31. The Crash Of Gunship 146 by Thomas R. Lewis

The following story is as I remember it, after, over thirty years. If any parts of this are incorrect please accept my apologies.

We were assigned a mission near Ban Me Thuot. It seems that a small firebase near there that got a motor/rocket attack every day at noon. We were flying in aircraft 146 in which Joseph Merricks was the crew chief and I was the door gunner. I don't remember the pilot's names. Aircraft 146 was a slaughter ship. This aircraft had two mini guns and two seven shot rocket pods.

We departed early that morning; I can't remember the day because all the days in Viet Nam were the same. The only day that mattered was the day you got to go home. Or, as we use say the day we got to go back to the world.

The firebase had a refueling bladder close to it. We were to refuel then go around and land and wait for the moon rocket attack. Joe and I went around to hot refuel the aircraft, after getting into the aircraft for take-off, there was some talk about us unloading some rockets and carrying them to the landing site as we were the same as all helicopters in Viet Nam, well over grossed.

For some reason, I put my seat belt on. This was unusual, as Joe or myself never wore our seat belts.They were not the clip-on style; you had to weave them through. Joe did not put his on.

We had to get the aircraft over a strand of razor wire to make the take off. In those days, the co-pilot read off the rotor rpm on take off as it always went down. As the pilot came to hover, the rotor rpm started dropping. The aircraft started moving forward and we got over the razor wire. The airspeed increased but the rotor rpm continued to drop. I knew were going to crash and braced myself against the AFT bulkhead of the aircraft. The nose of the aircraft hit first then started to rotate to the left. At this point, stuff was flying everywhere. I looked to my left and saw Joe being thrown out the door of the aircraft, I screamed out his name as he went out. As Joe hit the ground, the aircraft turned left, and went on top of him. I remember the skid being all torn to pieces as the aircraft was on its belly. It looked like the crumpled up skids and Joe were all mangled together as the aircraft slid over the top of him.

When the aircraft came to a stop, I looked up and saw the co-pilot look out his door, he saw Joe lying on the ground. He popped door using the emergency exit hand and the door came off. The pilot was calling on the radio. At this point, I grabbed my M-16 and ran to where Joe and co-pilot were. I asked the co-pilot if Joe was ok, he told me that Joe was alive, but I didn't believe him because Joe didn't move.

At this point, we started taking fire; I left the M-16 with the co-pilot and ran to get my M-60 machine gun. I set up in a mortar hole just in front of the aircraft. Things got quiet again.

The pilot called to the co-pilot to tell him there was no DUST-OFF in the area. A CH47 pilot called to say he would get Joe out of there. There was not enough room for him to land. At this point, I saw some of the finest airmanship I have ever seen.

As he came to hover, we started taking fire again. The door-gunners on the hook opened up fire, as did I. The aircraft kept the nose up and lowered the back down. He couldn't get the tail all the way down due to the tightness of the crash site. The pilot and co-pilot lifted Joe above their heads trying to load him on the ramp of the hook. The flight engineer reached down and pulled him into the aircraft. I can remember the Chinook coming to a level hover then just shot straight up and out of site before I could blink my eyes.

After this, everything got quiet again. The elephant grass was very tall and I expected the VC to come through the grass and get us. Every grunt that I saw in Viet Nam wore a bonnie hat except one, he had a steel pot on and that saved his life. I saw the grass moving in front of me, so I aim the M-60 straight at the movement. My thoughts were, at this time, if I am going to die, I am taking as many of them as possible with me. The grass parted and I saw a steel pot. That is the only thing I saw, so I didn't fire. The sergeant in the steel pot said to me, Boy, what are you doing out here by yourself? The sergeant looked like an old man to me, I was barely 18.

The firebase had sent down a squad to find out what happened to us and secure the area. They secured the crash site and I did what all good G. I. 's do when they have time, I went to sleep in the mortar hole. I thought I was dreaming because I heard this woman's voice. I opened my eyes to see a round-eyed woman asking me something, talk about a wake-up call! She was the first non-Asian I had seen since getting to Nam and there she was in the middle of the jungle. She was an Australian reporter writing about the war and she wanted to interview me. I can't remember what she asked me, all I remember is looking at her.

The pilots came over and asked if I wanted to go with them to get a coke at the firebase. We walked up to the firebase and were drinking a coke, which was hot, no ice. It was around noon. I heard someone yelling in coming; I looked around and found myself standing there alone. Everybody had hit the bunkers. I ran with my coke and dove into a bunker and didn't spill a drop. The old sergeant in the steel pot was standing there and said, Son, you better get your ass in here. After awhile, we went back down to the aircraft, a huey had landed and this maintenance officer from Ban Me Thuot came over to the crashed gunship. He walked around the aircraft and looked it over. There were no skids and it was sitting on its belly. There was a crack in the tail boom on the upper right hand mounting point. The crack was about 10 inches long and could put your hand through it. Also, both chin bubbles were broken out.

He told me to unload the rockets and ammo and put it on the Huey. After this accomplishment, I saw him get in the crashed gunship and crank it up. The pilot in command of the gunship said to the co-pilot, If this guy was flying it out of there, I'm going with him, and went and got in the co-pilots seat. They picked it up to a hover and took off for Ban Me Thuot. I ran to the Huey and jumped on. When we got to Ban Me Thuot, the maintenance officer had called ahead and had a crew with some railroad ties standing by. He landed on these but the aircraft was not stable and he hovered over them as they installed the skids onto the aircraft.

I don't know this maintenance officer's name, but he was redheaded and obviously had a pair!

The decision was made to fly 146 back to Tuy Hoa, so I loaded the rocket pods and the doors on the aircraft, and the three of us loaded up. We flew 146 back to Tuy Hoa and she got us home. Upon landing on the maintenance pad, Capt. Monterey, I think that was his name, started chewing me out for flying 146 back to base in the shape it was in. I told him to talk to the guys in front, that I was just riding along. He turned to them and started chewing on them.

Aircraft 146 was turned in as not repairable and all I heard about Joe was that he was shipped to Japan. I never heard what had happened to him until I had seen his name on the Jean's 134th members list. I e-mailed Joe and he told me that he didn't remember anything about that day. I wrote this story for him. Everything here is true as I remember it.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022