The commanding officer at the beginning of 1970 was Major William Hensley. On 15 April 1970, Major Jon Dickerson assumed command of the company. Major Dickerson commanded the company until Major Elliot Welch assumed command on 15 September 1970.
The 134th got off to a sad start in 1970 with the loss of a gunship crew member. On January 11th while providing gun cover for a medivac in the Phu Cat Mountains, a Devil gunship (66-15151) went IFR and crashed into a mountain. SP4 Edward Hamrick was killed when the aircraft hit, rolled over and the transmission crushed him. The door gunner, SP4 R. D. Tipple, was not injured but the two pilots sustained serious injuries. Captain Porter suffered a broken leg and the copilot, WO Larry Ingle had a partially collapsed lung and was in shock. SP4 Tipple managed to pull the pilots out of the wreckage through the windshield and get them away from the crash site, successfully avoiding nearby NVA/VC troops. SP4 Tipple, a former infantryman on an extension, had the presence of mind to break off the magnetic compass from its mount on the instrument panel and grab a map of the area. They spent 3 days in the mountains, evading the enemy while seriously injured and slowly making their way east toward Phu Cat Air Base. On the 3rd day they were finally spotted by search aircraft and rescued. SP4 Tipple was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his actions in saving the injured pilots from capture during this incident.
Interestingly, while searching for the downed gunship 134th crews found a couple of crash sites that were previously undiscovered. In one case they found a loach suspended upside down in the dense jungle canopy, a crash that was at least several months old. The pilot and observer were still strapped into their seats and no identification was found on their bodies. The aircraft had markings from the 361st AWC (Pink Panthers) out of Pleiku but, strangely, that unit was an all gun company that never had any loaches. The 134th never learned the resolution of this puzzling situation.
On February 25th a slick (68-15316) was in a landing pattern at Lane AAF. On extended final at roughly 600 feet and 90 knots the AC (WO J. A. Mullen) felt a jerk in the aircraft and immediately entered autorotation. When he saw the tail rotor and 90 degree gearbox fly past the cockpit he realized what had happened. The ship touched down hard and nose low. The left skid collapsed and the ship rolled on its side. Other crewmembers were WO J. W. Price, SP4 G. R. Estes and SP4 E. L. Parodi. Two passengers were slightly injured.
In April 1970 several Demon ships were involved in Combat Assaults north of LZ English when volunteers were solicited for a rapid Vietnamese LRRP insertion on a nearby mountain. One ship (CPT Jack Coleman and WO Douglas Schultz) volunteered and just prior to touching down the VC opened up from spider holes in the LZ. Both pilots, and all of the LRRPs, were severely wounded and one pilot lost consciousness. The other pilot managed to get the ship off the mountain and landed in the valley below. He had put out a May Day call but the radio had been knocked out. The C&C ship followed the aircraft into the valley and was joined by another Demon ship. One medivac'd the pilots and the other the severely wounded LRRPs. The LRRPs were in such bad shape that they probably did not survive.
In April, the 134th was called upon to furnish slicks for resupply and gun cover to South Vietnamese and American forces inserted into Cambodia that month. The purpose of the drive into Cambodia was to cut off the Communist resupply lines and capture or destroy the supplies that were already there. The operation was completed on June 30th and the 134th came out with a flawless record (no loss of aircraft or personnel).
On May 3, 1970 Phu Hiep airfield was hit by mortars and sappers attacked the area around OP 14. SP4 Ed Kalakauskis and SP4 Donald Elliot ran into Operations and heard on the radio that the post was being attacked. They ran over to a flight platoon, grabbed a 2 1/2-ton truck, loaded up some CE's and gunners and headed for OP 14. The VC had driven the guards from OP 14 and breached the perimeter. SP4 Kalakauskis and the others attacked the tower at OP 14 which was now occupied by VC and killed 5 of them in and around the tower with no casualties to themselves. A warrant officer killed another VC with an M-60 as he was withdrawing through the perimeter wire.
Sp4 Kalakauskis and others entered OP 14 and could see VC firing from a hooch in the village on the other side of the perimeter but could not obtain permission to fire on it. SP4 Kalakauskis, being a good marksman with the L-312 hand flares, shot one of them directly into the door of the hooch and set it on fire. The VC ran out of the door and were engaged by the defenders around OP 14. These and others nearby were also attacked by Devil gunships and an unknown number were killed. Sp4 Kalakauskis and SP4 Elliot were awarded a Bronze Star with V for this action.
On June 10, 1970, a slick (68-16356) had an engine failure at 200 feet on a ROK re-supply mission near An Son. The aircraft landed hard and the rotor flexed down, chopping off the tail boom. There were no injuries to the crew (Cpt. M. Holmes from 268th CAB HQ, Lt. Jack Rainwater, SP4 William Turner and SP4 T. Williams).
The next month, July, saw the crash of another slick (66-16186). On July 29th the ship had an engine failure after takeoff from LZ Uplift at roughly 200 feet. The aircraft landed hard, hit a dike and the rotor severed the tail boom. None of the crew were injured (WO J. L. Weston, Lt. Dennis Feavor, SP4 D. A. Sessions and SP4 D. A. Fowler).
During the night of August 28th, roughly 30 mortar rounds were fired at the company area and 18 men were hit by shrapnel. There was also considerable small arms fire on the perimeter but it was not breached. Although several of the wounded men were in serious condition, all recovered from their wounds. This was an amazingly accurate mortar attack and one of the worst at Phu Hiep. All of the rounds fell within a tight pattern directly on the company living area.
At the end of September, Demon 68-16064 (WO J. S. Walls and WO Larry Biles) was working a re-supply mission in support of the Capital ROK Division. On approach to a pinnacle position at LZ Matterhorn at roughly 50 feet, the engine rpm began dropping and the ship spun to the right. WO Walls attempted to land in the LZ but the area was congested with supplies and troops. The aircraft settled into the perimeter wire entangling the right skid, lunged forward and rolled to the left. The ship was destroyed but there were no injuries.
On October 14th, a slick (67-17278 with WO J. W. Price and WO Dannie Smith) was chalk 5 of 7 on a combat assault and lost a tail rotor when it struck the runway at Cheo Reo. The aircraft spun completely around twice and landed hard with severe damage to the undercarriage but no one was injured.
Also in October, the 134th along with the other units at Phu Hiep were advised that they would be moving to Tuy Hoa Air Force Base in early November. When the final word came, the entire unit was moved within a week without a stand down. Unfortunately, the move was made miserable by a typhoon that hit the coast at the same time. The move resulted in better living conditions (real flush toilets instead of half barrels with JP-4, etc.) and better maintenance facilities for the aircraft. There were also those plush air force bunks, air conditioning, a gym, a theatre and even a miniature golf course—almost heaven for the sand hogs from Phu Hiep.
C Company, 75th Rangers (temporarily attached to the 173rd Airborne) also moved to Tuy Hoa and began long range recon (LRRP) patrols in the Hub area to the northwest, a long-time haven for the VC and NVA. (Since early 1968 the 134th had also been working with other LRRPs from the 173rd). C/75th Rangers specifically asked for the 134th to support their operations and the commander of the Rangers later stated that they had never received finer support than they did from the 134th.
On November 6, a Demon ship flying in the Tuy Hoa valley overheard 2 gunships from the 238th AWC talk about spotting a small group of four NVA on a trail near the river escorting 3 Vietnamese prisoners who were bound together with ropes. CW2 Cary Mendelsohn, the AC, volunteered to go down and check things out if the gunships provided cover and put a few rockets close by to scatter the NVA. The Gunrunners agreed and CW2 Mendelsohn descended to survey the terrain. His crewchief and gunner engaged the NVA with M-60 machine gun fire and wounded all 4 of them. They landed nearby and the CE and gunner jumped out, chased the NVA down and disarmed them. They then rounded up the prisoners and brought all 7 back to the aircraft. The wounded NVA and the 3 very happy prisoners were turned over to the ARVNs at the Tuy Hoa North ARVN compound. The crew never did find out who the prisoners were or the story behind this incident. CW2 Mendelsohn received a DFC for this action, the CE, Kenneth Snell, and gunner last name Gach, a Bronze Star with V and the copilot an Air Medal with V.
Many remember a notable event from 1970 - CW2 Lucky Wilson did not complete a check ride on three attempts. He lost a tail rotor on his first attempt, had an engine failure on his second, and on his third attempt totaled a ship (67-17683) during a simulated tail rotor failure and running landing on a sand bar in the Tuy Hoa River (with SIP Lt. George Jameson). He also had another engine failure and set the ship down with no damage but it was dropped in front of the maintenance hangar by the Chinook slinging it back to Phu Hiep. In spite of all this, Lucky Wilson was indeed lucky since he escaped without a scratch.
Other notable incidents that occurred in 1970 include:
WO Jimmy Edwards, WO Hank Groce and SP4 Kevin Malikowski taking off on a test flight, intending to turn off the hydraulics to perform a servo check but turning off the main fuel switch instead--and crashing the aircraft. The ship (68-15464) landed hard, bounced twice, and the rotor flexed down and chopped off the tail boom.
A light fire team was on the way to Qui Nhon and the AC of the trail ship decided to give his crewchief (SP5 Richard Sellars) some stick time. Somehow the ship took a sharp drop into the treetops. The AC managed to recover but the chin bubbles were smashed and the aircraft landed in Qui Nhon with tree branches hanging out of the chin bubbles.
SP4 Ed Kalakauskis, gunship CE on 65-09500, dropped his M-60 in a rice paddy one day and it speared the ground barrel first. The AC came back around and landed to retrieve the gun.. However, on takeoff he couldn't get quite enough lift out of the C model and hit a dike, smashing the nose and chin bubbles.
CW2 Arvine Coleman had a re-supply mission into a tight single ship LZ surrounded by tall trees, one of which was long dead. As he hovered in the LZ well below the tree tops, a large limb from the dead tree fell onto the top of his rotor blades. The limb was trapped on the top of the blades' path, bouncing up and down and gradually being chewed up by the blades. After 15-20 seconds CW2 Coleman flipped the cyclic sideways and the limb slide off the blades.
In late 1970, or possibly early 1971, a Devil gunship with AC Captain David Ayers (Devil Zero) and CW2 Andre Garesche, became the first and only gunship from the 134th to be credited with shooting down an aircraft. Unfortunately, it was Demon 32 (Captain Tom Offutt) that was shot down. The slicks and guns were on a combat assault, landing ARVN troops near Dak To, when the gunship fired a rocket (with a nails warhead) into the LZ while the slicks were on short final. The slick was hit with quite a few nails but no one was injured. However, nails hit the battery, causing it to catch on fire, and forcing the crew to make an emergency landing in the LZ.
As 1970 came to a close, the Demons and Devils had flown 28,733 combat hours with a total of 79,613 sorties in general support of II Corps. One crewmember and nine aircraft were lost during the year. The morale of the men of Hell's Half Acre remained as high as ever.
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