Leonard Sealey

Portraits in Chickasaw Strength and Resilience

Chickasaw citizen Leonard Sealey enlisted in the U.S. Army right out of high school. Trained as a helicopter pilot, Sealey joined the 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Benning, Georgia, as the Vietnam War began to rage. When his division arrived in Vietnam, he witnessed the true price of war. "A regular routine day, six helicopters would go out and pick these infantry guys up, and take them to someplace," Sealey says. Sometimes the Vietcong would be on the ground, shooting up at his helicopter, but bravely, he still had to land amid the machine gun fire to let fellow soldiers jump off and into battle. The infantrymen had a mission to do, he says, but many times they weren't able to complete their missions. One such soldier was a personal friend. "I jumped out of the helicopter, run over and got him, pulled him back up in the helicopter, and it was the one guy that I knew that I called a friend," he says. "And first time he got to go down, he got killed." Leonard Sealey spent 11 months and 20 days in Vietnam. "I was very, very, lucky to make it out," he says of his deployment. In 2014, he and a delegation of Chickasaw veterans visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., where he found the name of his friend. "Lord knows they had to give their life so the rest of us could keep going."