46. They Didn't Teach Me How To Use A Fork In Flight School By Patrick Pavey

It all started with a mission James DeWitt, my platoon leader, drew. He was given this milk run because he'd taken a few hits from small arms on his previous mission and Operations decided to give him a break. He picked me as his peter pilot for a long trip. The mission was to take a swash plate (or whatever they call the equivalent on a Chinook) down to the Corpus Christie Bay, a ship anchored in Vung Tau Harbor. This was going to take a few days to accomplish.

First off though, the story behind the Chinook. I believe the unit call sign was Blue Dolphins or something like that. They were stationed at An Son. The aircraft in question was on a maintenance flight after a 100 hour maintenance stint. I think the maintenance officer, FE, CE, and maybe another pilot were on board. They had taken off when something gave loose on the aft rotor and the aircraft tried to do an inside loop. I was told later that if they had a few hundred more feet they may have completed the loop. Needless to say, they didn't make it and the hook speared the ground, killing all aboard. This occurred sometime in late July or early August of 69.

We drew the task of picking up the suspected part and getting it down to Vung Tau where the Army Accident Investigation team had their lab. I had never been south of Cam Ranh Bay so this was going to be an interesting flight. We stopped at Nha Trang, Phang Rang, Phan Thiet, and I'm sure a couple other locations. The flight itself was uneventful until we got to Vung Tau.

Being Army, it was a bit of a surprise when we had to find this Navy vessel in the harbor and land on it's fantail. I remember the dust-off pilots talking about flying out to the evac ship Hope while up in I Corps but this was my first time at making this type of landing. Of course this was different since the CCB was anchored in protected waters and there was very little wave action going on, but it was still a bit scary anyway. To make this story short and get to the silverware, let me just say we made it without a go-around and the landing was okay too. I may not rave about the landing (or should I say landings as I'm sure we touched down more than once) but no one complained. We shut the engine down and someone asked us to put the rotor brake on Rotor brake? What rotor brake? As if Army helicopters had rotor brakes!! From that point it was simply a matter of delivering our package and then finding someplace to stay the night.

Now comes the silverware part. Now remember, I was used to the Army way of feeding guys. While in I Corps we got those little cellophane packs that carried a napkin, straw, a Chicklet, and a spork. You know, one of those plastic thingies that looks like a soup spoon with fork tongs on its edge and serves as both utensils. I thought I really moved up in the world when I got to Phu Hiep and they had metal utensils. Never mind that we still urinated in 55 gallon drums buried in the sand and there was always that stench that hung over the camp on Fridays when they burned the crap. Having a metal fork was high society. That is, until I ate lunch aboard the CCB.

The CCB was a regular Navy ship which meant there was a full complement of Navy personnel aboard. This also meant there was the officers mess with fancy Navy cooks and all of the trimmings. James and I were escorted to the officers mess for lunch and here is where I almost lost it. When I sat down I found a linen napkin laying across a real china plate. On one side of the plate were three spoons, a soup spoon, a dinner spoon, and a desert spoon. On the other side were three forks and a knife. I still don't know what the third fork was for, I supposed it may have been for shellfish or something. All of this silverware was just that, silverware, nothing plastic. If that wasn't enough, they handed us a menu! (You mean we had a choice!) Then came the service as the stewards came in with the food.

Now to say I was out of my element was definitely an understatement. Have you ever been to a fancy dinner where they serve fried chicken? Do you pick it up in your fingers or what? That's how I was feeling about this time. I was in my smelly flight gear, still reaking from the Nuoc Mam my hooch maid used to get the blood stains out, my hair was probably a mess, and I had been used to eating my food out of C ration cans. I had learned how to hold my P38 in such a way my Ham and Lima beans never hit the deck, but now I had to manage three forks, three spoons, and a linen napkin. It was culture shock for sure until we went over to find a place to stay the night.

We either got kicked off the ship for using the wrong fork or we simply left as our duties were done there (I like the first even though the last is more likely the truth) and flew over to Vung Tau to find some place to stay the night. There we were, two Bubbas from down on the farm coming to the big city! We were walking along a road at the airfield when a Lt. came along in a jeep and recognized James as his former neighbor back in the States. He loaded us up and took us to a villa downtown that had been taken over by the Army. The only memories I have of this part of the story was the living conditions (they had real flushing toilets!!), the fact they lived right in town (hey, it was a city), and they ate at a restaurant. We had to put up with steaks, city noises, dodge traffic and wonder when we'd be overrun. It was an interesting two days.

AM Def Ser Cam

Last modified: Monday June 27th, 2022