32. My First Days in Country An Air Medal with V By Jack E. McDonald

I arrived in Vietnam on 21 September 1968. I was originally on orders to go to the 25th Infantry Division, but upon arrival somebody decided that it was more important to send me to the 17th Combat Aviation Group. I arrived in Binh Hoa. When I got off the plane, I smelled the most obnoxious odor that I had ever had the misfortune to smell. I had no idea what it was but I knew it was not a great smell. I learned later what the smell was and eventually got used to it and did not even notice the smell until I went to somewhere that the odor was not.

Upon my arrival as a brand new WO1, thinking I was someone important, I found out that the Staff Sergeant here out ranked me. I expected a Viet Cong to jump out from behind every bush and that was on the military base. I think I was extremely afraid and also extremely excited. Actually more excited than afraid. I was excited about being in a combat zone and being able to fight in a war to protect the world from the communists. After a while doing everything the sergeant told us, we did see some amazing sights.There were CW2's everywhere, they looked old and wise to us.The group I was with consisted of WO1's and we were thinking we'd probably never look that old and definitely never be as wise as these CW2's who were DEROS'ing. It seems to me that we went through several classes about what we, as young officers and warrants, could expect while we were there. I don't remember anything about them other than being bored for a while. I do remember having to qualify with a firearm (I believe it was a .45 caliber). I do know that all I did was empty a magazine and that was the qualification.

Eventually after a day or two, I was loaded onto a fixed wing (I believe it was a caribou) and flown to Cam Ranh Bay. Here I was transferred to a Chinook and flown to Phu Hiep. After checking through Battalion, I eventually arrived at the 134th AHC. I was told that I would be assigned to the 1st Platoon, Lt. Boyle’s platoon. I was also told they were currently at An Khe and would be there for several more weeks because we had a detachment on duty there. I was told that while in Phu Hiep I would get my in country check ride and an in country orientation ride. I don't remember the check ride, but the orientation ride was a ride to remember. We left Phu Heip, went to Qui Nhon and picked up the body of a Vietnamese. It seems that we were to resupply the Special Forces at several of their camps and deliver the body (and family) to Nha Trang. I remember this mission taking about all day. I know that my bottom had never sat in a helicopter as long as it did that day.

After a week or so in Phu Hiep, I was told to pack my things for a couple of weeks because I was going to An Khe. After arriving there and meeting everybody, I learned we were supporting LRRP's (at the time I didn't have a clue what a LRRP was). I was also told that we supported the 173rd Airborne.

Some of the things I remember was flying a lot and going into tight LZ's. The first tight LZ that I remember was one south of An Khe, which was a hover hole. I don’t remember who was the AC that day but I know he impressed me with his flying ability. We went in to pick up some LRRP's at an LZ that was not big enough for the Huey to hover straight down. I remember the crew chief and gunner telling the AC to move right or left to get to the ground. After the LRRP's were on board, or were getting on board, the crew chief or the gunner announced that we were receiving fire (I didn't hear a thing). The AC calmly sat there until everybody was on board and then he pulled pitch. I was thinking prior to his pulling pitch that it was going to be a bitch to get out of this hover hole like we went into it. When he pulled pitch, he advised me to watch the torque meter and call out the torque. He also asked the chief and gunner how big the limbs were on the way down. When they said not big, he said that we were going to clear a hole and we did. There was no damage to the blades other that some green marks on them.

It was around this time that I was flying with CW2 Missy Brooks on a combat assault. I think we had already inserted a load of troops and were headed back for another load when the FIRE light came on. Missy showed me how quick a Huey could land from 2000 feet. I know everyone that has flown a Huey knows how big that light gets when it comes on. We landed in an open area and Missy told me to keep an eye out for the bad guys. He didn't really have to do this because I don't think I could have shut my eyes if I had wanted to. When we got the ground, the chief determined that it was a short and we left the area. I don't think I could have been happier, I knew that being on the ground, in the middle of nowhere, where a lot of people were trying real hard to kill you, was not a place that I wanted to be. I also remember thinking at the time that the .38 pistol we were issued was not a real impressive weapon.

A few days later, I was told that I would be flying with the Platoon Leader, 1Lt. Cary Boyles. Lt. Boyles informed me that we were going to be doing some LRRP extractions and it was no big deal. I don't remember a whole lot about that day except for the extraction of a team on the Mang Yang ridgeline, south of the highway that ran to Pleiku.

On the way to pick up the team, we were informed that it was a hot LZ and the LRRP’s were in contact. I didn't have an idea of what was really going on and basically was just a weight filling the seat. On the way in Lt. Boyles told me to watch the instruments and keep him advised of the torque he was pulling. We landed in the LZ and the LRRP's started toward the aircraft.

You have to realize that some of the LRRP's were Vietnamese, so when I saw them I really didn't know what was happening. The crew was firing their M-60's, the gunships were firing rockets and mini-guns and the Hawkeye Bird Dog was directing everything. I remember the gunships saying they were receiving airbursts at their altitude, the Hawkeye advised that he was also receiving airbursts at his altitude which was higher that the gunships, and Lt. Boyles told them all that we were receiving mortar rounds in the LZ.

The LRRP's ran towards the aircraft for a few feet then they would stop and fire at the wood line. I remember thinking this was just like TV. I didn't have sense enough to be afraid. It seemed like we were in the LZ for a tremendous amount of time, but I know that it couldn't have been more than an hour or two (actually just a few short minutes).

AS the LRRP's were getting on board, Lt. Boyles told me to read the torque for him as we were taking off. When he pulled pitch, the aircraft didn't even get light on the skids until over 40 pounds of torque. Lt. Boyles pulled pitch until the torque meter was reading 50 pounds and then he held that until we cleared the LZ. If memory serves correctly, after we cleared the tree line, we went down the side of a mountain. We returned to An Khe with all the LRRP's, aircraft and no injury to anybody.

For this episode Lt. Boyles received a DFC and the rest of the crew, including me, received an Air Medal with a V.

I think it was about that time that they needed a person in the Gun Platoon. I decided I would really like to be able to shoot back at the bad guys so I transferred to the Gun Platoon and became Devil 44.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022