During 1969, the 134th absorbed the 832nd Signal and the 618th Transportation Detachments. The company was also redesignated from the 134th Aviation Company (Airmobile Light) to the 134th Assault Helicopter Company.
The commander of the 134th was still Major Robert Chancellor until April 23, 1969 when Major Charles Teeter assumed command. Major Teeter commanded the unit until October 10, 1969 when he turned it over to Major William Hensley.
Next, because of the hostile environment these aircraft would be flown in, they needed someone who could make quick, accurate assessments of a situation and react accordingly. Pilots often were required to improvise much like a savvy streetwise person, someone who could figure their way out of a jam in an instant, somehow complete the mission and get the aircraft and crew back home
On 20 January 1969, the company participated in a major Combat Assault with the ROK Capitol Division. The operation consisted of three phases over 9 days. A total of 10,196 troops were lifted and 1,365 hours were logged for the operation.
On 6 February 1969, the 134th conducted a Combat Assault with ROK units near Phan Rang. At the landing zone, the VC were waiting in spider holes for the incoming aircraft. The lead ship was hit by ground fire and crashed in the LZ while another (66-16326) was destroyed by a B-40 rocket as it landed. CW2 William M. Harrison, the AC with 24 days left in country, was killed by shrapnel from the B-40. The crewchief, SP4 John Baxter, was hit numerous pieces of shrapnel and also took a hit in a leg that had to later be amputated. The last ship (66-16319) in the 3 ship formation went around the crashed lead ship. As it did, it was hit by a hail of fire and a round hit the gunner, PFC William Ogden, in the neck killing him instantly. The rest of the crew somehow escaped serious jury and managed to get the badly damaged ship back to Phan Rang Air Base.
On the 27th of February, the An Khe commitment ended and the detachment returned home to Phu Hiep after almost a year of outstanding support to the 173rd Airborne and other units in the area. During the previous 12 months the Devils had performed an incredible job in preventing ambushes and protecting convoys on Highway 19 from attack. This mission was turned over to the newly arrived 238th Aerial Weapons Company.
One night in early 1969, a Devil gunship (66-15019 with SP5 Gene Molek and SP4 Tifis Flinn) was returning from the LZ English area and a .51 caliber gun locked onto them. They were already at several thousand feet and immediately began climbing. Those green tracers looked as big as basketballs as they gracefully closed in on the ship with what appeared to be rapidly increasing speed. It wasn't until the ship passed 10,000 feet (maybe a gunship altitude record) that the tracers began to arc underneath the aircraft. The .51 caliber was most likely a radar controlled gun and the Devils were very lucky to escape with no injuries.
On March 27th aircraft 66-16701 had a transmission failure at 1500 feet over Song Cau, south of Qui Nhon, with 3 passengers on board. The crew consisted of CW2 Robert Yalden, WO1 Gordon Soeder, SP4 Miguel Delacruz and SP4 Robert Bernard. CW2 Yalden was able to autorotate but landed with forward speed on the beach near the ocean. The skids caught in the wet sand and the aircraft flipped end over end several times, finally coming to rest upside down in two feet of water. Five of the seven people on board were injured but none seriously. The aircraft was destroyed.
In early 1969 an incident occurred that was particularly sad. Two slicks and a Devil fire team made a LRRP insertion northwest of LZ English using one slick for a decoy insertion and one for the real one. Roughly 10 minutes after the insertion the gunships were called away on a Tactical Emergency and one of the slicks diverted to another mission. While returning home the remaining slick heard a faint radio call for help from the LRRPs. They had been ambushed immediately after insertion and only two of the four LRRPs were still alive. The AC asked the crew if they wanted to go back and attempt an extraction without gun cover or a backup slick and all voted to go back.
The remaining LRRPs were surrounded by the VC and pleading on the radio for help. The slick arrived on station and the LRRPs were not in a position where the ship could land. The slick began taking intense fire at that point and the gunner's (SP4 Curt Easterbrook) M-60 jammed. The AC broke off and was circling back when on the LRRP frequency they heard an American moaning, then Vietnamese voices, a single gunshot and then silence. The moaning, Vietnamese voices and gunshot still haunt the dreams of Easterbrook and the other crewmembers even after all these years. May God bless these unknown LRRPs. The LRRPs had more guts than anyone alive. They performed an important and incredibly dangerous job, probably the single most dangerous job of the entire war.
Any helicopter crew would always risk everything to pull LRRPs out of a bad situation. A failure was the worst thing a crew could imagine and the few instances of failure cause nightmares to the crews involved to this day. They could not help but feel they were somehow responsible despite all possible efforts to get the LRRPs out. God bless them.
Around May a 134th slick, without crew, was loaned to Air America. The ship was flown by two Army pilots on temporary assignment to Air America. They flew a mission to a small compound roughly 30 minutes inside Laos occupied by US Marines, some sort of long range patrol. On take off the ship was shot down just outside the compound and both pilots killed in the crash. Another 134th ship with a maintenance officer and SP4 Larry Davenport was sent over to recover parts from the downed aircraft. As they stripped the partially burned ship of useful parts they took sporadic enemy fire, returned by the Marines, and again on leaving the compound. It hardly seemed worth the long flight, effort and danger to retrieve a few parts. But then, crazier things happened sometimes!
A few weeks prior to the above incident, SP4 Davenport had attended a turbine engine course in Vung Tau. While there he became friends with two fellow maintenance types from Australia. One night they had a few beers and one of the Aussies remarked that he'd sure like to have one of those loach (OH-6) engines for his dune buggy back home. After a few more beers, the three men then proceeded to the airfield, spotted a loach parked on the ramp and quickly removed its engine. In a spontaneous gesture of hospitality to an ally SP4 Davenport then presented the Aussie with the turbine engine which he took back to his compound for shipment home in his hold baggage. Next morning the loach pilot was a bit surprised when he attempted to start his engine.
On another sad occasion in the first half of 1969, a Devil gunship performed the unlikely mission of sling-loading the body of a Special Forces advisor out of an LZ west of Tuy Hoa. An ARVN unit, with its US advisor, had made contact with NVA units and called in Cobra gunships. The Cobras attacked but some of their ordinance hit the ARVN unit, killing and wounding a large number of friendly troops including the US advisor. Since no slick was available, Devil 019 (SP5 Molek and SP4 Flinn) volunteered to pick up the body of the US advisor. They couldn't land in the LZ but hovered while his body wrapped in a poncho was attached as a sling-load underneath the gunship. SP4 Flinn remembers hearing the Cobra pilots talking about their mistake and wondering how they must have felt. He also felt bad himself about picking up a dead US advisor but leaving wounded ARVNs in the LZ for later pickup.
Hell's Half Acre was attacked on 12 May 1969. The VC fired 14 to 15 mortar rounds into the revetment area in hopes of destroying some of the aircraft but no damage was incurred.
On 11 August, the VC again mortared Phu Hiep, sending a number of rounds into the company area. Cpt. Joel Harris and Lt. Mike Zale were roommates who heard the mortars go off too close to them to run to a bunker. They both dived under the bottom bunk as the mortars walked closer. Cpt. Joel Harris, renowned for his ability to crack jokes under all conditions, was left speechless as the shrapnel clattered off the roof of his hooch. The next round would probably be a direct hit—but the firing suddenly stopped. Luckily, no one was injured.
The unit lost four aircraft during August. A fully loaded gunship landed at the Phu Hiep POL area to refuel one evening and jet fuel was accidentally splashed onto the exhaust housing as the CE pulled the nozzle out of the fuel tank. The aircraft immediately burst into flames. SP4 Tony DaCosta was standing nearby when a pilot come running up to him shouting she's gonna blow. SP4 Dacosta, SP4 George Savage and SP4 Daniel Koper were all in the vicinity and grabbed two large flight line fire extinguishers and managed to extinguish the fire and avert a major disaster.
Gunship 66-15150, one of the original Frogs, had an engine failure after takeoff from Ninh Hoa. The aircraft landed hard and the main rotor severed the tail boom. Members of the crew were WO Gary Murphy, WO Jeffery Swickard, PFC William Fisher and PFC Tom Lewis (who was on his first flight in country). PFC Lewis must not have been bothered by the incident since he later went to flight school and became a Cobra pilot. Also in August a UH-1H hit a revetment while taxiing out and lost a tail rotor (CW2 Paul Brennan, SP4 Douglas Vick). The slick spun into a revetment and crashed. There were no injuries to any of the crews.
On August 19th another slick was lost. Aircraft 66-16368 (WO Bill Schade, WO P. E. James, and PFC G. W. Paine) was re-supplying ROK troops in a tight LZ near An Khe when a loss of power caused the ship to spin 270 degrees. The tail rotor hit a slope and the tail boom was broken off. The ship then crashed, rolled over on its left side and caught fire. The only injury was sustained by the gunner, PFC Paine, who was thrown from the aircraft on impact. However, he was not seriously hurt.
The second original Frog (66-15151) had an engine failure in September but the AC, CW2 Mike Dzikowski, auto-rotated with no damage.
Another gunship was lost in September. Aircraft 66-15019 (WO David Schindler, WO N. E. Lawrence, SP4 Ronal Defrenn and SP4 Robert Bernard) took off from Ninh Hoa with a wingman to pick up a Korean observer at a nearby field location. The wingman landed to pick up the observer while 019 provided cover. In a 30 degree bank at 300 feet the aircraft lost power and WO Schindler entered autorotation. The ship landed hard nose low with a ground speed of roughly 30 mph. It spun 180 degrees on its nose, the main rotor severed the tail boom and the transmission was torn from the aircraft. There were no serious injuries but the ship was destroyed.
One afternoon late in the year WO Bob Giebner was returning to Phu Hiep from Qui Nhon. He was close to home and was low leveling down the beach about 50 feet off the water when an Iowa National Guard F-100 suddenly flew underneath his aircraft from behind. The shock waves slammed the ship up and down a few feet in a blink of an eye. WO Giebner was left wondering if the F-100 pilot was as stunned as he was, or if he actually had planned the maneuver.
WO Giebner was involved in another incident around this time. An overworked maintenance test pilot had released his ship for duty at 2 AM that morning after an FOD check. He had removed his Rolex watch to reach in and spin the compressor blades and forgot about the watch. WO Giebner and his AC flew about for 45 minutes that morning before compressor stalls kicked in, sounding like large caliber anti-aircraft near misses. Their first reaction was to auto-rotate but, after realizing they had some power, they made a minimum power approach to a fire base north of Tuy Hoa. They found Rolex parts welded to the N2 and major chunks of compressor blades missing.
One day in the fall of 1969, CW2 Bob Morris and CW2 Bruce Willis had a rather scary experience flying a mail run (literally) south of Ban Me Thout. A jet had been shot down in the area by a radar controlled 37 mm gun earlier that day. The Demon aircraft was at 5,000 feet on a run to deliver mail to an engineer compound when they heard the tell-tale click on the FM radio of a radar controlled gun targeting them, then a second click. Not waiting for the third and final lock-on click they bottomed the collective and kicked the ship into a hard right diving turn. After descending to roughly 2,000 feet they leveled off and resumed course. Almost immediately they heard two more clicks. At that point they executed the same maneuver, dove to tree top level and continued on course, determined to deliver the mail. Luckily, the engineer unit radioed that they were taking mortar fire every time an aircraft landed and informed the Demon ship that they preferred no mail with no mortars to mail with mortars.
Just as in the previous year there was a large turnover of pilots in October 1969 and few new pilots to take their place. Many pilots began logging 150-200 hours a month, well over the 140 hour maximum allowed by the flight surgeon. Anyone with a set of wings was press ganged into the peter pilot seat, including much of the battalion staff.
On the 2nd of November, the 134th had a unit party. Right after the party, the company area was hit with mortar fire. No aircraft were damaged or personnel injured. On the 9th of the month, a gunship crashed at Fire Base Mike-Smith while participating in combat operations around the besieged Bu Phrang area. The ship was too heavy on take off and did not clear the concertina wire on the perimeter. Although the aircraft escaped major damage, the crewchief, SP5 Joseph Merricks, was injured in the crash and evacuated. On the 10th of the month, Captain Bruce Porter, gun platoon leader, was wounded in a mortar attack at Ban Me Thout.
The 134th had three other personnel wounded in November while returning from a Tactical Emergency around the North English area. An aircraft was hit by small arms and .50 caliber machine gun fire as it crossed a ridgeline. The AC WO Maurice Richy was hit square in the chest by a 50 caliber round, blowing a 5-6 inch hole almost all the way through his chest armor (chicken plate), and the crewchief SP5 Joseph Bates was hit in the leg by small arms fire. He also had a round enter his helmet, shave his ear and exit the other side of the helmet. The copilot WO Anthony Costanza was hit with shrapnel in his legs but was able to fly the aircraft back to LZ English. The door gunner SP4 Clarence Fry gave first aid to the wounded until medical attention was available. The aircraft had a total of 79 holes in its skin. Although WO Richy was seriously wounded the chicken plate he was wearing definitely saved his life.
In December, a portion of the Phu Hiep outer perimeter near outpost 14, guarded by the 134th, came under attack by B-40 rockets and small arms fire. A small group of VC attempted to penetrate the concertina wire in front of the OP and got close enough to throw a satchel charge at the OP tower. The enemy was engaged with M-16 and M-79 fire, and the VC who threw the satchel charge was killed by one of the 134th guards. Devil gunships were scrambled and accounted for 4 other enemy KIA.
There were also a few other notable events that took place during the year:
The senior Instructor Pilot in the company (CW2 James Campbell) having a stinger and tail rotor strike on September 22nd in an autorotation on the main Phu Hiep runway during a visit by General Abrams, the Commander of US Forces in Vietnam. The ship (68-15374) was brand new and had less than 700 hours on it.
Both pilots of a slick getting vertigo in fog while returning from LZ English one night. Each pilot kept trying to hand the controls to the other and the ship lurched all over the sky. They were finally able to descend over the ocean, landed on the beach and both pilots got out and barfed.
During an attempt to hover over a landing pad at a firebase on a steep pinnacle strong winds were causing the tail boom of a slick to swing violently. The crewchief made some remark about his flying ability and the AC, WO Leaping Larry Leathers suddenly pulled pitch and dove off the mountain. He came in hot, flared and landed in a field then climbed out and grabbed the crewchief. They went out into the field, worked out their differences, then continued on with the war.
A crew refueling at the LZ English crap table when mortar rounds begin landing nearby. The pilot immediately pulled pitch, leaving the gunner and crewchief on the ground holding the fuel nozzle and a fire extinguisher, respectively, and wondering how they'll get out of there. They weren't picked up until 2 hours later.
Cpt. Joel Harris trading a switchblade knife for a monkey (2-3 feet tall) at an Air America base. The monkey and crew didn't get along very well on the way home. The monkey was kept tethered to a wall outside Cpt. Harris' hootch, hid behind sandbags and terrorized unsuspecting hooch maids by jumping on them as they walked by.
CW2 Bob Morris and crew trying out the local Montagnard rice wine. They took some MACV types to a village that was having some sort of festival. The village chief pointed to a big pot with a lot of straws sticking out and invited the crew for a drink. It tasted like charcoal—but at least it was alcohol!
WO Mel Bailey going to sleep on a maintenance test flight while teaching SP4 Larry Davenport to fly. WO Bailey was so overworked and tired that after turning the controls over to Davenport he dozed off into a deep sleep. SP4 Davenport flew around for a while, enjoying his stick time and then had to shake the pilot to wake him up so he could land the ship.
SP4 Tifis Flinn, gunner on aircraft 500 had a bit of target fixation as his gunship banked over a target. He continued firing as they turned and put a few rounds into the cockpit, hitting the copilot (Lt. Emil Schemnitzer) in the leg.
In covering a combat assault into a hot LZ SP4 Flinn had pulled the pin on 5 grenades and was about to drop them on the LZ when an incendiary grenade fell out of his hand and rolled up behind beneath a pilot's seat. He ditched the other grenades and dove for the one beneath the pilot seat and pitched it out the door a split second before it exploded - a very close call that everyone ignored and pretended not to see.
SP4 Gene Molek, a gunship CE on 019, was accidentally shot in the arm and his chicken plate by his door gunner (SP4 Daniel Flynn).
Over a two-week period at the end of 1969 and beginning of 1970, Demon crews rescued two Air Force pilots whose aircraft went down in the 134th's area of operations. By chance, Demon aircraft were nearby and in both cases the pilots were on the ground less than five minutes before being rescued.
During 1969, the 134th transported over 152,000 personnel on combat assaults and other troop lifts. Although resupply was not a major activity, over 1300 tons of cargo were transported during the year. The unit also participated in its first night combat assault (with the 28th ROK Regiment). As a result of the dedicated efforts of Demon maintenance, aircraft availability averaged over 80% for the year.
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