51. My Recollection Of The 134TH Assault Helicopter Company By Robb Robichaud
As with all who served in Vietnam, many years have passed since our tour to that battle scarred country. I was recently contacted by Robert Gallegos and Russ Hiett who were with the 134th in Nam and it was quite a surprise. Memories began to return to my aging memory.
As a newbie, I arrived in country in Vietnam in January 1971. After 3 days getting all in country processing completed, I was assigned to the 238th Assault Weapons Company in Dong Ha (I Corp). At the time, Lam Son was underway and all hell was breaking loose east of Khe Son. My first sight of what was facing me is when I flew to Khe Son as a
After Lam Son, the 238th returned to their home base of Tuy Hoa. After experiencing the life at Dong Ha and Khe Son, the sight of a base on the South China Sea was a welcome sight. Two months later, the 238th got word that they were getting Cobras to replace our UH-1 Charlie and Mike model gunships. I was asked if I wanted to fly them and since I hadn't gone to Cobra school at Ft. Stewart, I opted out. I knew I would be a bullet catcher, front seat pilot for the remainder of my tour. I asked to be transferred to the 134th which was at the same airfield and two days later, I joined the Devils and Demons.
I was checked out by the Devils Platoon Leader, Capt. Hartselle, and since I had a few hundred hours as a gunship pilot, I was accepted into the guns. A month later, I made the hallowed AC commander. I also volunteered to fly slicks on my days off, so I was also a Demon. As a Demon, I flew mostly
My most memorable slick operation was when Cung Son got over run by a division of NVA. I volunteered to be the AC of the flare ship and still vividly remember getting scrambled in the middle of the night. We were the first ship launched and flew west into the black night with no horizon. We had to fly IFR most of the way until I saw mortar rounds sailing through the dark sky and tracer rounds streaking all over the place.
I made contact with the Cung Son American ground base enroute. They were reporting bad guys inside the perimeter and needed flares so they could see where the NVA were. A team of Devil gunships were right behind us and we began dropping flares from 3000 feet. Most lit up but some crashed to the ground. I remember that my crew chief had set the fuses for a higher altitude and the flare parachutes didn't open up. I saw some of the flares burning on the ground inside the confines of the outpost. Looking down we could see the NVA scattered all around like ants attacking a food source.
NVA mortar rounds were being lobbed in from a hill top into the friendly American outpost. The radio chatter was crazy at the time between the Devils and our troops on the ground, who were ordering friendly fire onto their location. Tough call asking your compatriots to fire onto your location, but there was no option at the time. The bad guys were everywhere.
I gave the location of where the mortar fire was coming from to the Devils and we flew over the top of the hill. The door gunner and crew chief opened fire with their 60mm on the NVA we saw loading the mortars. Soon one of the Devil gunships opened up on the hill top. I saw two bodies around the mortar tube and others running for their lives under the glare of a descending flare.
We stayed on location until all the flares had been dropped. We were also trying to give directions as to where the NVA were but after a while it was fruitless. They were everywhere. More Devils and 238th Gunrunners arrived at Cung Son and it became a full scale battle through the night. We returned back to Tuy Hoa and went to OPS where they told me to get one of the gunships ready. By this time it was daylight and the
I launched with a team of two and headed to Cung Son. I remember talking to my roommate, WO Chris DiMaggio, who was returning with his Mike model empty of ordinance from the battle. His chin bubbles were shot out and he needed another ship.
Robie, it is crazy out there. It's a free fire zone. Just unload everything you got quickly. Don't worry about friendlies because the gooks are in the wire. Just open up on anything moving. The fast movers are on the way and might be there by the time you get there.
When we arrived, the Phantom F-4's had done their work. It was unbelievable the carnage and destruction that was visible. Dead NVA bodies were scattered to the four winds. Some dead were lying around a crater that a Phantom 500 pound bomb had made. The firebase that had been over run had NVA dead hanging on the wire and were also inside the perimeter. Buildings were on fire and there was still some door to door fighting going on in the village.
We searched the surrounding AO, but the majority of the NVA division had retreated to the jungle and hills. We circled the hilltop where the mortar rounds had been coming from that evening. All that was there was the mortar tube's heavy base plate. There was no sign of wounded or dead enemy. They must have carried them off.
Then we received a report of NVA off in the north. We found a group of retreating NVA in the area. The problem was they were deep in the hills, under cover and after unloading our load of mini-guns and rockets, we returned to Tuy Hoa to hot refuel and rearm. By the time we returned to Cung Son, it was all over.
As I recall, a few days later, General Ky visited the area and those who of us who had participated in the Cung Son were also there. I met the general as he awarded the Gunrunners, Devil and Demon crews with Vietnamese medals. To this day I can't remember the name of the medal. I never kept the medals I received in Vietnam. I was proud to have served my country and believed that those who died were the ones who deserved those honors. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't get physically harmed and kept my experiences to myself. I didn't want to tarnish those who gave their young lives in that far distant land.
After flight school at Ft Rucker, I was accepted to gunship school. I had volunteered to go to Vietnam. I had heard through the grapevine that if I did volunteer, and made it back, I would be discharged and wouldn't have to serve the additional two year obligation. If I was going, I wanted gunships.
I previously explained about my arrival with the 238th in Dong Ha. My first mission out of Khe Son was an experience I'll never forget and it gave me the strength to face the rest of my tour.
The regular Vietnam army's objective during Lam Son was to cut off the Ho Chi Minh trail in northern Laos at the city of Thapachon. The South Vietnamese army made it to Thapachon and then immediately retreated. The NVA were hot on their heels and bitter fighting ensued for the whole retreat. This was over days and the toll to both sides was heavy.
We launched one morning as did every other helicopter gunship team based at Khe Son. Teams of gunships were circling at various staging points and when the teams that were attacking the NVA had expended their loads they were replaced by another gunship team. It was a mess and ground fire was intense. I had also witnessed my first
As we were in a holding pattern waiting our turn to go
Then we heard the pilot say over the radio, “I'm dead.” The Cobra crashed into the trees and exploded. The radios were silent and then Command and Control (CC) broke in. Another UH-1C gunship had been shot down and the surviving crew was on the radio.
CC called in gunships to lay down fire between the downed Americans and the NVA. When one team was empty, another one followed in. The NVA were determined not only to get to the downed gunship, but to knock down any other gunship in the area. Two more ships were hit by ground fire and went down. The NVA was shooting everything they had. 30mm tracers were everywhere along with small arms fire.
A slick made an attempt to land and rescue the downed crew. They too were shot down. I remember the order from CC. It was a full-bird colonel who told everyone to shut-up.
I found out later that the CC ship colonel autorotated and as soon as he lowered the collective, he kicked in full left pedal. The ship dropped like a rock and four teams of gunships were positioned about a mile away. Seeing CC drop out of the sky they set up their gun runs and went hot.
CC screamed into the hot LZ and the Huey slick was standing on its tail. Rotor RPM's had to be maxed and the engine over torqued. We came in hot and I was on the mini-guns in the left seat. Bad guys were about a hundred feet from the LZ. As I was laying down mini-guns, my AC was firing the 14 rockets and the door gunner and crew chief were both on fully automatic with their M-60's. We broke off as we passed over and got the hell out of the way. Another team was behind us and they were hot.
I then heard CC say they were pulling pitch in five. They had the crashed crew on board. Two were dead and the other two were wounded. We were empty of ordinance and were heading back to Khe San to rearm and refuel. Our ears were tuned to the radios. CC took heavy fire on liftoff and did make it to friendly area with those he rescued. He landed safely but the ship was destroyed. They were immediately picked up by other choppers and made it back to Khe Son.
This battle continued on for two more days. I remember being scared to death at first and then the adrenalin kicked in. My first baptism with heavy enemy fire is still with me today. It has been buried for years and today I released it.
The 238th returned to their home base, Tuy Hoa and as I explained earlier, I became a proud member of the Devils. There were certain incidents that I am recalling and people whose faces I see, but can't recall their names.
I would like to expand a quote from the 134th website history.
We were on a mission southeast of Phu Cat. I was the AC of the lead gunship and WO Davis was flying my wing. I rolled in hot and started prepping the LZ. I called
I was waiting to hear him calling break, but the message never was radioed. Sensing something was wrong, I turned in for another run while trying to get Davis on the radio. No answer. As I setup for the run, we searched the AO for the Devil gunship. Davis had simply disappeared. We searched the tree canopy and the surrounding area, fearing that he had been shot down, but there was no sign of a crash or emergency landing.
I climbed to altitude and radioed Phu Cat airfield. Ten minutes or so had passed with no contact with Davis. Phu Cat radioed back to me that a helicopter gunship was on approach to the airfield and hadn't made radio contact with the tower.
We flew back to Phu Cat and on approach I saw the Devil chopper on the tarmac. The pilot's doors were opened and the tower told me that the aircraft was shot up bad. They had just removed wounded personnel from the gunship and they were on the way to the hospital. I landed near the chopper and saw that it was Davis's bird. The right side of the aircraft was peppered with damage and the pilot's seat was reclined back into the rear of the cabin. The crew chief and door gunner had tended to Davis's wounds as the co-pilot flew the damaged chopper to Phu Cat. There was blood everywhere from Davis's wounds. The 2.75 inch rocket had exploded outside Davis's door and severed the radio wires.
A few days later, I visited Dave at Qui Nhon military hospital. He was in a lot of pain and the nurse said he took shrapnel wounds to both legs. Dave was on his way back to the states. Still to this day, I wonder how WO David Davis made out and is. If you read this Dave, I hope you are well. I would also like to find out who the co-pilot was and the crew that probably saved Dave's life. UPDATE- 11/07/2004 Talked to Dave this week. He is well and his Co-Pilot was Captain Pat (PJ) Ronan.
Quote from 134th website.
I was a gunship lead AC on this mission. It is correct that all the LZ's were hot. We prepped the LZ's twice and after hot refuel and rearming the third time, we picked up our slick formation for the insertion. As the slicks were setting up for approach, ground fire from the tree lines erupted. We had blasted the area twice and the bad guys were still surrounding the LZ.
A flight school buddy, WO Mike Wilson, based at LZ English, was flying lead slick AC. I had seen Mike once since we were in country. He and his fiancé lived in an adjoining trailer park to where my wife and I lived in Enterprise, AL. We were very good friends. Just prior to he going to Vietnam, he and Linda got married in Michigan.
During the briefing, prior to the mission's insertion, Mike and I talked and laughed about old times. It was great. Here we were, he a slick lead aircraft commander and I a lead gunship AC, talking. We also agreed to meet up after the insertion and have a few drinks at English. We didn't say goodbye. That was the last time I saw Mike alive.
As he was leading his flight of slicks into the LZ and was on short final, a VC popped up in the middle of the LZ and fired an RPG directly into Mike's cockpit. The aircraft exploded and crashed. My friend, who I was talking to an hour prior, was dead. I visited Mike in 2002 at the Vietnam Memorial. His name is there, engraved on the marble along with many others. I finally had the chance to say goodbye to my good friend, WO Michael Wilson.
One day we were on a search and destroy hunt mission near Pleiku. While flying into known, free fire hostile territory, we came upon a VC camp in the middle of nowhere. The buildings were hooches with straw roofs and well camouflaged with trees. There was no sign of activity and when I called in the location, I was told that we had discovered an unknown camp. The fast movers from Phu Cat were called in to destroy the camp and while we were flying around hunting for any activity, we flew down a valley. The deep valley was lined with high rock walls and then my co-pilot saw something strange. A large boulder had been painted white and there was a bunch of VC scattering like ants about to be stepped on. We had discovered another enemy camp less than a mile away. The F-4's were on site and I called the Forward Air Controller (FAC). The FAC identified the sight with a Willie Pete rocket and the Phantom's rolled in to do their work.
In the meantime, my wingman and I landed on a knoll high above the target and had a ringside seat to what turned out to be an exciting show. The F-4's rolled in and blew the area up right in front of us, as we sat there at full throttle. Two flights of two Phantoms rolled in twice and obliterated the area. After they pulled up and circled for damage assessment, we flew down to expend our load of firepower and to give our report. There were dead bodies everywhere. What we later learned was it was a base camp for the NVA and the white painted rock was indeed used as a movie screen. Ground troops were inserted and reported a substantial body count for the Phantom pilots.
Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022