Vietnam Cassette Tape

“I always wondered what it’s like to get shot; now I know. It hurts like hell.”

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In January 1971, Jim Kearney was serving as a medic in Vietnam when his helicopter came under machine gun fire as he was aiding an injured GI. Kearney was shot three times. The entire moment is recorded live on this cassette tape.

Kearney, originally from Columbus, Texas, was one of the approximately 1.8 million men drafted during the Vietnam War. Kearney was willing to serve but was opposed to combat. He was granted conscientious objector status by his local draft board and allowed to serve in a noncombat role as a medic. While he was not issued a weapon, he still worked on the front lines. Kearney was first assigned as a field medic to an artillery unit in November 1969. He was later reassigned as a combat medic on medical evacuation, or Medevac, operations and remained with that unit until he was wounded on that fateful January day in 1971.

Kearney had four days left in Vietnam and eight days left in the Army when he volunteered for the mission on which he was shot. He wasn’t on duty that day, but the other Medevac crews were already out when a distress call came in that needed immediate attention. He’d been listening to music on his cassette player when the call came. He took the recorder with him onto the helicopter and plugged it into the intercom to record the mission. He ended up recording the moment he was shot on this cassette tape. You can hear that recording and Kearney’s full story on the Texas Story Podcast: Vietnam on Tape.

Kearney's actions that day earned him a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism. The letter accompanying his Distinguished Flying Cross reads, “Specialist Four Kearney performed his duties as medic with courage and professionalism. Although wounded by enemy fire, [he] ignored his own wounds to care for the wounded.”

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Vietnam Cassette Tape Artifact from Austin, TX
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