29. They Called Me Magnet Ass By Russ Hiett

I remember the incident on April 1st, 1971 well. As I recall, Captain Kent was the Asst. Ops Officer and got stuck flying this particular RF (combat assault) with the Koreans just to the west of Tuy Hoa. Here's the dumb part. He actually talked me, a gunnie, into flying with him. After all, it was a simple enough mission close to home, and the VC never liked messing around with the Koreans. What could possibly go wrong?

I can remember the first sortie into the LZ, a pinnacle landing, looking much like a postage stamp to a gunship pilot. The flight in was uneventful except for the gunnies yukking it up on ship-to-ship radio, giving me Hell for flying with the slicks.

Kent had said I should see what it was like from the other side, and he was right in the sense that it was awesome hearing those rockets go by and the subsequent reverberating impact in the LZ. But then, we landed--actually, I believe that Kent really landed in spite of standing orders not to go to the ground, but then I didn't have 5 minutes in a slick, so I could be off base here. There was a tremendous explosion and the chopper rocked up and forward, and there was dust everywhere.

My first reaction was shock: those damned gunnies had fired too close just to impress me. I think Kent even called for a cease fire believing the same thing. It took a few seconds to register that we had detonated some kind of mine and that nearly everyone was hurt, especially the door gunner. I didn't get a scratch. Kent pulled pitch and dipped the ship over the LZ and took off for Tuy Hoa, about a 2-3 minute flight away. He went straight to the medivac area, leaving the wounded and shutting down there. And it's a good thing, too, because the damage was extensive.

The ship was peppered with shrapnel, and the main rotor blades were nearly severed in at least two places. If he had tried to fly it back to the flight line, I think the thing would have come apart. I have a few pictures of the damage, especially the slashes in the main rotor blades.

That day also stands out in my mind for another reason. Later that same day, I was flying guns again--long live slick drivers, but that was the end of it for me! and Tony Mediate was the AC. We were flying the chunker and working out near the rock pile, which I believe was just off the Tuy Hoa River and about 5 minutes from home. We were shooting at VC running along a trail, and Tony was positioning the ship with the aid of the bird dog above. As I was firing the chunker, he literally flew the rounds into the target area. These were my first and only confirmed kills. Three days later, on April 4, the ship on which I flew as peter pilot with Rich Hartselle was knocked out of the sky when some lucky shot blew out the fuel line. This was just north and west of Phu Cat. He made a controlled landing, and we were picked up in a matter of minutes by a Demon slick. By now, everyone was beginning to call me magnet ass, a label I believe no one ever was fond of.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022