The commanding officer at the beginning of 1971 was Major Elliot Welch. On 15 March 1971, Captain La Vern Rovig assumed command until 13 September 1971. He was called home on emergency leave and the Executive Officer Captain Kenneth Canup took command until Oct. 2nd. Major W. F. O'Neal then took over command until the unit stood down on 28 December 1971.
At the beginning of 1971, the Company was based at Tuy Hoa, along with three of its sister units. These were the 238th Aerial Weapons Company(Gunrunners), 225th Surveillance Airplane Company (Mohawks, call sign Phantom Hawks), and 180th Assault Support Helicopter Company (Chinooks, call sign Big Windy).
On January 27th a gunship (66-00610) suffered an engine failure at 300 feet and landed hard in a rice paddy with the main rotor chopping off the tail boom. There were no injuries to the crew (CW2 Anthony Mediate and Lt. Cannon Ramey).
At this point, the Devils had exhausted their ammunition and the CE of Cpt. Ayers' ship had been hit in the leg. They immediately headed for the hospital at Qui Nhon and dropped off the CE who was not seriously wounded. The lead ship was too damaged to continue flying so Cpt. Ayers took over and was able to get a wingman (CW2 Phil Hollar) from the 129th AHC at Lane. They returned to the Cung Son area to offer additional fire support and learned the remaining NVA had worked their way into the village proper. The NVA had taken hostages in the village but released them and begin to shoot them in the back as they ran toward the beach. At this point the Devil fire team felt it had to attack. Unfortunately, as it did so, many of the civilians ran directly into the line of fire and 20-25 civilians were killed in total by the NVA and gunships. The NVA were finally subdued later that afternoon and the ARVN blocking force made a sweep of the area. The result was 41 VC killed and twice that many captured by ARVN ground forces. Two Devil aircraft were damaged and one person was injured.
In early 1971, a Devil fire team under Cpt. Richard Hartselle (Devil 6) ran into a bit of bad luck. Working in the Cats Paw region west of Tuy Hoa along the river they spotted 15-20 VC/NVA carrying supplies on bicycles. They took fire as they made a recon of the area. The crew of the lead ship (#500) was Cpt. Hartselle, Lt. Alan Mott, SP4 Ed Kalakauskis and SP4 Stephen Fuqua. Lt. Mott was hit in the leg with small arms fire and Sp4 Kalakauskis pulled back his armor seat to give him first aid and stop the bleeding. As he did so, Lt. Mott's leg pushed the collective down and the aircraft crashed into a rice paddy. SP4 Fuqua jumped out and began returning the fire of nearby enemy but Cpt. Hartselle, realizing the aircraft could still fly, called him back and they took off. They made it back to Tuy Hoa but the aircraft was so badly damaged it had to be shipped back to the US for rebuild.
Also in early 1971, WO Andre Garesche was wingman (AC) in a Devil fire team that had just covered a medevac southwest of Qui Nhon. They were on the way back to Phu Hiep and flew through a free fire area looking for some activity. They spotted 2 sampans on a river, partially hidden by trees, and saw several people run into nearby bushes. WO Garesche immediately rolled in and fired 2 rockets at the sampans from very close range, maybe 100 yards or so. All of a sudden there was a massive secondary explosion and the gunship was too low and too close to do anything but fly through it. The crewchief and gunner were completely drenched with water and mud covered the windshield, which luckily stayed in one piece. It was a close call but no one was injured.
On April 1st the 134th had 7 slicks and 2 gunships participating in a local area combat assault. Upon landing in a single ship LZ, the lead ship (Captain Donald Kent, Captain Russ Hiett, and SP5 Raymond Boyd) set off a land mine most likely triggered by a trip wire. SP5 Boyd (the gunner) was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the face and right eye. The AC, Captain Kent, was also hit by shrapnel in the face and two Korean soldiers on board were injured as well. Although the ship was severely damaged, Captain Kent was able to fly it back to the Tuy Hoa medivac pad. This action was said to have saved the life of SP5 Boyd. Damage to the ship was extensive and the main rotor was nearly severed in two places.
On the 10th of May, the unit received 5 VNAF aviators who had recently completed their training at Ft. Hunter-Stewart. They were to fly 200 hours each with the 134th before being turned over to the RVNF 229th Helicopter Squadron in Nha Trang. They were treated just like the other pilots and finished training in August with an average of 238 hours each. Their training went smoothly and they showed themselves to be willing and capable pilots.
By mid-1971, almost all of the
Cmodel gunships had been converted to the more powerful
Mmodel with installation of improved engines. This allowed them to actually hover and take off like normal helicopters. Prior to this, on hot days fully loaded
Cmodels often had to slide and bump along a runway, burning up their skid pads, until take-off speed was achieved.
A gunner, SP4__?__, had a close call around mid-year while on perimeter guard duty. He was in a bunker with a man from another unit who began banging on an M-79 round with a rock, apparently trying to open it. Seeing this, the gunner dove out the entrance just as the round exploded. The other person in the bunker was killed but the gunner suffered only scratches.
In June the 134th played a key role in The Battle of CUNG SON, the largest single engagement the unit participated in during 1971. A combined VC and NVA battalion attempted to overrun an ARVN artillery base at Cung Son. The VC penetrated the perimeter wire and partially overrun the base. At 0330 hours, a Demon standby flare ship was launched and shortly thereafter was dropping flares to illuminate the area. With the light from the flares, the enemy was sighted and 105mm howitzers were fired point blank at the enemy troops. The VC and NVA retreated against this fierce firepower to a small village two clicks northeast of Cung Son. The battle of Cung Son.
Upon arriving at the village, the enemy took over thirty to forty houses, holding the occupants hostage. The ground forces on both sides were at a stalemate until dawn. That morning, six Demon slicks and two Devil gunships were assigned to insert three companies of ARVN troops into an LZ along the river northeast of the occupied village. ARVN artillery was supposed to prep the LZ for the initial lift but apparently ran out of normal fuses and began using VT fuses. Unfamiliar with these fuses they fired rounds which exploded above the LZ as flak. Consequently, the first inbound formation had to break off the insertion until the artillery could be shut off. This put an even heavier burden on the Devil guns in covering the landings. More importantly, the ARVN artillery's lack of knowledge of VT fuses prevented them from bringing effective fire on the VC as they retreated. Nevertheless, the ARVN troops moved in toward the village and were able to suppress the enemy fire for the next two lifts. Despite this, the C&C ship was fired on by B-40 rockets as it inserted the command element.
As the day wore on, the ARVN troops were making little or no progress. The Devil gunships were called in and given clearance to fire on the village. When the Devils expended their ordinance, they put out a call for more guns. The Gunrunners (238th AWC) responded and arrived to assist the Devils. The hostages were released and they headed for Cung Son. The VC and NVA dug in and continued to return fire. After the Devils and Gunrunners expended their ordinance two to three more times, they had destroyed all but two strongholds. The ARVN commander and Province Senior Advisor fearing that with darkness the remaining VC might escape, requested an airstrike from Phu Cat AFB.
At 1715 hours, two F-4F Phantom Jets started their runs with napalm and high explosive bombs. They continued until the village was leveled. By 1800 hours, the ARVN forces reported over 150 enemy troops killed. This figure probably does not include a considerable number of innocent civilians caught in the middle that were either hostages or too scared to leave their homes. The 134th took no casualties and was credited with 35 enemy KIA.
The next day a Demon ship (69-15393), which had been involved in the assault the previous day, took ARVN officials on a recon of the area and landed near the village to inspect the damage. The crew of 69-15393, which included, Captain La Vern Rovig, Hans J. Underwood and Sam Cook, were shocked and deeply troubled as they walked through the carnage. Most houses had been burned and completely destroyed, and bodies and pieces of bodies lay everywhere. For those who participated in this action it truly was an horrific slaughter and a
killing fieldthat still haunts them. As Sherman said
War is Hell, and sometimes innocent people are caught up in the carnage and suffer the most. The Cung Son incident was a sad victory with mixed emotions for the men of the 134th.
Roughly a month later, a group of Demons (WO Ralph Staunton) and Devils were on a Combat Assault inserting ROKs near the coast about half way between Miami Beach and Lane AAF. They finished the lift and went back to Tuy Hoa for lunch before a scheduled afternoon extraction of the troops just inserted. Normal lunch was C rations but this was a special treat since they were so close to their home base. Tuy Hoa, being a former Air Force base, had many little
extrassuch as a flight line snack bar operated by local Vietnamese. The crews ordered sandwiches from the snack bar and then headed back for the extraction at an LZ near the insertion point. Unknown to the crews, a VC sympathizer at the snack bar had put poison in the sandwiches. On approach to the LZ they began taking sniper fire and every crewmember suddenly became violently sick and began throwing up, all at the same time. The aircraft were virtually impossible to control but the flight somehow made it into the LZ and shut down the engines. The ROK troops in the LZ silenced the snipers and guarded the aircraft while a Big Windy Chinook arrived and transported the flight crews to Tuy Hoa Hospital. Fortunately, the doctors were able to administer an antidote to the poison and everyone fully recovered in a few days.
On June 26th the 134th supported the 7/17th Air Calvary Regiment with 7 slicks and 2 gunships. The entire operation consisted of 20 slicks, 8 gunships and 6 Chinooks. The mission was to insert 1300 ROK and 7/17th troops into the mountains west of Phu Cat. The 134th flew 52 hours, lifting 370 troops in 119 sorties. Although prepped by artillery, most of the LZ's were hot and the 134th had one slick shot down on short final to an LZ, resulting in major damage to the aircraft. The crewchief was slightly injured but the rest of the crew were unharmed. The operation took all day and was followed by 7 days of re-supply.
In August, a Devil fire team including aircraft 65-09557 (gunner SP4 Don Forsee) was on recon in a free fire area a few miles west of Tuy Hoa. They flew over a clearing that had several picnic tables with white paper plates laid out and a stage set up nearby, complete with microphone and sound equipment. After doing a double-take, they came back around for a closer look and began taking small arms fire. The fire team began a gun run and, oddly, both ships either lost electrical power or their guns jammed. They could not fire any of their rockets, and the both the chunker and miniguns jamed, leaving M-60 door guns as their only firepower. However, they marked the target with smoke and were able to call in nearby fighter bombers who hit the area with napalm. The fire team then flew back over the target and observed a number of charred, burning houses under the tree canopy as well as bodies scattered about the area. Apparently the VC/NVA were having a party or ceremony of some sort when they were interrupted by the gunships. Unfortunately for them, it didn't turn out too well.
Several weeks later the same gunship was part of a fire team covering an ARVN combat assault north of Pleiku when the aircraft was hit by a large caliber weapon, possibly an RPG. Whatever it was hit the front of the right skid, blowing it off, caving in the door post behind the pilot and putting a large hole in the aircraft underneath the right pilot and console. The blast blew the M-60 out of SP4 Don Forsee's hands and sprayed shrapnel in his face, shins and thigh. Luckily the wounds were not serious and the rest of the crew was not injured. However, the aircraft flight controls were damaged and use of the collective was restricted. The pilots were able to land in a rice paddy not far away and he aircraft was sling-loaded back to Tuy Hoa by a Chinook but had to be jettisoned from 2000 feet when the rotor tie down came loose.
On September 13th while covering slicks inbound to a hot LZ, a Devil gunship had a 2.75 inch rocket explode as it cleared the tube, causing major damage to the right section of the cabin and cockpit areas. WO David P. Davis suffered serious and extensive shrapnel wounds to both legs.
October 7th, 1971 was a sad month for the unit with the loss of three crewmembers in the first major accident in over 250 days. Captain Gerald F. McGlone, SP5 Addison W. Page Jr. and SP4 Rafael Perez-Verdeja were test flying a UH-1C model aircraft when it crashed and burned for unknown reasons onto the PSP runway at Phu Hiep. All three crewmembers died in the crash.
On the 10th of October the 134th had its 3rd slick shot down in as many months in the LZ English area. A Demon C&C ship spotted 5 NVA moving across an open field while on a low level reconnaissance. The crewchief was given the ok to fire and opened up with his M-60. The 5 NVA returned fire and an additional 15 or so NVA in a tree line also began firing at the Demon ship. The engine was hit by the ground fire and the AC, WO Staunton, autorotated with no additional damage. The downed aircraft was immediately covered by Devil gunships. ARVN troops were then brought in to secure the ship and began a sweep of the area. During the sweep they found 6 NVA bodies, kills which were credited to the crewchief of the downed ship.
On a note of levity, a few days before the above incident, 134th crews were warned that if any more water buffalo were shot they may have to pay for them. As WO Staunton cleared the crewchief to fire on the NVA he shouted
Get those S..O.. B.., but don't hit the water buffalo.He took a little grief over that one back at Tuy Hoa.
On the 27th of November at 1845 hours, the last Demon aircraft to fly a scheduled mission in Vietnam touched down at
Hell's Half Acre. Aircraft 177 with WO1 Hank Pietrzak, 1LT Barton, SP5 Pena and SP5 Lemon had flown a mission to Pleiku and back. At 1848 the blades ceased to turn, by 1915 the ship was postflighted and pushed into the revetments for the last time.
Throughout the month of December, the men and equipment were either shipped home or to other units. On the 29th of December 1971 the 134th Assault Helicopter Company passed into history.
The 134th served in Vietnam for 1 year, 12 days as a Caribou outfit and 4 years, 35 days as a helicopter unit. The company flew almost 14,000 hours in Caribous and just short of 100,000 hours in UH-1's. Miraculously, a total of only 12 men were lost during this entire 5 year period despite the many hazardous missions. However, every man lost was precious and a friend to many in such a close knit organization. These men made the supreme sacrifice for their country and their compatriots. But for the hand of fate, anyone of us could easily have been in their place. We all owe them a debt which can not be repaid. They served their country well, with dedication and valor. As the rest of us grow older, they remain forever young and will always be with us. May God take their souls in his hands and may we meet again in Heaven.
To the men who heroically served in the 134th Assault Helicopter Company, she was undoubtedly the best aviation outfit in Vietnam, maybe the best there ever was, anywhere. There were many fine aviation units in this
Helicopter War. Perhaps some units accomplished more and, due to the luck of the draw, some certainly suffered far more casualties. Some achieved considerable renown. However, the 134th had no equal in terms of individual motivation, dedication, unit morale, camaraderie and esprit de corps. The men who served in the 134th were part of something unique and fulfilled their duty magnificently. May God bless the men of the 134th. There will never be another.
Compiled by Stanley R. Gause (RIP)
|Last modified: Monday March 6th, 2023|