36. Kirk's Story By Kirk Muth

My story starts out in Germany. There was about 20-25 of us guys that were stationed in Germany as helicopter mechanics. We got orders to go to the 134th Helicopter Co. at Ft. Bragg. Most of us were in the same company in Germany. When we arrived around July 1967, there were no mechanics but they started coming in straight out of helicopter school. Most of us had just made SP/4 in Germany. Within a few months we got the top slots and got promoted to SP/5. Most of the time, we did very little work on the helicopters at Ft. Bragg. I was sent home to take a 30-day leave and to show up at Sharp Army Depot in California around October. We were to be the advanced party that accompanied the Helicopters to Viet Nam. It was about a month at Sharp and all we did was show up for roll call and the Sergeant would have us hang around a few hours and then tell us to show up the next morning. I believe the Officer with us had to leave and all we had was a sergeant in charge of us. We left Sharp aboard the USS Kula Gulf. It was an old Aircraft Carrier that was now a Merchant Marine Ship. There was another helicopter company aboard with us. It took us 30 days to get to Vung Tau VN. There was nothing to do aboard ship but sleep and go topside and lay in the sun. There was a typhoon close to the Philippines and the sea was very ruff. Many of us were very seasick and could not eat. Upon arriving in Vung Tau we spent several days putting on rotor blades and getting the aircraft ready to fly off to Saigon Air Base. We spent the night in the helicopters on the side of the runway. There was nobody with us that was ever in Viet Nam before to explain what was going on. We stood guard and all I remembered was hearing Vietnamese people talking and I thought everybody was a VC. We flew the ships to Phu Hiep and all I remember was how pretty the coastline was.

At Phu Hep we didn't have very much. We built wooden frames and put tents over them for housing and I can tell you it was very hot in there and then there was the rain. We also got wooden pallets and made wooden walkways to get out of the sand. And of course we had to dig the urinals. It wasn't long before we moved down the street into wooden buildings with cement floors. Paul Codorniz and I roomed together in a cubical. We were smart guys and saw where the officers kept their stuff for themselves. We got the mule and acted like we knew what we were doing and loaded up ourselves a coke machine and took it to our cubical. Until I left, I always had cold cokes and beer. I would sell to the whole hooch cold drinks. That coke machine would almost freeze the drinks.

I was a PE team leader and had 13 guys working for me. I had to fly on all the test flights when our ship would come out the 100-hour inspection. I collected flight pay every month that I was in country. I believe that not one of the aircraft our crew worked on ever went down for any mechanical problems. It was very hard supplying men for guard duty and KP and still getting the aircraft out on time. I can't count the times we all worked late into the night. I had to work some people until after midnight to get the ships out. I would be very upset because they would want us to paint the whole aircraft to make it look good. The other thing that pissed me off was working late and being very dirty and when I would hit the showers there was no water or it was cold. Have you ever tried to get oil off your body with cold water? There were only a few times that we ever had time off. I remember one time the men were upset about no time off. We didn't even have time to go to the PX. I told the guys that they could take one day off, one man at a time and not tell anybody. They could not go to the PX because somebody would see them. I told them I could cover for them if anybody was looking for them. I would never have a full crew. They had to go to Tuy Hoa and stay there all day. Well you can guess what comes next. One of the men went to the PX and was caught and that was the end of that.

I remember one day that a ship came into maintenance area with 2 deer and a fawn. These guys were very big deer. They cut them up and the officers had venison. I know somebody else has a story about this. I have pictures of them in the maintenance area.

Mid 1968 Joe Molingo, from the linecrew and I went to An Khe TDY to do the maintenance for the 4 slicks and 2 guns ships that went there. This was one of my best times in Viet Nam. Every day the crews would fly off and come back late in the day. Many days I would go around to the mess hauls and beg for hamburger, hot dogs, steak, chicken or anything else they would give me. I would fire up the BBQ and serve the crews when they came in for the day. Since the crews and the ships were gone all day there wasn't anything for me to do. My job was to take the dirty laundry to town and pick up the clean laundry. We had no hooch maids there. I would spend all day walking around Sin City joking with the girls. There was one shop owner that I would visit almost every day. We would talk about a different subject every day. It was that day forward that I realized that they are just like us. I had always thought they weren't like us. She had invited me to her house to eat and visit with her husband and kids. I left An Khe before it could happen. There was a warrant officer friend of mine (?) that I introduced him to them and I don't know if he ever went to her house and visited them.

It was in An Khe after working on a slick that I was sitting in the co-pilots seat on the test flight. The pilot asked me if I had ever hovered a helicopter before. I said no and he asked me to try it. I did very well and the pilot said that he thought I had hovered before. He never had anybody do that good on there first try. I told him that I have worked on helicopters for several years now and know how the controls work.

After one year in country I went home for 30 days leave and had decided that when I come back that I wanted to be a crewchief. I was tired of working the very long hours. I thought that I was going to die about 4 times while being a crewchief. One of the times we were flying the Koreans into a hot LZ. We were going on to a very steep mountainside. There was only room for one helicopter at a time. We were the third ship into the LZ and we took a round threw the windshield. It sounded like a bazooka that had gone threw the ship. It missed the pilot's head by one inch and my head by one foot. There was a hole in the windshield the size of a watermelon. The pilot quickly asked if we were OK. He then asked if we wanted to shut down here or try to fly it out. All the instruments were in the red. The one that bothered me most was no transmission oil pressure. We made it back to base and found out that it was only electrical wires that were bad. You don't know that at the time when the light are flashing.

I had just started being a crewchief when we were doing a new pilot in-country orientation. We were doing touch and go over near the Koreans base. He quickly turned the radio so I could not hear what he was saying to the co-pilot. He had about a two-mile final and the co-pilot overshot the LZ by 100 feet. I thought that this co-pilot didn't know how to fly this ship. What will we do if the pilot gets shot?

There was the time coming out of maintenance when the maintenance officer wanted to make a parts run to Quin Nhon. He told me not to get the gunner that we would be making a quick run up and back in no time. I was sitting in the copilot's seat. He called Phu Hep tower and asked if there was anybody needing a ride to Quin Nhon. We picked up a couple guys and he then done the same thing at Tuy Hoa. We now had about 6 guys in the helicopter. It started to rain very hard. There was no top to the clouds so we dropped below them and was following Hwy 1. Of course we were so low that we lost radio signal at Quin Nhon. We were in flight for over one hour and our compass was acting wrong. I now looked out the door and I saw the same bay a second time. We were going in circles. The bottom dropped out of the clouds and there was a small hole in them to a beach. He landed the ship on the beach and I asked the passengers if any of them had a weapons? One of the guys had an M-14 with one clip for it. Soon the clouds lifted and we got to Quin Nhon. We were very low on fuel. It scared me a lot.

There was the time we were doing re-supply for the Arvin's. They were loading the ship and I wasn't paying to much attention. They thought if there was room put something in there to just keep adding things. I was trying to stop them from putting more supplies in. The pilot did a weight check and said we are a little over weight. He backed the helicopter all the way back with the tail over the fence. We were now going to try to take off with a long run at it. Just as we got close to the fence in front of us a jeep pulled in our path and the pilot had to over torque the rotor (red line) it. We just barley missed the guys heads in the jeep. I thought we weren't going to make it over the jeep. After a couple miles the pilot still had the torque meter in red so I radioed him that the danger was over and he could let off the collective. He didn't say a word to me about it.

Now there was the time when we were doing re-supply for the American troops. They were high in the mountains and in a lot of trees. They had to blow up some trees for us to get in there. It was a very tight location. I had a bad engine that they were waiting to replace it when I came in for 100-hour inspection and that was about 10 hour away. They loaded the ship with men and dirty laundry. We were coming strait up and as usual we started loosing RPM. This time we lost more RPM than usual and the ship started to drop. I yelled at the guys to throw everything off the ship but they didn't know what was happening. The pilot was just high enough to nose the helicopter down the mountain and picked up the RPM. When we made it back to base we changed the engine out. Being a mechanic first than a crewchief second lets you understand all of the problems and you know what is going on.

There was the time when after getting a preflight inspection done for night stand by the pilot asked for a wrench to tighten something. I had taken my seat out and installed a footlocker to keep extra stuff in there. It was the place I also hid extra smoke grenades. I would throw them out all day for something to do. Some of the missions were very monotonous. On this day I had just gotten some frag grenades and the pilot saw them and chew me out. One day while trying to find some grunts on a very big mountain I was dropping white smoke with a rubber band around the pin. The pilot was flying in circles try to get in radio contact. He turned a little tighter circle and the white smoke had not dissipated yet. He yelled incoming and took out of there as fast as he could. He was on the radio asking control where the hell the incoming was coming from. I just sat back in my seat and didn't say a thing.

I remember one day that a ship came into maintenance area with 2 deer and a fawn. These guys were very big deer. They cut them up and the officers had venison. I know somebody else has a story about this. I have pictures of them in the maintenance area.

The worst job was trying to pick up some dead bodies. We had tried to get into this LZ for several days. Finally the shooting had stopped and we were able to pick up the two Arvin's wrapped in ponchos. That sure is a smell you never forget. On the other hand there was the mission doing re-supply for the Koreans. We would be hauling water in the helicopter. By the end of the day the helicopter would be full of mud. On the last sortie of the day they would hose down the whole inside of the aircraft. Then they radioed for us to land out in the field. That was something that made us very nervous. We thought it could be a booby trap. They popped the smoke and we landed. One of them ran up to the helicopter and threw in 2 live chickens that were hog-tied. We knew that they were showing there appreciation for the days work but we all looked at each other and said what are we going to do with 2 live chickens. We were headed back and were probably going to have steak when we got to the mess haul.

It was on a day that all we did was log a lot of hours flying back and forth. Sitting in the back doing nothing all day is very boring. We were finished for the day and had about an hour ride back to Phu Hiep. The Captain (?) flying the helicopter and I were friend as only as it could be, as not to fraternize with the EM. He asked me if I wanted to fly the ship. I said yes! Of course. He just set the ship down in an open field and told the co-pilot to get in the back. We had about a half hour to go and he said you got it, take her up. I thought I would do a good job but at 3000 feet above the surface it's harder than you think. It is because there are no land references to help you. Trying to fly a strait and level flight just using the instruments is tough. I found myself either climbing or descending or try to keep the aircraft from crabbing instead of flying strait.

I was happy to serve in Viet Nam and with the 134th AHC. It never troubled me after my Army carrier. We were trying to do the right thing. I went back to Viet Nam in 1971-1972 for a year working as a civilian working on Army helicopters and the Vietnamese Air Force.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022