Def Def Def Def

1968

On December 18, 1967, Major Thorpe took command of the unit and held that position until the 25th of May 1968. Major Douglas then took command until 28 October 1968, followed by Major Robert Chancellor. Major Carl Cramer commanded the 618th Transportation Detachment from the beginning of 1968 until the 15th of April. Captain Max Wilson then took command until 7 November 1968 when Lt Benny Doyal took over the Detachment. The Operation Officer during the first half of 1968 was Captain Willie Wilson (he once inserted a Special Forces LRRP team and within a few hours picked up severely wounded survivors, one of whom was much later commander of the ill-fated rescue attempt of the US hostages during the Iranian Crisis in 1980).


In early 1968, Major Thorpe, the CO, was flying near Tuy Hoa and came across an abandoned UH-1D that he remembered from his previous tour in 1966. On that occasion a ship on a combat assault was badly shot up as it landed in an LZ. The crew scrambled out and got on the next incoming ship. The aircraft was so badly damaged that it was left in place. Two years later, Major Thorpe came across the downed aircraft and gave Major Cramer the ok to hook it back to Phu Hiep. Major Cramer took a look at it and decided he could fix it up. With the help of the two civilian aircraft technicians then assigned to the 134th, an outstanding Demon maintenance crew rebuilt, tested and approved the aircraft for flight within a few weeks. The resurrection of the abandoned aircraft was reported to First Aviation Brigade HQ but they sent instructions back to sling load it out over the South China Sea and drop it. However, with all the work that went into its resurrection, there was no way it was going to be dumped. Major Thorpe refused to do it and the company ended up with an extra, unauthorized aircraft.


On 7 February 1968, the 134th suffered it's first combat casualties. An entire crew and aircraft were lost while on a MACV support mission at Phu Bon near Cheo Reo. The aircraft flew MACV senior advisors and local commanders to a village that was to have been secured earlier in the morning by nearby PF (Popular Forces) ground troops. On arrival over the village there was no radio contact with the ground unit supposedly at the site but smoke was popped by someone on the ground and the crew landed. However, the PF troops had not yet arrived and the village was occupied by VC who had taken it over the previous night.


After landing and shutting down the aircraft, the crew and six others were ambushed and killed. The aircraft was set on fire and destroyed. Members of the crew were CW2 Roy E. Worth, CW2 Guido S. Reali, SGT Ronald R. Loveland and SGT Harold O. Hoskins. This was a very traumatic experience for everyone in the unit since the 134th was a close knit group and everyone knew the lost crewmembers well. The war hit home to all in a very personal way. After this, aircraft from the 134th were not allowed to land in remote locations without establishing radio contact with ground personnel or positive identification.


In a bizarre twist, less than an hour before the ambush of the crew, WO Trainee Hall and WO Mike Harding had been searching for a MACV advisor with the PF troops and had landed at the same village after smoke was popped on the ground. However, they did not shut down or get out of the aircraft. They saw what appeared to be local troops, waved to them (their waves were returned) and realizing their intended passenger was not there, they took off again.


On 14 February, a Demon ship (66-16316) with Lt. Gause, WO Dean Sawyer, SP5 Tom Prout and PFC Les Demorest on a MACV people sniffer mission suffered a low level engine failure west of Nha Trang and made a semi-controlled crash in a rice paddy. The aircraft incurred major damage to its undercarriage but the crew walked away without a scratch. The ship sat in a cradle next to the hangar for weeks while being painstakingly restored to duty by the dedicated Demon maintenance crew. Old 316 became famous for spending so much time in maintenance. The maintenance crew called her the Hangar Queen and built a large crown on her roof. Rightfully, she should have been sent back to the US for rebuild but Demon Maintenance liked the challenge of such an undertaking and did an outstanding job of restoring 316 to service.


Tet of 1968 was a busy period for the 134th. Aircraft were dispersed all over II Corps, plugging holes and supporting units normally supported by others. Some slicks went to Pleiku to support the 52nd Artillery Brigade, others to Ninh Hoa, Nha Trang and Qui Nhon. There were quite a few night flare missions during this period and also a few close calls in getting the flares clear of the aircraft before they ignited. One slick carrying the 52nd Arty commander called in artillery fire on 2 companies of NVA regulars brazenly marching in formation down Highway 1 into Qui Nhon, accounting for at least 100 KIA.


Two days before Tet WO Orin Nagel and WO Roger Jones of the Gun Platoon got a few days off and decided to see the sights in the historic city of Nha Trang. On their second night in town they heard a great deal of gunfire but thought maybe it was just a celebration of the new year. The next morning when they walked outside their hotel the streets were deserted. They finally found some MPs who told them that VC were everywhere in the city. Without wasting any more time they hopped a ride back to Phu Hiep, picked up a couple of gunships and headed for Pleiku to join other Devils already there in heavy, and scary, action around the Pleiku, Kontum and Dak To area.


The Devils had a field day during Tet and accounted for well over a thousand VC and NVA KIA. They were so busy and had so many missions no one bothered to keep count of KIAs. Missions included fire support for US and ARVN units engaged in house to house fighting in downtown Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa and Kontum (the Devils attacked and destroyed a Texaco station in mid-town Nha Trang as well as a church in Kontum).


At times, 5-6 Devil gunships were working out of Pleiku, supporting ground troops around Kontum and Dak To. Through an incredible effort, Demon Maintenance was able to provide 3 and sometimes even 4 Devil fire teams during this critical period (100% of the available gunships). A fire team was sent to Kontum to help the 57th AHC beat back the NVA who had overran the east side of the airfield and portions of the 57th's compound. At one point a heavy fire team (3 ships) under Cpt. Chrobak were forced to refuel and re-arm while being shot at from the east end of the runway. On takeoff they spotted an NVA battalion crossing an open field as it attacked the airfield and unloaded on them. The Devils had a real turkey shoot and accounted for some 700 enemy KIA during this incident. There was no way to describe the action except as an incredible slaughter. Perhaps that's why gunships with miniguns came to be known as slaughter ships.


In other action during Tet a Devil fire team was directed to fire at a village near Kontum but saw only women and children on reconning the area. During the recon they spotted a large group of NVA in a nearby tree line and attacked, resulting in some 300 KIA. In another instance during this time Lt. Cappone led a fire team in attacking a .51 caliber position and had his entire left pylon shot off, losing a rocket pod and minigun. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured and the gun position was destroyed.


Despite a wide variety of dangerous missions and nightly mortar attacks on Phu Hiep itself not a single man or aircraft was lost during the Tet offensive. Considering the missions undertaken by the 134th this was quite an achievement. Contrary to public perception back in the US, Tet 68 was a major victory for US and Vietnamese forces. The NVA attacked all major cities, expecting to be welcomed and aided by popular uprisings but this did not happen. Instead, they were cut down in the thousands by the infantry, artillery and aircrews from assault helicopter units such as the 134th.


Despite a wide variety of dangerous missions and nightly mortar attacks on Phu Hiep itself not a single man or aircraft was lost during the Tet offensive. Considering the missions undertaken by the 134th this was quite an achievement. Contrary to public perception back in the US, Tet 68 was a major victory for US and Vietnamese forces. The NVA attacked all major cities, expecting to be welcomed and aided by popular uprisings but this did not happen. Instead, they were cut down in the thousands by the infantry, artillery and aircrews from assault helicopter units such as the 134th.


In April 1968, the 134th was given the direct support mission for two battalions of the 173rd Airborne. One battalion was located at An Khe and the other in the Phu Hiep area. A forward detachment of 2 gunships and 2 to 4 slicks was sent to An Khe and personnel rotated every 45 days. While there, the detachment also frequently supported a Special Forces Mike Force unit of 3 battalions of Montagnards based at An Khe and the gunships provided road convoy escort and Highway 19 security from An Khe Pass in the east through Mang Yang Pass in the west. For a period of roughly 9 months the two Devil gunships were the only guns between Qui Nhon and Pleiku and were called on to support any unit operating in the area. The First Cav had pulled out a couple of months earlier and there were no aviation units left at An Khe during this period.


The First Cav had left tons of ammunition and supplies scattered all over An Khe to which the Demons and Devils helped themselves. Initially the detachment did not have any vehicles. However, those small flat-top mules (a version of a jeep) that each platoon had as part of its original equipment came in very handy. Four people could easily lift one and it would fit nicely into the cargo area of a D/H model. The detachment took several of these to An Khe. At Phu Hiep the crewchiefs often got into trouble for drag racing the mules on the flight line and the flight crews loved them. Unfortunately, these convenient, transportable, little vehicles were replaced later in 1968 with standard jeeps and 1/4 ton trucks.


During this period the Devils owned the highway between the An Khe and Mang Yang Passes and had a free fire zone the size of Rhode Island (roughly 10 km either side of the highway). It was a gun pilot's dream. The Devils worked very closely with the other combat units along Highway 19. These included 1/50th Mechanized Infantry, C Company, 1/69 Armor, and 3 batteries of 105 mm artillery in the 3 fire bases along the highway. There was a great deal of fire power but only one fire team of gunships and 3-4 slicks. It was an exhilarating time and there were many varied and interesting missions.


On a number of occasions, Devil gunships prevented ambushes of road convoys on Highway 19 by catching the VC off guard as they made preparations. The daily recon by fire missions hindered VC/NVA activity and the Devil fire team at An Khe often accounted for 5-10 KIA per week solely from its recon missions. The Devils' presence significantly reduced enemy activity along that most dangerous portion of the highway near Mang Yang Pass.


In early April 1968, WO Cliff Barnes (the aircraft commander) and WO Bob Missy Brooks were flying support for the Convoy Commander at Fire Base Schuller along Highway 19 between An Khe and Mang Yang Pass when they were shot down by ground fire. They managed to land next to the highway and crawled into a ditch but were not far away from the enemy troops who brought them down. Luckily there were gunships nearby, a vehicle with a quad fifty and Air Force fighter bombers. All three were called in to attack the enemy positions. Both pilots were slightly wounded and some passengers were seriously wounded. They could hear the shrapnel from the bombs buzzing through the air and it was pretty scary for a while. The gunner, SP4 John Webb, had previously been in the infantry and did a great job, keeping the crew down and where they should be. After half an hour or so, they were picked up by a slick and the wounded medivac'd.


Later that same month, WO Barnes and WO Dean Sawyer, were resupplying a ROK unit in a single ship LZ east of An Khe when WO Barnes was hit in the leg by small arms fire. The bullet severed the main artery in his leg but he continued flying and made it back to the medivac pad at An Khe where he passed out from loss of blood. He lost more than four pints of blood and almost died but fully recovered later back in the US.


On two occasions during this period at An Khe, WO Orin Nagel managed to incur the ire of the CO, Major Thorpe. WO Nagel and crew shot some deer one day and persuaded a slick to land and pick them up. Major Thorpe happened to drop by for supper that evening, noticed they were eating barbecued venison, asked where it came from, and then proceeded to have some harsh words with Mr. Nagel. On another occasion, WO Nagel decided to take a prisoner. They spotted a man in the free fire area and landed nearby. WO Nagel and the crewchief jumped out and chased the guy through the bush while their gunship took off to provide cover. However, their intended prisoner got away and their ship came back and picked them up. Word of this episode quickly made its way back to Phu Hiep and Major Thorpe again chewed out WO Nagel out when he returned to Phu Hiep in a few days to exchange aircraft. It must not have affected WO Nagel's evaluations much since he subsequently received a direct commission to Captain and retired from the Army 30 years later as a Colonel.


On two occasions during this period at An Khe, WO Orin Nagel managed to incur the ire of the CO, Major Thorpe. WO Nagel and crew shot some deer one day and persuaded a slick to land and pick them up. Major Thorpe happened to drop by for supper that evening, noticed they were eating barbecued venison, asked where it came from, and then proceeded to have some harsh words with Mr. Nagel. On another occasion, WO Nagel decided to take a prisoner. They spotted a man in the free fire area and landed nearby. WO Nagel and the crewchief jumped out and chased the guy through the bush while their gunship took off to provide cover. However, their intended prisoner got away and their ship came back and picked them up. Word of this episode quickly made its way back to Phu Hiep and Major Thorpe again chewed out WO Nagel out when he returned to Phu Hiep in a few days to exchange aircraft. It must not have affected WO Nagel's evaluations much since he subsequently received a direct commission to Captain and retired from the Army 30 years later as a Colonel.


In May, a gunship (66-15148) crashed after an engine failure on a recon mission west of LZ Uplift. There was not much space to land but the ship (WO Ray Labier, WO Loren Hall, SP5 Mike Ogrysko and SP4 ?? Smith) managed to autorotate and make a controlled crash in a small dried up rice paddy between 2 hills. They were in a hot area and the crew took up defensive positions while the second gunship in the fire team provided cover and called for help. A slick from the 129th AHC picked the crew up 20-30 minutes later and the ship was sling-loaded out the next day.


In the first half of the year there were a number of Agent Orange spray missions where a slick was fitted with a tank in its cargo area with a spray boom projecting out each side. For the pilots it was a fun mission to spray the small cultivated fields in remote mountain valleys. It was almost like flying a crop duster, but with a little more excitement. Sometimes the bad guys on the ground didn't appreciate it and took a shot at the slick. The crewchiefs didn't much like these missions either since Agent Orange was a sticky liquid that covered the tail boom and was hard to wash off. It was also a pretty decent paint remover and ships would sometimes return with no paint at all on portions of the tail boom.


There was an incident around July or August 1968 where a Devil fire team under Captain Gause at An Khe was returning to re-arm from a recon by fire mission and stumbled into an attack on a road convoy near Mang Yang Pass that had just begun. The gunships crossed a line of low hills 800-1000 yards south of Highway 19 and immediately spotted a group of VC in the open at the base of a hill with 4 mortars. The 15 or so VC were busily shelling the road convoy and had their backs to the gunships. The Devils were able to approach to within 500 yards before the VC turned around, saw them and momentarily froze. Miniguns and rockets had been expended earlier, and only a few rounds of M-60 ammo remained but the Devils attacked with door guns, M-16's, the pilots' hand guns, empty ammo boxes, spare machine gun barrels, smoke grenades and anything else not attached to the aircraft. At least 5 of the enemy were killed and the attack was broken up with no friendly casualties.


On August 6th a gunship (66-15078) had an engine failure near Tuy Hoa at 4000 ft. The pilots (Lt. Dale Toler and WO Kent Showalter) autorotated but pulled pitch just a tad too soon and the aircraft fell through, landing hard and severely damaging the undercarriage.


During the July-August period a Devil fire team (WO Orin Nagel and WO Dave Wilkinson) was assigned a direct support mission to the 28th ROK Regiment to provide cover and support for ROK LRRPs. Supporting ROK LRRPs was sometimes pretty hairy. They dressed like NVA and when you saw 6-8 NVA looking guys come running out of a tree line you were not sure which side they were on and your trigger finger got awfully itchy. However, the ROK LRRPs were incredible. Unlike most US LRRPs who usually worked relatively small areas, ROK LRRPs were frequently picked up a week to 10 days later at pre-arranged locations 20-30 clicks (km) away. The ROKs were tough and damn good soldiers.


An incident occurred in late 1968 that illustrated the dedication and professionalism of Demon Maintenance. A slick had been low leveling down the beach from Qui Nhon and hit a tree, knocking off the right front crossover tube. SP5 Jim Brady of the Line Crew was working nearby when the slick hovered up to the maintenance pad. Realizing the ship could not land with the missing crossover tube, SP5 Brady and others quickly assembled a complete set of landing gear, removed the old gear and installed the new one while the pilot held the aircraft at a hover. Despite the obvious risk, this was all accomplished while standing underneath a hovering helicopter and being continually sandblasted by the sand picked up in the rotor wash.


In October, Lt. Carey Boyles and WO Jack McDonald (on one of his first missions in-country) were pickup ship on a hot LRRP extraction on the Mang Yang Pass ridgeline. In addition to particularily heavy small arms fire, mortar rounds were also exploding in the LZ as they landed to pick up the LRRPs. The covering gunships and FAC were also taking airbursts. Lt. Boyles remained in the LZ under heavy fire while the LRRPs fought their way to the ship and everyone was extracted safely. Lt. Boyles was awarded a DFC for this action and the rest of the crew was awarded an Air Medal with V.


On October 27, 19 of the 47 pilots completed their tour and returned to the US, leaving the company with only four pilots with more than six months in country. The first platoon had been rebuilt in mid-68 with new pilots but only a small number of the original pilots who came over with the unit were ever infused into other units. Over 40 enlisted men also DEROS'd at this time, leaving the company with a much reduced level of experience. In some respects it was a rather sad farewell for the original Demons and Devils. The 134th was a very close knit group and the original members had built the company and given the unit its distinctive character. However, their spirit lived on in their successors. The Demons and Devils continued flying their missions with the highest standards of performance.


That same day, December 29th, a Devil gunship (66-15150 with Lt. Donald McNeely, WO Mike Dzikowski, SP4 Mike Ogrysko and PFC Ernie Smith) was shot down west of Tuy Hoa at night with a single round. The round hit the engine and oil cooler, missing PFC Smith's family jewels by 5 inches. The pilots made a perfect landing with no damage. The aircraft was secured by ROK troops and the 268th Battalion Pathfinders and later recovered that same night.


The 134th came of age in 1968 and completed its first year in country (as a helicopter unit) with only 4 personnel lost in combat. However, there were a number of serious injuries both from enemy fire and from freak accidents. Aside from WO Barnes being wounded during Tet these included:


  • 20 to 30 personnel wounded (but none seriously) in mortar attacks.

  • A pilot who shot himself in the leg while practicing his quick draw.

  • A maintenance man who shot himself in the eye with an arrow (by shooting it straight up and looking for      it to come down).

  • A crew chief who shot another crew chief through the penis with a 45 while relieving himself at a latrine.

  • A gunship door gunner (SP4 Grady Caldwell), who took a 40 mm round through his leg while unloading      a malfunctioning M5 chunker.

  • Two men who earned a purple heart the hard way. One was running to a bunker during a mortar attack      and his penis somehow got caught on a piece of revetment material. Another was taking cover in a      locker in the shower and took splinters in his rear end when a mortar landed just outside.

  • Sadly, a door gunner was fatally injured at An Khe when he shot himself in the stomach with a pistol      during a bout of depression the day after Christmas.

  • Unfortunately, two other men who came over with the 134th and subsequently transferred to other units were also lost that year. A gunner, SP4 Fry, was KIA on a gunship run and SP4 Robert Pfeister was killed in a ground attack on the 57th AHC at Kontum on January 10th, 1968 (his twin brother William was wounded in the same attack). The 57th's compound was later named after the Pfeister twins.


    The unit participated in numerous large Combat Assaults into hot LZ's during this first year in support of ROK units and the 173rd Airborne, often in company with its sister units, the 48th AHC, 61st AHC, 129th AHC and 180th ASHC. Some of these operations involved over 100 aircraft in the initial assault and were among the largest of the year in II Corps. In fact, the 134th led some of these large operations with a WO or Lt. being Air Commander over other units led by a Captain or Major. Rank didn't matter much in these operations. Experience with the local ground troops and knowledge of the area were the most important factors.


    The airfield at Phu Hiep, and the 134th company area, were mortared on at least 15-20 occasions during 1968, damaging some aircraft and buildings (and providing souvenir mortar fins for some folks). During Tet the airfield was hit by mortar fire every night for more than a week. However, the men of the 134th escaped with no serious injuries. During one such attack a gunship crew ran to their aircraft, jumped in and attempted to start the engine without realizing the tail boom had been blown off by a direct hit from a mortar. On another occasion a gunship landed for refueling after being scrambled during a mortar attack and then discovered that mortar shrapnel had almost completely severed the tail rotor drive shaft.


    As a testament to the morale and professionalism of the men of the 134th during this first year it is interesting to note there were very few discipline problems. Other units at Phu Hiep had lines stretching out the CO's office every week but the 134th rarely had a problem at all.


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    Last modified: Tuesday November 22nd, 2022