in my uniform in Oakland, California for a 30-day furlough. No de-briefing. No transition. And, a grave feeling of having left my fellow soldiers behind. I felt naked without my weapon. I remember asking one of the solders at the Oakland air force base … “what do I do? He said, “go home, you have 30 days.” I felt like I left my family of soldiers back in Vietnam and I didn’t have a home to go to.

John Michael Ferrari

Music & Lyrics by
John Michael Ferrari
25th Infantry Division, Fourth Brigade, Company C.
Vietnam ~ August 1966
Artist: John Michael Ferrari

Got a bullet in my side and it hurts so bad.
You know I can't die, 'cause my girl would be sad.
Twenty more days and Jody be takin' my place.

Come on N.C.O. gotta get on the ball.
Tell the R.T.O. to put in a call.
The medics here have done their best.
Now it's time for the Dustoff to do the rest.

The sun/s goin' down and it's hard to see.
But the bullets keep on flyin' all round me.
I see a red light way up high.
It's gotta be the Dustoff in the sky.

I feel real bad leavin' friends behind.
But they say they're gunna get me home on tme.
They're gunna fight all through the night.
And when the mornin' comes I'll be out of sight.

Here I am home sittin' in my chair.
Got the TV on and guess what's on the air.
There they are, they're at it again.
They say they're gunna stay and fight till the end.

The finest soldiers in all the land.
For you my friends I proudly stand.