Slick Katz says he joined the Marines after high school for
“I had a double-digit draft number, and I wanted to irritate
my mother,” he says with a smile. “She didn’t want me to join
All joking aside, everyone knew that a draft number that
low meant certain deployment. An opportunity to attend
aviation school offered by the Marines helped shape Katz’s
future military career.
But his decision to enlist didn’t make the reality of Vietnam
any easier. Katz deployed to Vietnam in September 1970
as a 21-year-old lance corporal, aviation electrician, UH-1E
crew member/gunner. The squadron’s primary mission was
to provide fire support for transport helicopters inserting and
extracting Marines, supplies, and the wounded; conducting
search and destroy missions; and providing fire support for
ground units in contact with the enemy.
After 10 months and seven days in Vietnam, Katz returned
to the United States via the Los Angeles airport where a small
group of protesters were shouting “baby killer” and other
derogatory remarks. Initially, he was alone waiting for a con-necting
flight when the confrontation began.
“Then some other Marines joined me, and that ended it,”
Katz remembers the flight across the country being quiet.
He talked to no one. But he experienced the same
verbal abuse at the Boston airport until a state trooper
dispersed the hecklers and walked him to the baggage
His reception back home in the small town of Hull,
Massachusetts, was completely different. His parents
picked him up at the airport, and a fire engine escorted
them into town.
Katz calls himself an anomaly compared with
Vietnam veterans who went back to civilian life after
“I stayed in, so I didn’t go through what a lot of the
other guys went through,” he says. “And I didn’t have
the adjustment problems they had.”
Katz makes an extra effort to show respect to anyone
he can identify as a Vietnam veteran.
“I always say ‘welcome home’ because that’s one
thing our generation didn’t get,” he says.
Katz retired from the Marines as a colonel in 2004
after 36 years of service. But he didn’t stop serving.
Living in Leland, he is an active member and presi-dent
of the USMC/Combat Helicopter & Tiltrotor
Association and volunteers about 35 hours a week with
the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Department.
Slick Katz at
with a UH-1E
PHOTO COURTESY OF SLICK KATZ
PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER