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Last modified: Thursday December 2nd, 2021
|1.||Letters Home by Sam Robinson||2.||Picking Up LRRPs in a Gunship by Patrick Pavey|
|3.||Getting rid of a Problem by Walt Chrobak||4.||Twenty Minutes of Terror by Stan Gause|
|5.||Lessons I learned in Vietnam by Barry Spencer||6.||Running out of Gas by Joel Harris|
|7.||Demon 32 Going Down in Flames by David Ayers||8.||Cambodian Incursion – April 1970 by Patrick Pavey|
|9.||The Crash of 148 by Mike Ogrysko||10.||You Meet LRRPS in the Strangest Places by James DeWitt|
|11.||Belated Kudo for the 134th AHC by Bob Giebner||12.|
|13.||They Didn’t Teach Me How to Use a Fork in Flight School by Patrick Pavey||14.||The Kid and the Rock by David Ayers|
|15.||Recovery of 319 by Jim Brady||16.|
|17.||A Close Call with the Boat by Tifis Flinn||18.|
|19.||20.||Reprint of Major Cramer’s Farewell Party Menu—Spring 1968|
|21.||Men of Hell’s Half Acre- Reprint of Article in Hawk Magazine, Spring 1970||22.||Freeing POW’s—A Lucky Break by Cary Mendelsohn|
|23.||My First Days in Country-An Air Medal with V by Jack McDonald||24.||A Crewchief’s Recollections of Vietnam by Gene Molek|
|25.||Recollections of a Caribou Pilot by Merrill T. Adamcik||26.||First Man in the 134th by Orin Nagel|
|27.||They Called Me Magnet Ass by Russ Hiett||28.||My First Flight in Country—A Gunship Scramble by Andre Garesche|
|29.||December 29, 1968—A Bad Day for the 134th by Mike Ogrysko||30.||A Dumb Thing to Do by Stan Gause|
|31.||LZ Devil by Andre Garesche||32.||Tom and the “Yard” by Joel Harris|
|33.||Demons Medevac Dustoff –268th CAB Newsletter||34.||The Night I Learned to Hover—(Almost) by Danny Pettit|
|35.||The Crash of 151—And Three Days of E & E by Richard Tipple||36.||Diary of Sgt. Arthur Partin (1969-70) by Art Partin|
|37.||The LRRP Mission by Andre Garesche||38.||My Story by Denny Agan|
|39.||UFOs-You Gotta Be Kidding by David Burnett||40.||Demon Maintenance-“The Standard of Excellence” by Benny Doyal|
|41.||The Crash of Gunship 146 by Thomas R. Lewis||42.||War Souvenirs|
|43.||The Longest Day||44.||H Model Huey with Hydraulic Accumulator?|
|45.||134th Memories||46.||How I became a Demon|
|47.||48.||A Good Flight|
|49.||My Recollections of the 134th Assault Helicopter Company||50.||Memories of the 134th AHC|
|51.||Birddog Gun Cover For An Extraction||52.||A Door Gunners Recollections of the 134th AHC|
|55.||I was there too!||56.||The Crash of Gunship 146|
|57.||58.||Thoughts from the 268th Battalion Commander|
|59.||60.||The Night that changed My Life Forever by Hans Jürgen Underwood|
By James DeWitt
Submitted on September 29th, 2015
I was recently reading the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Associations magazine and came across a story by entitled “November 27, 1968, is my Day of Infamy.” While I didn't know the author, one of the pilots he mentioned was a flight school classmate of mine, August Ritzau. In the article he described how August and that crew died... while flying a flare mission. It seems a flare had ignited and at 3500 feet there was nothing they could do but endure the matter of seconds as they dove at over 145 knots towards the ground.
I was reminded that near the end of my tour with the 134th, I too was flying a flare mission and had a near miss. That evening before we were preparing to go fly I was briefing the crew for the night as we prepared to hopefully relax before we would have to fly, one of the guys in the back did not want to wear the heavy gloves when handling the flares. I told him that he would wear the gloves or he wouldn't fly with me – how fortuitous that directive was I didn't know at the moment but would before the night was over.
As expected our time of rest was interrupted with a call to support a Korean unit in contact. We scrambled and picked up a Korean interrupter and headed for the unit in contact. Upon arrived and after making contact with the ground unit we began to drop flares. At some point during the mission one of the flares did not release from the lanyard and came back into the helicopter. Fortunately the crewman in the back had on the gloves that he didn't want to wear and was able to grab the flare and detach it from the lanyard. Other than some blackened gloves and red hands no one was injured.
I don't remember the crewman’s name but I remember putting him in for a medal, but I don't know if he was awarded it or not. Shame on me for not following up. But I have him to thank for the crew not ending up like my classmate and his crew.
However, the night was not over. As we continued the mission all of a sudden from above it seemed that we were surrounded by a ring of red tracers. It seems that the ground unit had called in “spooky” and failed to tell either me or the spooky pilot about each other. To this day I have no idea how we survived that night: first a flare going off while attached to the helicopter and an “attack” by a spooky aircraft. Fortunately we were able to quickly alert the spooky crew to cease fire and we immediately cleared the area fortunately unscathed. Just another night in Vietnam – fortunate to have survived.
The Night That Changed My Life Forever
by Hans-Jürgen Underwood
I often hear the words, "worst day of my life". The phrase got me thinking, what was the worst day in my life. Hard to say cause there were so many but if I had to point out one, this would be the one, the one I still think and dream about.
Years ago, Stan Gause requested stories from our constituency about their time with "The Unit". For reasons some of you may understand, I just couldn’t bring myself to putting anything down until now; sorry Stan. For the past few days, I've been updating the Compiled Recollections Page or Unit Stories Page and started reading the stories that have been added over the years. After reading some of the events, my memories, that I preferred to forget all these years, returned. Even now I’m sitting here shaking as I type this story. I've been trying to put the memories of that night in 1971 out of my mind for over 46 years. Memories that changed me as a person. In fact, this is the first time I’ve put this story down in type. To sum it up, it was the most horrific night of my life. I’ll try to be as accurate as possible considering the difficult memories.
It was only 14 years earlier that my family immigrated to the United States from Germany. In 1970, still a German citizen, I found myself in the United States Army stationed in the Republic of South Vietnam.
It was dark when we were called to the flight line in early June 1971. I was on 15 minute alert that night. The alert ships were already pulled from their revetments and setup for immediate take off. As each ship came on line the lights began flashing. The chatter of takeoff instructions came over the radio systems. Then "Clear Left, Clear Right" came over the radio. All the ships began to hover and one by one, collectives were pulled, cyclic pushed over.
The ships came to a hover and all moved to the active, turned into the wind and were off in minutes. We were in route to an unheard of village called Cung Son about 35 miles inland along the Tuy Hoa River. I knew nothing about the mission except that the village was under attack by the NVA (North Vietnamese Army). It didn’t take long to get there. Adrenalin was pumping and we were ready for action.
Night flights look so very different. The navigation lights of each ship all lined up painted on a totally black background. Nothing was visible but aircraft lights. It was warm and the doors had been removed from each side of the ship. I liked feeling the warm wind as the sound of the rotor blades whipped up my blood into the tension and alertness necessary for combat. We were flying Lima Lima (low level) and could see barrel flashes off in the distance as we approached the village. Despite our low level flight, in the dark, the sound of our rotors announced our approach and we started taking fire immediately as we got close to the edge of the village. We began returning fire. Every 5th round of the M60 machine gun chain link ammunition was a tracer so the gunner could see directionality and line up the target on the ground. All you see was a solid stream of red, piercing the darkness, headed for targets on the ground. It must have been hell to be on receiving end of the fire.
We were covered by gunships with mini-guns ablaze. What a sight! We kept passing over the hooch’s. We shot at everything that gave the slightest movement on the ground. Suddenly the light from a barrel flash. We began to circle a single hooch at the intersection of two streets and returned fire. The man ran into the hooch. Our machine gun fire started taking the mud building apart. So many rounds went into the building nothing could have survived. Pass after pass we strafed the village until there was no return fire. That kind of silence was deafening to me as my mind put together the evening's event and the sickening totality of death and destruction.
Just before dawn we began our return to Tuy Hoa. I remember feeling exhausted; it must have been from the lack of sleep and adrenal fatigue. I began having flash backs of the mission passing through my mind over and over. I couldn’t wait to get back Tuy Hoa and get to bed, as if sleep would somehow expunge the guttural dread I was experiencing. It seemed as if it was taking much longer going home but then with a sudden right turn we were on final to the Tuy Hoa landing strip, made our way back to the revetment area, hovered, turned the nose out toward the taxi area and set down. We did a quick and efficient post flight. That done we made our way back to the alert hooch.
Fatigue finally got the better of me and I was out. This reprieve was not for long of course, and I had to head back out. This time it was a recon mission, which returned us to the scene and aftermath of the previous night’s events. On our approach to the LZ (landing zone) I took pictures. What a mess! The following is a link to those pictures. Just left mouse click here > to see pictures. Cung Son. After shutting down we left the ship and walked around. There were South Vietnam regulars there to meet us for the “look see”.
What I saw first were 2 bodies of Viet Cong lying in a ditch. Chickens were pecking at the bodies. I kept moving. I looked down what was the main street of the village. Bodies were being removed to a designated area outside of the village. Civilians with strong and efficient movements lifted bodies in pairs, one at the feet, one lifting the upper body. The ironic sensation that this scene could be tidied like so much house cleaning sickened me. Most of the thatch roof tops were burned. The houses were mostly made up of dried mud, but now were smoke stained from fire. (It is amazing what is coming back as I sit here and type.)
As I recall, we were not there very long before we fired up the engine and headed home. We were there only long enough to talk to the ARVN Commander, prepare an after action report and get a body count. When we got back we were released from alert status, I headed back to the company area to get some sleep. Surprisingly enough I was able to sleep. Next day, I started to put the previous couple of days behind me, like closing a door and looking forward. We all hardened our hearts to the pain of yesterday and took the next day as it came. It was all I could do. Though I was on other assault flights, that was the most horrific encounter of my tours of duty, not to be repeated. Though I did have many nightmares after returning home, I consider myself thus fortunate. Others were not so fortunate and relived that nightmare over and over. For some the only relief was to die amid such a nightmare.
Today it’s all just a bad memory. Once in awhile I still have one of those emotional moments that all of us share from time to time. It’ll just come on suddenly and disappear just as quickly, like right now! If only I could un-see the things I've seen. My wounds can not be seen nor will they ever heal.
Many times I'm asked if I still think about Vietnam. My response is sometimes, "YES, I was just there last night!"
THE DAY I THOUGHT I DIED
Thursday, January 2, 1969
We were standing around in the 134th
Tech Supply about dusk, when we heard what sounded like mortars
exploding just outside our compound. Being naturally jumpy, we
listened attentively after the first explosion, after the second,
mechanics were at a dead run, scattering like rats, looking for
cover. I ran into the hanger which had conex boxes for walls but
realized that the tent covering was poor protection. The explosions
were coming closer and I didn’t have much time so I started for the
Sheet Metal Shop hoping to get underneath it. The explosions sounded
like mortars walking down the road in front of the hanger. As I ran
out from under the hanger into the open, the sound was right on top
of me and I saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye. This is
it! I thought I was dead! Dang my luck. Why me Lord? Going home in
a body bag! KIA at 21 years old! But I didn’t feel any pain. Looked
at my fatigues. No blood! It couldn’t have missed! I looked up as
the explosions continued and saw a Mohawk flying over taking some
sort of flash pictures!!! Everyone in the maintenance area breathed
a sigh of relief. Boy, it’s great not being dead!
Saturday, March 23, 1968
The VC hit us last night. They dropped in what seemed to be about 50 mortars on us. The attack started about 10:00 P.M. and lasted about 10 minutes. We had to stay in the bunkers until 11:00 P.M. and after we got back to bed we had to sleep with our clothes on. The attack didn’t do them any good because they didn’t hit anything. Some of us guys were standing outside the bunkers watching the mortars explode. We had our flak vests on though. We later heard only 3 mortars hit in our area, the rest of the mortars were the Koreans returning fire and hitting just outside our perimeter.
Sunday, March 26, 1968
Last night they hit us with about 25 mortars. 3 of them hit in our company area. It wounded 5 guys and blew a hole in the side of a revetment. The one that hit the revetment was only 2 barracks away from us. One hit 5' from our supply room and threw shrapnel all inside. The other one hit on the concrete pad of our outdoor movie theater. There was only one helicopter damaged in the attack though. This is the most scared I’ve been since I’ve been here. We’re pretty safe though, our bunkers could take a direct hit and it wouldn’t hurt anyone. The reason they probably hit us was that we sank two of their Sampans carrying rockets, about 6 hours before.
Wednesday, April 3, 1968
I don’t think I told you the other
night on guard, we had a GI come through the wire. He had been over
at the village (you know what for), and came back through 3 rolls of
concertina wire and across a mine field! He set off a flare
and the guards at post #9 grabbed him. The flares have a safety on
them like a grenade. When the pin is pulled the flares go off. We
tie strings to the pin and when someone trips over the string it
pulls the pin. We don’t have very good lights yet and it is possible
to sneak though without a guard seeing you if you don’t step on a
mine or set off a flare. They are setting up 15" spotlights now
|Saturday, April 13, 1968
The ship we got in for PE today has 17 holes in it from bullets and mortar fire. I dug a bullet out of the sound proofing in the cabin and I’m going to keep it. The pilot and co-pilot were wounded.
|Sunday, April 21, 1968
We had a ship come in today that had one bullet hit in it. It entered the co-pilots window, went through the head of the collective stick, went through the co-pilots leg and out the post between the windows on the pilots side. The co-pilot lost four pints of blood and might have to have his leg taken off. This is the second time he has been wounded. It happened at An Khe, that’s the same place that the other ship got 17 holes in it.
|Wednesday, April 24, 1968
The Company is really
fixing up our showers nice. We have hot and cold water now and they are
putting in mirrors and wash pans.
Wednesday, May 22, 1968
Mortar explosions woke us up about 3:00 A.M. this morning and at first we thought we were getting hit but this morning we found out that the Korean compound did get hit.
Thursday, May 23, 1968
Phu Hiep was hit with
rockets and about 15 civilians were killed. The VC also blew up two APC’s
full of Koreans on the Tuy Hoa bridge.
Saturday, June 8, 1968
I told you last night that the jets
were making air strikes on the mountain. Well, we found out that
they killed 150 VC out there. That is only about 2 miles from our
Monday, July 22, 1968
About ½ of our Company has been on detail today. We are pouring concrete sidewalks in our Company area. We were outside the perimeter getting some sand and some Koreans came up and tried to tell us something. We followed them and they showed us a dead VC that they had shot while on guard last night. There were 8 of them and the Koreans saw them when they shot up a flare. They opened up on them with machine guns but only killed one. It was a lucky shot because they were about 400 yards from the perimeter. The bullet hit him in the head and opened his skull for about 3". You could even see his brains. (Barf) They took a bulldozer and pushed some sand over him this afternoon. We found him about 9:00 A.M. and he didn’t smell too good then. He was only wearing a pair of green drawers and sandals and carrying an AK-47. He had also been hit in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar. So much for the gory stuff.
|Tuesday, August 6, 1968
Don Neiswanger and I were on the same guard post Sunday night. The Officer of the Day came by about 2340 and told us that Intelligence said we were supposed to get hit. We didn’t think too much about it because Intelligence had said we were suppose to get hit for the last month. At midnight they start falling. They dropped in about 50 mortars in 30 seconds then they quit. They were hitting around the Mohawks and Bird dogs. They completely destroyed one Mohawk and damaged four others. Some of the shrapnel hit some revetments and our shower in the Company area. One of the mortars went through the roof of a barracks in Battalion area. A couple of trucks got their windshields blown out and tires flattened. All in all only two guys were wounded, (in 225th), and one dog killed. The mortars were only being fired from about 1/4th mile outside our perimeter because we could hear them coming out of the tubes. Don and I were scared they were going to switch and try for our choppers. We were only about 20 yards from the choppers. One of our ships had an engine failure and had a hard landing. It broke off both skids and dented the bottom. They are going to send it back to the states to be repaired. No one was hurt in the crash.
|Thursday, August 15, 1968
Don Neiswanger and I were on the same guard post Sunday night. The Officer of the Day came by about 2340 and told us that Intelligence said we were supposed to get hit. We didn’t think too much about it because Intelligence had said we were suppose to get hit for the last month. At midnight they start falling. They dropped in about 50 mortars in 30 seconds then they quit. They were hitting around the Mohawks and Bird dogs. They completely destroyed one Mohawk and damaged four others. Some of the shrapnel hit some revetments and our shower in the Company area. One of the mortars went through the roof of a barracks in Battalion area. A couple of trucks got their windshields blown out and tires flattened. All in all only two guys were wounded, (in 225th), and one dog killed. The mortars were only being fired from about 1/4th mile outside our perimeter because we could hear them coming out of the tubes. Don and I were scared they were going to switch and try for our choppers. We were only about 20 yards from the choppers. One of our ships had an engine failure and had a hard landing. It broke off both skids and dented the bottom. They are going to send it back to the states to be repaired. No one was hurt in the crash.
Wednesday, September 4,
1968 (187 days left)
Of all nights to be on guard and in a bunker. We had a rat in there with us, (It crawled around the other guys neck) it sprinkled rain all night off and on, (our bunker didn’t have a roof on it) and we had a sand storm about 4:30 A.M. this morning. The only good thing was that we were on stand-by guard and could sleep all night long (or try too).
Tuesday, September 10,
Last night the VC hit a
convoy with rockets, 6 miles from here.
Friday, September 13,
There was a battalion of
VC spotted north of Tuy Hoa last night so our gun ships went out and shot them
Wednesday, September 18,
The Korean’s were hit with mortar and
rocket fire Sunday night and again last night. We were out on
the flight line at 10:30 P.M. working on our ship when things
started exploding over there. At first we thought they were throwing
mortars just outside their perimeter but they sounded too loud. Then
we saw some exploding in the middle of the compound and that sure
didn’t look right. It was mixed mortar and rocket fire. We stood on
a truck and watched it until it was over. The other guys on another
team ran under some vans that had sand bags around them. (chicken’s)
They were hitting about a half mile from us but if they had come any
closer we would have been under the vans too.
Sunday, October 6, 1968
Last night when we were on guard, the Sargent of the guard, told our post not to let any of the 173rd Airborne guys into La Ba. They go into there at night for the village girls. We told them that we weren’t supposed to let them in but that we didn’t care if they did go in. Some of them called us “true soldiers”. The MP’s sometimes go in there to try to catch the guys but we would warn the guys when the MP’s were in there. Those Airborne guys have to go out in the boon docks all the time and are always in danger so we aren’t going to stop them from have a little pleasure.
Thursday, October 10,
The VC blew up the pipe line (JP-4 jet fuel) while we were up on a test flight. I only noticed it after it had burnt for about 20 seconds. They’re getting so they blow it up about every three days now. The other night they blew it up about 2130 and it burnt until about 1000 the next morning. The fire department sure weren’t going out there at night to put it out. It is about 5 miles outside our perimeter.
Saturday, November 9,
I was on guard last night and was sleeping between 0300 and 0600. At about 0550, I was rudely awakened by rain hitting me in the face. What a way to be awakened on your 21st birthday!
Tuesday, November 12,
A guy got shot in the leg
outside the club. He was showing his .45 pistol to a kid and it went off.
Thursday, November 14,
The New Jersey
is down here now just north of Tuy Hoa. I saw her fire last night
and the flash from her guns would light up about 1/3rd of the sky. A
jet went over a while ago and kicked in his afterburner and the new
guy across from me started for the bunker. He is the same one that I
laughed at for wearing his flak vest and helmet all night long on
Sunday, November 24, 1968
We got hit again last night. They threw in about 80 mortars in about 10 minutes. They got 2 direct hits on the 225th’s club. Most of the mortars landed in the 225th area. None of them hit in ours or Battalion’s area. After it was over we had to make a sweep through the chopper revetments looking for VC or satchel charges. It took us about an hour and it poured down rain all the time we were out. I was soaked to the skin and freezing when we finally came back in. I only had one dry spot on my body and that was the middle of my back where my flak vest protected it. They hit us at 0145 which is odd because they normally hit on the hour. Maybe their watches were off!
Saturday, December 7,
Yesterday we had a ship go down with engine failure. A piece of tape about a foot long went through the intake. The tape wiped out about 4 turbine wheels. It threw blades out the side of the combustion chamber. They were just taking off when the engine blew up but they were lucky and got it back down without crashing.
Wednesday, December 18,
The VC threw in two
mortars on us last night. They almost hit our fueling point for the choppers.
Friday, December 20, 1968
We had an aircraft lose half of the front cross-over tube on the skids today. They were flying low-level and hit the top of a tree. When they came back here they had to hover until we could get some boards to put under the belly. It didn’t cause them to crash or anything when they hit the tree.
Saturday, December 21,
One of our ships got shot up today around An Khe. They had a load of canned pears and one bullet came up through the floor and hit one of the cans causing it to explode. The juice flew all over the crew-chief and he thought he had been shot and that it was his blood that was splattering everywhere. I thought it was kind of funny but I guess it wasn’t for him.
Thursday, December 26,
One of our gunners committed suicide today. He shot himself in the stomach with his .38 pistol. He even left a note but I don’t know what he wrote. This is the gunner of the ship that was carrying canned pears and had some rounds come up through the floor. The 225th is trying to set an altitude record with their Mohawks. The record is 37,500 feet and they are trying for 40,000 feet.
Sunday, December 29, 1968
They had a memorial service for the gunner who killed himself today. He used to be the gunner on 295. Anyway, 295 went into an LZ this morning and set down on a land mine that the VC had planted. It blew up and the gunner, who is flying with the ship now, caught a piece of shrapnel that went through both his cheeks and knocked his teeth out. It turned the ship over and it just tore itself apart. It doesn’t look like anyone could have lived through it but the gunner was the only one hurt. The ship is so badly torn up that they are just going to destroy it on the spot. Then, 150 was flying just north of here and took a round through the oil cooler losing all the oil. They flew on for about 15 to 20 minutes to get out of the area then set it down out in the boonies.
They sent 2 ships out to recover that one and one of them thought he had a problem with the over speed governor so he set his ship down in the boonies. While all of this was happening one of the 281st ships had a flare go off inside it and just about burnt it up. A Chinook went out and brought 150 back in and Lt. Doyal went out and flew the other one in. There wasn’t any trouble with the over-speed governor on the ship and the Battalion CO, our Company CO and Lt. Doyal all chewed that pilot out for risking all those lives for nothing. O, yes, this morning the 61st had a ship shot through the oil cooler also.
Wednesday, January 1,
You should have seen all the rounds being fired last night at midnight. Somebody in Battalion was shooting and that’s just across the street. About 2/3rds of the Company didn’t fall out for formation this morning and they got pretty mad at that.
Thursday, January 2, 1969
Last night on guard the
Koreans made contact with 2 platoons of V.C. just outside our perimeter.
Wednesday, January 15,
We had a ship get
splattered by mortar shrapnel up north today. It put 27 holes in the ship and
the gunner was hit in the leg.
Monday, Feb 3, 1969
They had a ship take a round through the engine up at An Khe so two of our guys took a new engine up to change it. Then something went through the new engine so we have to send up another new one tomorrow. That was $70,000 worth of engines ruined today.
Thursday, February 6,
701 went into the LZ and nothing happened,
then 319 went in and received fire killing the gunner. They tried to call
326 and tell them not to come in but they couldn’t get in touch with them.
So 326 came on in and when it sat down it just exploded. It burnt up the
pilot and about 7 Koreans who didn’t get out. They said it must have been
hit with a rocket.
Friday, February 7, 1969
They had a memorial service for those guys that were killed yesterday. That pilot only had 24 days left. He wasn’t going to fly any more but he needed four more hours to draw flight pay for this month so he went on that mission. One of the guys that was wounded had to have his leg amputated. The bullet that killed the gunner just missed the crew-chief by inches, went through a bulkhead, the transmission, another bulkhead and hit the gunner in the back of the neck.
Thursday, February 13,
Last night they spotted some VC at the base of the mountain so two gunships went up and shot at them. The VC started throwing 40 MM grenades at the ship but none were hit. We had a good view of the whole thing from our guard post. It kind of scares you when you can actually see the VC shooting at our ships.
|Tuesday, February 25,
Lt. Doyal made Captain
today. It sure will seems odd calling him Captain Doyal. It just doesn’t
Wednesday, February 26,
We got off at 2315
tonight. I worked all afternoon and evening pouring concrete for our wash
Sunday, March 2, 1969
The whole Company was off
today. They were celebrating Lt. Doyal making Captain.
Okay, talking about LRRP
operations, here is my favorite story. No, it isn’t blowing holes in some
slick tail from close cover or catching some from a wingman covering my break,
had that too but that’s simple TINS stories. No, this one was a medevac cover
that turned into a rescue mission. We got called out to cover a Maguire
extraction from an area north of Tuy Hoa and west of that Special Forces
outpost just off the highway. I don’t have a map here to refer to. What we
had was a team De De’ing from a firefight with Charlie and they took a couple
of casualties. One was badly injured and they needed to use the Maguire to
get him out. If you remember that operation it was quite time-consuming. We
got on station and set up a racetrack around the medevac as they pulled the
injured LRRP out of the trees. The area wasn’t real dense or anything, it was
just a matter of they couldn’t hump the guy to an area open enough for the
dust-off to get in and out. Anyway, it was fairly uneventful and they got
their patient out. As they scooted for Tuy Hoa they told us their fuel
condition wasn’t good and they would have to refuel before returning.
This put us in a real bad situation since we could not hold on for the dust-off to refuel, come back out and get the rest of the team. Our second problem was the lack of available alternatives. There were no slicks in the area to finish up the work or another gun team to relieve us on station. I made the decision that I had a good, strong bird and once I unloaded some of my ammo I could probably handle 4 passengers. I had a slaughter ship fully armed so it was a matter of getting clearance to unload before I picked up the remaining LRRP team members. That came in a snap from Company E, 20th Infantry, the LRRP team command.
I had the remaining team members hump out to an area where I could get in and out with my Charlie model while I went out to the plateau area to my west and unloaded everything but a couple hundred rounds for the gunners and maybe 500 rounds for the miniguns. Once this was done I called the team and had my wingman keep his eyeballs peeled. Even if Charlie wanted to pick on us we still had some teeth. I went on in, picked up the crew and set the LZ on fire on my way out, unloading everything I had. There may have been no Charlies within 10 miles but if they were near, they weren’t going to pick on me. We flew over to the LRRP strip and dropped them off with some very broad smiles, hugs, and thank you’s.
Now I’ll come to the present and the utility of the Internet. I have always wondered if any of those team members made it back and remember their ride in a gunship. I am still wondering but I did get in touch with their NCO, Lazar Lazaroff, or the Mad Russian as he was known. He was on R&R when this took place but he heard all about it. I am now an honorary member of Company E, 20th Infantry and Company C, 75th Rangers Association.
I don’t remember the persons name, but he was a real hard case, a troublemaker and druggie. Major Douglas, the CO, believed he had stolen one of our .38 pistols and I don’t remember what else. He had a habit of flying up to Quin Nhon on weekends for unexplained (and unauthorized) reasons as I recall and was about ready to DEROS.
Major Douglas told me to get him out of the company without any trouble before he got his weekend drugs.
Here I’ll add that we had two First Sergeants, one for the 134th and one for the 618th. The 134th First Sergeant came up on brains and admin ability while the 618th First Sergeant was more from the old school, might makes right.
I got Pvt. X’s orders but didn’t tell him he was leaving. I made arrangements at Tuy Hoa AFB to get him on a C-130 to Saigon and out of the country. Major Douglas then called him in and told him he was leaving. He replied that he would kill Douglas first. At this point Major Douglas told the 134th First Sergeant to escort Pvt. X to Tuy Hoa, and to shoot him if he didn’t obey. “And if you shoot him, he better be dead or you’ll lose a stripe”, or something to that effect.
Pvt. X and the First Sergeant left the HQ hootch and no sooner had the door closed than I hear a shot. My life (and career) flash before my eyes and in walks both of them. What happened I ask? The First Sergeant says that Pvt. X took a swing at him so he fired a round into the ground. Hearing this, Major Douglas comes roaring out of his office yelling at the First Sergeant that Pvt. X wasn’t dead, and tells me to take care of it. I call the 618th First Sergeant and he brings my door gunner and crewchief to the HQ hootch. Major Douglas then gives them the same instructions.
On hearing Major Douglas’ instructions the door gunner asks if he can borrow the .41 magnum I carried. I ask why and he replies that when he shoots Pvt. X he wants to be sure he’s dead. I give him my pistol, Pvt. X’s eyes get real wide, and they leave.
I guess Pvt. X got to the C-130 since he didn’t come back and the door gunner returned my .41 magnum. Then again I didn’t ask any questions! This is a true story—I’ll never forget it. I was the XO at the time.
In the summer of 68 I was fire team leader for two Devil gunships on temporary duty at the An Khe Golf Course, the recently vacated home of the 1st Cav. In addition to supporting a battalion of the 173rd operating in the area we provided convoy escort and supported the Highway 19 defense from An Khe Pass in the east through Mang Yang Pass in the west. We were scrambled one night around 1 AM to provide fire support to a ground unit protecting one the of the bridges roughly 20 minutes west of An Khe. The weather was poor with low clouds, intermittent rain, patches of fog and maybe 1000 feet ceiling. But when our guys are getting shot at and ask for help, you don’t pay much attention to the weather.
We made it to the bridge and identified the friendly positions. We could see muzzle flashes and tracers from both the friendlies and VC. We worked over the VC positions with rockets and hosed it down with miniguns until the firing stopped. Our folks on the ground said the fire was on target and had stopped the attack. We remained on station another half hour or so to see if anything else would happen and then started back to the Golf Course sometime after 2:00 AM. Meanwhile the weather had gotten worse with a ceiling of 200-300 feet, drizzling rain and increasing ground fog. We almost immediately flew into a patch of fog, lost ground contact and sight of each other. The old pucker factor was rising fast. Fearing I was too close to the ground, I stayed on course straight east, sucked up the collective, and started climbing out. I told my wingman to turn 30 degrees to the south and also start climbing. I hadn’t flown much IFR and was praying I wouldn’t get vertigo.
I got on the horn and called the tower at An Khe to prepare for my last straw, a tactical ADF approach. I wasn’t even aware that An Khe had a radar but the tower operator informed me of it and said they could give me a GCA approach (afterall, gunships don’t fly in the clouds!). However, there was one hitch—the radar was turned off and had to warm up for 5-10 minutes and the radar operator was in bed. At that point the 20 minute light had been on for a couple of minutes. I told the tower operator it was an extreme emergency and if he wanted to save the lives of 8 people to PLEASE turn the radar on and send someone damn quick to find the radar operator. He sent someone for the operator but didn’t know how to turn the radar on. We waited for what seemed like an eternity, becoming more terrified by the minute. What if they couldn’t find the radar operator? Finally the radar operator came on and said he needed at least 5 more minutes to warm up the radar.
I had planned to go see the tower operator and radar operator the next day to thank them in person and buy them a beer but we were called back to Phu Hiep the next morning and I never saw them. I still feel bad about not being able to thank them in person.
I’m sorry but my
memory is lousy and I don’t remember the names of anyone with me in this
incident. If anyone was personally involved or knows others who were
involved please let me know.
After being at Phu Hiep only a couple of days, some of the “old timers” or “short timers” approached me and told me one of the things they did for the new guys arriving in-country was to take them down to the village and treat them to some fun. So, being 19 years old and away from home for the first time and me wanting to be one of the guys and fit in I said sure. I was all for it. Well, on second thought, let’s just say that Lesson One was a very valuable lesson in being wary of gifts from “old timers”.
I think I had been in Phu Hiep less than 2 weeks and we were on red alert. I was assigned to be a roving guard around the helicopters. It was very dark and very rainy. We started taking some mortar rounds in the compound and I immediately went face down in a puddle of water. I was certain my life would end that night. One of the rounds did hit fairly close to me but no damage was done. I stayed face down in the water until I heard a jeep come up next to me and a deep voice said “son, get the hell up out of that water before you drown.” I think it was the Battalion Sergeant Major or some other senior enlisted guy. He said get the hell over there in that bunker and don’t come out until someone tells you to. I started running as fast as I could toward the bunker and dove into the front entrance and almost broke my neck. Valuable Lesson Number Two learned.
Late in November 1968, I was sent up to An Khe to provide armament support. Do you remember where the showers and shitters were located out back of the compound? Located not too far from them was what I remember to be a clubhouse. I think it belonged to the 173rd and it may have been their O Club. Anyway, me and another guy was assigned to the shit burning detail and he came up with this bright idea that we could push aerosol cans down in the crap and when we lit the JP4 on top it would get hot enough to explode the aerosol cans. This would blow the crap away and it wouldn’t take as long. I was game. We rounded up all the aerosol cans we could find and proceeded to try out his brilliant plan. Well it worked just like he said except when the crap exploded some of it traveled over and stuck on the side of the Officers Club, or whatever it was. We hi-tailed it out of there and hoped no one saw what happened. No such luck. Shortly afterwards, someone came over to our compound and explained what had happened to the duty officer. It wasn’t long before we were over there scrubbing the turds off the O Club. Lesson Number Three-Be careful where you blow shit!
After being in-country about 4 or 5 months I decided it was time for R & R. I tried to get Australia or Hawaii but was told those spots were reserved for the more senior guys and if I would wait longer I could get one of them. No way, as I saw it I was a hardened war veteran by then, even though I still didn’t have to shave. I was ready for R & R for sure. I asked them what was available and was told that there were spots for the Philippines and Tai Pai, Taiwan. I picked Tai Pai. I think I was able to come up with about $200 dollars for the trip. I was thinking if fun was as cheap in Tai Pai as it was in Nam then I would be able to really enjoy myself.
Someone who had taken R & R in Tai Pai told me you could get really good suits made real cheap. When I arrived in Tai Pai one of the first things, not the first thing, but one of the first things I did was find a tailor and negotiate a suit of clothes. I don’t remember the price but it did seem cheap. He had me pay for the suit up front and indicated I could pick it up the day before I was to leave Tai Pai. I don’t recall exactly but think my R & R was 5 or 6 days long. However, about the third day I ran out of money. I mean completely out of money. I didn’t even have money for food. I couldn’t find another GI on R & R that would lend me any money so the only thing I could think of was to go back to the tailor and try and get my money back. I went back to him and explained my dilemma and he made me an “offer I couldn’t refuse”. I think he gave me back about 1/5 the price I paid for the suit but at the time it was acceptable and at least I was able to buy some food until I left. The fun was over though. I think the tailor had pulled the same thing before since he wouldn’t let me see how much he had done on the suit.Valuable lesson learned in Tai Pai.
On a more serious note.
My time in Nam was up in November 1969 but I knew if I rotated then I might not be on leave during the Christmas holidays. I was being sent back to Hunter Army Airfield to finish my military commitment. So to assure that I would be on leave during Christmas I extended my rotation date for 30 days. Me being the bright guy I was, I approached Top and told him I didn’t want to fly anymore since I didn’t want to get killed after finishing up my normal time. The Top said ok that suited him since he had a special job that needed attention and I could take charge of it. We had guard towers and bunkers that were in need of repair so he put me in charge of a crew fixing up the towers and bunkers.
One day we were going to repair a tower, I think it was the same tower mentioned in the historical record where the VC tried coming through. It was in the same area. We gathered up our materials and took them out to the tower and unloaded them. Since it was lunchtime I took the crew back in to eat prior to working on the tower. After lunch we headed back out to the tower and as soon as we approach it I could see that the supplies we had left were gone.
Without thinking I jumped out of the truck and ran down to the area where we had left the material. I was very lucky or the “BIG GUY” was looking out for me that day. I happened to look down and noticed the top of a land mine sticking out of the sand. I immediately knew what had happened. The VC had come through the fence, picking up our mines on the way in and took the supplies. Then they put our own mines in the same area we had left the material thinking someone would run into that area, which I did, and maybe one or more of us would get it. Anyway, I warned the others not to come down to where I was and for someone to go back and get help. For the next couple hours I stood in that spot while some pathfinders or grunts were rounded up and came to dig me out of the mined area.
One day in 69 we were directing artillery fire on an NVA underground complex not too far away from Tuy Hoa in the mountains. I had some MACV types onboard who were FOing the fire and we were giving it to them pretty good. I guess I was kind of caught up in the heat of battle and, as I recall, the fuel gauge proved somewhat inaccurate. All of a sudden we got a low fuel light and I turned to head back to base at best range speed but we didn't quite make it. At 500 feet AGL off the end of Tuy Hoa airbase runway she flamed out.
We established a perimeter around the ship. We had landed in a rice paddy and there were quite a few "civilians" around. All of sudden, who walks up but my hooch maid! We had landed near her home.
Hello "Tajoea" she said with a big grin (she couldn't say Joel). "Ah, hi, nice to see you."
We radioed Operations and they sent some fuel out and we flew back. I kind of got in trouble for that one.
Before I give any statements, I want it understood that if this is ever used in a court of law, that I was a “Devil” with the best AHC in Vietnam (and other bordering countries). Therefore, I was completely out of my mind from Jul 70 - Jul 71 and was thus legally insane.
We had been encountering a lot of command detonated mines recently and also mines stuck on poles in the middle of probable LZ’s. Through experience, we (Gunnies) had determined that the best way to defeat these mines was to have the “Guns” shoot either nails or proximity fuse rockets. We thought this would take care of several problems for the slicks without exposing them to undue danger. For prep on the LZ, we fired a combination of just about everything we had since the area was reported to be extremely hostile with possible booby traps. As I normally did when I was AC, I loaded nails in the right pod and high explosive rockets in the left. When the slicks were on short final, I decided to put a few extra nails in the far right corner of the LZ just to make sure that we had the slicks (and grunts as well) covered as best we could. I then fired one of those crazy rockets that go where they decide to go. Every once in a while you get one like that whose trajectory is not anywhere close to where you’re aiming. As fate would have it, the rocket came out of my right pod and decided that Demon 32 was fair game.
point on, the history text has it about as close as I can
remember. Of course, I always told Tom that he was damned lucky to
have survived what the VC/NVA had placed in the LZ for him, and very
lucky to have had me covering him. For some reason, my crew chief
and gunner thought the incident was pretty funny but swore they
would never tell the truth.
In April 1970 we had just started our movements into Cambodia. Camp Holloway had become a staging area for air units involved in this incursion. There was a forward base as well but I can’t remember its name right now. All I remember was the red dust and clay, and that it was either just inside Vietnam or it may have even been across the border in Cambodia. I drew the mission of leading a gun team up to this forward base to stand by for any contingencies that may pop up. Roger Breckheisen was my wingman. I don’t remember who were the peter pilots.
We made it up to the outpost after a quick stop in Holloway for a fuel. I was flying a slaughter ship and, I believe, so was Roger. My ship was decently healthy but Roger’s was one of our weaker ships. Add to that fact we were operating in the Highlands where the DA was averaging 3000-4000 ft. This will come into play later. Nothing much was happening other than flights in and out of the forward base, picking up and dropping off LRRP and Ruff Puffs. We waited for a mission and it finally came. A flight of snakes(Cobras) with a slick had been in way too deep and they were running out of fuel in no-man’s land. A plan was formulated to get some fuel to them but it meant they needed cover. We were the only team available.
A slick was topped off with as much fuel as they could hold, even tipping the bird a bit (one skid sat on a pile of ammo boxes or something) so they could over-fill it. Then they threw a portable pump on board to make the fuel transfer. We then escorted the bird out to where the two snakes and lone slick sat, waiting nervously for fuel. Our job was to distract any bad guys and they were there, make no mistake. It took about 15 minutes or so to get enough fuel transferred to the three birds so they could beat-feet back to safer territory. All during this time we kept circling above with eyes peeled for anything. It was going on dark and this made us real nervous.
The final snake was filled with enough fuel to make it back to safe territory and was departing when the excitement we had been waiting for started. The snake and the final slick started taking fire as they departed the LZ. The snake pilot reported his 20 minute light never went out and figured his 5 minute light would be on before he could take the time to return fire so he wasn’t going to hang around. It was up to Roger and me to give the cover needed. I rolled hot into where the tracers were coming from with rockets and the mini’s. As you can imagine, my night vision was immediately shot. I kept my run going until I heard Roger yelling over the radio to break immediately. I think my door gunner got a couple palm tree fronds on the break, we were a bit low. Roger continued in on his run and laid down a few more licks. We didn’t get any response from our single runs so we decided it was our turn to split the area as well. It was still a ways to the forward base and with night falling we wanted to get there. By the time we turned east though it was much too dark to see anything and the forward base had shut down to lessen their visibility as a target. We had only one choice and that was to return to Holloway.
This was a scary flight as we were essentially IFR in the dark. You probably remember how dark it could get over there. Even with the moon and stars it was dark. Well, on this night there was a cloud cover so there were no stars or moon to help. I flew by compass and a bit of a prayer, guessing where Holloway should have been. I was never so relieved as when I saw the lights of the Christmas Tree (that refueling area on the west side of camp Holloway,) We were low on fuel and it was a beautiful sight to see. Roger and I requested straight-in approaches for refueling. Our next stop was going to be Quin Nhon on the way home.
As we were refueling a sensation came over me, I’m not sure what it was but obviously something was wrong. I called Holloway Tower and asked what was up. Holloway was under mortar and rocket attack. Now this was the calmest tower operator I ever heard. You could hear the siren going off with rounds impacting in the background and he continued at his post. I informed him he had a gun team at his disposal, realizing the Playboys would be up soon but not as fast as we could get airborne. He gave carte blanche clearance as we saw fit so we took to the air. Now here it gets a bit funny. My crew was aware of what was going on and they immediately jumped on board to go. But Roger’s crew must have been out of it because the crew chief continued to fill his bird while all this transpired. As you probably remember, 900 lbs. of fuel was all you dared carry on those C models in the Pleiku area. Roger had something over 1300 lbs and his bird was definitely no muscle machine, even by C model standards. As I was grabbing air with an rpm of 6200 to 6400 (okay, my numbers may not be exact but you get the picture) Roger was orbiting about 50’ above the concertina wire trying to milk something more than 5900. He nurse maided the bird into the air and finally got up with me.
Back to the war now. We arrived on station while the last rockets were still coming in. Trouble was, this was not our AO and we didn’t know where the friendlies were, even in broad daylight, and we couldn’t see anything on the ground. We did make attempts to get clearance to fire at what we saw as rocket flashes but to no avail. We burned up enough fuel so Roger could land safely and then returned to Holloway. I was really steamed about not getting clearance to open up but as I said earlier, this wasn’t our AO and we probably would have blown up some papa san sneaking a cigarette rather than Charlie lobbing rockets. It was bitter though, especially when we walked past the remains of a GP medium tent that had housed some flight crews TDY to Holloway for the Cambodia trip. There were casualties but I don’t know how many or how bad.
The story goes on but from this point it was fairly routine so I won’t bore you with any more. I’m sure that there were Demon slicks involved in various sorties into Cambodia from that point until we withdrew but I don’t remember any specifics. As for the Devils, we weren’t invited back as I recall. Most of the missions were outside our flight range so we picked up all of the coastal stuff such as sniffer missions, LRRP insertions and so on. There was plenty of that still going on.
I was the crewchief on a gunship (66-148) in May 68 when it lost a compressor blade and blew the engine. We were flying west of LZ Uplift on a recon mission. We thought that we took fire since the area was hot. I believe Mr. Ray Labier and Mr. Loren Hall were the pilots. They autorotated into a small, dried up rice paddy in between two hills. The landing zone was not that big and I think they thought we were going into the trees. So we literally bounced (about three times) into this place really hard. I remember my gunner (SP4 ?? Smith, flying out the door and his safety strap yanking him back into the aircraft each time we bounced.
Mr. Hall in 077 tried to toss us his M-16 while we were on the ground and we missed it. The M-16 didn’t take too well to the impact.
A slick from the 129th AHC picked us up about 20-30 minutes later and took us to LZ English where we spent the night. We took our M-60's and mini-guns with us, but left the rocket launchers with about half the rockets and remaining min-gun ammo. I remember being told to get the radios out, and I was so nervous that I started cutting the cables to get the radios out faster. This was about 5-6 pm and since the area was hot they didn't recover the aircraft until the next morning. Needless to say it was stripped down by morning. The aircraft was a total loss and I was told it was hooked out over the South China Sea and dumped. However, I recently learned it was salvaged, sent back to the States for rebuild and returned to service in Vietnam.
On the lighter side Mr. Hall recorded in the log book "Engine went boom and the ground came up and smacked us in the ass." I felt bad that I left my Kodak Instamatic in the aircraft, but Mr. Hall had left a 35mm camera with a new lens there. I remember him trying to get shots of the An Khe nurse's quarters from the air while the nurses were sun bathing topless. I guess maybe the VC got some nice photos.
I left Vietnam from Cam Ranh Bay and noticed a guy with a very familiar look, but for the life of me I could not place him. On the flight home, I had an aisle seat and he had an aisle seat one row back on the opposite side from me. Several times during the flight I looked back and caught him looking at me and he did likewise with me still no clue why he was so familiar. We landed at McCord AFB and after clearing customs we grabbed taxis and headed for the Seattle airport to catch a flight home. Well, this guy is in the taxi with me and another guy. As we and another taxi from the plane pull up we bail out and tell each other "meet in the bar after you get your tickets."
I hope this doesn't come out wrong, but I’d like to spread the word about the 134th's record and a very belated kudo. I left Vietnam in 1970. Thirteen years later, while I was an AH-1S pilot filling in as a UH-1 Instructor Pilot at Ft. Hood, the Army Safety Institute guys contacted me and asked me what we did that was better than anyone else in the Army.
It seems there was a serious accident trend in the Army at that time (and all DOD for that matter), and they decided to cross-reference pilots who always seemed to be in units with low accident rates during their career. The 134th alumni stood out from the rest. These safety folks wanted to know how the 134th did it.
As I recall, there was also a rumor that we had the lowest engine failure rate in Viet Nam. Anyway, they decided the main factors were our PIC (Pilot in Command) training and selection process, and the outstanding maintenance process where everyone was involved.
Gun Platoon Leader
For what it's worth, this was written from memory 30 years old.
For the 134th Guns, the TET offensive actually began a few days before TET. It was then that I received a complaint from one of the fire team leaders that our fire teams were being jerked around by some Lieutenant up at Pleiku, who showed no respect for aviators in general, and warrant officers in particular. I decided to fly up to Pleiku on the next mission to see for myself what was going on - I did and they were correct, but this time the LT was surprised to be jerking (or attempting to jerk) a captain around. That ended that episode.
Not much else happened that day. We flew up the road to Kontum where the 57th AHC was stationed and stopped to exchange tales. The 57th had also trained at Fort Bragg and I knew many of their people. We returned to Pleiku for the night, intending to go back to Phu Hiep the next day. We stayed with another aviation company but I don't recall the unit. They had coffin shaped company/platoon patches and were the grim reapers or something like that (editor’s note: it was probably the Avengers, gun platoon of the 189th AHC). It must have been that night that TET started as we were mortared and rocketed- HARD! So hard that the hooch we were sleeping in was actually blown off the foundation. During the attack we hid in a bunker, and while I was watching the fireworks through a slit-window a shell hit an ammo dump outside. The blast from the explosion came through the slit and threw me back in the bunker, and the back of my head hit a roof beam. Unknown to me the blast also broke the single light bulb hanging from the roof of the bunker, plunging everything into total darkness. Once I had regained some of my senses, I felt blood on the back of my head and I couldn't see. I'm blind was my first muddled thought but then somebody found a light bulb and I was miraculously cured.
The next day when we flew over Kontum, people were standing on rooftops shooting at us. TET was for real.
One of the jerking around problems we had was one-day missions being extended for a couple days. To make sure this didn't happen this time I had instructed our crews not to bring any overnight gear - no toothbrush, no clothing, nothing extra. We were going up for one day and coming back the next morning. As a result about three days into TET we still had nothing - except dirty teeth, dirty clothes, and probably a smell. What could we do? We were also nearly broke! Pooling the little cash we had, Dave Wilkinson (I believe) and I went to the Pleiku Officers Club. There I promptly lost half our cash in slot machines. Dave on the other hand won enough playing poker to see us through this mess. Some supply type was talked out of some new jungle fatigues and we were back in business. (No name tags, no markings - we could do most anything).
When we flew back to Kontum we found the 57th AHC had been heavily hit and had almost nothing flyable. Their headquarters bunker had also been hit and they were in bad shape. We landed to rearm and refuel (there were targets everywhere) and after a short while saw mortars being walked down the runway toward us. The crew had unplugged their helmets and didn't realize what was going on, and only by bouncing the aircraft and pointing did we get their attention, get them on board and escape.
As we took off we immediately spotted what I believe was an NVA infantry battalion attacking the airfield across an open field. For some reason I think we had a heavy fire team at this point (3 gunships), and we literally wiped out this battalion (I think we got a body count of something like 700). What a turkey shoot!! Just like in training! Next, we flew to Dak To to help a firebase under attack with the call sign of Red-Cap or Red Hat.
As an aside we flew so much that we were pushing exhaustion. At one point we landed at the Christmas Tree for refueling. The gunships could not carry a full load of fuel and ordnance, so we would hold our hand out the window, and give a thumbs down when we reached the load of fuel we could carry. During TET we actually fell asleep with our arms out the window, got a full load of fuel, and had to sit on the ground until we burned enough to take off. Also, Pleiku's runway was on a slope and the sliding and bouncing running takeoffs, with the crewchief and gunner running along side till the last minute, were a common occurrence. How the Hell did we survive?
We soon had 4 or 5 Devil gunships in the area. As our ships got shot up we took them to Pleiku for repairs and more came up as replacements from Phu Hiep. When maintenance was done they didn't go back to Phu Hiep–they stayed. During the day we provided support where needed. We responded to someone, call sign Buffalo Bill 6. I know Cappone, Labier, Wigger, Wilkinson, T. Hall and Roger Jones were all there - more but I can't remember. We were directed to a village and told that it was full of VC/NVA. A low and slow reconnaissance showed only women and children, but Buffalo Bill told us to expend on the village, ignoring our report. Instead we "mistakenly" expended on a nearby tree line - resulting, as I recall, in another 300 confirmed NVA.
During this mission I was giving Labier an AC checkride, and on one gun run he pulled out rather low. Reaching back for a bamboo branch in the cargo compartment I commented that he had pulled out a bit late and asked him if he didn’t think it was a tad low. I don't remember his response. Later we lost both tachometers, but Ray kept flying, telling me he could judge the rotor and engine speed by ear- yea, right! He passed the check ride.
We went back to Pleiku again and got mortared again. One of our aircraft had just received new rotor blades, and needed another set before it even flew. During this operation all of our helicopters were damaged but surprisingly no one was seriously wounded. The CE's and gunners seemed to continually get fragments in their shins, but I recall no specifics.
Next day back to Dak To. Sometime during this period we were told that the NVA were flying Aloettes across the border, and we eagerly awaited the chance of an air-to-air kill but we never saw an NVA helicopter - rumor I guess. Somewhere during this time Cappone attacked a .50 caliber (equivalent) position and had his left pylon shot off, losing a rocket pod and minigun. He survived, the .50 didn't.
Flying low around the RedCap firebase, my wingman (Wigger) noticed explosions on the ground trailing my aircraft. The NVA were trying to shoot us down with mortars. By now it must have been getting dark because a round went through my left navigation light shorting out the lights and blowing circuit breakers. The round(s) exited through the greenhouse over my head - never have figured this out.
We called Dak To and were told that they were under mortar and recoilless rifle fire. We asked them to fire a flare so we could find the airstrip and land. We landed, refueled and rearmed, and thought that was it for the night, but we were sent back out. RedCap was under heavy assault and had to be evacuated. Thus started some of the hairiest, scariest flying I have even seen. It was dark, we really didn't know where the mountains were, the bad guys were shooting, the slicks were flying without nav lights, we turned ours on as the lesser of evils. Panic had set in on the ground and we could hear it on the radio. I don't know who flew the slicks into the firebase, but this was the most heroic flying I witnessed in two years over Vietnam. I actually heard the crews threaten to shoot grunts because the helicopters were overloaded and couldn't takeoff with the load onboard. It was Panic! Fire was intense. We supported the evacuations, firing at muzzle flashes outside what we perceived as a perimeter. If we could see a flare we assumed there was no mountain between us and the light. I think we refueled and rearmed once. Finally everybody was out - it was over. We returned to Dak To for the night. We were exhausted and didn't have light to inspect the aircraft. We were literally shaking - I mean like uncontrollably shivering.
The grunts at Dak To gave us a case of beer. We found a large tent with cots and attempted to sleep, but it was too cold. Labier went out and shortly thereafter came back with some blankets, somewhat wet, but nonetheless warm. Shortly after we all went to sleep a recoilless rifle round hit the unoccupied tent next to ours - Trainee Hall slept though it. We were not in good shape. When daylight came I noticed that the wetness on the blankets appeared to be blood and other things. I asked Labier where he’d found the blankets and he told me he had taken them off corpses in the makeshift morgue. I’ll never forget his answer. "We needed the blankets more than they did" he replied.
Sometime during this period we were called to Kontum to support a ground operation, house to house fighting in the city itself. I recall flying down the main street, between buildings, to unload on a pink catholic church at the end of the block. No other details.
After Dak To we went back to Pleiku for rest and repairs, but TET still wasn't over. The 57th had been supporting the Kontum SOG (Special Operations Group), dropping long range patrols into Laos. We were volunteered to replace them on this mission. I don't remember much of this other than we were to fly to Attapou, Laos for refueling, tell State Department people there that we had made a navigational error, and that we were lost. We were told to get away from the aircraft if we went down because it would be destroyed by napalm. “Don't expect to be rescued”, they said. This episode is so vague. I'm not sure it really happened, but I seem to recall filling out a log book to Laos because we didn't volunteer, and that log disappearing. Maybe somebody else remembers. Maybe my memory is completely wrong. It's been over 30 years.
Finally we were released from what started out as a one-day mission, and we flew down to Lane AAF?? where my navigation story in the text begins.
On arriving at Phu Hiep we were sent out to protect Tuy Hoa AFB. Slightly to the west of Tuy Hoa an NVA/VC unit was trapped on a small peninsula. We expended on the target, were relieved by AF fighters who expended, then rearmed we expended again, and so on through the day. Finally nothing was left on the ground. During this, the infantry battalion commander on the ground was arguing on the radio with the 268th Aviation Battalion Commander, and the words "if you don't like the support we're providing, I'll take my helicopters and go home" were heard. A moment later the aviation battalion commander was wounded and he went home. The rest of us stayed.
On a bare dirt road north of the peninsula I saw what appeared to be a family of four - man, wife, two small children - all lying next to each other, very neat--but dead. Casualties of war! I think, or like to think, the AF fighters killed them because we were low and slow enough to distinguish targets. This still remains with me - I don't know why.
To end my TET story it should be noted that before moving to Tuy Hoa subarea command we always kept a light fire team on alert at Phu Hiep. Here’s why they moved.
The aircraft were kept in revetments, preflighted, and ready to go. One night we were mortared and scrambled the waiting gunships. After takeoff we were directed to a small cemetery outside the perimeter, where we expended. The next day a mortar baseplate was found there. A quad 50 inside the perimeter attempted to help by shooting under our flight path, but unfortunately his aim was high. Here I found out that you could get your entire body behind one small “chicken plate”. This flight I flew with Wigger, Allen flew wing. McGowan and Toler were C&C.
Sometime during the flight Allen reported that his windshield had been shot out and my ship developed a fairly severe vibration and the chip detector light came on. We asked for an emergency landing on the battalion pad. Apparently the mortar attack had hit the top of the revetments damaging both aircraft before takeoff. They were full of holes. My aircraft had 42 holes in one tail rotor blade alone – Someone gave me the tail rotor but I left it in Vietnam. The next morning we were chewed out for parking overnight on the Battalion pad and consequently allowing our aircraft to be damaged.
As a final thought, I would like to express my appreciation to the Army Warrant Officer aviators who were the real heart of the helicopter war in Vietnam. Though wily and cunning they were also some of the bravest, most resourceful, and professional men I have ever served with or met. Outside appearances can be deceiving, and no matter how much they denied it they truly cared about the job and especially their comrades.
The same goes for the crewchiefs and doorgunners without whom we wouldn't have survived. They were magnificent. Finally but not least the maintenance crews - the 618th - their's was an unappreciated job. Nothing would have been possible without their long hours of hard work. I hope they read this. Thank you!!!
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
Some time during the late Spring of 1971, I was flying lead with a light fire team. Our mission was to provide convoy cover for a rather large convoy of US Engineers who were relocating from the Quin Nhon area to the An Khe area. Of course this type mission could be as exciting as you would ever want, or as boring as “boring holes in the sky”. This day was particularly boring as all we had to do was to get the convoy safely up and through the An Khe Pass. As hard as we looked, we couldn’t find anything that even resembled an ambush and couldn’t get anyone to take a shot at us.
It got so boring that my wing man was threatening to see if he could land on an empty flat bed trailer in the middle of the convoy. I can’t remember who my wing was that day, but as dumb as the idea was, it was probably Lt Cannon Ramey. He was my roomie, my favorite wing man, and crazy enough to qualify for Menninger’s any day of the week.
It soon became my turn to have a little fun. There was a US MP armored/wheeled vehicle parked at the top of the pass to provide escort to the convoy on into An Khe. I started making some low passes over the vehicle and one of the MP’s asked me to come in a little lower and slower so he could get some good snap shots of the little baby Devil on our nose. I made 3 or 4 passes, getting lower and slower on each one. The last one was low enough that I “kissed” my left skid off the top of his vehicle. He then decided that he had enough pictures to last him several life times.
On each of the above passes, I noticed a group of local civilians working in what appeared to be an open sewage lagoon I think the locals referred to them as rice paddies. Among this group were several children ranging in age from about 6-12 years old. One of the older boys pretended to throw something at me on each pass. I didn’t pay much attention to him. Finally, the entire convoy cleared the pass. We left the convoy and headed east on our way to Lane AAF to refuel. After that it was home to Tuy Hoa and the one (?) beer that we limited ourselves to each day.
I soon began to notice a feeling of numbness in my feet and lower legs. After about two seconds of serious thought, I decided that we had a high frequency vibration coming from most likely the tail rotor. I decided that I better land at one of the many little dirt airfields/PZ’s that seemed to be about every ½ mile or so. I landed and shut down. As the blades were slowing down I started betting against myself as to whether I would owe the crew a case of beer.
The CE came up to me about that time and said he thought we had a .51 caliber hole in the tail. I told him there was no way since we hadn’t taken any fire all day. Once the rotor came to a complete stop I got out to check. Sure enough, there it was. A hole about the size of a golf ball in the tail. As I was taking a closer look, I realized that the hole caused by the .51 did not have an exit hole on the right side. I had the CE pull the bottom inspection panel and out fell a rock about the size of a golf ball. At the same time, the Gunner noticed a large indentation in one of the tail rotor blades. We finally figured out that the cute little s**t of a Junior VC at the top of the pass had chunked a rock at us that hit the tail rotor which threw the rock into the vertical stabilizer. “Not again,” I groaned to myself. Once again Devil Zero won the “DUBIOUS DISTINCTION AWARD”. This time for being shot down by a 12 year old kid and a rock.
By Jim Brady
The mysterious SP4 who was torn up in the crash and burn that CW2 Harrison died in was Baxter, I believe his first name was John. He had been a Line Crew member who went to a flight platoon. I am not sure he survived. I saw him at Cam Ranh Air Force hospital the day I left country in early March and he looked very bad. One leg gone and the other severely burned plus he had been full of shrapnel and had been opened up from his throat to this groin to take the metal out. He was being fed through a tube and had another coming out of his nose which he told me allowed him to pass necessary bodily waste, though not in those words.
I wrote to Baxter after I got home but received no answer. I wrote to the ward nurse too but also never got an answer. I don't know if he survived and am not sure I want to know. I was on the recovery crew that day and had the sad duty of placing Harrison's remains on the recovery ship. After we found him under the armor seat, the Koreans put his remains in a poncho and me and I think Bill Norlander carried him to our ship. You know, that smell doesn't go away. Still!
I think Bill Ogden was hit from the front of his throat since there was a corresponding hole in the right transmission access panel directly behind where he would have been sitting with the bullet passing partially through the sync elevator control tube and barely missing the main fuel and oil lines and the transmission oil sump. I seem to remember that it exited the pylon and may have struck the CE, Pee-Wee Webb, in the back causing no harm due to it's velocity being spent. Ogden's position had very little blood evident, only a small spot on the seat fabric. This I know since I flew his position back to Phu Hiep.
Lt. Benny Doyal and I think Capt. Wilson flew the ship with Webb as CE. I kept the transmission panel open since they wanted me to watch the sync elevator tube--like I could do anything about it if it gave up and failed! Also the transmission had a half inch hole in the upper planetary gear case along with one in the diffuser section of the engine near the bleed air fitting (P3 I believe) on the right side. The blades were shot up and the stabilizer bar frame had a hole in it. The ship should not have been flown but the Air Force wanted us off the Phan Rang air base for some reason. We popped the transmission and engine filters and tossed the elements since they were blocked with ground copper and lead and replaced the bare housings, gave her a quick MOC for leaks and engine performance and took off.
Somewhere north of Cam Ranh Bay, while we were passing high over a village, as I was watching the scenery go by, some nut with communist ammo launched a few green tracers up at us. Like we didn't have enough trouble with the ship. I mentioned this to the rest of the crew.
Old 319 was testimony to the durability of Bell's product. The tail boom and airframe were shot up so bad that when we finally landed at the maintenance pad it looked like the whole company was waiting for us. While I was tying it down I asked how they all knew we were inbound and was told that they could hear us a long time before they could see us. All this happened on my 21st birthday. Since we were both from Pennsylvania, and both having family ties to Philadelphia, we were friends and I had invited Ogden to share in the cake that my wife had sent me which had survived the mail. Birthdays haven't meant much since then.
The following article appeared in Volume 1, No. 1 of The Black Lightning Newsletter, an unofficial publication of the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion, dated 14 October, 1968.
Competitive Spirit in the 134th AHC…..
Competition is thriving in the 134th in all aspects of everyday life. Men compete as to who can spend less time at their duty station, who can drink more, who can be the grossest, etc. However, the pinnacle of all competition is that grand old American pastime, just this year admitted to the Olympic Games Jacks.
At 1830 hours the challenger strolled in, displaying a calm confidence and a brash attitude of complete awareness. After slugging down a few drinks, double shots on the rocks, and lighting up a thin black cigar, Cpt Cappone went to his corner to limber up his fingers. The crowd gathered around him in awe as he did so, throwing his custom made ball against the wall and deftly snatching it out of the air with fingers as quick as a fly’s tongue.
Suddenly a hush settled over the room. Without looking up, all knew that the champion had entered the arena. Looking over his shoulder, Cappone noticed a tall dark shadow standing arrogantly in the doorway with his cape flung back to reveal the red lining. As he moved forward, the crowd parted to let their hero through. He regarded the challenger with a look of casual indifference and it was evident the challenger was shaken by the presence of “The Master”, Cpt Chrobak.
The champ, with uncanny knowledge of the forum, shook off the offer to warm up. The two took painstaking care in getting their stances just right as they faced off around the table. The time was right and the combatants were ready. The 5 perfectly balanced imported silver jacks were thrown on the table, and the bright red Bolivian ball rolled to the center. The challenger got the nod from his cocky opponent, and almost as fast as he began, he went all the way up to 4’sies then stopped for a fatal second and studied the board. The ball went up through the smoke-filled air but his lightning hand missed the 5th jack as the ball came down.
It was now the champion’s turn. With skill never before witnessed, he cleared the board until he too was confronted with 5’sies, and he too bumbled the ball as a wild cheer went up from the crowd. It was a standoff!!! Cappone gathered his wit and again sent the Bolivian into the air. This time when he gathered in the sphere all five of the sparkling jacks were in his palm. BUT WAIT!! The champ had noticed he used two hands. An argument ensued and bottles began bouncing off the walls. Partisans in the crowd grappled for an hour or more before order was restored. Finally, the decision was left up to the referee, who with a glint of fear in his eyes, ruled the catch legal. Another two hour, wild free-for-all ensued. By this time the champ was visibly shaken in the face of the now grinning Cappone. Blood streamed down his face from a stray bottle thrown by some unknown assailant. As the champ threw the ball up he was stopped cold by a glass of ice that struck him in the face, and the ball fell to the floor undisturbed. Another fight started and the club had to be closed.
Jacks have now been banned in Southeast Asia but the newly crowned champ will always be remembered for his dazzling performance that night. The old champ? He left the area in disgrace, to practice on lesser foes in Saigon.
Sometime in late 68, Danny Flynn, a gunner with the slicks, began building a boat out of a drop tank from one of the Mohawks at Phu Hiep, or maybe it was from a C-130, I’m not sure. I got involved because I’d been around boats most of my life. I grew up on Galveston Bay where my uncle was a shrimper. We lived on the water and swimming, like eating, came naturally for me. Eugene Molek, my crewchief on 019, and Nate McClain, a black crewchief in the gun platoon, also became involved in building the boat. Danny Flynn and I were decent swimmers but Eugene and Nate could not swim.
We cut off the top of the drop tank, chopped the internal partitions out and made some oars. We had no floatation but we weren’t concerned about that. To provide more stability I added a set of outriggers on one side, sort of like a Polynesian canoe. We joked about taking it back to the States.
On launch day with all four of us aboard we took it out to sea and rounded the peninsular off Phu Hiep. At first everything was fine but then waves started building. Someone turned the boat in the wrong direction so that the outrigger faced the waves. The outrigger then started to come over the top of the boat, turning it over on its side. Nate tried to grab it but the waves were stronger than he was and pulled his arm out of socket. We hollered for help from some Vietnamese on boats close by but they just watched and didn’t move. I’m certain they were hoping we’d drown. They never tried to help. We were on our own.
We all spilled into the water. Nate’s arm was out of socket and over his head. He couldn’t move it and couldn’t swim. I swam to Nate and Danny to Eugene. Eugene couldn’t swim but at least he could dog paddle and Danny was able to eventually get him to shore.
When the boat turned over we were maybe 200-300 yards offshore. I remember Nate being so scared he tried to crawl on top of me. To keep from drowning myself I swam away and let him take in some water and tire himself some. I then went back and grabbed him from behind. Him being a non swimmer and his arm out of socket made it very difficult. There was a pretty strong current and I swam until my arms got so tired they felt like useless noodles.
Nate sensed that I was tiring out and told me to leave him and save myself. He knew I couldn’t drag him much further. I guess that was what kept me going. We were still a good ways from shore but I found I could sink to the bottom and push his feet then his body toward shore while I was on the bottom. The water must have been 8-10 feet deep at that point. I continued sinking to the bottom and pushing him toward shore until we reached shallow water. All the while Vietnamese from the village near by just stood there watching, not lifting a finger to help.
Once I got him
to shore I put my foot in McClain’s armpit and pulled his arm into place. I
caught hell from the medic for that but Nate was real happy. From then on we
tortured the Vietnamese village every time we flew over it with CS grenades
as did a lot of the other guys in the gun platoon. Sometimes the gas would
blow into our compound when the pilots landed downwind. No one would ever
admit to throwing the CS.
DEVIL GUNS AT SONG CAU -- FEB 1971
By David Ayers
The morning of February 12th, 1970 started out as a routine gunship mission: “SIT AND WAIT FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN”. We had a light fire team (two gunships) on standby at first light to support ARVN troops in the field. We were standing by on the airstrip at Cung Son. Lead aircraft was CWO Gino Mediate and CP – CWO Jack Rainwater. Wing aircraft was myself and CP – LT Cannon Ramey. (I apologize to all the enlisted crewmembers but I just can’t remember who was crewing that day). As I recall, both aircraft were equipped in the slaughter mode. That was miniguns and small rocket pods. We were the standby team for that day and had received late notification of the mission. The mission team was long gone on their previously assigned mission. Our mission was a last minute affair as per SOP for the Devils.
Sometime around mid-morning (probably around 0930 – 1000 hrs) we were alerted by a US Special Forces advisor that hot action was going on in the vicinity of Song Cau (a small fishing village on the coast just south of Qui Nhon). We were then notified by 134th Operations that we were released from stand-by and cleared to take an emergency mission to Song Cau. The US advisor asked if he could come along for the ride. Taking non-wounded PAX on an operational mission in gunships was at that time strictly prohibited so we quite naturally told the Major to jump aboard and enjoy the flight. As we were fully armed and had plenty of fuel, we took off and proceeded low level on a direct line to Song Cau. This took us over The Hub which, as most of you probably remember, was a pretty bad area. That was the primary reason for the low level flight. This and the fact that all Devils seemed to suffer severe nose bleed when flying higher than about 200 feet AGL (which was a pretty dumb altitude to fly when going anywhere in SE Asia).
Upon arrival at Song Cau, we were directed to the smaller fishing village of Vihn Cou Phu, a short distance NE of Song Cau. At that time, one of the 134th Demons was acting as C & C for the action. Apparently the same Demon had been on a milk run when he spotted a large group (200-300 troops) of what appeared to be VC or NVA in the open on a sand bar peninsula that led to the fishing village. He flew down to check out these troops and was immediately fired upon. This, he assumed, meant that the guys on the ground were not allies (although I was most certainly shot at by VC, NVA, ROK, ARVN, civilians and everybody else except Aussies at one time or another during my 2 tours). The slick called Demon Operations and reported what had occurred. He also maintained an orbit above the peninsula and kept the bad guys corralled with his M-60’s until gunships arrived. In addition, other Demons were bringing in ARVN troops to set-up a blocking force on the land side of the peninsula.
By the time our fire team arrived on station, the enemy troops had scattered into small groups of 5-10 men, with some attempting to gain the relative safety afforded by the civilians in the village. The on-station Demon aircraft had done an exemplary job of keeping them contained in the open and preventing their takeover of the village. The job of the Devils was to destroy the troops remaining on the peninsula, prevent them from approaching the fishing village, and eliminate those who tried to swim to safety. Due to the limited area we had to operate in and the numerous small groups encountered, it was virtually impossible to set up any type of normal gun run. For much of the time, the lead aircraft and myself were pretty much separated and doing our own thing while still trying to provide some support for each other.
I estimate we expended on ammo and needed refueling after about 35-45 minutes of the slaughter and chaos. On my last pass, my CE was wounded in the upper inside of his left (?) thigh. It later turned out to be a minor wound that was caused by a bullet striking the rotating mini-gun on his side and being deflected into his leg. I immediately broke off my attack and informed lead that I had a wounded crew member and needed to evacuate to the nearest medical facility. He was completely expended at this time and we proceeded to the Evac Hospital at Qui Nhon. After landing at the Medivac Pad I got my CE into the hospital immediately. He was in extreme discomfort even though the bleeding had almost stopped. I spent about 20 minutes with him in admitting and writing up the circumstances so he could receive his well-earned Purple Heart. I finished the paper work about the same time that I was informed that although his wound was quite painful, it was fairly minor, and he would have the bullet removed and stay overnight at the hospital for observation.
By the time I got back out to the pad, LT Ramey had found a fuel truck and refuelled our ship. However, Gino’s aircraft had taken numerous hits, several through the bottom of his aircraft and several more around the engine compartment. One of the bullets had caused some damage to his (help me, ‘cause I am not a mechanic) fuel control valve(?). He was therefore unable to continue without maintenance support. We decided that I should contact 129th AHC at Lane AAF to see if I could borrow one of their aircraft and crew to make up a full fire team and go back to Song Cau. At this point, CWO Rainwater pulled rank on Gino’s crew and volunteered to come with me as my door gunner. Since this was already turning into a screwed-up day, I told him to grab his chicken plate and Bible and come along. This caused the SF Major to ask if I could take him back to the ARVN compound. I asked why he didn’t want to go back out with us and he showed me the holes in the bottom of Gino’s ship (which appeared between his legs during the initial gun run). I questioned him no further.
Enroute to the Song Cau ARVN compound, I was able to confirm the loan of one of the 129th B models, with crew as long as I didn’t break either. After dropping off the Major, I flew to Lane to refuel, rearm and pick-up the rest of my mixed fire team. As it turned out, the PIC of the 129th ship (CWO Phil Hollar) was about as inexperienced as one can get and still fly right seat. It was therefore decided that I should fly lead. This was my first experience at lead without one of the older guys being along to hold my hand. My only consolation was the knowledge that if I was going to die that day, it would probably be caused by some screw-up by my best friend, my CP-1LT Cannon Ramey.
By the time all this had occurred it was probably around 1400 hrs, and the remaining bad guys had worked their way into the village proper, taking many villagers as hostages. There was also a USAF FAC controlling things by that time. Apparently someone had thought we might need “Fast Movers” out of Phu Cat, and the AF had taken over control. This didn’t bother me a bit, since I had worked with AF FAC’s many times and found them to be extremely competent and knowledgeable of Army helicopter tactics.
I still had the only fire power on station. The ARVN’s still held their blocking position and were apparently waiting for hostilities to cease before moving in. We initially cleaned-up the NVA left on the peninsula, and then began orbiting and playing cat and mouse with the many enemy troops that had taken refuge in the village. It was pretty much a stand-off until the enemy decided to release the villagers en-masse. This was an indication to us that they intended to stand and fight----to the last man if required. Upon release of the hostages, the enemy began shooting the villagers in the back with automatic weapons as they ran toward the beach. At this point I felt that I had no choice but to roll in hot on the hooches (all of which contained enemy troops). When we began firing on a run over the path of the fleeing civilians, they apparently thought we were firing at them and ran back toward the hooches they just left. Unfortunately, this led to the civilians (old men/women, children, babies and their mothers) being caught in a deadly crossfire. They ran directly into our field of fire. It scared the hell out of me but I had no choice but to continue firing at the NVA holed up in the hootches. I am very sorry to say that we (my fire team) most likely caused as many civilian casualties as the enemy killed that day. My estimate is that between 20 and 25 civilians were killed or severely wounded.
We were soon expended on ammo and low on fuel. We then returned to Lane AAF to rearm and refuel and let 129th Operations know that we would most likely conclude the mission after the next ammo/fuel load. Their Operations informed me that they would much prefer me to return home with a full fire team. They therefore sent CWO Hollar (he later became an AC with the Demons) and his crew to RON at Tuy Hoa with me.
After this rearm/refuel stop, we once again returned to the mission at hand. The rest of the afternoon was spent clearing isolated pockets of resistance from the wooded hillside and a few of the hardcore wounded from the village.
As we expended the last of our ordinance the ARVN troops decided to proceed with a sweep of the village By this time, virtually all the enemy fire had ceased. As our nostrils later told us, they didn’t clear the dead from the wooded hill for at least two weeks. After one more rearm/refuel and Hollar’s chance for his crew to pick-up essentials (like money for the club, etc.) we headed toward home. On our way, we overflew the battlefield and I instructed all pilots to estimate the number of enemy KIA based on what we could see from the air. We arrived back at Tuy Hoa around last light. If memory serves me correctly, we were greeted by Operations giving me a bunch of crap about their not knowing where we had been all day. I think Mediate and his crew arrived back home about four hours ahead of us and my CE was able to catch a ride home next day on the Demon milk run.
Note #1: The troops we faced had a combination of the usual black pj’s and full khaki uniforms to include pith helmets and/or boonie hats. Being an infantry officer who spent a total of 25+ years in the military, I’m fairly certain we where up against a heavily reinforced infantry company and possibly a light battalion from the Peoples Army of Vietnam. I also spent nearly 4 years in Military Intelligence (I know, there ain’t no such thing!) and my specialty required me to know something about the North Vietnamese and the TO&E make-up of their military units.
Note #2 -- The narratives for our Crosses of Gallantry w/Star mention a certain number of VC KIA and state that we were fighting a VC unit and, erroneously, that the ARVN ground troops made most of the kills. I submitted all US gunship crews, except myself and LT Ramey, for Bronze Stars w/V. Nothing was ever heard of these awards. However, I was recently informed by Jack Rainwater that he did receive his Bronze Star w/V in the mail about 6 months after he left the Army. I was glad to hear that since this incident was the last action that Jack saw during his tour. Jack also told me that during his one + year as a Gun Driver this was his only encounter with numerous troops in the open.
This narrative really does not cover all of the events. They are just the ones that I am able to remember and/or those I can talk about. I apologize if it is not as complete as it should be. That day lives with me constantly and has for the last 29 years. War by itself is hard enough but when innocent people are caught up in the carnage it weighs heavily on you, even though you may have had no choice in responding as you did. After all that time one would think that I could remember and/or forget everything. It just doesn’t work that way.
Excerpts from the “Pope Pourri”, Oct 1967
Onboard newsletter of the USNS Pope
Topics for discussion are limited on a pleasure cruise such as ours. The game room seems to be the most popular congregating area but the talk is limited to playing cards. Perhaps the dining hall is the second most used area with discussions centering around the unbelievably delectable meals served. The most frequently talked about subject, however, deals with the angle of bank and roll of the ship and its effects on passengers.
Everyone boarded the Pope bragging how he could never get seasick while at the same time trying to convince himself inwardly. Some were convinced that remaining topside was the ideal method, while others were determined not to remove themselves from their rack. The men who haven’t yet let the rolling bother them have set out to “comfort” the less fortunate. One individual, Gus—“the 24 hour recliner”--, arises three times daily for his meals. Upon arrival at the dining hall he is greeted by his “friends” with cheers and applause. Some are so kind as to inquire how Gus feels. The longer he can remain at the table the more stirring his departure. Also, the men who are lucky enough to sit with Gus give a more vigorous ovation when he leaves. Poor Gus!!
Others have set out to measure the angle of roll on the ship rather than the darkness of green on friends’ complexions. One of the most ingenious and accurate methods was developed by an individual who claims to be an authority on pendular action. The Stork, a real swinger himself, developed a mechanical device which accurately measures the degree of bank by suspending his dog tags from a coat hook and scribing degree marks on his locker door. The Stork may receive the third degree when his tags are picked up by the wrong person.
One more method commonly accepted is called the “porthole” method, and is most frequently used in the dining hall. By carefully observing the amount of horizon present in a porthole one can, while sitting at his table, readily observe our angle of role. The roll is measured in eighths of a porthole. As an example, 1 7/8 portholes is a fair roll for sure. In the event we are confronted with any bad weather, some individuals will most likely spend more time watching the roll of their stomachs rather than that of the ship.
134th Aviation Co.
Ft. Bragg, NC, once known as the “Home of the Airborne”, recently played host to the 134th Aviation Company and adopted a real “Guard of Honor”. The 134th Demons, for six months, played havoc with the local communities while conducting combat-type operations and preparing for their next assignment. Unlike the ever-popular “Pussy Galore” (the 134th’s name for the 192nd AHC which was also on the Pope), the Demons are all men who have proven themselves by their daring deeds and escapades. Who else would start a fund, the contents of which goes to the brave individual who returns from a night on the town with the most unusual pair of panties. Also, the 134th Demons were probably the only people in the US Army who were permitted to have and cultivate goatees, as befitting a true Demon. These lasted until some fuzzy-faced junior officer and his merry band of paratroopers lost their title of “Kings of Happy Hour” to the Happy Hippies of the 134th who took over Happy Hour for post-flight briefings. It seems that “Junior” had a kindly relative who didn’t appreciate his youngster being defaced and replaced.
All of these trials were necessary in preparing the Demons for their assignment in Vietnam. In fact, they were so well prepared that someone decided they should go to “conflict” with just one lift platoon and one gun platoon, while sending the other lift platoon to the cold north (Korea).
Along with the Demons (Slickies) and Devils (Gunnies), the 134th is supported by the 618th Transportation Det. and the 832nd Signal Det. In preparing the unit for their stay in Vietnam the men sent along a few items to make life a little more bearable for themselves. The list of such niceties includes two 30 KW generators, one 15 KW generator and ten 10 KW generators; 65 innerspring mattresses, 35 refrigerators and coke machines; 2 ranges; 65 beach chairs; 30 sofas and leather chairs; 400 cocktail glasses; two 20-man rafts plus the normal equipment every aviation company needs.
Phu Hiep-Spring 1968
Charcoal Steak Baked Beans French Fried Potatoes
Demon Eggs Assorted Relish Tray Buttered Corn
Chilled Fruit Fresh Bread Demitasse
It is with great sorrow that the abduction of Carl L. Cramer, Major, TC (Truckdrivers Corps) is announced. Effectively escaping the impending AGI his unusual abilities will be sorely missed by the company.
Demon 66, 618th Light Infantry (Perimeter Security) Detachment Commander, will live in the hearts and minds of all those associated with him whenever they experience an engine or tail rotor failure. Perfecting revolutionary and unauthorized maintenance techniques the flight line became known for its highly professional quality which can be directly attributed to Major Cramer. Quotations taken from Major Cramer’s Handbook of Maintenance Tips include:
“The instrument is wrong, your EGT can’t be that high”
“Reduce your fuel load to 100 pounds and power will increase”
“Hit the glass and maybe the needle will move”
“You don’t need a tachometer, use your ears”
“Fly it anyway”
“Organizational maintenance, it has a leak somewhere”
“Certainly an L-9 has more power than an L-13, would I kid you”
“A second stage compressor is just what it says—secondary”
No mission was too dangerous, no flight too difficult, no weather too hazardous both night and day, through enemy fire and friendly artillery he met the challenge and has been awarded the Air Medal with “T” Device for Traffic Pattern.
As chief designer and engineer of the Cramer Compact Water Heater he spent many long and dangerous hours preparing our nightly showers. The 618th built up a PLL of 18 complete UH-1 aircraft hidden throughout the area, an event accomplished with great secrecy and one which greatly assisted the maintenance effort. All this can also be attributed to Major Cramer. No one else will take responsibility for his actions.
As he leaves it is with deep regret, who else can
claim they never saw Camp MacCall, who else will drink 7-UP, who else will
awaken Platoon Commanders at ridiculous hours for minor maintenance
discrepancies? It is with weary mind and high expectations that we hope his
successor with correct these deficiencies.
(Article by SP4 David R. Wood)
Located along the coast of the Republic of Vietnam between Nha Trang and Qui Nhon is a wide expanse of sandy beach. It is so dense with the grainy substance that it can trap the wheels of a two and one half ton truck in its grip. During the hot, dry season, the sun reflects the heat off the white sand scorching anything that dares rise above its level.
The monsoon season does not bring with it any relief to the occupants of the sandy beach. Storm squalls whip across the now soggy sands. The expanse of beach is known to some of its inhabitants as Phu Hiep, but to the men of the 134th Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter) it is known as “Hell’s Half Acre.”
The Demons, who fly the UH-1H slick in the first and second airlift platoon, and the Devils, who fly the C-model gunship in the third armed platoon, are commanded by Major William R. Hensley. They have made their home within the “Half Acre” since their arrival in Vietnam, Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1967.
The mission of the 134th is to provide tactical air movement of combat troops and combat supplies and equipment within the combat zone as directed by the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion. The Demon Company is organized like any other assault helicopter company except instead of directly supporting a specific unit; they are assigned as general support to the 268th CAB. This results in the company supporting, at one time or another, every unit active in their area of operations (AO), II Corps. “We have the opportunity to work a wide variety of missions for a wide variety of terrain,” said the Demon commander.
The 134th commits a good percentage of its aircraft daily for customary missions. Inserting and extracting long range recon patrols (LRRP), lifting troops and resupplying them are a few of the missions performed for the 22nd ARVN Division. The 134th supports state department personnel in Phu Yen Province with provisions, as well as senior ARVN advisors in Phu Bon, Binh Dinh and Khanh Hoa Province.
Probably the most important regular mission is performed for the Qui Nhon Support Command. The operation involves continual daily visual reconnaissance of the pipeline that runs from Vung Ro Bay to Qui Nhon and Pleiku. The Demons also provide support for the 6th Battalion, 32nd Artillery at Phu Hiep and the 2nd Battalion, 13th Artillery at Phu Cat.
Other free world forces within II Corps continually receive support from the men of the 134th. Other than routine support, the 134th reinforces the other companies within the 268th CAB when they are short of aircraft. They also support the “Famous Fighting Fourth” and the 173rd Airborne Brigade, two US units at LZ English.
The complete list of units supported is too lengthy to include here. The number of aircraft used daily by the units varies from day to day. They were used enough during 1969 to account for approximately 185,600 sorties in 30,598 hours. The new year is off to a good start with 518 hours accumulated by the middle of January.
The airlift platoons transported a conservative 152,000 troops last year. Even though the 134th is not a major resupplying unit, it did account for approximately 1300 tons of cargo hauled in 1969.
During some of their most recent action, the 134th has taken part in night combat assaults (CA) and search and rescue (S&R) missions. While in support of the 28th ROK Regiment, the Demons were called on one night in January to perform a night CA. Major Hensley gave an account of the action.
“Two companies of the 28th Regiment were inserted in two LZs 10 miles south of Phu Hiep. Approximately 12 minutes after our operations received the call, we had troops into their LZ under the illumination of ROK artillery and the mission completed.”
Search and rescue is another operation which is performed by the 134th when called upon. During a three week period in December and January, 134th aircraft rescued two F-100 pilots. They were picked up after spending less than five minutes on the ground. The most recent S & R took place within their own company. It involved the snatching of three crewmen from the grasp of Charlie. Their gunship had gone down near LZ English while escorting a “Dustoff.”
This rescue exemplifies the attitude of the company. As Demon Six said, “The company attitude is not for me but for we. We look after and take care of our own. The company proudly upheld their attitude during this S &.R”
Whether in direct support or general support, the Demons need aircraft to perform their mission. Demon maintenance is relied upon to keep 134th aircraft available. On average during 1969, aircraft availability was better than 80%.
“The aim of the company is to strive for professionalism.” commented CW2 Davis E. Chessher, Assistant Maintenance Officer. “We not only train the pilot and aircraft commander in maintenance, but also the gunner and crew chief because they are the eyes and ears for the rear of the aircraft.”
“The company works at being safe and it has paid off,” added the Demon leader. “We have de-briefings at the end of each day where problems of the day are discussed. Everyone must be kept informed because we fly such a large area of responsibility.”
“The task of the entire company is accomplished with responsibility, sound judgement, best equipment and the best training which has resulted in a more professional unit.” These words of Major Hensley summarize his feelings toward the unit that he feels is the best in Vietnam.
Whether it is battling with the elements of Hell’s Half Acre or Charlie, the 134th is constantly in fighting trim. If Charlie ever had the choice of confronting the Demons or the Devil himself, he would fare far better descending into the inferno of the underworld.
By Cary Mendelsohn
On November 6, 1970 I was flying a slick in the Tuy Hoa valley near the river when I overheard two gunships from the 238th AWC (Gunrunners) talking to each other about a small group of NVA they had sighted on a trail about a mile east of the river. They had spotted 4 NVA who were escorting 3 apparent prisoners (Vietnamese) who were tied together by a rope.
I guess I was feeling a little bored at the time so I broke in and told the Gunrunners I would go down and check it out if they would put a couple of rockets near the NVA to scatter them. The gunships agreed and fired several rockets roughly 100 feet in front of the group. The group took cover with the NVA going one direction and the prisoners in another. My crewchief and door gunner engaged the NVA with their M-60’s as we approached and managed to wound all 4 of the NVA.
After pretty much incapacitating the 4 NVA, and with the gunships providing cover, we landed in a small clearing nearby. The CE and gunner jumped out, ran over and disarmed the NVA, then rounded up the 3 prisoners who had taken cover in nearby bushes and brought all 7 of them back to the ship. The CE and gunner (whose names I can’t remember, nor my pilot’s) did a great job. They jumped out to chase the NVA down with little regard for their own personal safety and had everyone back in the aircraft in less than 5 minutes.
The four NVA had all been hit by our M-60’s and were terrified but it didn’t appear that they had any life-threatening wounds. The 3 prisoners were not injured and could not speak English but they were clearly happy to be free. We flew the group back to the ARVN compound at Tuy Hoa North and turned them over to the ARVNs. I never did learn who the prisoners were or what the whole thing was all about.
Roughly 4 weeks later in early December, I returned from a routine mission and learned I had missed a ceremony in which I had been given a DFC, the CE, Ken Snell and gunner, Gach, a Bronze Star with V and my copilot an Air Medal with V. I was also informed I was going home the next day. I had completed 11 months on my second tour and my wife was 8 months pregnant. It seems that my brother had persuaded the Army to give me an early DEROS. I arrived home 1 day before my wife gave birth. Due to the Vietnam War I was able to see my wife pregnant a grand total of one day out of two births.
The CE, Kenneth Snell, and gunner did an incredible job. It took a lot of guts to do what they did. I guess we were all pretty fortunate that day.
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 leaned 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 that 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 thing 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.
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 fir 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
By Gene Molek
One of my most vivid memories is the day my door gunner, Danny Flynn, shot me. On February 23rd, 1969 I was the CE on gunship 019 and Danny, who was normally my gunner, had traded places with a slick gunner that day. We were covering a LRRP insertion near An Khe and Danny was gunner on the slick making the insertion.
The insertion went ok and we were on our back to An Khe when we heard on the radio that the LRRPs had run into trouble and needed extraction. We headed back to cover the extraction and things became pretty hot. Danny wasn’t used to the butterfly grip on the slick M-60 and had problems with it so he fired his M-16 on automatic to cover the LRRPs. Everyone made it back ok and Danny came over to my ship when we landed. He was very excited and told me he had to use his M-16. He still had the M-16 in his hands and was waving it around. I noticed the clip was still inserted and told him to be careful not to shoot someone. At that point he said not to worry, it was empty, and pointed it at me and pulled the trigger. Two rounds went off. One hit the lower right side of my chicken plate (which I still had on) and the other went in my right forearm just above the wrist and came out at my elbow. The wound was painful but not that serious and I was back on duty in a few days. I think that’s about the time I switched gunners.
On another occasion, we were covering a CA near Ninh Hoa and tracers from our guns set the LZ on fire. Hooks came in and dropped off artillery and ammo but the rotor wash fanned the grass fire and it spread rapidly. The fire kept getting worse until they finally decided to evacuate the LZ. Hooks picked up the artillery but left the ammo. About that time a slick (it must have been from the 48th AHC) made an emergency landing in the LZ.
We stayed on station to cover the slick and a maintenance officer from the 48th (I guess) came in to rig the ship to be hooked out. The fire was getting worse and was near the 105 mm artillery ammo at that point. The maintenance officer had the ship rigged and was standing on top of it to hook the sling up to the Chinook that was hovering overhead when the artillery rounds were set off by the fire. The maintenance officer was killed by an exploding round, and I believe the Chinook was also damaged. I don’t recall other details.
On another occasion, we took off from some airfield (I don’t remember where) and were climbing through broken clouds. We were in one cloud for maybe 10-15 seconds and as we broke out we were staring face to face with a Caribou coming right at us at the same altitude. It couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet away. Instinctively, I guess, the pilot bottomed the collective and the Caribou pulled up. That was the closest call I remember.
Finally, another incident I remember well is when I sank a sailboat with a rock. I normally carried a few large 5-10 lb. rocks on my ship for use as a sort of bomb. We were low leveling up the coast one day to Qui Nhon and about half way up we saw a beautiful sailboat, maybe a 25-30 footer, anchored in a small cove. The pilot was flying on a course straight over the sailboat at maybe 200 feet altitude. I decided to have a little fun and let go 3 of my rocks in quick succession as we passed over. I saw one splash, then another but no third splash. I wasn’t sure if I hit the boat or not. We went on up to Qui Nhon and returned later that afternoon. As we came in sight of cove I could see the sailboat low in the water with only portions of the deck above water. I kind of felt bad about it after that.
I was CE of 019 for almost a year. I painted the baby devil on her nose and she was my baby. I lived with her and sometimes I slept with her. I took care of her like you would a baby and I guess I had an emotional attachment. On my last day in country I went out to the flight line and traced the baby devil on her nose onto a sheet of plastic. I still have it.
For the past 30 years I’ve always wondered what happened to my ship and whether she made it back to the US. Being something of a collector of airplanes, I’ve even toyed with the idea of trying to find 019 to buy it. Unfortunately, I learned only recently (June 2000) that 019 was destroyed in a crash barely a month after I left Vietnam.
By Merrill T. Adamcik
I joined a Caribou (CV-2) unit in 1964. I was assigned to the 516th Airplane Company when we tested Air Assault II concepts in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. When it ended I was infused into the 187th Transport Airplane Company. Many units were being formed on paper or re-designated in 1964-65 in preparation for combat and there was a lot of confusion as to which one to fill up first and ship out.
The 187th was re-designated the134th and my old unit, the 516th, became the 135th Aviation Company. The 134th commander was Major Ted Phillips; Operations Officer-Gary Alton; first platoon leader-Ralph Naumann, and second platoon leader-Tom Chapman. I was section leader under Naumann and we were assigned to Soc Trang with 9 aircraft. Headquarters and second platoon were at Can Tho. Later I became platoon leader at Can Tho. Our commander was LTC Robert Landry.
When we flew from Ft. Benning to Hamilton AFB in California to fly the Pacific, the distance was 35 miles further than the next flight leg to Hawaii. We had two 500-gallon bladders of fuel on board that would be pumped into our wings by an obsolete, junked Air Force pump, and we had to be sure that we could make the distance. We had to have the winds in our favor so we waited there at Hamilton for a week or so to get the best winds aloft at 12,000 feet.
After departing California, we headed for “Station A”, a ship used for navigation that stayed within a 10 mile square of ocean between California and Hawaii. The Air Force accompanied all 6 flights of 3 aircraft out 400 miles and came out from Hawaii 400 miles to meet us. Since the wind didn’t stay as predicted, we were leaning those engines out, and I personally believe we landed on fumes.
We were happy to see the Air Force so we could get a better fix on our position. We were using LORAN which was very accurate for 90 degree fixes but ours was only 10-15 degrees so there was more variance a single degree could mean 50 miles. The Air Force gave us a fix at 250 miles out, and we could see the tops of the Hawaiian mountains begin to appear on the horizon. Believe me, there’s a lot of water out there. After Hawaii, we flew over Frigate Shoals and landed at Midway Island. Nothing but reefs and sharks there but they still looked big at 12,000 feet. Then came Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.
We flew through the tail end of a Typhoon going into Vietnam. Craziest decision I ever saw! Luckily, we didn’t lose any aircraft or crewmembers. I had flight 3 lead and we landed at Vung Tau.
As I recall we had many different types of missions but our primary mission was in support of the Special Forces in the Delta. That first casualty mission on May 10, 1966, was a SF mission where no strip existed or at least not one long enough to land (900 feet minimum). We had a 2 ship LoLex (Low Level Extraction) flight. This involved flying 3-5 feet above the ground and deploying a drag chute that pulls the 2 pallets out of the aircraft. However, on that mission, the load jammed aft of CG (center of gravity), putting the aircraft into a nose high attitude. The drag chute jammed the elevator controls and the result was a slow stall. Without sufficient altitude to follow through, it smashed into the ground. Fortunately, it hit slightly left wing down, thus when the load came forward it went out through the wall behind the copilot and the right wing. This spared the lives of the pilot (Captain Gil Roessler) and copilot (CWO Joe Hudson) but they were seriously injured. However, the crewchief and Special Forces rigger were killed. Over the years we could not locate either pilot but a few years ago Joe Hudson came to a reunion. He had undergone numerous operations on his back but returned to flying for Air America.
As for the Air Force transition, this was based on the fact that the Air Force convinced the Pentagon that we were doing their “throughput” mission. The lowest private knows that throughput has to do with long range flying, like Hawaii to Vietnam. But they won. So here comes every conceivable type of pilot to be transitioned (B-52, F-14, Observation, etc.). It went unbelievably well, except for one guy the B-52 Operations Officer he flunked! He just wanted to pull power too soon and way too high.
By the time I left in September we had finished transition. However, the Air Force quickly learned that what we were doing on a daily basis was not “throughput”!! We supported SF, medevac, personnel and ammo lifts, food resupply, division support, etc. The Air Force only wanted to fly to Saigon, Da Nang, Phi Bai, Thailand and Japan. Needless to say, the real mission got lost. The Special Forces had no support and the Air Force began discussions to get rid of these slow-flying aircraft. Thus, the Thai Air Force ended up getting a bunch of great aircraft free and the US Air Force went back to flying long range, fast and high again.
With the turnover of this fine aircraft, there were only a handful of pilots who flew the Caribou while it was in the Army inventory. My guess is that approximately 150 flew the Pacific route and 40 the Atlantic route. I flew it twice along with 11 other pilots, lost an engine both times coming out of Wake the only engines I ever had go down.
There were only about 800 air crewmen in total who flew the Caribou for the Army, including both pilots and other crewmembers. The normal crew was 2 pilots and 2 crew chiefs. Of course, this is nothing compared to the 11,000 plus pilots in Vietnam. I feel privileged to have flown this fine aircraft.
It’s nice to know that the “Roughriders” continued on. That was our call sign.
By Orin Nagel
My time with the 134th was certainly a time to remember. Like many, it's been 30 years so forgive me if I don’t recall many of the details.
I was the first person assigned to the 134th at Ft. Bragg. When my wife and I arrived there o/a 12 Dec' 66, we were unable to locate the unit. No one had ever heard of the 134th. Finally, an MP with XVIII Corps recalled that he had heard that such a unit was supposed to be forming at Bragg. One thing led to another and after a couple of days I found a guy who knew something. He knew that the commander designate, I believe Major Thorpe, was the XO of 627th (??) S & S Bn.
I made my way down there and sure enough, he was there and was to be the CO when the 134th began forming in the spring of 1967. I signed in to the 627th S & S, was sent to the S-4 shop and became the PBO of the company and both detachments. The PBO of the 627th was a CW2 Aarhus, who was shrewd, professional and just crooked enough to be valuable and stay out of jail. He and the S-4 NCOIC taught me the Army supply system and that education served me well for 30 years. Thanks Chief, wherever you are.
A few weeks later, WO1 Dave Wilkinson, after going through the same search, joined me and took over the property books of the Detachments. Dave and I and our families became great friends and he and I flew together, roomed together all over II Corps and flew as a fire team during our first tour.
In January 1967, we received our first EM; 1 PFC and 23 E-2s right out of AIT. All were all door gunners. The PFC had gotten seriously ill in AIT and had to be recycled so was a PFC at graduation. Simultaneously, we received our company area; an orderly room, supply room, three, two story barracks and a mess hall. PFC Wysocki was appointed 1SGT. The troops were divided 4 to a floor in the barracks and instructed to make it look great. We invited Major Thorpe to inspect the company about a month later. At the end of the inspection, he said some nice things to the troops and called Dave and I into the orderly room. He told us that this was not WOC school and while he was very impressed with the looks and condition of the barracks, we had to stop requiring the troops to 'spit-shine the floors'. So much for our first attempt at command.
We were able to escape from the supply business in late April 1967 and turned all of our equipment and records over to a real PBO. Anyone remember his name? Dave and I joined the Gun platoon and stayed there until we both left RVN in October of 1968. I think many of you remember the contest that resulted in the selection of the names Demon and Devil. How many remember some of the losers. My favorite loser was the Spartans and Trojans with the motto "If it won't fly, screw it".
Training at Bragg is a fog. Picking up Hueys at the factory at Ft. Worth, training, taking them to Oakland, etc., etc. The only real memory was that WO Wigger joined the unit very late. He had been injured in a crash in Montgomery, Alabama while attempting to land in IFR conditions as the single pilot of a Huey in a flight of 10. That accident was reported in Aviation Digest in an article entitled "Ferry Flight" and resulted in a number of policy changes regarding subsequent ferry flights.
I remember the flight from Bragg to Oakland on chartered, commercial airliners. We talked the stewardesses out of their hats, scarves, pins, nametags (but not their underwear).
From Oakland we spent a lot of time playing cards and donating to the Bob Allen retirement fund. Besides being a good pilot, Bob was an excellent card player. His ambition and goal for his tour was to become the best rocket shot in RVN. Bob spent the entire tour in the right seat and few if any could match his ability with the 2.75 inch rockets. Arriving in Cam Ranh Bay, we were flown to Phu Hiep. In a day or two, I was on my way to Nha Trang to assist in convoying the unit's wheeled vehicles to Phu Hiep. We sandbagged the "hose compartments" of the unit fire truck, armed it with an M-60 and four men and proceeded to Phu Hiep.
From this point on, I remember very little about Phu Hiep as I was usually detached somewhere with a light fire team. During the tour, I spent about a month at Pleiku; nearly 5 months at An Khe; lived for about 6 weeks with the 28th Regiment of the ROK Army and even when in Phu Hiep, seemed to spend most of my time on all night stand by up near the Tuy Hoa officers club where we had a hooch and two pads.
During December and in to January, I flew with the 48th guns in order to get some in-country experience. While they had B Models, the experience was very valuable and I think we had an easier time adjusting to the B Models than their pilots had adjusting to the "I won't hover and you can't make me" C Models.
In late January, Roger Jones and I got three days off and decided to visit the MACV compound and the historic city of Nha Trang, a quiet little spot between us and Cam Ranh Bay. During the second night, there was a lot of fireworks and we awoke to a nearly deserted town. Walking down the deserted streets from our hotel, we encountered some MPs who told us that the town had been attacked by a large force the night before and there were VC everywhere. We beat a trail back to Phu Hiep, picked up a couple of gunships and joined Cpt. Chrobak and the rest of the platoon in Plieku. Lots has been written about TET, most is true. We grew up during TET and were a force to be reckoned with from then on. I returned to Phu Hiep in late February and was on my way to An Khe in March 1968.
We had 2 guns and 3-4 slicks in An Khe under the command of the slick platoon leader, Cpt. McGown, I think. Dave Wilkinson and I stayed up there until mid-July when I went on R & R. The weather in An Khe in March is cold by RVN standards and we often slept under blankets. The C Models loved the early morning road sweep and flew quite nicely before it got hot. We owned the road from the An Khe to the Mang Yang passes. The mission was to keep it open. Forces available included the 1/50th Mech Inf of the 173d, C Company, 1/69th Armor, three 105 MM arty batteries deployed at An Khe and on two fire bases along the road, and us. It was a gun pilots dream. We could fly as much as we liked and had a free fire zone the size of Rhode Island. Lots of interesting missions. I remember two really good 'ass chewings' my first tour, both in An Khe. The first came when the Company Commander dropped in one evening when we were having barbecued deer for supper. Unfortunately, he wanted to know how we got it. Well, we created an ad hoc mission that day when we saw some deer and talked one of the slicks into picking one up after we shot it. We dressed it and it was DAMNED good eating. The company commander was unimpressed and ate my butt for supper.
The second, also at An Khe, came on the occasion of my deciding to take a prisoner and couldn't find a slick to pick him up. I landed, the crew chief and I grabbed personal weapons and proceeded to chase this guy through the bush while the aircraft with pilot and gunner took off to join Devil 27 to fly cover for us. We never caught the slippery little guy and were picked up without incident. Of course, stories travel fast in RVN and this one got back to the CO. On my next trip to Phu Hiep to exchange an aircraft, he once again lunched on my butt.
By the way, how many of you remember the concoction that we dipped our jungle fatigues in to make them fire proof (no flight suits initially)? And, remember half way through the tour someone decided that flying in jungle boots was unsafe, so we got new leather boots. I hope some of our crewchiefs and gunners can relate the fun of carrying the M-14. For whatever reason, we never got M-16s. We had two M-14s on the aircraft initially and when we turned them in, we just carried the M-60s, maybe a pistol and sometimes an M79.
After R & R, I never went back to An Khe. Dave and I took a light fire team next door to the 28th ROK Regiment. and lived over there for a month and a half in direct support of them. Great soldiers, no fear, usually interesting missions. I've supported the insertion and extraction of a lot of 173rd LRRP teams, but the ROK LRRPs were the hairiest, especially for the slicks. Eight ROK soldiers dressed in NVA uniforms with NVA equipment would load up at the Regimental pad. We'd make a couple of false insertions and then drop them in the middle of no where. We would then be scheduled to pick them up, 20-30 clicks away a week or ten days later, providing we didn't have to extract them sooner from a hot LZ. Whenever we picked them up, we relied on a Korean in the back seat for positive ID and to tell us where the team and LZ were. Once on the ground, eight, very NVA looking dudes would come out of the tree line and get on the bird. Scary, very scary.
By the time we got back from the ROK Regiment, we were short timers and I remember virtually nothing of my last 30 days in country.
I returned to the U.S. and was assigned as the Ops Officer of Delta Troop, 2/9/Cav., 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley. We too were a force to be reckoned with! Our scouts were OH-13s and our lift ships were H-34s. We had no guns.
In July, 1971, I was back in RVN as a Captain, having accepted a direct commission in June, 1969 and commanded my first ADA Vulcan battery from June 1970-June, 1971. As a second tour RLO (real live officer) I was asked for my preference when I came through the Repo-Depot in Saigon. I said the 134th and they said "ok". I arrived back in the 134th in mid-July, 1971, but after my check ride, in-country orientation ride and 'mountain flying' check out, I was reassigned to HHC, 17th CAB.
second stay in the 134th was short, I can offer two humorous
stories. First, I was coming from Ft. Carson, CO, where mountains are
mountains, and had been in LZs above 13,000 feet so I got to tell you that
the “mountain check ride” (to a pinnacle) was less than exciting. Also,
when I in-processed the mail room, the mail clerk, to my amazement, said I
already had mail though I had been out of the U.S. less than a week and no
one knew my address. Sure enough, I had one letter. It was addressed to
CWO Orin Nagel and had been kept safely in the mailroom since my last tour.
The letter was two and a half years old.
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?
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
By Andre Garesche
I arrived at the 134th in July 1970 and was assigned a room. My roommate, whom I hadn't even met yet, Dan Brown, was out on a slick mission. Not knowing where to go or what to do I grabbed the free bunk and took a nap. After a while someone came in and woke me up. A tall lanky guy with a clipboard who told me I was assigned to the gun platoon. He wanted to know what I wanted for a call sign. I said I didn't know and asked him what his was. He said Devil 47, (it was Mark Igoe). I said how about Devil 46. He told me it had to be an odd number so I bumped it down to Devil 45 and that is how I got my call sign. He also told me that I had an orientation flight in the morning.
The next morning I was down at operations waiting. Patrick Pavey was the pilot I was going up with and it was in the chunker ship (019). We cranked up and took off north from Phu Hiep and he explained the low-level Vagabond crossing over Tuy Hoa's active runway. Patrick had a wry sense of humor and as we flew along he said, "That's a tree, those are mountains, that's a river, that's the ocean... and you've got it," and with that he gave me the controls.
He said we were going up to Qui Nhon for some lunch. I glanced back and the crew chief and door gunner were asleep. Patrick yawned and stretched and casually reached up to pull the old circuit breaker trick to see if I was watching my guages. Before he even pulled it I told him I was familiar with the trick but never mentioned that I had gone to Gunnery I. P. school. He just shrugged and got comfortable and started to dose off.
Now, imagine my first flight time in Vietnam and I'm up there with three guys asleep. Patrick had told me to just follow the coast and that is what I did. I was just about to where the sunken Japanese ship is when the radios lit up. Patrick sat up immediately and took the controls. There were troops in contact and we were getting a mid-air scramble since we were closest. We did a 180 and headed south towards the river. In a split second the whole crew had snapped to from what I call 'Nam' sleep. You are always half awake!
The friendlies were on the north side of the river and the enemy on the south. Patrick asked if I had ever fired a chunker before and I told him that I had. I could tell he was nervous about letting me use the weapon because he explained everything twice as to where to fire and that he was turning my radios off and putting me on AFVN. I guess he thought it would keep me calm. So on my first hot gun run in Vietnam I was listening to "Time Won't Let Me" by the Outsiders. Some things you never forget.
They taught me a little trick at I.P school. If you role the chunker tube up a little and fire six rounds slowing rollng the tube down, the rounds all land at once. It is sort of like a mini-B-52 strike. The rounds landed exactly where he wanted them. It certainly impressed Patrick because he screamed for me to that again and again. Even the crew was impressed because they were shouting on the intercom. It’s difficult to keep in order but when its working the chunker is very devastating and unnerving to the enemy. The ground troops even commented on it.
We expended our ordinance and another gun team was nearly there so we headed home. Patrick said he would do the post flight and would meet me at the Officer's Club. On his way to the club he went by the Operations and pulled my file which indicated that I had been to Gunnery I.P. School. He jokingly gave me a hard time about not telling him. We sat and talked for a long time. Turned out it was his birthday. I had had a pretty full day myself.
Some days can be better than other days and some days can be worse than other days. December 29, 1968 was not especially a good day for the 134th flight platoons. Earlier in the day Demon 295 was part of lift combat assault supporting the ROK Tiger Division in the mountains northwest of Phu Cat AFB. The aircraft was the first into the LZ and as the aircraft’s skids touched the ground, an explosion rocked the ship. The ship had landed on an extremely large booby trap. And the day wasn’t over yet.
I had been the crewchief on Devil 150 since inheriting it from Dave Bittner. It was a good aircraft and had no lingering maintenance problems. She was one of the two Frogs that the 134th had and the M5 system was always reliable and we were hauling 38 rockets on this day (an extremely heavy load). 150 had just completed her 100-hour maintenance and we were scheduled to deploy to An Khe within a day or so. I was scheduled to DEROS in mid-January, so I was getting really short. But yet I felt pretty confident about flying and doing my job. December 29 had started as a lay back day. We had flown to An Khe and back on a mail/supply mission. LT. McNeely and WO1 Djikowski were the pilots and PFC Ernie Smith was filling in as my gunner for Darryl Austin. Later that day around 1830, another Devil gunship and we were scrambled to support the 28th ROK Regiment who had an estimated VC platoon moving into an ambush site in the hills west of Tuy Hoa. A ROK lieutenant was also on board 150 to provide liaison between the ground troops and fire team.
Darkness seemed to come in very quickly that night. As our fire team approached a narrow valley, we spotted a campfire on the side of a hill. The ROK lieutenant advised that the campfire wasn’t from his people. We went rolling in hot on the next pass and the VC on the hill opened up with automatic weapons on the right side of the aircraft. We immediately returned fire and continued to fire our M60’s until we were out of the valley. The aircraft had taken a hit through the oil cooler and into the battery after passing between Ernie Smith’s legs. The round missed Ernie’s family jewels by 5 inches. By this time the Christmas tree was lit up and the aircraft was rapidly loosing oil pressure. LT. McNeely limped the aircraft out of the hills and began a power-on approach to a dry rice paddy. At about 100 feet, the engine quit, and both pilots did a great job of setting the fully loaded Frog down softly without another scratch. We immediately established a perimeter while the other gunship flew cover. It certainly does get lonely and rather eerie in a rice paddy at night, but everyone was cool and luck was certainly with us and also, another time to be thankful that gunships fly in pairs. A Demon slick eventually evacuated us back to Phu Hiep.
Meanwhile back at the company, LT. Benny Doyle quickly established and led a recovery team to bring the aircraft back that night. The 268th Pathfinders and a platoon from the 28th ROK were rapidly shuttled in by our own Demon slicks to provide security for the recovery. The aircraft was successfully recovered and fully repaired with a replacement engine, oil cooler, and battery within three days. I continued to crew 150 for about another week in An Khe and left her in Sterling Petersen’s hands Petersen was the crewchief of Demon 295 on the 29th of December 68.
By Stan Gause
I guess I did my share of dumb things but one that stands out most in my mind is an incident that occurred in late summer of 1968. I was fire team leader of a Devil fire team based out of An Khe. We were the only gun team between An Son and Pleiku. In addition to supporting a battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade operating around An Khe we also had the job of protecting Highway 19, a job we enjoyed very much since we the had the freedom to do pretty much anything we wanted.
We had a free fire area for roughly 10 klicks (km) north and south of Highway 19 all the way from An Khe Pass in the east through Mang Yang Pass in the west, a distance of probably 30-40 miles or more. This was a very desolate area of flat terrain and low rolling hills with maybe 30-40% open area, sparse vegetation in some places and dense jungle in others. There were no villages and any people found in the area were assumed to be enemy. Perfect gunship country!! In addition to convoy escort for the first convoy of the day we usually made a recon of our area of operations at first light and often just before dusk. There were also recons during the day and we worked closely with army FACs (bird dogs) to provide fire support on any targets they found. For a gunship pilot this was a great deal of flying and we loved. We had carte blanc approval to shoot anything that moved.
During our recon missions we normally flew with the lead ship very low (25-50 feet AGL) with weapons systems armed and fingers on the trigger. Often as we came over small hills or ridgelines we could get a fleeting glimpse of people (NVA/VC) scrambling for cover and we only had a split second to aim and pull the trigger before the target disappeared. Our CE’s and gunners were incredible. They had eyes like an eagle and reflexes like a cat. Often before I could even focus on a target they had already nailed it. They were AWFULLY good!! They could spot targets where the pilots saw nothing at all. CE’s and gunners like this were worth their weight in gold and we had the best. My experience on these daily recon missions convinced me there was no way the new Cobra gunships could provide close ground support like a “C” model Huey with a good crew. I was convinced (and still am) that the 134th had the best gunship crews in Vietnam, probably the best there ever was.
During one period of a few days we caught maybe 6-8 people, including one woman, in the open on our recon missions and the CE, gunner or copilot (with the minigun) cut them down before you could even think about whether we should have held our fire. I had some doubts about whether some of these were in fact NVA or VC and felt a little bad about it. The AO was a long-standing free fire area and our rules of engagement allowed us to shoot anything on sight. No friendlies were supposed to be in the area. However, some of the enemy we encountered appeared to be farmers and I wondered if maybe they were innocent people who had somehow blundered into a free fire area.
One day we were on a routine patrol of the AO when we topped a small hill and spotted a man running across a clearing. He saw us at about the same time and stopped running. I immediately told my crew and wingman to hold their fire, thinking the man might be just an innocent farmer (although he certainly was way out in the boonies).
The man stopped then continued walking rapidly away from us toward a tree line a short distance away. We flew over him and circled back for a closer look. I slowed to maybe 20 knots and dropped down to 15-20 feet. Almost hovering I slowly approached. He continued walking rapidly away and looking at us over his shoulder. I approached to within 40-50 feet and considered the possibility of trying to take him prisoner. At this point he suddenly stopped, reached down behind a bush, pulled out an AK-47 and sprayed a line of bullet holes across our windshield. The 6-8 holes were about eye level but luckily they came in at a sharp angle, missing everyone and going out the roof.
We were momentarily stunned and too close to bring our guns to bear. The door gunner probably could have taken a shot but he was so stunned he didn’t get one off. I pulled pitch and banked away to come around for a shot at him. The man made a dash for the tree line maybe 20-30 feet away. Just as he disappeared into the trees my wingman hit his position with a burst of minigun fire and we followed up with a few rockets. However, the vegetation was pretty dense and I don’t know if we got him or not.
It all happened so fast we didn’t have time to be scared but after it was over and we had time to think about, it was terrifying –and very STUPID!
After this episode I didn’t hesitate to shoot first and ask questions later, especially in free fire areas.
We spent the day on standby at LZ Uplift. Normal. Hot, dusty, boring. We were finally released around 1600 hours since there had not been any activity in the area all day. We headed back to Phu Hiep. Weather had been building around the mountains during the day and I had kept an eye on it. The cumulus had been getting bigger and darker. I still thought we could make it around the storm or maybe even through it if we had to but that wasn't to be the case.
We were hardly twenty minutes out of LZ Uplift. The rain started coming down so hard I was afraid we would go IFR. It was the heaviest I had seen since I had been in Vietnam. I spotted a grassy knoll just ahead and decided to go for it. It was big enough for two Hueys but that was about all I could determine. I didn't know if there was jungle around it or anything else. We just couldn't see. I called wing and told him we were going to have to set them down. Even though it was against our instincts we went for the knoll. He was more than agreeable. I landed first facing south. With our crew chiefs chattering directions we got wing turned around facing north without clipping tail rotors. Door gunners and crew chiefs covered flanks while we idled the ships with the weapon systems armed. We were not in the best of neighborhoods.
As a gunship pilot we didn't spend much time, if any, in an insecure area. This was all new to us but we had no choice. I chatted with wing, if nothing else, just to stay calm. We discussed tactics. Two Hueys idling on a hilltop was not SOP. We figured if Charlie was going to try anything it would be with an RPG. We would go to a high hover and fire in the direction it came from. We couldn't see anything so we would just be spraying an area. It was the only time I was ever on the ground where my co-pilot had his mini-gun sight down.
After what seemed like an endless ten minutes I thought I saw a gap. There was a downpour to the left and right but a gap up the middle. I called wing and told him we were going to make a break for it. I warned him of my rotor wash and told him I would hover a short distance until he could get turned around to take off into the wind. The rain had cooled the air so we could get the heavy gunships up a little easier. He was eager to get out of there too. He picked up to a hover, did a pedal turn, and was right on my tail as we tore out of there.
Later at the 'O' Club we decided to name it "LZ Devil" and even got a map to look up the coordinates. As far as I know, we were the largest unit, with the most firepower, ever to have occupied that hilltop, even if it was only for ten minutes. We even went into operations and had them name it and mark it on the big operations map. One of the few times gunships actually occupied some territory.
By Joel Harris
I always liked the Vietnamese. I would go down to Tuy Hoa whenever I got the chance. Our unit ROK aviation liaison officer, Lt. Lee, introduced me to the place. He and the other Korean officers were fond of a particular Korean restaurant and that is where I was introduced to Bulgogi, a disk I still enjoy today.
I began to go into Tuy Hoa on my own. Whenever I went, I always tried to hire a particular pedicab driver who went by the name “Tom.” I don’t know what his Vietnamese name was. Tom was probably in his mid thirties, thin, with a broad smile under his immense conical hat. He wore his black silk “pajama” pants rolled up, I suppose, so they would not impede his cycling. His thighs were enormous and muscular.
Tom squired me around Tuy Hoa to the best restaurants where I developed a fondness for a local dish, which I think was called “Um” but which they called “Chinese soup” in English. A light broth with rice noodles, vegetables, meat and hot peppers, I found it delicious.
Tom also showed me the local Buddhist temple with its great gilded statute of the reposing Buddha or “Phat” in Vietnamese. Sometimes I would ask Tom to wait while I meditated in the presence of the statute, seeking some inner peace.
One of the nicest things Tom ever did was to invite me to his home for Tea and a light meal. He and his wife lived in a brightly painted block house, probably 400 square feet, in the middle of a rice paddy just outside Tuy Hoa. The floors were tile and the interior walls a smooth stucco. I was surprised how cool it was inside, coming in from the blazing midday heat. Tom’s wife served us tea on the front porch. Typically subservient, she barely spoke, bowed, and rushed off, all the while smiling and seeming to be very proud to have such an honored guest, a Di Wi (Captain), in her home. Tom and I sat quietly sipping our Tea, gazing across the shimmering intensely green rice fields.
One day Tom mentioned to me that he would like to fly in a helicopter. Perhaps he considered them an upscale version of the pedicab, I don’t know. I told Tom that if the opportunity ever presented itself, I would see what I could do. As it turned out an opportunity did come along, and not long after. I was assigned to fly “ash and trash” for the ARVN’s for a week out of the MACV pad in Tuy Hoa. I got word to Tom that if would come to the ARVN compound on such and such a day I would see that they let him in. I asked one of my MACV buddies to help out and sure enough, at the appointed time, Tom showed up inside the compound at the helipad. Boy was he was beaming!
I had just received my mission, we were to pick something up at a nearby helipad and transport it to Cheo Reo. With the engine running, I motioned for Tom to get in. The Crew Chief helped and got him buckled in. We took off for the other pad and within minutes we landed. I had never seen Tom look so happy. But all that was about to change.
Several soldiers approached the helicopter carrying a wooden coffin. They slid it in right in front of Tom and the crew chief strapped it down. The coffin contained a dead Montagnard (or Yards as we called them) and the mission was to take him back to his family in Cheo Reo. Tom’s demeanor had changed drastically. He did not look happy at all.
First, the lowland Vietnamese are not at all fond of the Yards. Second, I believe they have some type of taboo about dead bodies. Third, the rickety wood coffin was far from air tight, and this guy had obviously been dead for some time, if you know what I mean.
I was glad to take off and get some air circulating, but I don’t know if it helped much in the back. After leveling off at 3000’ I looked around at Tom. He appeared terror stricken, wide eyes darting back and forth, looking very much like his was calculating his odds of survival if he jumped out of the helicopter.
We finally landed at Cheo Reo and the dead man’s grieving relatives received his final earthly remains. Tom gave me a look of death and was sullen all the way back to the ARVN pad.
Because of the language barrier, I don’t think I was ever able to adequately explain to Tom what had happened. Although we remained friends and I rode in his pedicab many times after that, Tom never asked me for another ride in a helicopter.
Demons Medevac Dustoff
268th CAB Newsletter
The following article appeared in the September 15, 1969 issue of the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion Newsletter.
DEMONS MEDEVAC DUSTOFF
13 September 1969-Phu Hiep - On an urgent Dustoff scramble during dark morning hours a "Demon" slick from the 134th Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter) was called on to pick up the crew from a downed Dustoff aircraft. Shortly after takeoff, a Dustoff ship from the 498th Air Ambulance Company plunged down, totally destroying itself due to a mechanical malfunction. A "Devil” gun team was on takeoff when the Dustoff went down and immediately called for another Dustoff.
While sweeping the area, the "Devils" spotted a strobe light and headed for it. Their search lights picked out the figures of the Dustoff crew climbing out of an inverted UH-lH in about four feet of the mucky water of Ban Thagh.
"Demon 14" commanded. by W01 Bruce Schroeder (Santa Anna, California) was on its way to a flare drop, but immediately set down to pick up the crew.Crew chief SP4 Richard A. Pemberton (Bellefontaine, Ohio) helped the crew into the ship as the guns from the "Devils” overhead suppressed fire from any enemy who might be in the vicinity. The crew was then medevaced to Tuy Hoa and was later released with only minor cuts and abrasions. A second Dustoff ship completed the initial mission. Troops from the ROK 28th Regiment were inserted to secure the aircraft.
As I remember, and some things from my days as the crew chief on 062 in 1968 and 1969 I don’t remember, but I’ll never forget the night that WO1 Mike Dzikowski, aka Mr. Ski, decided he was going to teach me to hover a helicopter. I think he had probably been to the Officers Club for quite a while and returned feeling a little like doing something really nice for someone.
I was on primary standby at the standby hooch when Mr. Ski came in and informed me that he was going to teach me to hover. Being one of the most senior crew chiefs in the gun platoon at the time I had been getting quite a bit of stick time, thanks to Mr. Bemis’ love for sitting in the crew chiefs seat and hunting sharks while we flew along the coast. Therefore I suppose that made me a good candidate for further instruction so he proceeded to build a fire in the engine.
Once he got everything on the instrument panel to his liking he picked her up six or eight feet in a nice steady hover and began telling me that he was going to teach me just as he had been taught in flight school. First he had me put my feet on the rudder pedals and slowly move the nose a few feet to the left and then a few feet to the right until I was pretty comfortable doing that (so far it’s a piece of cake), then he has me get on the collective with him, and shows me how to take her up a few feet and bring her down again, all the while I’m still the primary rudder operator, if there is such a thing. I guess I did ok with that phase of my training and it was finally time to move on to the cyclic stick.
He then instructed me to very gently take the cyclic and move the ship a little to the left. So I very gently took the collective and rather quickly moved it three inches or so to the left, now for those of you who have never tried to hover before let me be the first to tell you that you never want to try that particular maneuver when you’re only a few feet off of the ground. For those of you who are accomplished pilots you know what a mess I was in. As they say, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, and I did the first thing that came to mind and moved the stick to the right three or four inches. Now I’m really in trouble because I just keep moving the thing left and right trying to get it settled down but to me it feels like someone has a rope tied to the Jesus nut and is swinging me back and forth like a giant pendulum or something and by now I’m completely terrified and can’t for the life of me figure what in the world “Ski” is doing and why is he letting me kill us both? When I finally looked over at him it was evident, by the way he was laughing, that he wasn’t overly concerned about my flying inability.
After what seemed like an eternity he took control of the ship, and after bringing it back to a stable hover, we started again only this time he informed me to hold the cyclic as if it were a sore penis. He further tried to tell me that the cyclic was so sensitive that if while I was holding it like a sore penis that if I just thought that I wanted to move to the left that it would. Let me tell you that I took that one with a grain of salt, but what the heck after all he was the pro here. So after I had it in somewhat of a hover I decided to try it. By golly, just by thinking that I wanted to move left I did indeed move ever so slowly to the left, so I tried it to the right and it worked going that direction also.
Although I never had another opportunity to try to hover again I at least had my shot at it. So Mr. “Ski” if you ever read this you’ll know that you gave one crew chief an unforgettable memory when you taught me to hover, well almost.
By Richard Tipple
Upon arriving in Vietnam, I was assigned to the 134th as a 67N20 (Helicopter Mechanic). I soon found that working 10 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on helicopters was making time go too slow for me. I was going nuts! I often wondered what it was like to be a gunner, where the action was. Later, when I learned of an opening in the gun platoon for a door gunner on the hog ship (151), I volunteered for the job. The crew chief was Eddie Hamrick, an experienced gunner and crew chief.
The first few days as a gunner were uneventful. I learned to load rockets, restock ammo and other duties of a gunner. I remember my first combat assault. I don’t know where we were, but I remember Eddie telling me to go hot (open up) with my M-60 machine gun. I watched as tracers from my machine gun disappeared into the trees below and was careful not to fire in the area of green smoke (our troops). Soon after the second run I had what is known as vertigo, I couldn’t tell which direction was up or down and squeezed off a few rounds as old 151 was banking sharp and watched as the tracers went almost straight up in the air. Eddie was laughing at me on that one.
As the weeks passed I learned the ropes as a gunner. However, on January 11th 1970 my life changed dramatically. The crew that day was Cpt Bruce Porter (the gun platoon leader) as pilot, WO Larry Ingle (copilot), Eddie and me. We were refueling at some base that I can’t remember and had a layover for a while. Eddie and I were in a small club there on base just killing time. I had lost track of Eddie when he suddenly came up to me and said we had to hurry back to the ship. A call had come in for us. I could tell by the look on Eddie’s face that something serious was up. On the way to the ship Eddie told me we were going to cover a Medivac on an extraction.
It seemed like about 45 minutes went by before we met up with the Medivac ship. I didn’t know exactly where we were but there was a big mountain in front of us that the Medivac went over and disappeared into the fog. On the first try, Cpt Porter could not get over the top with 151 since we were loaded to the max with rockets and ammo. Almost hitting the treetops, he made a 180 turn, went back down the mountain and took another run at it. The ship felt like it would vibrate apart as Cpt Porter pulled all the collective there was this time. We skimmed over the top this time but immediately flew into a thick white fog. It was so thick it looked like someone painted the windshield pure white—a total white out! Fear struck me like a knife.
I looked over at Eddie. He gave me a strange look and made a crucifix across his chest with his hand. I’ll never forget it! It seemed like about 10 minutes went by and all of a sudden as I looked out the front windshield, trying to see between the pilots, trees came right at us. We were flying into the mountainside! I heard someone on the intercom say “pull up” but it was too late. We hit the mountain. The terrifying sound of those rotor blades chopping through the trees, the grinding of metal being ripped from the ship, the ship twisting and turning from side to side, are etched in my memory as long as I live. I remember hearing myself screaming.
The ship finally came to a rest on its side about 4 feet off the ground suspended on broken tree limbs. The engine was still running and shoved down into the cargo area behind me where the transmission had halfway ripped itself out towards Eddie’s side. I could smell fuel and hydraulic fluid was squirting out all over the place. For a moment I just sat there too scared to move, afraid to look down at my body, afraid to see a leg or something else missing. Then all of a sudden a feeling came over me to get away from the ship. I panicked and started trying to pull myself out of my shoulder straps by brut force. After struggling to get free for a while I found the release ring, got out and jumped to the ground. I ran about 100 feet up the hillside, stopped and looked back, waiting for the ship to explode.
In a few seconds I came to my senses and went back to the ship. I could see the pilot and copilot, still strapped in their seats, were moving a little. As I climbed back up into the ship I saw Eddie slumped over in his seat, motionless. Looking over at the pilots I saw Porter’s legs were all jammed up under the dash and Ingle was holding his chest trying to breath. As Porter tried to free himself I helped Ingle unstrap. After he worked himself loose Ingle broke the magnetic compass off the dash and grabbed a map. By this time the engine started to wind up a little and we were afraid it would explode on us so we started throwing things into the inlet to try to get it to stall out and shut down. I think Porter did something with the controls and it finally ran down. I helped Ingle from the ship and then helped Porter out and to the ground.
As they made their way a few feet from the ship I went back for Eddie. I called for Eddie to wake up over and over but there was no response. I tried to reach him without falling through the ship and could just barely touch him. I remember staring at him for a long time to see if he was breathing…nothing! I went back to where Ingle and Porter were on the ground to see what they wanted me to do. They asked me if he was ok and I said I didn’t know—he might be dead. Ingle by that time could move a little and went back to the ship to check on Eddie. He came back and said Eddie was dead. I was feeling sick and laid on the ground for a while.
Ingle, Porter and I were all in shock. I learned later that Porter had multiple fractures in his legs. He couldn’t walk or really even stand up. Ingle had broken ribs and a punctured lung. Somehow I escaped serious injury. I only had a broken finger on my left hand.
After a while Porter and Ingle started talking about where we were and what to do next. They decided to use the compass and head east away from the crash. The rocket pods were ripped off and rockets and ammo were strewn all over the place. We found one rifle and ammo for it. This was the only weapon we took with us. We started out into the jungle.
We started up the hillside to the east. It was raining hard and our nomex fatigues were soaked. Porter was having a very hard time just standing so Ingle and I helped him along as best we could. Ingle had made a pair of splints for Porter with some tree limbs before we left the crash site. There was another discussion between Ingle and Porter about staying at the crash site after which we decided to go on. After some time Ingle was really in pain with his busted ribs and could not help Porter very much so I would help Porter along for a while and then help Ingle. Sometimes I would carry Porter piggyback and sometimes he put his arms around my shoulders and I would sort of drag him. It was slow going.
After a short while, we found ourselves on a lightly traveled path through the jungle. We decided to follow the trail but travel above it in case the VC were using it. We moved approximately 100 ft above the trail and continued on. I would take the point for a while then come back for Ingle and Porter. After a while, Ingle would go forward at point and Porter and I would stay behind. We did this for a couple of hours or so. Many times I would see what might be a boobie trap of some kind only to find it was a vine or a stick. At one point, we were exhausted so much we all just stopped and looked at each other. This was when Porter told us to just leave him there and go on and come back for him if we were rescued. Ingle and I decided against this pretty quickly. We were all going to make it, or none of us would.
As darkness fell we heard the sound of a chopper in the distance but it soon faded away and our hearts sank. We moved a little further up the hillside away from the trail below and crawled under some brush for the night. Ingle had a plastic coated map and we used it as a shelter from some of the rain. The rain sounded awfully loud as it hit the map. Sometime in the night we heard artillery being fired from far away. Luckily, it wasn’t in our direction. It seemed like we slept maybe 5 minutes at a time and then woke up for an hour or so before dozing off again. We were wet, cold, scared and miserable. I remember it was pitch black all night—I’d never seen a night so dark and rainy.
Later in the night Ingle grabbed my arm and asked in a whisper if I could hear people talking below us. We could hear a voice from time to time but could not make out anything. We whispered to each other what we should do if we heard Americans talking, how we could alert them to us so they would not think we were VC trying to trick them and get ourselves killed. As we strained to hear the voices in the darkness we could tell they were traveling on the path below us. As they came closer to our position we heard the sound of men talking in Vietnamese. We were petrified until the voices faded away down the trail. We lay there in the darkness, shivering and wet until daylight.
Soon after daylight on the second day we were on the move again. We decided to move downhill and travel along a ravine. We traveled along this route for a mile or so picking our way through the jungle. We stopped a couple of times when we heard the distant sound of a chopper but none came close to our position. Even if they would have, they wouldn’t have been able to see us through the thick canopy above. It seemed there were never any openings in the canopy big enough for anyone to spot us. As we rested I saw Porter pull up one of his pant legs and remember his leg was almost completely black from bruises. As we moved on, Ingle spotted what appeared to be a boobie trap so we moved around it very carefully. It was a small vine stretched across our path very tightly.
Shortly we began to smell smoke. We continued moving along in the thick jungle and soon came upon a small clearing. As we stood there it soon dawned on us that we had walked right into a VC camp. There was smoke coming out of a small cave and pots and pans on the ground beside a smoldering campfire. We froze! I expected to be shot or captured at any moment. In my mind I had decided if we were attacked I would empty the clip and take as many with me as I could.
I don’t know what Ingle or Porter were thinking, but I figured I’d be shot right away if we were captured since I was only a Spec 4 and didn’t know as much as an officer. After a few seconds we realized the camp was empty. We quickly moved through the camp and out the other side. We traveled for another couple of hours when I looked down and saw what looked like a pointed hand grenade with two prongs sticking up and half buried in the ground. As we stopped and looked around we saw more and more of them all around us pointed in basically the same direction in the ground. Ingle or Porter, I can’t remember who, said they might be air dropped anti-personnel mines. We carefully stepped around each one and slowly made our way out of the area.
We kept moving that day till darkness started to set in. We came upon what looked like a cave, probably 6 ft wide, 4 ft tall and 6 to 8 ft back into the hillside. Actually it was a rock overhang with big boulders on each side of it. We decided to stay there that night. Two or three times one of us would crawl out and look around, I guess our nerves were completely shot. After feeling around in my pockets I found a half pack of M&Ms. There was enough for us to have 2 or 3 each. This was all we had to eat in two days.
As we settled in for the night, we were all shivering from being wet all day with rain and sweat. Ingle was really having a hard time breathing and couldn’t lie down for any length of time. He had to sit up to breath so I sat behind him and rested my head on his shoulders to try and stay warm with our combined body heat. We were so stressed out and exhausted that we fell asleep within minutes.
At first light on the third day we left the cave and continued moving through the jungle. As we traveled that day the mountainside became steeper and made things tougher getting around. We talked in whispers as we moved along about how we had to find some kind of clearing to be able to be spotted by any rescue choppers, especially since it had stopped raining and the weather was beginning to clear. We came upon a waterfall on the steep hillside, so steep we wondered how to get across it as we were at the top of it and the rocks were very slippery. The water over the top was not deep, maybe 6 or 8 inches, but it was about 20 or 30 feet across. We thought about climbing uphill to try and find a way around it, but we knew Porter would never make it with his legs so bad. Ingle went first I think, inching across very slowly. I then made my way across, carrying Porter on my back, I still don’t know how we did it, but somehow we managed to make it across.
We traveled on that day until late afternoon when all of a sudden we came to a clearing on the side of the mountain leading to a valley below. The clearing was V shaped and we were at the top point of the V. There was grass about 2 to 3 feet tall. I think our hearts jump started as we looked down the clearing below us. We knew we could be spotted here by an aircraft. We made our way approximately 50 feet out into the clearing and laid down in the grass and waited. Not much time went by before we heard the sound of a chopper in the distance and almost immediately Ingle said he heard something at the edge of the jungle behind us. I listened and heard what sounded like someone whistle as if to get someone’s attention. Fear gripped all of us. We figured if they were friendlies, they would know we were Americans with our flight suits on, so they had to be VC.
We could now see the chopper coming our way but it was still far off down the valley. Once again we heard something behind us in the jungle, only this time we could very clearly hear people using vocal sounds to signal each other. Not speaking to each other, but using vocal signals, like trying to disguise their voice. Then it made sense, they not only wanted us but maybe any chopper that tried to pick us up too. We crouched back down in the grass and watched as the chopper we heard turned away from us maybe a mile out. Our hearts sank, but then it made a 180 degree turn and came our way once more. We could now hear more and more sounds behind us. Ingle watched behind us with the rifle pointed at the jungle.
Once again the chopper turned away, did a large 180 turn and came our way again. This time it came right at our position. Ingle quickly removed his flight jacket and turned it inside out with the bright orange side out, stood up and started waving it as I watched the jungle with the rifle this time. The chopper came right over us maybe at 100 ft up. I’ll never forget when the door gunner looked down. It seemed he looked right at us for a few seconds then turned to say something to the pilot. He then stuck his head back out and waved at us. They had seen us! We were saved!
The chopper was a slick and I’m a little fuzzy here, but I think it had a Cobra as an escort. It could have been a hog escort. I really can’t remember since my eyes were on the slick as it made one more slow 180 and came in to pick us up. Ingle took the rifle and back peddled as I helped Porter to the chopper. The chopper hovered about 3 to 4 ft along the sloping hillside. I’ll always remember that big smile on the door gunner’s face as he pulled me and Porter into the slick with Ingle right behind us. As soon as Ingle was in, we all started hollering for the pilot to get out of there. Ingle pointed to the tree line and opened up with the rifle. As we lifted off the door gunner also opened up, spraying the tree line with his M-60. The door gunner was Ronnie Poarch, the pilot was Major Hensley (our company commander) and copilot was Cpt Campbell as I remembered it that day.
Editor’s Note: Cpt Porter was evacuated back to the US. WO Ingle spent a few weeks in the hospital at Qui Nhon and on convalescent and then returned to the 134th. SP4 Tipple had a splint put on his finger and returned to the 134th that day, initially on light duty and then in the maintenance area. A few weeks later SP4 Tipple was awarded the Soldiers Medal for his efforts in saving the two injured pilots from almost certain capture.
Jan 12, 1969 Arrived in country (Binh Hoa).
Jan 15 Arrived in Nha Trang.
Jan 17 Arrived in Tuy Hoa and Phu Hiep.
Jan 18 Assigned to the 134th Assault Helicopter Co.
Jan 19 Found out that the company did not have my MOS 51M20 (crash and rescue). Asked me if I wanted to be a door gunner. I said ok. They then asked if anyone could type and I told them yes.
Jan 20 Started working as a clerk in the maintenance office.
Jan 22 Sandstorm. All flights were grounded.
Jan 23 Guard duty
Jan 28 Guard duty
Feb 6 326 went down. 319 was hit with 2 KIA’s from the 134th.
Feb 10 Went to the services at the chapel for the ones that were killed in 326—CW2 William Harrison and PFC William Ogden.
Feb 25 Guard duty. A trip flare went off in front of my post. I could not see anything. Nothing happened.
Mar 5 Company party at the beach. Everyone drunk and threw Lt. Doyle, Lt.
Leaf, Mr. Surgeon plus 4-5 NCO’s in the South China Sea. We were then going to start messing with the local beach bums (people from other units) but Lt. Leaf kept us from doing it.
Mar 7 Pipeline at Phu Hiep hit.
Mar 23 Flew as gunner with Mr. Howell to take Lt. Doyle for a 3 day pass to Nha Trang.
Mar 26 701 crashed (I’ve got a picture of where it crashed).
Mar 29 Flew as gunner with Mr. Howell on 351. Picked up supplies and removed the gun mounts from 701.
Apr 13 Flew as gunner for Lt. Weymier.
Apr 16 Flew as gunner for Mr. Howell. Picked up an AC 351 that had been shot up and flew it back. Mr. Howell let me sit in the front with him and I flew the aircraft. I did ok until we hit a storm and he took it back.
Apr 19 Had CQ. Woke up everyone that was on the gunships. They had to be scrambled. Charley had gotten on the side of the Monkey Mountain. We stood in the company area and watched them work out.
Apr 21 Railroad bridge knocked out. (I didn’t write in the diary where it was).
Apr 23 Awards ceremonies. Lt. Doyle and Mr. Chancelor got Bronze Stars.
May 1 Beer party at the beach.
May 4 An ARVN shot a tracer through a JP-4 tank and blew himself up. I don’t know where it happened.
May 7 SSG Rivers got his hand messed up today. Took him to the 91sr EVAC.
May 9 Went before the E-5 Board.
May 11 CQ tonight. While tracing a broken commo wire we were hit with mortars at the revetments. We had just traced the line where the first mortars hit.
May 13 Had to see the old man. I thought I was going to be court martialed under Article 31. It scared the shit out of me. Then he gave me my orders for Sgt E-5.
May 17 Saigon mortared.
May 18 Alert Red. Everyone slept with their gear on.
May 19 Korean compound was hit. I took out 15 men and stayed there all night.
May 31 Gooks from Labar fired an AK at one of our ships in broad daylight. Pathfinders were sent in to try to find them.
Jun 6 CA, 23 Demon ships. Korean stepped on a mine and shrapnel hit 319. No one was hurt on 319
Jun 11 We took 3 trucks from the 134th on a convoy to pick up supplies in Qui Nhon. We hooked up with another convoy that was leaving Phu Hiep to Qui Nhon changing the ammo dump. Because we were empty they asked us if we would haul ammo for them. We said ok. I had two pallets of hand grenades in my truck. Unloaded them at An Son and went to the 129th AHC. It had gotten late. We were filthy and dirty. Ate chow, took a shower and went to sleep in the back of the trucks.
Jun 12 Picked up the solvents, oil and other supplies. By the time we did all of the running around it was getting late and we didn’t want to go on the road after dark.
Jun 13 Headed back. No incidents other than flat tires. Arrived back in company area at 1600.
Jun 22 Maintenance party at the beach.
Jul 3 Air Force jets napalmed the side of the hill.
Jul 6 Prepared for CA.
Jul 7 CA—80 slicks, 19 guns and 9 Chinooks. Airlifted 3500 ROK’s from Vung Ro Bay to Miami Beach.
Jul 9 Korean compound mortared.
Jul 10 North Tuy Hoa was hit.
Jul 12 USO show at the big field.
Jul 14 SP5 Spencer and I test fired some M-60’s--1500 rounds.
Jul 24 Had to find Davenport. Red Cross looking for him. His wife had a 6 lb. 10 oz. Boy.
Jul 30 Helped E R Parker and the line crew install main rotor blades.
Jul 31 Convoy to Qui Nhon.
Aug 3 Back to 134th with the supplies.
Aug 8 Gunships prepped the perimeter and Buda Mountain.
Aug 11 Mortared us tonight. When I ran into the bunker I hit my head on the beam at the top of the door going in. The boys pulled me the rest of the way inside. The mortars quit and Dowden went to get us a cigarette. I was still dizzy from hitting my head. Charley shot one more round. Dowden just walked outside. He falls back into the bunker. He didn’t get a scratch. He was lucky—leaves tomorrow to ETS (I talked to him after Nam and he still doesn’t smoke). We went out and stayed on the perimeter all night.
Aug 22 Red (the clerk in Maint) came and told me SSG Siam wanted me. Told me to call the Red Cross. Ruby had a girl 7 lbs 8 oz and 21 inches long. Gave out 100 cigars.
Aug 23 Awards ceremony.
Aug 24 Contact at point 10. Guns scrambled.
Aug 30 Change of command ceremonies. Stayed at attention for over an hour. Carried SP5 Hope to clear. The First Sgt waned me to be field first.
Sep 6 Maintenance party at the beach.
Sep 9 Sgt of the Guard. Watched firefight from OP 14. Weather is bad. Raining. No one can fly.
Sep 16 Convoy to Qui Nhon. Roads are muddy. The convoy behind us got hit.
Sep 17 Picked up aircraft parts and supplies. Saw a hole where the convoy must have been hit yesterday. Looked like a big mine. Made it back to the 134th ok.
Sep 25 Red alert. Stayed on the perimeter all night until 0830.
Oct 1 SFC Zellers told me he wanted me, my men and equipment ready for the field. We were to be picked up by a Chinook from the 180th. The weather was so bad that it had to be cancelled. SP4 Gloria came to me later and told me that it was going to be scheduled tomorrow at 0430.
Oct 2 180th Chinook picked us up and carried us to Qui Nhon. We then loaded all the stuff onto trucks and convoyed to Phu Cat. Set up 4 refueling points with 2 lines per point. Mountains all around us. 1000 Korean infantry (White Horse Infantry Brigade) was airlifted. Received fire from the side of the mountain. The Koreans used artillery to get them off. One ship was lost. Haven’t heard if anyone was hurt.
Oct 5 Sgt of the Guard. Killed a deer that ran into the minefield. We carried it back to maintenance, hung it on wrecker and are going to eat it. Convoy tomorrow.
Oct 6 Convoy. SSG Fields is going with us.
Oct 8 Took Davis to AFB. Change of command ceremony coming up. I have the color guard.
Oct 10 Raining. Change of command ceremonies had to be held in the 180th hangar.
Oct 12 Flew as a gunner for Mr. Howell. Carried Helms to Cam Ranh Bay. Picked up FNG’s and back to Phu Hiep.
Oct 13 Thought that we getting mortared. A Mohawk taking pictures.
Oct 21 Learned about Starlight scope.
Oct 22 Sgt of the Guard. Pathfinders went out on OP 14 with Starlight scope. It works great.
Oct 23 SFC Zellers told me that they were going to send me An Son for a courtesy inspection of the 61st’s POL. I was going to report to some Major from battalion.
Oct 24 Flew up to 61st and helped them straighten out their POL.
Oct 27 Today we were watching a Chinook carry an Otter and it broke loose and crashed (can not remember if it was at Phu Hiep or An Son).
Oct 28 Told that a general was coming.
Oct 30 Worked on the basketball court with the cement mixer.
Nov 2 Company party.
Nov 3 0100 hit with about 20 mortar rounds. When it was over I took 10 men to the line. Stayed there all night. Ban Me Thout got hit with B40 rockets. A company of NVA were spotted north of Tuy Hoa.
Nov 4 Kept gear on all day. 2nd day that Charlie has been spotted. Started to rain.
Nov 5 Had our gear on since Sunday.
Nov 8 Sgt of the guard. AK-47 fired from inside the compound.
Nov 9 146 went down today. Merricks from Virginia went down in Ban Me Thout. Messed up pretty bad, face and legs. His wife and mine had a baby on the same day.
Nov 10 Two battalions of NVA spotted.
Nov 11 USO show—New Christy Minstrels (I didn’t put it in the diary but I think we got hit the same night).
Nov 12 Rifle went off accidently in my hooch. A piece of metal hit mamasan in the foot. She is ok.
Nov 13 We picked up 146. When I got to the hooch, mamasan was swinging a 45 pistol around. I took it from her. Rinky had given it to her. I ate his ass out. It wasn’t loaded.
Nov 17 Convoy tomorrow. Sgt of the Guard today. 43 guards went out. Spotted 20-30 gooks with Starlight scope. Called for Light jeep. They came and shined the light on them and they ran off.
Nov 18 Convoy today. Roads bad from the rain. Had to stay overnight at a Korean fire support base because of the roads and it was getting dark. The lowboy popped an axle and we unloaded it on our trucks. It was loaded with rockets and all kinds of ammo. After tying it down we started.
Nov 19 CA today. Arrived at LZ at 0700. Secured our positions with M-60’s and 79’s. Set up 5 refueling points. It was over at 1300. Packed up and started back to Phu Hiep. The roads are slick and I almost flipped my truck. Close call. Made it back ok. When we got back some of my men had guard duty.
Nov 22 CA tomorrow. They said they were going to refuel at the 134th. They changed their mind. We’re going back to the field.
Nov 23 Raining. Loaded the trucks, tankers and drove to North Tuy Hoa. Set up LZ with rocket ammo and set up 4 refueling points. Weaher bad and the CA had to be cancelled.
Nov 24 CA today. Same same. Rained out, cancelled again.
Nov 25 Maintenance area flooded.
Nov 27 456 went down. Thought I was going to have to take a ground crew and get it.
Dec 1 Convoy. Picked up 20 barrels of solvent. Wanted me to convoy to Qui Nhon to pick up some hydraulic fluid. Charlie hit the pipeline.
Dec 2 0015. Sappers hit OP 14. 2 KIA. Stayed there all night. Award ceremonies 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses (did not write down who got them).
Dec 8 Awards ceremony. The three men who stopped the sappers the other night got Bronze Stars. Vung Ro Bay got hi with rockets and mortars. We could hear them from the company area.
Dec 10- 23 R & R
Jan 2-10 Monsoons!!
Jan 10 Awards ceremony. The Col. gave me the Army Commendation Medal. I didn’t know I was going to get it. I thought it was going to be the flight medal (air crewman badge).
Jan 11 I was called back to the hooch. SP4 Hinnard was down face first in the sand. We took him to the hospital. 151 went down with Hamrick on it. Have an S & R mission tomorrow.
Jan 12 Up at 0500. Flying as a gunner. Went to Phu Cat to find 151. We flew from 0700 to 1830. No trace. Mountains, elephant grass and low ceiling. Spotted ARVNs. Will be back tomorrow.
Jan 13 Up at 0500. Flying as a gunner on 281. We pulled pitch at 0645. Went to Qui Nhon to North Phu Cat. Refueled. Flying tree top height. We spotted something on the ground and went around to check it out. A gook came out of a hole right in my face and shot at us. I thought he was going to shoot me in the face. I hollered to get the hell out of there and popped smoke. I don’t know how far we were before I got the smoke out but it shook me up. I don’t know how he missed us.
We went back to the 173rd Airborne fire support base and refueled and got our shit back together. I was still screwed up. We got a call that they had been spotted so we took off as soon as we could get out of there. When we got there, the Major had already picked them up and the only thing we could do was follow them to Qui Nhon. After securing our ship we went to the hospital but the Major wouldn’t let us in. That’s when he told us Hamrick had been killed. 6 hours sleep in 2 ½ days (I have a clipping from the Stars and Stripes about this.)
Jan 16 Mailed my Hold baggage.
From Jan 19-Feb 7 the pages of my diary are missing. After Hamrick was killed I didn’t fly anymore. After almost getting killed looking for Hamrick I really didn’t want to take any more chances. I had been awfully lucky. I spent the remainder of my time teaching my replacement what to do and what not to do (I don’t even remember his name). What I do remember though is when we were leaving country, the Air Force SPS would check our baggage. They took everything that had anything to do with the war. The worst thing was the little kid who got shot through the helmet. I think he was SP5 Bates from California. They took his helmet and the old man gave him the paperwork to keep it. They took it anyway. We were going to tear the place apart and I never forgot what he said. Real calm, he just said “Fuck it, let’s go home.” They took a short timers stick the men gave me, made out of a warped mini-gun barrel with a ball bearing on the top and a round fixed in the other end. A lot of pictures we had were also taken. I hid my slides.
There’s a lot I didn’t put in that I should have. I remember after first arriving in country the USS New Jersey was in sight offshore. They would shoot those16 inch guns over our heads. The reason I remember that is that the first time someone hollered “incoming” I ran over a trash can and laid my leg open from the top of my boot to my knee. I didn’t mention it in my diary. I believe it was February or March because they moved an Artillery battery in after that.
I also built the Hell’s Half Acre sign. I had started learning how to be a bricklayer before I came into the army. We also built the basketball court in the middle of the compound.
I had Sgt of the Guard at least once a week no matter what, from the time I made Sgt until the week of my ETS.
We got mortared once when we were in Qui Nhon on a convoy. We had parked in a Korean base. There was a place to buy beer, etc, across the street from the compound. We left the trucks and walked over to get a beer. We all had good intentions to make it back across the street before dark so we didn’t carry any equipment with us. We had one snub nose 38 between the six of us. We got drunk and let it get dark on us and didn’t know the Koreans shut the gates to the compound after dark so we couldn’t get back in. During the night they mortared the Korean. Some of the rounds fell short and hit the hooch we were in or close to it. Naturally, we wanted our weapons which were locked up across the street. I went out the front door to try to retrieve them, which was almost as stupid as leaving them in the first place. Just as I went out, a mortar round landed between me and the Korean compound. I was hit in both legs and my shoulder and knocked backwards onto an old wooden ammo box which hurt my back. I didn’t know until the next morning that I had been hit. I waited unit I got back to the 134th before I went to a doctor who I knew. I couldn’t tell anyone because we were out of bounds and everything else.
I’m glad I went to the doctor because it was in my medical records. My back gave me trouble ever since and I had to have an operation in 91.
Life has really been something! I’ll never forget the lessons I learned in Vietnam because some of them kept me and my men alive all the way through life. I’ve been retired from the US Justice Dept. for 2 years after almost 25 years. I feel the 134th was the best there was. Although the war was lost, they never beat us. I will always be proud that I was a part of that. After Vietnam I would never accept second place.
Excerpts from a novel by Andre Garesche
It was November, cold for Vietnam. It was the monsoon season. Low ceilings, drizzly. Not much flying. It was like everything had ground to a halt. The summer had been busy. I had 25 missions between July 20th and August 12th. Several of us had been awarded the Air Medal for that stretch of duty. We got it sometime in late September or early October on the basketball court of the company compound. The whole company came out in formation. It was the first time I had ever seen the 134th in a company formation. The gun crews were in more ragged and soot covered flight suits compared to the two slick platoons. Five or six of us were called up front and given our medals. But now it was winter.
‘Charlie’ didn’t mortar us anymore, although we were still waiting for one every night. Mark (Igoe) and I along with our crews took over for the previous primary team at 0600. We were the primary standby gunship team for the base. It was a 24 hour shift, fully dressed, boots and all. We had to standby at the scramble shack next to the helicopters. All four pilots, A/Cs and co-pilots, did a thorough pre-flight of our ships and then went through the checklist flipping only the switches that wouldn’t draw power off the battery, but getting everything ready for an immediate start-up. Last thing was to set the “chicken plate” on the seat. It was an armored chest protector that we wore. In my case I stuck two packs of Winstons in the front pocket it had. Just in case. And then that was it. Back to the scramble hooch to sit and wait.
Two rooms. Bunks in the back in a room kept dark 24 hours a day and the ready room up front. Some guys slept. Some played cards up front. The rules of the scramble hooch were simple. Obviously no booze, keep the noise down for those that wanted to sleep and no gambling lest someone waste time gathering up their winnings when the buzzer went off. I always played cards.
We had been scrambled dozens of times. It was always the same jolt. It was a frenzied ballet, but it was still a ballet. Wing A/C cranked while his co-pilot buckled in. The reverse for lead. Lead’s co-pilot cranked while A/C got coordinates and freqs. Door gunners un-tied the blades. Crew chiefs oversaw everything to make sure we were squared away and clear. It took 30 seconds maybe. Igniters clicking, turbines whining to power, the smell of burnt JP-4, adrenaline pumping, scared to death, and loving every minute of it.
The ballet wasn’t without its occasional flaws. On one of my first scrambles the buzzer went off and we, well, scrambled. It was a night scramble. I ran outside and my crew chief, who had been sleeping in the ship was holding my “chicken plate” like a matador so I could just run into it, sticking my head through the hole and just slapping the velcro together. The weight of the plate caught me off guard and I went diving head first into the sand. Got up in a second and proceeded as if nothing had happened. No one ever said a word. I don’t imagine it was the first time it had ever happened.
But at any rate, that was life at the scramble hooch. We were just sitting there playing the same game, spades, bored as could be, knowing any second the buzzer could go off. We were playing our robotic game of cards. We weren’t asleep. I could still sort my hand and follow suit, but really, who cared. Then the buzzer went off!
The whole hooch exploded with action. Boots thumping on the floor in the back room. Cards thrown down. Normally there was one blast on the buzzer. This time there were two. As I was running to the ship I heard the third blast. This was not good!
The mission was unusual, actually radical. Tactics and procedure went out the window from the get go.
“Tuy Hoa Tower, Devil 47. Scramble pad for ASAP departure! Vagabond 36!”
“Ah,….Roger…47…winds are from the east at niner, ceiling at…ah…500…, no make that 700 feet.” We were already crossing the active runway. “Godamnit Tower! I didn’t ask for a godamn weather report. I asked for clearance. We’re already across your active! Out!”
Mark gave me a quick mid-air briefing. A LRRP team from Charlie Company, 1st of the 75th Rangers, was hiding under a tree with a platoon size patrol of NVA coming right toward their position. They had their backs to a small ridge line and a small river to the front and no place to go. They were whispering in the radio and when that got too risky answered only with clicks of the mike. Two for yes, one for no. This was shaping up to be some bad shit!
Mark was senior in flight time and “in country” even though I had graduated a month before him. I was the unit IP but he was flying lead and I was flying wing. We made a great team and I actually liked flying wing because it required more radical flying to always be in position to cover him, but we were one hell of a team. We thought as one. The situation was just ten minutes north of us.
“45…7…I’m going up and in IFR.”
“Right behind you 7!”
“Bull Shit! What do you want, for us all to go up in a fuckin’ mid-air? Hang in the valley and circle at my entry point. I’ll call back when I see what’s shakin’! If I go total IFR I will call Tuy Hoa and do an instrument approach back. Hang tight!”
“Roger…but I don’t like it!”
I circled for what seemed like an eternity. Actually it was probably only two loops.
“Alright. Here’s the deal. Go north three clicks from my entry point and go straight west. Climb to 1500. You’ll go IFR. Level at fifteen for a minute and a half, two tops, it won’t be long, and then come down fast. Keep normal air speed and you won’t kiss the mountain. As soon as you go visual bank hard left. They should be right in front of you. You’ll be right on top of them. They’re NVA. Come hot with everything. You’re going in alone buddy. I’m going south a ways so I don’t spook them. Copy?”
“They won’t expect you because o the clouds. They know we don’t fly in this shit. The trail is on the east side of the river. You’ll see it. The friendlies are east of the trail 50 yards under a big tree. They’ll pop smoke as soon as you go hot. Any color counts. Do it on one pass. No cover for you! One chance! Their cover will be blown once they pop smoke! As soon as I see you I’m coming back to cover you and clean up. Copy?”
“Alright. Go for it!”
I went north what I thought was three klicks, probably only two. Crew chief and door locked and loaded their 60’s, Dixie, my co-pilot, lowered the mini-gun sight. He was seasoned, and cool, good at what he did, and probably scared shitless as I was.
“Dixie. When I go IFR count time!”
We headed west towards to ridgeline and into the clouds. I had been under the hood in flight school but had never flown real IFR in my life. This whole day was going to be a first. Suddenly white, all around! I stared at the altimeter and air speed. Fifteen hundred! Oh hell, sixteen can’t hurt!
“Roger! Arm it! Get ready to go hot on my call!”
“Roger!….That’s it! That’s it. Minute and a half going on two!”
I nosed over, probably too much. I just wanted out. Fuck clouds!
River, ground. Yes! Bank hard left. SHIT! THERE THEY WERE! Charlie knew our tactics as well as we did. Helicopters don’t fly in clouds, let alone drop out of them and right on top of them…with a gunship no less. I turned too much and had to correct. Lined up and let loose with four rockets. I could barely see them when I fired the first four rockets, but they were NVA. Dixie fired a burst of mini. Four rockets. Burst. Four. Burst. Four. Burst. OVER!Someone was screaming, “Ass…Ass…Ass…Kick Ass!!! It wasn’t my crew. It was one of the Rangers. Mark was coming straight at me.
“5…7…Comin’ straight at you. I’ll pass to the Whiskey.”
He went speeding by. I did a cyclic climb, pedal turn and fell in on his ass as we went down the river. It felt good to be a team again. Dixie had some mini left. I was out of rockets. Didn’t matter. There was nothing left to shoot at. We did a hard 180 and flew back over the target. Some grass was still smoldering. And there were bodies. Just about all of them face down.
“Devil 47…Demon 26.”
“Go ahead 26.” It was the slicks coming in for the extraction. “26” was a captain and good. I was glad it was him.
”Roger 26….Standby one. 5….7…You clean?”
“Roger. I’m out. Maybe one burst of mini left.”
“Devil 47…Widow 6.” Devils, Demons, Widows. What next! Our call signs I guess were meant to speak of death.
“Go ahead Widow 6”
“Man you be some kinda bad. Tell 45 he has a red star comin’ his way.” He was referring to a 9 mm pistol with a red star imbedded in the pistol grip. Only officers in the NVA carried them.
“Roger….You copy 5?”
“Okay 5. Let’s get you out of here” Dixie started putting up his mini gun sight.
“I can stay.”
“Nah. It’ll be crowded enough when I get the slicks in here.”
“Roger. I’ll fly south a klick, climb to 2 and head east for 5 before starting a slow descent.”
“Try and keep the slicks out of my way since I’ll be IFR.”
“Roger that. See you at the pad.”
“Demon 26…Devil 47.”
“Go ahead 47.”
“I’ve got wing comin’ out IFR. Keep to the November and Echo and watch out for him. There’s no telling where he’ll be dropping out.”
“Roger. November and Echo. We’ll get a little lower and watch for him. We’ll give you a call when he’s out.”
“Roger. Give him 5 mikes.”
And off we went into the soup again.
“Give me a five count Dixie.”
We went for about three minutes and I couldn’t stand it any more. I didn’t like instrument flying. The longer we were in the soup, the greater the chance of getting disoriented.
“What do you think Dixie? We gotta be past the ridge by now?”
“Man, I’d think so.”
“What do you think guys?” I said to the whole crew.
“Fuck man. You’re the godamn pilot! I’m just along for the ride!” Casey, my crew chief didn’t normally talk like that to me but I didn’t care. I was too busy on the instruments and, besides, I was just as scared as he was! “Let’s go kids!”
The hell with the slow descent theory. I dropped fast. If I was going to smack a mountain I was going to do it right. No tumbling flips, I was going to kiss it. Literally! Once I had my descent established I braced my arms on my legs and closed my eyes. My crew didn’t know it. My visor was down.
“We’re out! We’re out! Oh, son of a bitch, we’re out!”
“Oh Sweet Baby!”
“How you doin’ Dixie?”
“Just fine now.”
“Well then you’ve got it.” I said giving him the controls.
“I’ve got it.” He said, sitting up and taking the controls over. I dug for a cigarette and lit it.
“Say, Mister ‘G’. About what I said back there, well that was, well you know.”
“Don’t worry Casey. You’ll have plenty of time to prepare for your court martial.” Someone chuckled with an open mike. Maybe Wilson the door gunner. Then the anvil landed on my head. We could still hear the radio from back in the valley. We were used to hearing several conversations on the radio going on at the same time. I held up my hand for everyone to shut up.
The Rangers had made it down to the target site. They were doing a body count while they were gathering intelligence. They called in 6 confirmed KIA. Man, that was double what the whole company had gotten in the last six months. There was more radio talk and I heard a single shot while the mike was keyed.
“Hey 47….Widow 6…..make that 13.”
“Devil….you guys are some kinda bad. We’re going to need more slicks in here.” I took the controls from Dixie and started to circle. “We got 19 now.” Can you get more slicks ASAP. You know how the “man” is about the ‘body count’.”
“Roger…Demon 26….Devil 47…..Can you get more slicks?”
“Makin’ the call right now. You want two or three?”
“Shit man…I don’t know….make it three.”
“47…Widow 6..we’re at…25…Shit there’s more…29..30…shit 31 man….that’s it….I can see that was where the first rounds hit….No blood trails….no tracks…you got em’ all…Get me those slicks so we can get out of here…..I think Charlie’s gonna be pissed.”
“Roger that….45….you still on freq?”
“Roger,” I said almost in a whisper.
It had been a 31 man patrol. There were 31 KIAs…confirmed!! I gave the controls back to Dixie.
Jesus Christ! That’s 28 more than the whole company had gotten the year before. I was stunned…beyond stunned! Nobody said a word. We just flew.
“Tuy Hoa Tower…Devil 45….request a vagabond one eight.”
“Roger Devil 45…you’re cleared for a Vagabond. Is Devil 47 with you?”
“Negative…he’s working with the slicks.”
“Roger. Could you tell him Operations would like to see him when he gets back.” I sat up and took the controls.
“I got it!” I said taking the controls.
“You got it.”
“Tuy Hoa! Maybe you can tell him! He usually comes home this way. How long you been in country?” Another voice came on. Deeper and more authoritative. It was the major. “You may as well come along too 45.” “I usually do after a hot mission, SIR!” When I said Sir he knew that I knew it was him. He never answered the call.
I went to POL and cut back to idle while we refueled, then hovered over to the scramble pad. I set down and shut down. The arms truck pulled up and Casey and Wilson started re-arming. Dixie tied down the blades. I had taken my helmet off and wiped off some sweat. I looked at my watch. The whole thing from start to finish hadn’t been more that 40 minutes.
I went around and gave each a double pat on the shoulder for a job well done but there was no joy and nothing was said. Everyone looked sad and tired. I went back and just sat in the cargo door of the ship and watched, waiting for Mark to get back. I lit another cigarette. We weren’t supposed to smoke next to the ship but I didn’t care.
31 KIA confirmed! Jesus Christ! What had I done! 21 years old. You hand a kid a Huey gunship and send me out there like I’m going onto a football field. I saw a few blurs diving for cover and the rest were hidden by smoke from the rockets and explosions on the ground. 31! My God! What have I done!
I slapped on the old beat up, salt stained, cap I wore. CW2 bars with wings above it. It had actually been blown off my head and went up through the main rotor blades once leaving a distinctive gash. I was ordered several times to get a new hat but I never did. It was like an old friend…and if ever I needed an old friend it was now!
After three more cigarettes Mark came hovering back from POL. He set down and shut down. A Huey came hovering by with the Ranger team. The Rangers were sitting in the cargo door with their feet dangling. They gave a ‘power salute’, fist clenched and arm in the arm. They were followed by three Hueys with what appeared to be firewood from a distance, but I knew better. They followed the Rangers to their bivouac area.
Mark’s crew started re-arming. All the gun teams shifted status. The secondary gun team went to primary, stand down to secondary. Mark and I went to stand down which was standard procedure after a hot mission. He threw his gear in the back of the jeep and we headed for Operations. Not a word was spoken.
The brass had turned out. A light colonel, the major and our platoon leader, a captain. The major started out trying to show off for the colonel.
“Garsch. As unit IP you know better than to go IFR.” I didn’t answer. He didn’t like me because he knew I wore beads and a peace symbol on a chain under my flight suit. He had seen me without my shirt. And he hated my hat. I had taken it off but left my sunglasses on. “Well?”
“Sir. I was flying wing. I was just doing as lead instructed.” I thought to myself, “Nice try asshole!” I wasn’t setting Mark up and Mark knew that. It was a matter of limiting the crap. Chew one of us out, but not both.
“You two cowboys have just about run your course here….Garsh, in that case we will just …de-brief…lead! You’re dismissed!”
I didn’t respond. Just turned and left. I sat in the jeep waiting. The clouds actually started to break a little and a few streaks of sun came through. I felt a little of the tension ease, but I sensed intuitively, that what had happened out there in that river valley was something that was going to stick with me.
Twenty minutes and four cigarettes later he appeared. I could tell by the way his hat was cocked on his head and his jaunt that Mark had gotten an ass chewing….and he didn’t give a shit! His Irish temper was up but he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of knowing it.
“Now what?” I asked.
“Oh, I got a five minute chew for taking off before we were cleared. Then I got five more for splitting up the gun team, and then more for going IFR.”
“Assholes! What a bunch of dickheads!”
“Shit man, don’t mean nothin’….the Cap was cool….he didn’t say shit.”
At that my thoughts turned back to the 31 KIAs. Don’t tell me it don’t mean nothing. I had a lifetime of that ahead of me to deal with.
We drove to the O’ Club.
“Hey! Bourba wata…Scot wata…Where you been? Long time, no see.” Yeah. That would have been two nights ago. The barmaid returned with two Scotch and waters for Mark and two Bourbon and waters for me. We always ordered two at a time. It saved here travel time.
The word must have already gotten out because people were staring at us. Guys from other units that we didn’t even know. We just drank. I kept my sunglasses on. If the eyes were the window to the soul I didn’t want anyone looking at my soul at that moment. Maybe not ever!
We ordered ribeyes and fries. Some war! Kill 31 men and boys and get drunk, have a steak and listen to rock & roll. I could tell this was going to effect me over time as it began to sink in.
We got tired of the scrutiny and left to go back to our rooms. We were both senior enough to have our own private rooms. The plan was to shower, shave, put on clean flight suits and return the jeep. Then head to the flight line. I was finished first. I grabbed a half full bottle of Jim Beam and two cokes and went across the hall to Mark’s room. He was just finishing up.
We went to the scramble hooch. The pilots were playing spades in the ready room, the crews sleeping in back on the bunks.
“Anything shakin’?” Mark asked.
“Naw, nothing man. Everything’s quiet.”
“They’re popin’ flares,” Mark said referring to those mortar flares they shoot that drift down on little parachutes.
“Just some little shit happenin’ on the perimeter. You know…the usual.” He just shrugged and threw down a card. Nothing was said to me or about the day. In hindsight I realize it was the beginning of my isolation. Mark and I went outside and sat on the L-shaped revetment protecting the ship I had flown that day. I didn’t normally drink whiskey straight, but I took a draw and followed it with a swig of coke. We weren’t supposed to smoke on the flight line let alone drink. We didn’t care. I spoke first.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve only fired into jungle, man. You know, ground pops a smoke. You shoot north or south, east or west, a couple of hundred yards or whatever. Hell, you don’t even know if anything is down there! Shit man,….31!”
“Hey, you better let it lie.”
“Yeah, but think of the others. The mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins. Everything changed for them in 30 seconds. Hundreds of people!”
“You better put a lid on that shit man or you’re gonna end up with a section eight making baskets in a VA hospital somewhere. It happened. So there is it man.” He took a long draw on his scotch. “Besides, the Rangers probably took out some of them….Dixie got some…your door gunners…! Hell, if you want to clear your conscience, just tell yourself they killed them all and you didn’t kill any!”
“Hell….I was the A/C. I flew it. I fired the first shots. Those guys didn’t stand a chance.”
“So…I guided you in…What do you think they sent you over here for, to play cards all day?”
Maybe I was looking for sympathy…or a shoulder to cry on. I wasn’t getting any help from Mark. He had his own ghosts. And not just Viet Nam. He didn’t even have to be in Viet Nam. He had an older brother, also a helicopter pilot, that had been killed in Viet Nam. He was exempt but came anyway. I laid down on my back watching the flares drift down on their little parachutes. They cast an erie light that reflected off the side of my bourbon bottle. “How long you got to go man?” I asked.
“What time you got?”
I looked at my watch in the flickering light of the flare.
“47 and a wake up.”
“Hey man, that’s your call sign.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’re right. How about that.”
I laid there looking up at the flares drifting down. I felt the cigarette slip from my fingers. Later the bourbon bottle must have fallen from my other hand. Note: This is an excerpt from a novel by Andre Garesche based on actual events and his personal experience. Andre died from massive internal bleeding on February 28, 2001 before he could finish his story.
I couldn't stand Ft. Rucker after aircraft maintenance and huey crew chief school (67N20), so like an idiot; I reenlisted for duty in Vietnam. Probably didn't help that the barracks I was in had all Vietnam returnees but just 2 of us.
I wound up at Oakland Overseas Replacement. They told us we would be landing at Ben Wha (told us to write it down). Well, we got there and I decided they flew me to the wrong place, Ben Hoa. Stepped out of the place and the heat hit me like a force field. I found this great big fan no one was using and headed for it. How stupid! As hot as it was and no one using it. Damn, all it was-more hot air!!! Went to Long Binh, got hit that night on the perimeter and didn't know the difference when we were sending out-going and receiving in-coming. Made it to Tuy Hoa and on my first day assigned to 134th we had a party. Roast pig (I later found out the pig was the mascot of the unit next to us), women and lots to drink. That night we got the word there was an enemy concentration near us and I was put on a yellow reactionary alert secondary perimeter. I was with another soldier and we both saw a big dog with a monkey on his back. Smoked a full pack of swisher sweets to keep those mosquitoes away and came out of it just fine. What a start. Guys were giving me free cigarettes, the real ones. Smelled like perfume and tasted about the same. 4-packs from C- rations.
My first job was hosing out a slick where a gook officer had his head blown off. Welcome to the Nam! I was asked if I could type and I said yes. Wouldn't you know it, this guy was from the same town as the maintenance captain. I got volunteered for the job. I was responsible for at least 29 birds. A CW3 or 4 told me I was also going to schedule all the birds for missions each day and not to let the birds come into maintenance at the same time. Did that. Became close with most all there and they seemed to depend on me. Spent the first four months at about 20 hours per day on the flight line, often sleeping down there.
I flew some but wasn’t allowed to very often. They claimed no one else knew my job. I was accepted to crew in the gun platoon but the maintenance officer (Cpt. Hamp) would not release me. I tried to transfer to ground pounder, no luck there either. I just couldn’t stand getting hit once in awhile and then waiting for the next. Was it going to be me next time, or were they just messing with our heads.
I remember when I first flew—two pilots and me. No weapon, just the 38’s the pilots had. We went into this one pass and the pilots said Charlie had a captured 155 and would at times take shots at a bird coming through. All I could do was look back and forth ready to key the microphone. Taking fire, like it would have helped by then. Never knew if it was a joke or not. It wasn’t to me!
Next was my first motor/rocket attack. Never knew you could exchange the air in your head. Scared me so bad I got stuck in a doorway and bounced back and forth, saying oh god, I’m going to die. Heck, I was so scared I couldn’t wet my pants if I tried to. Too damned tight! Then when on bunker duty (I think the roster went from A to B and back to A), the grunt from 1/22 told me it wasn’t safe to sleep on the front of the bunker due to the rats. Yeah right! We were on the Tuy Hoa side and I began hearing a crack and then a thump, repeated a couple of times and then it dawned on me, “Hey I’m being shot at.” Scared again! I did what the Army taught me, I low crawled. Trouble is, I rolled off the bunker to the outside, not the inside. Man, I’m sure I left buckle marks in the sand.
I also went on some convoys like an idiot but came thru unscathed. Got my first confirmed kill. A damned kid. Not Charlie, but a kid. I didn’t know his true intentions, but I guess that’s part of this war thing.
I took R&R with a 7 day leave and went home to Newton, Iowa. First thing I did was go to a family picnic. Three tables of food, no momason or papason and clean, clear water that tasted good. I went to McDonalds and spent $6.00 on myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming home for leave and my stepmother seemed upset when I came up behind her. Like I was AWOL. Going back to Nam was easy as long as I caught my first flight. If I had missed it I don’t know if I would have returned. Anyway I made it back. I had a day to rest and lost that too. The maintenance officer begged me to come down—things all messed up. So much for rest…
I did all the things I shouldn’t have, saw the medic and his 3 shots, smoked a few things I shouldn’t have along with most everyone else and left it all there!! Except for the drinking. Lost three friends, found myself, lost myself. Learned what counting on each other meant and came home early due to the unit standing down. Made a lot of friends and saw them come and go. Saw heads, rednecks and racists. Man didn’t we have it all. Oh yeah, and Charlie too. When first sergeant gave me those 15 minutes to pack and hit the flight line I had mixed emotions—glad to be going home yet sad, as if I was abandoning by brothers in arms. It just didn’t seem right I should go home and they should stay. Even though I requested to stay. Got on Big Windy (shit hook). It was leaking hydraulic fluid and they did crash once in a while. I thought to myself “I survived and now I ‘m going to crash in this”. Made it to Cam Ranh Bay. Cleared, got on a bigger plane, got over the water, couldn’t see land and said again, “I made it through Nam and I‘m going to crash into the water and die.” Well, we didn’t.
On December 20th 1971 we landed at McCord AFB in Seattle at night, and at the end of the stairs disembarking were three Vietnamese soldiers. I thought my God, we flew in a circle.
Time has now passed and thanks to computers I have been able to tell my story to those who understand. As a rule, we were treated poorly when we came home and I am sorry for that. But no one can take away what we who were there, have. EMOTIONS, you know, it comes without warning. Little things can trigger a cry in a heartbeat. Even today. Hans’ “WELCOME HOME” did just that and I am not one bit ashamed. A feeling you can’t explain even if you were there. It just happens and yet other things can make you feel proud “yeah, I was there”. Maybe times were not good politically for being a soldier, but I was proud to serve then and I am proud of those who serve us now!
By David Burnett
I don’t guess I have any one really big story from my tour. I was a 67N20 and spent three months as the gunner for Ike Pena starting in May of ’71. I then inherited the #375 that had been crewed by Tom Claus. It was one of the stronger slicks and while it was in bad need of a paint job, it got the job done. I’ve come away from the experience struck with the tradegy of war.
On one mission, we had to hover done into an LZ cut by a daisy cutter. There were several slicks in the CA so we all had the same problem. We could only get within about 15 or 20 feet of the ground. The daisy cutter bomb typically leaves some splintered tree trunks standing that we can’t hover below the tops of. The ARVN were toting really full packs and extra gear. Many of them were afraid to make the long jump with the heavy packs and we were left with no other recourse than to throw them out if they refused to jump. One ARVN in particular fell sideways as he landed. He was obviously hurt. About ten minutes after the last slick was out, we got a call to go back to medevac a paralyzed troop. We all had to throw guys out and no one could know for sure who had been involved. The man has come to my mind many times. I can only begin to imagine the hell that the life of a paralyzed soldier would be in Nam.
One of the more interesting missions was the re-supplying of the MACV outposts of the tops or sides of mountains. We could only get one skid up against the side of the mountain while we hovered and hurried to unload the C-rations. We always managed to hide a case or two for ourselves. It’s not that we didn’t have compassion for the advisers, but we were on the flight line before the mess hall opened, we were in the field for lunch and back after mess hall had closed. We either bough grubb from the PX or helped ourselves to some C’s. I always noticed that the perimeters were totally clear of vegetation and some black crap was all over the ground. Nothing grew out there in the wire. While we were hovering, the rotors were kicking up a storm and when we got in in the evening we always had a load in the partical separators to clean. For that matter blowing your nose would deliver a load of black crud. I say all this to say that many years later I was told that agent orange was used to keep the perimeters cleared. I was told this after being hospitalized for the second time with cancer. Some of the other symptoms are birth defects and miscarriages. My son was born with malformed lungs and died at one day old. Both of my wives have had multple miscarriages. Makes a guy wonder, huh. Who knows. I joined the Army and don’t regret it for a minute. I could have just as easily gotten it in Nam. I’ll take my licks any time Uncle Sam calls. I thank God for our brave guys and gals that are serving today. Volunteers, every one.
I guess I’ll just leave you with this one other short memory of my tour. I’m not the type to believe in UFO’s, but. While on flight line guard duty one night, I was sitting on the flight line listening for anything out of the ordinary. Suddenly I heard a whoosh sound right overhead. It was a dark night and I couldn’t see anything. It was way too real to be my imagination. The Mohawks couldn’t have snuck up on my that quietly even if it had been gliding. I can’t believe a Mohawk can glide very far at that altitude. I’ve thought about that so many times over the years and thought, could it have been …., no surely not. Finally in the March 2000 copy of Popular Mechanics there was an article about a plane used in Vietnam covertly. It was dubbed the Q-Star. A high performance glider with a 100 horse highly silenced engine that would fly right over enemy positions. I guess I know now how they caught a buddy of mine sleeping on guard duty.
I’m really glad to have served in Nam and to have experienced all those things with some of the greatest patriots and friends a guy could ever hope to meet. God Bless the Patriots. God Bless the Veterans. God Bless America.
This title and motto were emblazed on the sign above the entrance to the maintenance office.
I was a maverick Army officer/aviator (1LT) when I arrived at the 134th on April 29, 1968. At that point in time, I had 11 years of active service and was 28 years old. The first nine of those years was as an enlisted soldier, five years of which was in aircraft maintenance as an airplane mechanic/crew chief, maintenance supervisor, airplane technical inspector, helicopter mechanic/crew chief (OH, UH, CH), and helicopter technical inspector. I graduated from WORWAC in March, 1966, and reported to C, 229 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cav, where I served as assault helicopter pilot and assistant aircraft maintenance officer for that year.
One month prior to DEROS, I received a direct commission to 2LT, TC, at LZ English. On my return Stateside, I was assigned to Ft. Eustis, VA, as an Air Transportability Instructor. Though I learned a great deal while working as an instructor, I did not care much for the tame Stateside duty. The one good thing I learned from that assignment, and soon used in the field, was rapidly rigging helicopters for aerial recovery. I applied that knowledge early in my tour with the 134th, when we fabricated a shop recovery kit and trained how to rig UH-1s for CH-47 sling load recovery.
Because of my distaste for the peacetime Army, I volunteered for a second tour in RVN. In return, the Army sent me, along with 5 LTCs, to the Aircraft Maintenance Officer Management Course. Two of the LTCs ended up in the 17th Grp (one was LTC Orlando Gonzales, 268th Avn Bn Cdr). I also attended the UH-1 Test Pilots Course and the Cobra (AH-1G) Transition Course. Due in part to my extensive prior experience, I finished at the top of the class in the first two courses.
All the above is presented so the reader can fully understand that we had the training, talent, and experience necessary to achieve the success realized in our 134th maintenance operations.
My initial assignment was as Commander, 134th Service Platoon, which in reality, was the DCDR of the maintenance element, composed of the 618th TC Det (Direct Support Maintenance) commanded by CPT Max Wilson, 832nd Avionics Det, commanded by a non-rated SC LT (Ainsworth?), and the Service Plt. CPT Max Wilson was a class-act guy who taught me a great deal about leadership. After his departure later that year, I assumed command of the 618th and the entire maintenance operation.
There are a number of reasons why we were successful, and I will cover several in some detail, but the primary reason is that each and every one of us worked smart (planning), worked hard (long hours – all night as necessary; no holidays, no weekends, no days off – just 365 days of putting operational aircraft on the line for everyday missions), and we had the knowledge and determination to make it happen.
The 134th did not have a “good” or “great” maintenance element, but was, in fact, the BEST in RVN – ever. We were also recognized in a General S.L.A. Marshall book as such. Here are the numbers, and you can look them up to verify. We had 20 or 21 UH-1Hs and 8 UH-1Cs (guns) of which we were to provide 14 slicks and 6 guns every day for missions. We never missed that quota, and no other unit in RVN can make that claim. Because of our high aircraft availability rate, we sometimes (many times) had to put up our aircraft and aircrews to support other AHCs when they couldn’t meet their quotas. Our operational ready rate (ORR) during my last seven months was 85% for slicks and 90% for guns. A photograph of our Aircraft Status Board is enclosed to verify these numbers. We didn’t achieve that ORR by sitting on the ground – our slicks averaged 108 flying hours each per month and the guns averaged 85 hours. That means, on the average, 17 of the 20 H-Models were operational every day (we met the 14 required H Models and had three in reserve). Seven of the eight guns were always operational, with six assigned to missions and one in reserve. That equated to a PMP every month for every bird, or one every day of the month.
As our aircrews will state, we gave them highly maintained, reliable, performing aircraft – again the highest quality of maintenance in RVN. As foolish as it seemed then and still does, we had a CMMI by HQ USARV and came out on top of all other helicopter units in RVN – 97%. I must admit, we were beaten on that score by one Airplane Co (OV-1s). Our normal work day was 0600 hours to 2100 hours (15-hour days), and many of us worked much later – sometimes all night to meet the daily quota. We believed that if the grunts could do their work in the jungle all night, day after day, we could certainly do ours in a much friendlier environment. I was greatly blessed to have superb soldier-mechanics, NCOs, and officers/warrant officers. I had a brilliant DCDR, LT John Leaf, super test pilot, quality focused, caring leader who we lost to cancer back in the 80s.
Let us now go back in time and address some of the specifics.
Technical Supply. Having a Direct Support (DS) maintenance capability was a great benefit because we were authorized an ASL for DS repair parts and a PLL for organizational maintenance. We, of course, joined them into a single supply section with 1,500 line items of aircraft parts. Any maintenance officer worth his salt will tell you that a maintenance operation without an equally good supply element is next to worthless. We had a great supply cell and we (the leadership) worked closely with the supply sergeant and clerks to insure we didn’t get to zero balance on a repair part. We also studied each and every aircraft logbook at least weekly to determine when a time-change component was to be replaced. We then calculated, based on aircraft hours, the actual day of the month that the item would most likely be replaced. We were authorized to order items to be replaced 45 days before date of replacement, noting on the requisition the Required Delivery Date (RDD), which was also the projected date that the time-change hours on the component/part would expire. For example, if a component (engine, transmission, 42o gearbox, etc., etc.) had 150 flying hours until time-change, we had to order 45 days early – remembering we were flying a bit over 100 hours per aircraft per month. This careful, detailed analysis enabled us to always have the components when the time came due. I absolutely hated any unnecessary downtime. Having those components on hand prior to their actual need provided another great dividend; if a component failed or was shot up, no sweat – we usually had an RDD component on hand and available. We put it on the broken bird and reordered for the time-change still coming due, now with a shorter RDD. This greatly increased our mission readiness and brought non-operational readiness to its knees.
Quick Change Assembly (QCA). A QCA in our case was a built-up engine with all components already installed. We always had an L-11 and an L-13 ready and waiting in the engine shop. We scrounged the extra components to build up the engines. I traded a captured rifle (one of our gun pilots gave it to us for trading material) to the 79th in Qui Nhon for starters, generators, and so forth. If an engine blew up (a compressor stall, for example) we could replace it and have the bird operational in one hour. We also had QCA tail rotors and complete landing gears for both birds. One day, one of our birds went down at Tuy Hoa when the compressor blew up, sending shrapnel through the tail rotor and wiping it out, too. The pilot landed hard, spreading the gear. We launched our wrecker with replacement QCA engine, tail rotor, and landing gear, and two hours later I flew the bird in operational status back to Phu Hiep.
Maintenance Shops/Teams. As stated, we had D.S. capability. Thus we had rotor, engine, and sheet metal repair shops. We integrated our D.S. and organizational maintenance mechanics into four teams, each capable of organization and D.S. maintenance without outside support, permission or supervision. Three of these teams did PMPs only – no diversion to pull them away and slow down accomplishment of the PMPs. Our outside goal was three days, but many were done in one or two days depending on the age of the aircraft, components to be changed and other work required. The assigned MTP and TI always did an inspection prior to crew work to help catch serious problems. They also performed a 100% inspection again after the PMP crew had completed its work and prior to test flight. Our goal was to present a clean, nice looking, zero defect aircraft after test flight – they delivered.
Our fourth team did unscheduled maintenance only. It consisted of five guys led by Sgt Parker. They did all unscheduled maintenance day and night as required – both D.S. and organizational maintenance. They changed engines, transmissions, 42o and 90o GB and everything in between. They worked untold hours, turning out quality work, and freeing the PMP Teams to keep up production. This four-team setup was truly unique and vastly effective.
Maintenance Test Flying. As previously stated, I was fortunate to have had a lot of MTF experience, probably 300 hours, while in the 1st Cav on my first tour, then MTF school between tours. In fact, I was the only school-trained UH-ITP in 17th Group for the first few months, and was drafted to go to Nha Trang to train five maintenance officers from other 17th Group companies for a week. That was fun. I also trained our guys – even the “Stork”. We were good, professional, and proud, but most of all, we kept at it for many hours every day. I flew about 300 hours of night test flight time in the 134th to deliver the goods. Many mornings I turned the aircraft over to the mission pilot with it still running, having just completed a test flight. Our other MTPs, such as John Leaf, did likewise.
Aircraft Flight Scheduling. The only way to ensure an aircraft flowed smoothly through the inspection and maintenance process was to control the hours it was flown daily along with the rest of the fleet. We did this by working very closely with flight operations every night, assigning to them which 14 of the 20 slicks were to fly the next day, and which to put on the shorter and longer missions. The same scheme was employed in scheduling 6 of the 8 guns. Sometimes this did not set well with the flight platoon leaders, but they understood the need.
Aircraft Recovery. We had two crews to rig aircraft for recovery. We did four or five during that year (one or two for other units). We designed and had QM build our strap kits, and we practiced and practiced on the flight line to gather speed. One crew was LT John Leaf, a sergeant and myself. John would put us on the ground, then fly cover over us. I would rig the MR and the sergeant would rig the TR. LT Leaf would be at altitude over us, guiding in the CH-47. From the time John put us on the ground, we were ready to put the donut in the hook in one minute and fifty seconds. On two occasions, we were put on the ground in front of the CH-47 as it was on long final approach, and the CH-47 made a straight-in to us, hooked, and booked. Then John would come in, pick us up, and head for home. We never took enemy fire – believe we got the birds out faster than they could move to our location.
One amusing story on the recovery of a 134th Devil Gunship: Late one afternoon, John and I heard that a Gun had gone down (shot down) not far from Phu Heip. Due to some confusion in company flight operations and impatience on our part, we jumped in an H Model and told operations we would recover the crew. I do not recall the crew’s names, so fill in the blanks. We got them – they were deployed around the downed bird – we picked them up and flew them home. By the time we got back to the aircraft to bring it home, it was dark and no light was left to show its location. Somehow, we found it, and pulled the rocket pods off, and loaded them into an H Model – must have been two H-Models on the ground. We were stumbling around carrying the fully-loaded pods, stepping on each other, and I was giving a short guy a bad time about carrying his share or “get the hell out of the way.” Later that night I learned that the short guy was LTC Gonzales, our Bn Cdr, who was eventually promoted to Major General. He was a great commander – his HQ was across the street from our maintenance operation, and he visited us many nights, walking around and talking to the mechanics. We all loved him.
Another recovery – a flyaway recovery both sad and amusing: One of the flight platoons few into a rocket-propelled grenade trap on a mountaintop near Phan Rang. One ship and its crew were destroyed (Mr. Harrison). MAJ Chancellor (Cdr, 134th) and I went to see if we could assist – there were others there, too – we couldn’t do anything to help. We then flew to Phan Rang AFB, where another bird that had been shot up landed. I inspected the aircraft (H-Model). It had a round through the swash plate or scissor assembly, a round through the elevator control tube, one in the engine’s hot section, and one in the transmission input quill. I started it up and hovered – it ran 20o hot due to the bullet hole in the hot end, but otherwise, it flew okay. I decided I could fly it home with just a crew chief. MAJ Chancellor disagreed, stating that he and I would fly it back together, because if it crashed, he didn’t want to have to do all the paperwork. We took the crew chief along so he could watch the hole in the transmission input quill to make sure it wasn’t losing a lot of oil – it wasn’t. The flight went well – we babied it – arrived back at Phu Heip without a problem. We had to replace a lot of parts on that aircraft.
Another story: One night a mission was in progess northwest of Phu Heip, and an H-Model crew was at altitude throwing out large flares. A crewmember accidentally threw one into the M/R blade. The pilot panicked and set the bird down out in the boondocks. We were called out to recover it with the intent to sling load it back with a CH-47. The crew had been evacuated. Upon being inserted by John Leaf, my recovery sergeant and I looked the bird over and could find nothing wrong except a small dent in one M/R blade. I jumped into the cockpit and fired it up – it ran great. No noises, no vibes. I picked up to a hover – very smooth. I yelled for the sergeant to get in, and we flew it out of there back to base. That was one of the smoothest flying birds I have ever flown. We had no helmets to communicate with, but John Leaf figured it out and just followed us home. When we got it back, I was really hot, wanting to do physical harm to the pilot who had put a perfectly good bird down out in enemy territory, risking his crew, the evacuation team, and us, to enemy contact. LTC Gonzales happened to be in my maintenance office when I came in, ready for a fight – he thought that was a bad idea, and he prevailed. Now it’s amusing – it wasn’t that night!
I hope these bits of information will reinforce the 134th’s story and give due credit to those behind the glory who did a hell of a job.
Some other winners/winning actions:
I had a maintenance warrant officer working for me who volunteered to dig a well and put in a water system in the company area. His name was CW2 Rufus R. Jones. Rufus did the job with the help of a couple of men. They found an 18,000 gallon tank and set it up in the center of the area. Using 4- or 5-feet in diameter culvert pipe as well wall liners, and joining the pipes together as they sank them while removing the soil, they dug 20 or 30 feet down through the sand and found good water. They installed a pump at the bottom of the well and another at ground level to pump water into the tank. Then they plumbed water to our hooches. We had sinks and running water in our hooches and the showers! No more using fuel tankers to haul water. A great example of a 134th can-do officer.
My platoon sergeant – can’t recall his name (help) – said that if we would drop him off at Cam Rahn Bay, he would get a water heater for the showers and sinks – said he would call me to send a truck when he had scrounged them up. He called a few days later, saying, “send convoy.” He had scrounged vanity sinks and two huge water boilers – one for E.M. and one for officer showers – we owe him….
Another winner: WO LaFabre (?) (from one of the flight platoons) volunteered to go to an R&R site and bring back window ACs for our hooches. We gave him the money. He went – he delivered. Another of my heroes.
Another favorite of mine was MAJ Teeter, C.O. after MAJ Chancellor. We got along great. He later became a major general. I called and spoke with him from Fort Leavenworth after his promotion.
I suppose you guys know that the 268th was the largest aviation battalion in RVN during our tenure.
John Leaf and I survived on Chevas Regal and small cans of chili and crackers for our dinner meals. We got home late most nights.
In summary, I believe that the 134th, as it existed in the ’68-’69 period, experienced one of those rare moments in history when everything came together to provide a collective entity greater than its many parts. It had noble young aviators, leaders, and soldier-mechanics, each possessing exceptional intelligence, training, skills, knowledge, professionalism, experience, and courage, and a fierce determination to do their various jobs better than anyone else could.
Crash Of Gunship 146
Thomas R. Lewis
CW3. USA, Ret.
The following story is as I remember it, after, over thirty years. If any parts of this are incorrect please accept my apologies.
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.
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.
By Jim Cowan
One HOT! 1968 afternoon in Phu Hiep, Bill Gray and I were on our way back from the dump and were extremely bored, so we started tossing around ideas of what we’d like to do to entertain ourselves. Feeling exceptionally adventurous that particular day, we agreed to go looking for war souvenirs. We were hoping to find mortar casings, flair chutes, or whatever. We’d heard of a cleared minefield near the dump, so we decided to begin our search there. I stepped out onto the minefield first, and found several mortar casings and a couple of flair chutes. Bill found some mortar casings. We were having a field day! Suddenly, I looked down and ½ inch from my right foot was an unexploded anti-personnel mine. It was as if time stood still!
One day late in September 1969 Lt Appelle came to the Avionics shop and told SP5 Dewey Shepherd, Sgt Renke, SP5 Laing and I to report to the 268th Battalion HQ for a special project that needed to be done ASAP. We reported to Battalion HQ and found a civilian contractor from a security company there that was to instruct us on how to install a Crypto Encryption unit into every ship in the company to scramble the voice on the VHF radio. We followed his instructions and after he left we asked when this needed to be done we were told by yesterday. We grabbed our tools and got started.
We found out later that there was a major air mobile combat assault that was going to take place on October 2nd 1969 and that every ship in the unit was going to be used. We started up an assembly line process with one person drilling the holes for the mounting plate and another mounting the assembly plate and another one installing the scrambler unit and another testing the installation. We had to travel to every ship on the line to do this and it took us about 2 1/2 days straight with no sleep. The cooks made chow for us that we ate as we worked and they also brought coffee and water to us. We all understood the importance of this project to the safety of the men on those ships and no one complained. We just kept working, taking short cat naps while waiting for parts or for someone else to finish with his part so we could move on to the next one.
the installation of every ship the morning of
October 1, 1969. I was so tired when we finished
that I laid down and slept on the flight line next
to the last ship we completed. On October 2 the
assault took place and not a single unit failed.
Everyone made it back safe and I also got to fly
that day as door gunner on one of the slicks. I was
glad that I could be a part of something so
important. P.S., the civilian contractor said it
would tale us about a week to modify every ship in
the company. He should have stuck around to see
what we could do as the maintenance unit of the 134th.
Here is a copy of the letter of appreciation that we
received for our effort as a unit. I have kept it
all these years.
The timeframe is June/July of ’70, I think. I’m sorry, the names of my crew that day as long slipped out of my memory. That particular day I was assigned to support the 4th Division at An Khe and I was to report in at the HQ VIP pad. Arriving on time, which was SOP for the Demons, we were greeted by the 4th Div. Command Sgt-Major (CSM) who was very familiar with helicopter procedures. So familiar in fact, he had his own helmet and knew very well how to use the inter-com onboard.
The mission that day was to visit all of his direct report NCOs throughout the 4th Div. AO. As I recall, our first visit was at Pleiku which proved to be very uneventful flight. Our second leg was to a Firebase right on the Laos border, Northeast of Dak To. This Firebase was noted for being in the cross-hairs of Charlie’s mortars and any lengthy stay on the helipad was sure to draw fire.
While enroute to the Firebase, we passed Kontum and was nearing Dak To, when my door gunner said, “Mr. Roberts, there’s some oil on the floor back here”. My first thought was maybe the normal emergency oil carried by the crew spilled. After that notion was dispelled, I asked, “What color is that oil?” I no sooner got the words outta my mouth and my cyclic became veeeerrrry stiff. “Never mind, it’s red isn’t it?” “Yes sir” , came the gunner’s reply.
Quickly I went through the Loss of Hydraulics procedures, knowing full well power would NOT be restored. Dak To was now in view between my pedals. It had a runway and POL, but nothing else. Well, I could land at Dak To and call for maintenance to fly up and fix my problem or problems, but no telling how long that would take. RON at Dak To didn’t appeal much to me. Kontum, on the other hand, had a runway, POL and an Assault Helicopter Company, with maintenance facilities. It was a no brainer so I made a 180 and headed back to Kontum. I informed the crew, and of course, the CSM of my intentions. As I recall, Kontum was about 30minutes flying time at a reduced airspeed of 80 knots.
The crew-chief, which I think must have came over from the Gun Platoon, said, “Mr. Roberts, when you loose your hydraulics, you only have four moves of the collective.”
“What!”, I said. “You can’t move the collective after 4 moves”, came his reply. Looking back over my should at the CC, I could see the fear beginning to emerge in the face of our PAC, the CSM. I could tell he was wondering just what was this damn Warrant Officer getting him into!!
“Wait a minute”, I replied. “This isn’t a Charlie Model Huey, it’s a Hotel. Did you happen to see a hydraulic accumulator in the rear fuselage today?”, I asked. “Unless you guys modified this bird last night, we ain’t got one of those things”!!! The CSM wasn’t convinced, he was still thinking, “Who’s right. I knew man wasn’t suppose to fly”!!
To relieve everyone’s concern, I said, “Okay, I’m moving the collective. Let’s count ‘em. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, shall I go on?” With that, the CSM looked a bit more relieved, but still not totally convinced that this dumb-ass WO wasn’t gonna kill all on board.
As I said before, I don’t remember the crews names, but I remember my PP was rather small in stature as was I. I said to him, “you’re gonna be my power assist for the collective. When I say down, help me push it down. When I say up, pull it that way.” We made several practice runs on the flight to Kontum. Typical Demon team work. Worked like a charm.
I briefed everybody what to expect and what to do once we landed. I remember telling the CC that our small hand-held fire extinguisher wasn’t to put out any aircraft fires, but to extinguish a burning AC and PP, in that order!
When in radio range of Kontum, I called the tower and declared an emergency and told them of my problem. One of the 57th AHC ships, stationed at Kontum, flew along side of me to offer any help.
We lined up with the active runway and began our descent. Keeping the airspeed just above translational lift, we touched down smoothly and skidded to a smooth stop right in the middle of the runway. (I wish my ole Ft. Wolters IP could have seen it. He’d be proud of how well he taught me.) Kontum emergency vehicles were surrounding us even before we stopped. “Great landing Demon 68” came the radio call from the 57th ship which had been my shadow.
I began shutting down the engine and unbuckling my seatbelt and was wondering why the CC wasn’t opening my door and sliding back the armor plating, as usual. I looked around and found only me and the PP still inside the helicopter, the CSM , gunner and the CC were standing about 30 feet on either side of the helicopter looking back at use like spectators at a ball game. I motioned for the CC to come over to my window, where I politely told him to “OPEN THE DAMN DOOR AND SILDE THE ARMOR BACK!!”
The 57th Maintenance Officer took us to the Mess Hall for coffee while they fixed our Huey. About 2 hrs. later, the Maintenance Officer came back and said, “You’re ready to go. A hydraulic line had chaffed and sprang a leak, loosing all of your hydraulic fluid.”
The 4th Division CSM had about all the excitement he could stand for one day and said that we would make several more stops on our way back to An Khe. The Firebase on the Cambodian boarder would have to wait another day. Heck, I was looking forward to being the bulls-eye for VC mortars. NOT!!
2nd Platoon, Demon 68
Phu Heip AAF, RVN
AUG ’69 to AUG ‘70
Lots of names and faces have faded over the years, but several linger as though they were just yesterday. Some details, time and dates are still vague but the generalities remain.
I was a newby Peter Pilot in the 2nd Platoon and was assigned to fly with WO Rice for a mission working for the MACV for a 22nd ARVN Division Unit at LZ English. WO Rice was one of the more respected and experienced AC’s in the 134th.
We reported to the unit Orderly Room at LZ English only to find that it was totally deserted, must have been a Sunday but for the Demons and Devils, it was just another day. While awaiting for someone to give us our working assignments, WO Rice and I, with the CC and Gunner (don’t remember who they were) all sit down in the Orderly/Day Room. I sat down closest to a phone.
Well, as luck would have it, the phone started ringing, and ringing, and ringing. Not having the slightest ideal where another phone may be or any arrangements for answering them, I took the path of least resistance and did NOT answer the phone. (Kinda like not answering a pay phone on the street when you walk by.) What should I say and who would I find to answer any question the caller may ask? To me, it made sense NOT to answer it and I might say, WO Rice wasn’t breaking his neck to answer it, either.
Shortly after it quit ringing, a LTC came puffing in but obviously too late. He looked around and there was dumb me sitting closest to the phone and yelled at me, “Why didn’t you answer the phone”!!?
Kinda caught off guard and not knowing what to say, all I could think of is “I didn’t know who could be calling.”
The LTC snapped right back and said, “If you’d answered the damn thing you’d known who was calling”, and stomped out of the room.
The room fell silent again except that WO Rice was rolling on the floor laughin’ at me!! Can’t say as I blame him, that was NOT a good answer.
Initial AC trial flight
I don’t recall what time frame this was but I’m just guessing it was around January or February of 1970, after several new Peter-Pilots were assigned to the 134th. For the longest, I was the last WO to be assigned until, as I recall, January. I think one Lt. came in after me, but that was it.
Anyway, our 2nd Platoon leader, Capt. ????, he was from Oklahoma, said “well, Mr. Roberts, it’s time to start training you for AC duties. Tomorrow, you’ll fly left seat with Mr. Rice.”
Feeling both confident and excited about this new phase of my duty, I reported early and well rested the next day to operations, knowing Mr. Rice was a hard man to please. He was known for his professionalism and skills and was the AC’s AC.
I had never really flown a Huey from the left seat except for several times in flight school and over here (in Vietnam) on night missions and that was all straight and level, no hovering’
In those days, we hovered the aircraft into and out of the parallel revetments. WO Rice strapped in the right seat and I in the left for the first time. WO Rice requested takeoff instructions and picked the Huey up in the revetment to hover out. Just as he reached a 3 ft. hover, his right seat fell to the floor. “You got it, you got it!! “, he shouted over intercom.
I immediately grabbed the controls and hovered the Huey outta the revetment and sit it down while WO Rice re-adjusted his seat.
Must have passed WO Rice’s 1st impression test, I made AC shortly afterwards.
The timeframe is February, or so, 1970. I was a fairly new AC and this particular day, I was assigned to the HQ of the 22nd ARVN Division at ????, just east of Lane AAF at the end of “Finger Mountain”. The senior adviser there was Col. Barth, advising an ARVN Major General.
On this day, I took the Col. and General to the Provincial Headquarters at Tuy Hoa, to prepare for a visit from an American Air Force 4-star general, I think his name was Gen. Rossen. Gen. Rossen was to fly into Tuy Hoa AFB that afternoon and then tour the area where a recent large number of Chu Hoi (NVA troops) had capitulated in that Province.
After arriving at the Provincial Headquarters around 11:00 AM, Col. Barth released us for the day as three brand new VNAF Hueys were coming from Saigon to fly the dignitaries around on this tour. They didn’t want our dirty ole 134th 2nd Platoon Huey to fly on such a VIP mission.
During our short flight back to Phu Hiep, we all were somewhat miffed that we weren’t going to see a 4-star Air Force general and experience the fun of his tour. Knowing that such a high ranking officer always has more strap-hangers than expected, I suggested and all agreed, to have a early lunch and meet back at the ship and fly back over to Tuy Hoa just to see if we could assist in any way. If they didn’t need us, we’d be back at Phu Hiep by 1:00 and have the afternoon off.
We took off as planned and while on short final to the Tuy Hoa Provincial H-Q’s, I did NOT see the expected three new VNAF Hueys and thought they were already sitting on the VIP pad at Tuy Hoa AFB awaiting the 4-star. But running down to the helipad was Col. Barth and I though it odd he wasn’t with the VNAF Hueys. Even before the blades stopped turning, Col. Barth was soooooo glad to see us I thought he was about to kiss us all!! He said he’d been trying to contact Demon Operations and have us return but with no luck. The VNAF Hueys were NOT going to be here and that this dirty ole 134th 2nd Platoon line Huey was it!!! He asked us to clean as much rice outta it as possible and attempt to make it a fit VIP aircraft, which we did.
The crew-chief, and I can’t remember his name, had worked virtually all night getting our Huey mission ready, and he looked it. It looked as though he used his flight suit to wipe up some excess oil. I asked if he would be offended to trade places with the door gunner and let him do all the snappy things General expect. He was more than agreeable and the door gunner, and I can’t remember his name either, said “I’ll impress the hell outta the General” and he did!! Me too!
We loaded all the Provincial VIPs on board and flew across the river and positioned on the VIP pad at the AFB. The Air Force topped off our Huey and awaited the 4-star’s arrival. His big jet, an Air Force DC-9, arrived on time and parked in the designated spot. Shortly afterward, all boarded our Huey and we were off to the site where all the bad guys surrendered, Chu Hoi, for more rounds of an on-going ‘dog and pony’ show. While enroute, F-4 Phantoms circled over-head to add security for the General. I thought they might as well put a sign on our Huey saying “Big-Shot on board. Shoot this one”!
The rest of the day is blurred by time; however, Col. Barth was impressed by our Demon spirit that day, so much so, he requested up through the 1st AVN Brigade that I become his personal pilot, which I did. I flew this mission all the way up unto the time the 22nd ARVN Division invaded Cambodia. I flew on the first lift of ARVNs into the Tri-Border region.
A unit closer to Col. Barth, 22nd ARVN HQ, then took over that assignment.
Phu Heip AAF, RVNAUG ’69 - AUG ‘70
When I went over to ‘Nam in August of ’69, of course several of my ole Flight School buddies accompanied me. One in particular was Warrant Officer (WO) Robert Stern from Shreveport, LA. He and I were in the same married Warrant Officer Candidate (WOC) Flight and kinda teamed up together to last out this ordeal of Vietnam. One day while at Cam Ranh Bay, we were awaiting our flight to Nha Trang for assignment, Robert and I happened upon a WO Halverson from the 134th AHC who was returning to Continental United States (CONUS) for an emergency leave. And as predicted, we asked “what was it like” over here?
WO Halverson began telling us of his experiences and of course what were the bad areas and good areas. He said he was stationed a Phu Heip Army Airfield (AAF) with the 134th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). Phu Heip, according to Mr. Halverson, was a paradise on earth. White beeches, clear blue water and Robert and I could see ourselves frolicking on those beeches. We were sold, but how does one get such a cushy assignment? Mr. Halverson said it was a “done deal” if only we’d ask for the 268th Combat Aviation Battalion (CAB) when we arrived at Nha Trang. Keeping this all to ourselves, we didn’t want everyone else competing for our outstanding assignment.
Upon arrival at Nha Trang, Robert and I found out where those assignments were handed out and beat-feet there ASAP. “We want to be assigned to the 268th CAB.”. The Major looked bewildered at us for a moment and said, “okay, I’m sending some up there and it might as well be you two”. Wow!! We did it!! Days on the beach, just like Frankie Avalon but without Annette. “Life is good” we thought!
A Demon helicopter picked us up and headed for Phu Heip, the garden spot of ‘Nam. Accompanying us was a Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class (CW2) on his second tour and he’d be flying Chinooks with some medium lift company. The Demon helicopter touched down on the ramp in front of 268th CAB Headquarters (HQ) and off we waddled with our bags to meet our fate.
Like everything in this man’s Army, it was “hurry up and wait”. They moved all three of us into the Battalion Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) room which was just across the street from the officer’s club. What a deal, Bob and I thought. The CW2 was kinda quite, not saying a lot and that should have been a sign of one who’s been there before.
As we began to settle in and darkness fell, we heard sirens begin to wale. What the f…..??? Don’t remember anything like this in those Beech Blanket movies!! What to do? Following the lead of the more experienced CW2, we headed for the bunker as mortar rounds began falling all around us. Just as I went into the bunker, a round hit the street between us and the Officer’s Club right beside a parked jeep. To this day I can still remember the smell of cordite and wondered, why are they shooting at me??? I’m not mad at anyone!! And besides, WO Halverson didn’t mention this!!! Looking around in the bunker to see just how everyone else is reacting to being mortared, I noticed a Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Class (CW3), God, to a Warrant Officer 1st Class (WO1) like me, pulling one of those flimsy field office tables over his head while hitting the undersides with his hand every time a mortar exploded nearby. Seemed to me that this bunker could withstand any little o’ mortar round, but I’m new to this all. Maybe I should crawl under the table with the CW3!! (Kinda think he must have been a short timer in retrospect.)
The Demons and Devils helicopters began to scramble looking for Charlie and his mortar tubes. Later, as things clamed down, we watched the Devils working out with rocket and mini-guns, what a sight. Thank you Devils.
morning while viewing the damage done the night before, I
noticed a hole in our wall where mortar fragments blew through
only inches away where my pumpkin head would have been had I not
bothered going to the bunker as some did. The jeep that the
mortar hit beside had two flat tires and the top was completely
riddled. I was sold, when I heard sirens, I headed for the
By Douglas Schultz
On April 12, 1970 two ships from the 134th were sent to insert an eight man ARVN Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRP Team) into an LZ on top of a mountain just northwest of LZ Crystal. I had flown into the same LZ two days earlier with no enemy contact so I volunteered to do the insertion because of my familiarity with the LZ. It was a little tricky. You had to approach from the west, terminate at a hover above it and then swing your nose either North or South to lower yourself into the LZ. I set up a standard 3 degree approach to the LZ and did a standard “School Book Approach” to a hover.
As I stabilized at the high hover, I was just getting ready to swing the nose when I heard something that sounded like someone beating on a garbage can. At first I thought I had stuck my tail rotor in the trees, but the helicopter was stable. Next, I felt what can only be described as a hot searing pain travel up my right calf and thighs. It was then that I understood what was going on. I pulled pitch went over the side of the mountain and started down to LZ Crystal. I looked over at Jack Coleman, my copilot, and he was slumped forward in his harness. I then tried to talk to the crew chief or to my C&C (Command & Control) ship but I heard nothing. I swept the instrument panel and saw the Caution panel lit up like a Christmas tree. That convinced me beyond a shadow of doubt that I had to set the helicopter down right now!
I picked out my landing site in a dry rice paddy and set up for a run on landing but then realized I had no control over my right leg. I could not push or pull with it so in those few minutes before landing I had to figure out how to apply right pedal when I lowered the collective. I decided to hook the tip of my boot behind the left pedal and pull it. If I needed left pedal I just relaxed on it and we swung left. Sometime as I went over the edge of the mountaintop and before landing the crew chief came forward and yelled to ask me if I could still fly. I told him yes, but I could not talk to anyone. I told him to put out a May Day call on the radio and then help Jack see if he was alive because he looked dead to me. The run-on landing took about 300 ~ 400 feet to stop. Once we stopped sliding, the C&C ship came zooming in over the top of us and landed in front facing us. I rolled the throttle closed and, as I did, the blades came to a screeching halt about 45 seconds later. Because we were close to a village, I pulled out my .38 and began aiming at the KY-28 (FM radio encoder device). The crew chief asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was going to shoot it like we had been instructed. At his request and promise that he would keep it secure I put my .38 away. I next turned around and looked at the carnage that used to be eight ARVIN LRRP’s. An ARVN Captain with the LRRP’s, had a perfect triangular shot group to the throat. Only one LRRP was not harmed and one was wounded, the other six were all dead.
The crew of the C&C ship and mine dumped Jack out of his seat and carried him over to the C&C chopper. Then they helped me hobble over to the ship and off we went to the Quin Nhon hospital pad. The door gunner and crew chief were at the ready to fire and stayed at their stations until we got above small arms range. The crew chief then came over to me and asked where I was wounded. I told him that I could wait but Jack needed help now. He was bleeding to death. He was hit once in the ankle, twice in the thigh, and one round hit him in his right side and lodged in his left lung.
When we got to the hospital pad they quickly rushed Jack into the Emergency Ward. I was setting on the side of the cargo floor when these two skinny aids told me to lie down and they would carry me in to the Ward. I asked if they would just help me walk in because I was afraid that they would drop me. Once inside they put me right beside Jack and I watched as they re-inflated his lung. Once they did that, you could tell that he relaxed and was breathing easier. They then moved him into surgery and that was the last I saw of him until we met up in the hospital in Japan. Myself, I was wounded by shrapnel from the right vertical pedal tube. The VC had hit it with a .30 cal round and left just enough metal to keep it attached. They told me that if I had pushed on it that it would have broken off. The metal from the pedal is what traveled up my legs. Fortunately for me, the round itself hit the bottom of the armored seat.
Unfortunately, the years have stolen the names of the crew who came to Jack’s and my assistance I never did get to properly thank you for what you did. But know that every time I think of that day I remember your kindness, friendship, and bond of brotherhood. If it is not too late, “Thanks from the bottom of my heart!”
It was as I was recuperating in the Hospital that someone from MACV, I think, interviewed me. As we were talking he revealed that the ARVN Captain of the LRRP’s had setup the ambush that we flew into. As the story went he had fallen in love with a girl from a lower cast. Because of this, he had disgraced his family. The only way to correct his problem was to commit suicide. His first attempt was to blow up the ammo dump at LZ Crystal (the ammo dump housing powder charges for the 105/155 howitzers did blow up on April 9th, 3 days earlier). When that did not work, he setup the ambush that we flew into. The MACV man also told me that latter that afternoon, while a pair of F-4’s were lowering the mountaintop, one never pulled out of his bomb run. They figured that the .51 cal. got him.
As for damage to our ship, I have only heard stories of how bad it was shot up. I never saw any photographs or talked to anyone who did see it. I was told that they hooked it out of the village and back to Quin Nhon so it could be sent back to the States for rebuild. I guess that they hit every system on the helicopter including the bottom of the transmission. When they did, all the oil drained out of the transmission and that was the reason it took only 45 seconds for the blades to stop. To this day I wonder how much longer I had before the transmission would have seized.
As a maintenance officer I was afforded the chance to fly around the II Corps area, single pilot. The Huey was authorized to be flown with just one pilot but that was rare. In combat flying we always tried to have two pilots as well as a gunner and crew chief on either side manning machine guns. One time I was flying a replacement helicopter back to An Khe with one of the line crew members after I had flown a badly shot up helicopter down to Phu Hiep. This fellow was a big likeable sort, usually unkempt, and he had been filling in as a crew chief. He had also been flying whenever he could and he was getting pretty good. We had also picked up a crew chief because we had been short of one any way and a gunner to replace the one wounded in the first helicopter. In short we looked like a regular mission ship. On the Huey only the right seat has a complete set of controls and normally the co‑pilot would fly there and the aircraft commander would take the left seat. As the only bonafide pilot I was in the right seat and this big fellow, nicknamed "Knob", was in the Aircraft Commander's left seat.
Of course, I would let Knob fly once we were airborne and on top of that we picked up passengers and took them to an intermediate stop at Qui Nhon. At Qui Nhon, while our passengers were disembarking, a Special Forces Captain came up to the Aircraft Commander’s window and there sat "Knob". "Knob" squeezed his mike button which allowed everyone in the aircraft to hear the captain over "Knobs" mike boom on his helmet. The Captain asked if it would be alright to take Vietnamese nationals on this flight and I simply keyed my mike and told "Knob" to tell the captain that it was okay. "Knob" hollered over the helicopter noise to him and they loaded up.
As soon as we got airborne, I gave the controls to "Knob" and he flew the whole way. At An Khe, I encouraged him to make the landing to the “Golf Course” and I only took over at the last moment when he started having directional heading problems with the tail rotor pedals. As the passengers were disembarking, the same Special Forces Captain came up to the window and once again "Knob" keyed his mike. The captain shook "Knobs" hand and told him that it was the best flight he had ever been on.
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 “Peter Pilot”. Fear of realizing that what I had heard of in the states was now reality.
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 “ash & trash”, standby “flare ship”, and a few insertion missions.
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 “fast movers”, F-4’s from Phu Cat had been scrambled.
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 “Arc Light” B-52 bombing runs. How anyone or thing could have survived those attacks is amazing.
As we were in a holding pattern waiting our turn to go “Hot”, we heard a Cobra AC say over the radio that he was taking fire and had been hit. We saw the Cobra and it was making an autorotation attempt toward a clearing. The ship must have been hit real bad and the pilot then announced that he was wounded. There was radio silence as we watched the Cobra drop from the sky.
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 it. 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 want eight birds to pick me up as I drop down into the LZ. We’re getting our guys out. I’m dropping in 10. Let’s go.”
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. “On September 13th while covering slicks inbound to a hot LZ, a Devil gunship had a 2.75 inch rocket explode as it cleared the tube, causing major damage to the right section of the cabin and cockpit areas. WO David P. Davis suffered serious and extensive shrapnel wounds to both legs.”
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 “break in 5” and Davis acknowledged. I broke and Davis called “coming in hot”. That was the last time we heard from Davis.
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. “On June 26th the 134th supported the 7/17th Air Calvary Regiment with 7 slicks and 2 gunships. The entire operation consisted of 20 slicks, 8 gunships and 6 Chinooks. The mission was to insert 1300 ROK and 7/17th troops into the mountains west of Phu Cat. The 134th flew 52 hours, lifting 370 troops in 119 sorties. Although prepped by artillery, most of the LZ’s were hot and the 134th had one slick shot down on short final to an LZ, resulting in major damage to the aircraft. The crew chief was slightly injured but the rest of the crew was unharmed. The operation took all day and was followed by 7 days of re-supply.”
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.
I am Richard (Rick) Sheehan/Demon 25 and I was a Captain in the 134th AHC from July 1969 until 24 June 1970. These are my memories of the events that happened while I was in the unit. Over the years my memories have faded to a great extent and I want to start by apologizing for not being able to remember names. As I looked at my photos I was truly embarrassed that I could only remember a few people's names. After retuning from Vietnam I found that the only people that I spoke to about my tour were fellow vets. I think that this was a product of the attitude of many of the vocal minority of civilians of the time. I'm sure this has contributed to the poor memory as it couldn't possibly have anything to do with getting old.
For many years I have been meaning to put my memories to paper and send copies of pictures. I just never seemed to get around to doing it. Arvine Coleman's death was the final event that has prompted me to get my ass in gear.
I guess that I have finally realized that we are all getting older and it would be a shame if our collective memories were to be forgotten. When I discovered that Arvin's 134th web site was gone I searched for and found the new site started by Stan Gause. Here are my recollections and some of their accuracy may have been tempered with time and altered in the retelling. I hope that they will bring back memories for others of those times and prompt you to tell us how you remember some of these events. I would really like to put some names with these incidence and pictures.
I arrived in country on the 4th of July 1969 and started my in processing. I was then sent to the 268th CAB and subsequently assigned to the 134th AHC on the 10th of July.
As a 1Lt I was looking forward to starting flying but was to be sorely disappointed. It seems that at the time the company had an excess of pilots and there was no need for a FNG (especially a LT) to begin flying. However the CO informed me that they could use someone with my vast experience as the acting motor officer.
It only took me one day to figure out what a privilege this was. And you all thought we RLO's were dumb! I held this exalted position until the 16th of August when the Platoon Commander, CPT Roger Harris finally realized that my talents were being wasted in the motor pool. Actually the DROS of several short timers and my promotion to CPT caused my move to peter pilot. My only memory of the motor pool was thinking that I was going to die there without ever flying a helicopter in Vietnam. After drinking a few beers, we were in the motor pool one night and heard several M16 shots coming from the road just outside of the office. We looked outside to see a drunken GI with a M16 that he was shooting at anything that moved. Several things went through my mind at once, we had no weapons, this guy was pissed about something, and I was going to die like a trapped rat in the motor pool. (We later heard rumors that he had got a Dear John letter from his girl.) I learned several valuable lessons that night. When you are scared you can remain very still for a long time without making any noise and never to go anywhere without your pistol. The hell with the rules!
My roommate and I were also kept busy trying to finishing the interior of our hooch. My roommate was a Warrant Officer that was from Maine and with me being from Idaho we quickly became the potato boys.
I don't remember his name as he left a short time later on emergency leave. I think that his father was gravely ill or had died. He was an accomplished handyman and our room turned out nice. My grandmother though that it was a shame that we had had a concrete floor so she mailed me boxes of carpet tile from the States.
After all this hard work we were informed that we were going to move into a different set of hooch's across the street. As I remember a new unit was moving into Phu Hiep and of course it made more sense to move us and let them take our building. The new room was livable but there was no further attempt to make the cover of Better Hooch's and Homes.
The O-Club was a center for entertainment with an occasional band from the Philippians or Korea. To this day every time I hear the CCR song Proud Mary I remember the chorus as "Lollin', lollin', lollin' on the liver". We even had blue custom "drinking" flight suits made. I don't remember much more about the Cub for two reasons.
My first several months were clouded somewhat by the amount of beer that I consumed and the rest of my tour is a blank because of a vow I made that night in the motor pool. I vowed that if I made it out of there alive that I would never get drunk again until I was out of Vietnam. Call it paranoia, but I came to believe the enemy was everywhere. I was not going to die inside the compound just because I was too drunk to defend myself.
Although I had proved my expertise in the Motor Pool, the Commander finally realized my true value was as a pilot. Actually I made Captain and the sudden DEROS of a bunch of pilots with no replacements forced the issue of my flying. As I started to really learn how to fly from the AC's there are several things that have stuck in my memory.
One night we were flying the flare ship when the compound was mortared. One side of the ship had a large multi-bubbled spotlight (night-sun?) and the other side had large parachute flares to kick out for illumination. The spotlight always seemed to be a poor choice for use at night. My AC informed me that when turned on it made a great target for the VC and he always preferred the use of flares. As we neared the suspected location of the VC mortars, the crew chief began to kick out flares. He was explaining to me how he would time the flares so that as one was burning out another would be launched. The next thing I remember was a very loud aw shit followed by a very bright and very close light just under the aircraft. Looking out the window it became clear that the flare that had just been kicked out was now banging against the tail boom. It seems the parachute shrouds had become tangled around the skid cross tubes. A magnesium flare burning against an aluminum aircraft, not a good combination. The AC quickly decides to get the aircraft on the ground before the tail burns off and starts a spiraling decent trying to keep the flare away from the tail boom. Remember that we are over the VC mortar positions and the gun cover is just launching. I then get to call my first May Day and when asked for our location, I say just look for the very bright light. By the time we were at about 50' AGL the crew chief had calmly crawled out onto the skids with his knife and cut the shrouds loose. He then advises us that maybe we should head back to the maintenance ramp rather that landing here. He said the Maintenance officer would be grumpy if he had to come all the way out here after dark. Over time this has become a humorous incident but at the moment I was very glad for the cool and calm actions of a very competent crew chief.
My other adventure in the dark was a night combat assault of Korean troops after Phu Hiep had been attacked. Six of our slicks were scrambled along with a Devil gun team to cover the insertion. It was a learning experience trying to keep close but not too close to five other aircraft on your approach to a very dark LZ. The most important thing that I learned was that when you turn on the landing light on short final it is very bright. It also makes elephant grass that is 15 feet below look much closer. The Korean soldiers started jumping out way to soon. I had visions of a quick return to the LZ to pick up soldiers with broken limbs. Luckily the Koreans were tough enough that none seemed any the worse for their jumps.
I am going to make a generalization here about troops I inserted on CA's. The Koreans were usually over eager and often jumped too soon. The Americans timing was usually just about right and the ARVNs often had to be prodded to get out. This seemed to be in a direct proportion to how hot the LZ was. Looking back I can see this as being logical but at the lime it was very irritating. The longer it took them to get out the longer I was a sitting duck in the LZ. On my first CA with ARVN troops I notice that the crew chief had the biggest screw driver that I have ever seen stuck into the gun mount next to his M60. My curiosity about its use was answered in the first LZ as I saw him use it to remind the more timid ARVNs that it was time to get out.
I was having trouble one day learning the fine art of hovering with one skid on a large rock while the other skid hung over a 20' drop off and c-ration cases were being tossed off the aircraft.
The AC was being very critical of my efforts and I gave him some lame excuse which prompted him to remark that our crew chief could hover better than this. When we got back to the resupply pad the AC had the crew chief get in my seat and I got to watch him hover at a perfect 3 feet including pedal turns. As I remember this guy had been to flight school and hadn't passed the final physical because of vision. I'm sure that this must have been true as my ego has trouble with any other explanation.
On the 2nd of October I went on my first large combat Assault. And by large I mean the movement of the entire Capital ROK Infantry Division on one day.
Most all of the aircraft in the 268th CAB were involved. The scariest thing about the whole operation was that there were so many aircraft evolved that it was hard to stay out of each others way. There were bottlenecks picking up the troops and many of the LZ's were very close to each other. The weather also was marginal with many areas of low clouds. As you would be leaving an LZ you were likely to cross paths with another flight starting an insertion. The Guns and C&C ships were very busy on the radios that day.
As more aviators began to DROS without many newbie's arriving the unit started flying way over the max hours without crew rest. This all came to a screeching halt when a ship from the 129th Bulldogs struck a bridge west of Tuy Hoa while trying to fly under it. The crew had flown too many hours without crew rest so that of course was determined to be the cause of the crash.
This resulted in two significant things happening in my life. One was stupid while the other was enjoyable. The enforcement of crew rest resulted in mandatory days off. While supporting the MACV advisers to the ARVN RF/PF I had met an American Infantry CPT who was their adviser. He was a Californian and loved to surf and tried to teach me on days off at the beach.
He then first invited me to visit their compound and next to go on patrol with his ARVN Company. Being smart, as well as cautious, I of course said yes that it sounded like fun. After the CO, MAJ Hensley found out that while on one patrol I had been shot at and two NVA soldiers had been captured my adventures as a grunt came to an abrupt halt.
The Air force base at Tuy Hoa was to provide many things that made life easier for us. Our Platoon scroungers were able to get air conditioners, refrigerators converted to freezers, real fresh steaks and other materials for our hooch's.
The Air Force types were happy to trade for Ho Chi Minh sandals, AK's, VC flags or any other "War Souvenirs" that we had to offer. There were many things that the Army provided us that were pretty primitive compared to Air Force issue. Our aircraft survival radios were in two 30 cal ammo cans, one for the radio and the other for the battery. In a survival situation this was not very conducive to being able to use the radio. The Air Force radio was much smaller and would fit in the front of your chicken plate.
Naturally I traded for one of these. Our issue weapon was a snub nose 38 revolver that held 5 rounds. From the Air Force I got a Browning High Power 9mm semi-auto pistol that held 13 rounds.
When I became the platoon operations officer in October I began dealing with the Air Force ops people to coordinate some of our missions. These contacts were to become a good deal that would turn into the enjoyable use of my crew rest days off. I found that some of the non flying Air Force officers wanted to go on helicopter rides to take picture of the "War". I put some of them on the milk runs to Quy Nhon and they were on cloud nine. One of these guys happened to work in flight ops and asked if I would like to go to Thailand aboard a C130 on my days off. Now remember I'm the same guy that agreed to go on foot patrols with the grunt on my day off. Of course I said yes and asked how soon that I could go. It turned out that the flights left one day and returned the next and this happened every day of the week. The flights were monitoring for downed aircraft and did search and rescue C&C. They flew from Tuy Hoa AFB to Udorn AFB in Thailand.
Now that I had said yes, I just had to figure out how to get my new Platoon leader, CPT Ron Dare to say yes. He said it sounded like a good deal but thought we better ask the new CO, MAJ Jon Dickerson just to be safe. I don't remember if he ever said that it was OK but after promising to bring back discounted Thai ruby and star sapphire jewelry I do know that I started making these trips every chance that I got. I even took my R&R there. Great Hotels with pools and cheap drinks and did I mention beautiful woman. What more could a young single aviator ask for. I will admit that this was much better than the first use of my days off.
I don't remember the exact circumstances but do know that some REMF at Battalion screwed up the good deal for me. I think that I was told that if I wished to continue my mini vacations that I had to share the wealth. Someone from HQ went on the next trip and I don't remember what happened but do know that my Air Force buddy told me that the Army Aviators were no longer welcome on the Thai express.
My other Air Force experiences were at Phu Cat AFB and somewhere over Cambodia. While returning from a mission we had a hydraulics failure near Phu Cat. I called them and declared an emergency telling them that I had had a hydraulics failure. The tower cleared me for a running landing to the main runway. As I started my approach I noted that there was one main runway with a long parallel taxiway. I told the tower that I would be happy to do my running landing on the taxiway but was told in no uncertain terms that I was to go to the main runway so that the emergency equipment would have better access to our aircraft. After executing a rather uneventful running landing with no hydraulics I was asked by the tower when I would be able to "taxi" off the main runway. When I asked them if they had any ground handling wheels and they wanted to know what those were I realized that we had a slight problem. After explaining that it was rather difficult to hover a helicopter without hydraulics and thus my suggested use of the taxi way I was told that real aircraft were in route and I needed to clear that runway. We were near a connecting taxi way and I was able slide along with the skids firmly against the concrete till we were clear of their precious runway. We spent the rest of that day watching our maintenance guys fixing the hydraulics and then went home. My final Air force story happened on a mission in Cambodia in the spring of 1970. While on a fairly short final into an LZ on a C&C mission we had a Canberra jet fly under us. He was so close that you could actually see the pilots face. I don't know who had the most surprised look on their face, him or me.
Now lets move on to working with the Navy. While working for MACV out of one of the Province Headquarters I had the opportunity on several occasions to deliver mail.
While this in itself was a pretty ordinary task it became much more interesting when the mail was delivered to a Navy Destroyer or Frigate that was a good distance out to sea. The landing pad was about the size of a postage stamp and just would not hold still while we tried to land. They also had this strange language they spoke over the radio. Something about ahoy and the ship being under way but being cleared to land on the aft deck closest to the bulkhead with the Captain's gig on it and to make our approach from the port side. After a rather pregnant pause I replied "what did you just say". I then got the translation from Navy to Army which helped immensely. We were cleared to land on the pad at the rear of the ship closest to the wall where the captain's small boat was mounted and to make our approach from the left side. These instructions were much clearer so I replied aye aye and wondered why he hadn't just said that to begin with. It was an interesting experience making an approach to a pad that was moving up and down as well as away from you all at the same time. After doing this a couple of time I was able to time the reduction in collective with the pitch of the ship for a smooth touchdown. The quality of the food served on board these ships made every bit of this effort worth while. It was without a doubt the best chow I had while in Vietnam.
One of the great things about the 134th being a general support company was the wide variety of types of missions that we got to fly. Another one was the vast area of II Corps that we flew in along with brief trips into I & III Corps as well as exotic Cambodia.
We got to see the oceans and beaches to the scenic parts of the highlands. From the big cities to the small villages and other historic sights. The only bad part of this was the long time spent traveling to many of these missions resulted in many 10 hour flying days.
On one occasions while supporting the ROK's we sprayed Agent Orange around a fire base to kill all the vegetation. They put two 55 gallon drums of the defoliant in the aircraft and had spray boom hanging out both doors. We then proceeded to fly low and slow in circles around the compound. The crew chief hated this mission as it made a mess of the aircraft. The oily stuff got all over every thing and was hard to get off.
Another fun mission was for the 173rd dropping sacks of CS on suspected enemy locations. They would stack paper bags of CS (think bags of concrete) on the floor of the cargo area then fly low over suspected enemy positions. The infantry guy would then toss the bags out onto the position to semi-permanently contaminate the area. This sure worked well at least so far as contaminating the aircraft. The grunt got ready to throw a bag out and it broke at chest level. Luckily the AC had his gas mask on and was able to keep the aircraft under control. He flew back to the fire base with enough pedal in to keep a stiff breeze blowing through the cargo area. Maintenance spent two day washing the ship out but the first time another crew turned on the bleed air it was crying time again. As you can imagine this became an aircraft no one wanted to fly. I think we loaned it to Battalion to use.
We flew the same mission supporting the MACV compound three days in a row. Each day started the same with a pick up at the Province pad followed by a short trip along the coast too one of their compounds. A milk run!
The first day when the crew chief was tying up the blades at the compound he noticed a bullet hole in the tail rotor. On day two we flew a little higher but followed the same route. This time we found a bullet hole in the engine cowling that had just missed the fuel control valve. On day three, having realized that this one shot Charlie was getting the idea of leading his target, we not only flew higher but took another route.
Someone had liberated a VC pig and the platoon was trying to reeducate it in a pen beside the bunker by our hooch's. Someone had written "the hawk" on the pigs' side with black shoe polish. As I remember this was a reference to a RLO that was not held in high esteem by the local chapter of WOPA.
I think that one of the hooch maids finally kidnapped "the hawk" before he could be made the guest of honor at our next platoon BBQ.
There was a warrant officer that spoke pretty good Vietnamese and was a great wheeler dealer. He always managed to do something to make our parties something special. On one occasion he managed to get some of the ladies from the local sorority house onto the compound. Honest, that is where he told us the girls came from. One of them was deaf as well as mute which pretty well took care of the language barrier. Shortly after they left the compound was mortared with unusual accuracy.
WO Nameless was accused of bringing VC forward observers into the compound but assured the Platoon leader he had no idea the sorority sister were from Hanoi University. I'm not sure if I really don't remember his name or my subconscious is trying to protect the guilty. Another pleasant memory was the kids. Everywhere that you landed the kids would come running to see the helicopter. At a school, orphanage or a village it was always the same. A large group of kids would gather to mooch candy and other goodies from the crew.
As I remember a gunship had an engine problem of some sort (no damage to the aircraft). The Chinooks was called in to transport the aircraft for repair. At several hundred feet above our maintenance pad something happened with the rigging and the Huey started spinning under the Hook. The crew punched off their load which resulted in a gunship with the skids wrapped up around the aircraft and a broken tail boom.
I had thought that it was one of our guns but looking at the pictures that doesn't seem to be the case. I don't recognize the tail number or markings. As I began to get short I found that I was finally starting to think about getting out of Vietnam in one piece. I don't think that I was consciously being any more careful but I was definitely thinking about going home. My recollections of my last significant mission are a little blurred. Part of this is because of the years passing and also being short enough that I think I left country less than 30 days later. Two Demon slicks were working near Quy Nhon for the RVNS and were taking turns doing insertions while the other ship was C&C. It was my turn to be the insertion bird and it was suppose to be a milk run. We were to insert a load of RVNs on a hill top that a US Infantry unit had just vacated and they were working their way down the hill. The AC of the other ship told me that he would be the insertion bird as I was getting to short and I could owe him one. The insertion started with me doing C&C duty while a pair of Devil guns acted as cover. As they reached short final, I saw what looked like smoke start to come from the belly of their aircraft. Attempts to communicate with them by radio went unanswered. Suddenly the Devil guns started firing and I heard them say the slick was taking fire. The insertion bird was able to gain enough altitude to clear the hill top and started for a flat area in the valley below. We followed them in and touched down right beside them. What I had thought was smoke was fuel coming out of the fuel cell from multiple hits in the belly of the aircraft. The copilot was badly wounded and was loaded on my aircraft for a speedy evacuation to the Hospital at Quy Nhon. I don't remember his name but he was a new Flight Platoon leader Captain that had just arrived in country. He had spent his first tour in Vietnam as a grunt and had been wounded badly and sent home. He then goes to flight school and is back only to get wounded again. On the flight to the hospital my crew chief and gunner were able to provide first aid and get the bleeding stopped. I don't remember looking at the max VNE card but am sure that we were pushing that speed all the way to the hospital pad. After dropping him off we returned to the downed aircraft to see if any more help was needed. Upon arrival we got to hear all the action resulting from the hilltop fiasco over the radio. The Devil guns were working the hilltop over big time. The grunts that were working their way down the hill called their HQ and said the gun ships were shooting at them. Mini gun brass was falling all over them and they thought they were being shot at. The Infantry Commander was pissed that his troops had been to the hilltop and not seen any of the NVA that were on the hill. He told his troops to hunker down as there was going to be an air strike on the hilltop. After talking to the AC of the insertion ship I learned that on short final the NVA stood up in the hilltop trenches and started firing at very close range. His radios were shot out and that was why we didn't hear anything from them.
These were my last memories of the 134th and Vietnam. After returning to the states I often wondered why I wasn't the one doing that last insertion. Why did I make it through a whole year while this other Captain didn't make even a month. I met a Special Forces 1SGT at Ft. Carson as I was leaving active duty in 1973 who gave me some advice. He told me that it was a waste of time to think these kinds of thoughts. He felt that if you survived there was a reason for it and you owed it to those who didn't make it to not waste the rest of your life dwelling on negative thoughts.
After leaving active duty (RIF) I returned to my home town of Boise, Idaho and settled into civilian life. After several years of watching the Army Guard helicopters flying around the valley I thought what can it hurt to stop and talk with them. The next thing that I knew in 1978 I was back in uniform flying M model guns in the Air Troop of the 116th Armored Cav Regiment.
I found that I had really
missed the camaraderie one can only find with participation as a member of a
flight crew. Also many of the flight crew members were fellow Vietnam
vets. I retired from the Guard in 1999 after having been the Battalion
Commander of the 183rd AHB and becoming an AH64 pilot.
I hope that this story has brought back some good memories of another time to some of you and will motivate you to contribute your stories. After making a concerted effort to remember my time in Vietnam I can truthfully say that it was easy to remember the good times as they far outnumbered the bad ones. In our lifetime we will seldom find that close bond that we formed as a flight crew. We were a close knit team dedicated to keeping each other alive. Combat was the great equalizer. It didn't matter whether you were the pilot, copilot, crew chief or gunner we all needed each other to survive. The only time that I have experienced this is as a member of a flight crew in combat. I also hope that someone out there can help by putting names with these stories and pictures.
By Ralph Staunton
I was assigned to a single ship, very early morning mission to support/resupply a few MACV positions back near the II Corps border. Ple Merang, Pleij Merang or something closely spelled like that. It was not a mission the134th got very often. When we got it, we would often eat lunch at one of the little MACV positions as we resupplied in a small arc of positions near the border. This particular day was different. I had refueled already at what was then just a metal (PSP) runway strip at Cheo Reo..
The 134th had been at Cheo Reo a few days earlier when a mixed NVA unit abducted an entire Vietnamese village. Our slicks were busy moving in blocking forces to prevent them from reaching the higher mountains with the villagers, while the guns were so busy they could not keep rearming fast enough. Cheo Reo strip had a substantial resupply of rockets and other ammunition. The ARVN artillery base there was creating hell for us during the whole thing because they did not know how to use the VT fuses on the rounds they were firing. Sometimes we could not tell whether we were taking fire from the retreating NVA forces or just got another "air burst" from a premature VT fuse setting from the artillery at Cheo Reo that was supposed to be helping us.
Anyway, this one MACV team started yelling for help as soon as I got airborne from Cheo Reo about 6 AM or so heading north. You have to understand what MACV did for a living. Each of their sites had just a couple American MACV advisors (Sgts) assigned building up, advising, and leading local ARVN platoons or whatever. During the night one of their teams which consisted of a MACV E-7 and I think the other was an E-6, had led their irregular "montanyard" group of about 25 fighters about a platoon and the idiots (Sorry but true) had found an underground Chicom grenade factory and battalion base camp. They immediately attacked it during the night instead of waiting for reinforcements.
The MACV people advised that the team was being chased (since 5 AM) from the area they hit, and they wanted me single ship to extract the MACV team immediately ... who were already wounded ... get them out of there and then let the montonyard blend in and disperse and gave me coordinates and a contact frequency. Coming up on the contact frequency I learned what was left of the unit was now almost trapped in a small canyon, taking 60mm mortars and small arms from the sides and slightly above. Not a place to try and extract from and all I have is door guns. What can you do? Heading in I discovered that early in the morning I had absolutely no support airborne anywhere. Pleiku and Tuy Hoa were way too far to get gun teams for support in any reasonable time. No tac air was available yet and would probably not even be airborne by the time I needed help.
This is where it got REALLY crazy if you think it has been a goat rope so far. There happened to be a Forward Air Controller heading north that was just finishing refueling at Cheo Reo and realized by all my calls that I needed any kind of help I could get like right now, not later. This FAC hero guy, I have no idea who he was, loaded up the two wing rocket tubes ( two under each wing) with HE rockets from our stock at the strip and headed out to meet me. He came up on my tail as I was shooting an approach to a flat place in the canyon to extract the MACV group and pumped a couple of rockets into the hill on each side to try and take some of the heat off. And it worked pretty well the FIRST time.
The damn montanards would not let me have the two wounded MACV sergeants until I got their precious "dead" out of there. The MACV guys were not even in eyesight, or I would have tried to take’em by force. The montonyard threw I think about five but maybe seven or so bodies in the back ( I just remember the heap of bodies) and pointed rifles at us ... all this time we are taking small arms and mortar rounds are landing nearby. Montonyard are funny about that, if their dead are mutilated they do not make it to heaven or something like that.
I bent it over and
red-lined it back to Cheo Reo dumped the bodies out right on the strip and
headed back in still no tac air coming up on line nothing. The FAC guy had
not had time to come back, land and rearm. He simply followed me in again
to try to draw some of the fire. We got the MACV guys onboard on the second
run into the canyon. At Cheo Reo after the second run the crew
chief discovered and I think this is accurate 84 hits and mortar shrapnel
holes in the aircraft. Yet NOTHING critical was hit. Go figure. We ended
up flying it back to Tuy Hoa later that day.
A Door Gunner’s Recollections
Of The 134TH
By Richard Gose
Ft Bragg/Phu Hiep
I was one of the first
members of the 134th who joined the unit in February 1967. There
were ten or twelve of us who were sent to Ft. Bragg from Ft. Polk where we
had just completed infantry training at Tigerland. It wasn’t until we were
leaving Ft. Polk that we realized we were going to be door gunners. Not one
of us had ever ridden in or had any training in helicopters. We were all
At Ft. Bragg we bunked with the 57th AHC until the 134th was assigned our own barracks. A few weeks before we left for Vietnam, part of the 134th was detached from us and sent to Korea. In the fall of 1967 we flew cross country to the Oakland/San Francisco area. A day or two later we embarked on the SS Pope: stopped in Okinawa for a few hours and eventually landed at Cam Ranh Bay either the day before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day.
After a few days at Cam Ranh the 134th moved to Tuy Hoa/Phu Hiep. We were at Phu Hiep living in tents until we moved to barracks. Tuy Hoa and Phu Hiep were used interchangeably when we referred to where we were stationed.
The majority of my time in-country was spent at An Khe in the Central Highlands. The small detachment at An Khe was more or less permanent although G.I.’s were always coming and going. During and around the time of TET ’68 our fire team had brief but intense experiences at Dak To and Pleiku where 632, my ship, was damaged by hostile action. Also at Kontum where our sister company, the 57th from Ft. Bragg, was stationed. The superb flying of WO Wilkerson at Kontum during Tet saved the day for us. I will be forever grateful to him.
I was very fortunate being in the same unit, platoon, and having the same crew chief (Mike Robb), the same gunship (66-16632) and the same NCO (Sgt Richard Lopez) the entire time I was in the army, other than for training. In wartime there is a definite advantage going into a combat area as an intact unit rather than as an individual replacement.
During my time, the 134th lost four men, WO’s Reali and Worth and Specialists Hoskins and Loveland. A few years ago when the traveling wall came to Duluth I walked over and said a prayer for them.
Our platoon, the gun platoon, had a few wounded with SP/4 Caldwell being hit in both legs and SP/5 Bittner wounded in his leg.
Another day I will never forget is New Year’s Eve, 1967. The Warrant officers should we say excessively celebrated New Year’s that night. At the same time the Koreans from the White Horse Division lit up the night sky with ordnance. The combination of these two events was something to witness. The next few days many Warrant Officers found themselves in the company of higher pay grades and in trouble for their celebration that night. In retrospect, as an E-4 it was worth witnessing.
When I Hid My 38
I remember one incident that involved our sub-nose 38 revolvers. To give this account a more understandable perspective the following incident happened during the time frame when PFC Long was doing his infamous, or famous, 30 day tour with the 173rd for trading his weapon.
For some reason known only to the army, the 134th flight crews were issued snub-nosed 38’s. We were issued these weapons while the 134th was still at Ft. Bragg. There was a great deal of puzzlement as to why we were issued these “Jack Webb” weapons. They were more ornaments than anything else.
In country I never came across another unt that was issued this weapon. However, because of the uniqueness it made some GI’s envy our 38’s. As time went by most of us bought cowboy style holsters from the stores at An Khe to carry our 38’s.
At one point we went up to Pleiku and bunked with an unsavory non-flight company. They immediately commented on and expressed admiration for our 38’s. Later that afternoon they asked us if we wanted to trade or sell our 38’s. They asked us on other occasions that evening to trade. To me, these guys acted like they would steal anything. After conferring with my crew chief Mike Robb we decided they would probably try to steal our 38’s that night. I don’t know where Mike hid his but after I hopped into my bunk and got under the sheets I put my 38 in my underpants.
In the morning after a good night’s sleep I reached in my shorts for the 38 and realized the hammer was cocked. In a nanosecond I remembered that I had forgotten to unload the weapon the night before. This situation called for extreme caution. Very carefully, I reached down, uncocked the hammer of the revolver and gently pulled it from it’s location. From then on I always unloaded the weapon before I went to bead!
The day My Glasses Fell Apart
One day after supper when our light fire team was on patrol we observed three VC running into a treeline. Istarted firing at the location they dad ran into, then apparently for no reason my civilian eyeglasses fell completely apart. I quit shooting as I’m near-sighted and could not see. As the M-60’s of the gun platoon never jammed Captain Chrobak asked “What happened?” At first I told him that “I can’t see.” I believe he momentarily thought I may have been hit but I let him know my glasses had fallen apart.
The next day I went to an
army Optometrist and was issued two sturdy pair of army eyeglasses.
I still have my original
“Devils” unit patch and some pictures of the SS Pope when we crossed the
Pacific. I believe that SP/4 Motsinger designed the patch. Competence,
dedication, professionalism you name it and these 134th troops had it. One
of the most memorable occasions for me from two wars and 35 years of service
occurred when I finally landed at the Tiger Division Headquarters and shut
down the helicopter in late afternoon on completion of that airmobile
operation that had started at around 0400 Hours. Chuck Teeter nudged me
from the co-pilots seat and pointed to a guy standing off to the side with
bandages all over his head, one arm in a sling, but walking with a world
class smile on his face." That's Mister Schuster, the pilot of #3" Chuck
informed me, "Apparently nobody was killed." If it were not so unmilitary,
I could have hugged Mike Schuster, because I really thought I had got him
killed trying to avoid fratricide. Heroes all magnificent troops
unbelievably loyal and committed to each other may your 134th Reunion be as
outstanding as your service.
By MG (Retired) Orlando Gonzales
as written in an e mail to Jean Cowan on June 2, 2005
I note that the 134th
Reunion starts tomorrow. I know it will be outstanding----right in line
with everything the 134th did during my tenure as battalion commander of the
268th Combat Aviation Battalion. During that time we ran some 8 or 9 of the
largest Combat Assaults (CA’s) that were conducted in Vietnam outside of the
two Airmobile Divisions. They were all planned and organized by a
subsequent 134th Commander, Major Chuck Teeter (now MG Retired Teeter) who
was my Battalion Operations Officer during that period, and on all of them,
the 134th pulled more than their share of the load and earned the admiration
and respect of all of us who were fortunate enough to be associated with
them. Please pass my fond regard, respect and best wishes for a great
reunion to some very great troops.
If Chuck Teeter (Lightning 3 and subsequently Demon 6) and Bob Chamberlain (Devil 6) are there, tell them hello for me, but if CWO Michael Schuster is in attendance, tell him that the battalion commander who almost got him killed thinks of him frequently and retains an unforgettable mental picture of his aircraft, upside down in a ball of fire and smoke with only the skids visible and pieces of rotor blades flying off in all directions. I had told the 134th Flight Leader to go into that LZ cold, no prep, after Chuck Teeter and I had gone down and hovered around and attracted no fire and observed no enemy activity. I was afraid of hitting friendlies if I let the Devil gunships prep the LZ, you see. The Korean battalion commander that was working his way up the ridge refused to set off the colored smoke grenade to mark his positions for us as had been approved by the regimental commander the night before.
By the time Chuck and I had finished looking over the LZ, and I gave the 134th Flight Lead the ok to go in, he was already on a go-around a s was the #2 aircraft in the stick. Schuster, who was #3 came on the air, said he was in position to complete the approach and put troops on the ground to secure the LZ. Both the Flight Leader and I gave him a go and thinking everything well in hand, I headed out to the next LZ insertion.
As I was climbing out, I looked back right when CWO Schuster's aircraft detonated the booby trap that I had not detected by hovering over the LZ. I yelled out, "Oh God!! They got him!!" and immediately went into a bank to go back down. Before I completed the turn, the pilot of #4 aircraft in the 134th stick came on the air and said; "Sir, I see people moving down there and I am in good position to complete my approach may I go in and insert my troops and take out the wounded?" I said "Do It!", but what I was thinking was “God bless you son!". #5 came right in behind him and the Flight Leader and #2 closed so unbelievably quick that Chuck Teeter and I had nothing to do but pull pitch and go on to the next insertion.
Extracted From 238th AWC Website
Throughout history, intelligence has won or
lost battles. In the case of Cung Son, I don't know if our side had better
intelligence, or if someone just guessed right. Whatever the case was, the
VC/NVA paid a huge price for their mistake. In early June, 1971, the 238th
was going on "stand down" for the conversion to the Cobra gunship. The only
mission assignment the unit had at the time was for a standby alert team.
The primary alert team was provided by the 134th AHC, so our team was on 15
minute alert. Many of our pilots were preparing to leave for other units.
It's a good bet that the enemy knew what was going on. The village of Cung
Son is in the Tuy Hoa river valley, about 35 miles inland from the coast. It
lies in a bend in the river, and was one of the "fortified" villages where
the population of the area had been concentrated for protection. Normally,
it was defended by it's own RF/PF unit. Northwest of the village was a hill
with an ARVN firebase on top. The firebase had three 105mm guns, and the
sides of the hill had been cleared of all vegetation. The VC/NVA forces
consisted of two Battalions that had been operating in the area for a long
time. By 1971, both of these units were mostly NVA regular troops, and all
of the command staff was NVA. The reason for the attack on Cung Son appears
to have been an effort to discredit the "fortified village" program and also
to capture a large number of civilians to be used as laborers. Their plan
was simple, one Battalion was to attack the firebase, while the other swept
into the village from the north. The NVA may also have had intelligence that
the village was only lightly defended that night, but they were wrong! Some
time after midnight, the 134th alert team was scrambled to go to the aid of
the ARVN firebase near Cung Son. The call for help said that the firebase
was under heavy attack, and in danger of being overrun. The 134th responded
with one team of UH-1C gunships, and a UH-1H flare ship. Once on the scene,
the 134th pilots realized that a major attack was in progress, and called
for assistance. Throughout the rest of the night, and well into the next
morning, gunships from both companies fought to halt the attack. Finally,
with their positions being overrun, the ARVN gunners holed up in their
bunkers and called in fire on top of their own positions. Using the deadly "fleshette"
rockets, gunships fired at anything that moved, and finally drove the
attackers off of the hilltop. By mid day, the battle for the firebase was
over, but all three of the guns were out of action. The VC/NVA losses must
have been very high, but no accurate count could be made. Some accounts say
that survivors of this battalion tried to take refuge in what remained of a
small village northwest of Cung Son and were wiped out by Air Force air
strikes. I can't verify that account. While the battle for the firebase
raged, the other VC/NVA Battalion attempted to sweep into the village
itself. Their approach took them through a wooded area and they intended to
cross a stream near the one bridge in that area. What they did was walk
right into an "ambush" set up by an ARVN Ranger Company that had moved into
the village earlier that evening. The ARVN Rangers, some of the best ARVN
troops, had been on the ground for several days, and the VC/NVA had no idea
that they had moved into Cung Son. I don't know for sure if the ARVN Rangers
knew that this attack was coming, or if they had started moving out of the
village to try to assist the firebase. I do know that the ARVN Rangers took
up positions on the south bank of the stream and halted all attempts by the
VC/NVA to cross the stream. At first light, a flight of "slicks" from the
134th picked up an RF/PF Company at Tuy Hoa city, and inserted them north of
the VC/NVA in an attempt to trap the VC/NVA Battalion. Most of us had worked
with RF/PF units before, and had little hope that they would perform well in
such a large scale action. I was in one of the gunships escorting the
slicks, and the LZ was "cold" until the last slick was out. Then a machine
gun opened up from a tree line to the west. We made a 180 and started to
make a run at the tree line until we realized that the RF/PF troops were
charging the tree line at a dead run! I had never seen anything like that
out of RF/PF troops before, but then this case was different. The RF/PF unit
we inserted was the one normally stationed at Cung Son! They had been at Tuy
Hoa for training. This was their homes under attack, and their families
being threatened. With the VC/NVA Battalion trapped between the Rangers, the
firebase, the river, and the RF/PFs, they had no way out. During that day,
and even into the next day, VC/NVA were seen trying to swim the river to
escape. Few made it. Our gunships weren't too effective in the heavily
wooded area, but in the open areas, and in the river, mini-guns and
fleshettes stopped many attempts to escape. In the final count, this one
Battalion of VC/NVA lost about 250 men, including the Commander and his
entire staff, who were found in a field headquarters area near the bridge
they could never cross. No doubt the VC/NVA knew that the RF/PF unit was at
Tuy Hoa for training. They also probably knew that the 238th was standing
down. What their intelligence missed was the presence of the ARVN Rangers,
and the dedication of the maintenance crews of both the 238th and 134th.
Despite the stand down, the 238th maintenance crews kept at least two
gunships in the air the entire time. They patched bullet holes, and even
replaced windshields in almost record time to keep enough aircraft
available. I've never been sure what defined "hero" in Viet Nam, but the
efforts of those maintenance crews, and aircraft crews in this case was
"heroic" to me!
CW3. USA, Ret.
The following story is as I remember it, after, over thirty years. If any parts of this are incorrect please accept my apologies.
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.
When I first came into the country I was assigned to the motor pool, after all I was trained to repair tanks and trucks, and I wasn't there long. As soon as I looked at the slicks, I new that is what I need to do. This was not going to be easy to just move into a new m.o.s. just like that. The first sergeant put me on the shit detail, literally, and I was to drive the truck with the half barrows full of, well, you know what. Next, I was put on the water well. I was taking care of the feeding of chlorine to the water. I finally made it to the Demons, and I was airborne.
a door gunner flying and learning how to be a crew chief, cleaning guns,
wiping the ship down after each mission, twisting safety wire and finally
made it. I was a crew chief. For my next step, I had my eyes on the devil
gun ships. Well, there was a sergeant who was a juicer standing in the
way. He told me the only way I was going to fly with the guns was to kick
his ass. OK, take off the shirt and the strips and let’s go. Well, he must
have liked me after I got my ass kicked; I was in the guns the next day. On
my first day we saw a black bear when we were flying, and the pilot said
shoot it. I didn't. He told me that when he said shoot, I had better pull
the trigger on anything that moved, and from that day on I did. We escorted
the demons in on hot LZ’s and we pulled the triggers. I watched trees
disappear from the rockets being shot from the pods and bullets fired from
the miniguns, that made the fillings in my teeth feel like they were going
to vibrate out of my mouth. I was glad I was up there and not down on the
ground. I volunteered for Vietnam and have a lot of pride in what we did
over there, and for my fellow countrymen. We were young and working long
hard hours, so when we got a chance to fly we were happy to get off the
ground. Because it was very hot and muggy when we were on the ground,
flying with the doors open and the wind in my face was great. I can
remember stopping at Qui Nhon at the Strawberry Sunday pad for an ice cream
We went about our days counting down the time we had left over there, on our ‘how short can you be calendar’, 3 digits left. On October 14, 1970 we were on a combat assault mission. Parked on a runway at Cheo Reo, the pilots WO Price and Smith were getting ready to move the helicopter from chalk 5 to chalk 7 when # 6 moved, and to avoid a midair he pulled the cyclic back and put the stinger into the ground hard. The tail broke off and the aircraft spun around two times. I held on tight. I was looking at one side of the runway, then the other, then the other side one more time; we hit the ground so hard the skids flattened out. No one was injured. One of the pilots was recording that day so he would be able to send it home to his wife so she would know what it sounded like to be in a helicopter for a day. I wonder if she ever got it.
Around the time I became a two digit midget we packed up and moved to Tuy Hoa air base, and that was like a vacation. Air conditioning, better everything and boy the Air Force had it good. It was ours now. I almost hated to leave and go on R&R. R&R, that was setup just for the GI’s: yes, it was Bangkok, Thailand. We had a great time there as short as it was. I think we can keep them guessing about it. Then back to Hell’s Half Acre for some more entertainment by the girls at the bar that sang American songs. I didn’t like there interpretation but they looked good. More flying, some more time at the beach and before I knew it I was a one digit midget. Yes, I was as short.
Now off to Cameron bay where I missed my freedom flight by three days just to wait for my buddy so we would fly home together. The longest trip I have been on nineteen hours. We landed in Seattle in the middle of winter (mid 20s) still in my jungle fatigues but I was back on US soil at last.
I would like to thank the people who wrote the history of the 134th Assault Helicopter Company for helping me with getting the dates and names right and keeping alive the memories of a time long a go in a land far away.
Well, let’s see, it was a warm humid night right near the middle of my tour and things were looking real good at that point, very few bullet holes and had only crashed twice so I felt pretty lucky. As all gunners in the gun platoon we were a proud bunch but this particular day was to rival none other. This particular day I was to get the honor and distinction of actually wounding our pilot. You must remember that I liked the guy and this was totally an accident but it has weighed heavy on me for years. I don’t remember his name and have not had the opportunity to apologize but someday we will meet and this burden will be lifted.
While sleeping in the foul smelling scramble hooch that we called home on the flight line one night we got “THE CALL”. Everyone headed to their ships and prepared for what turned out to be friendlies getting their butts kicked near an unnamed town. Hell they all looked alike to me even in the daytime. I loved to fly but even more so at night because you knew where you stood as far as the enemy tracers were concerned—they were easy to spot targets, I just didn’t like them coming too close. Anyway, the pilots were given coordinates for our gun run and, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t they tell us gunners which way they were going to bank after the run so we could at least squeeze our cheeks?
Well, as we finished the run with our M-60’s blazing to the max we take a hard left hand bank with the nose being pulled up some. It caught me by surprise while I was still firing and my weight and the weight of the gun and ammo literally pulled me back inside my door and I popped 2 maybe 3 rounds into the floor behind the right seat sending some shrapnel from the floor into the back of the pilots legs. Well, you would have thought I pinched the poor guys nipples because he screamed like a little girl.
The flight back to Tuy Hoa was quiet as they all thought that they were incoming rounds and heaven forbid outgoing and I never had the heart to tell them. My crew chief knew what happened but we weren’t talking so if you’re out there still sporting a couple of Band-Aids, I’m sorry, I really am.
Name withheld as I entered the witness protection program soon after the incident.
By Dale Toler
I was the first RLO replacement when I arrived at the 134th. History has shown it was a unique and very great AHC. Very few units had the diverse and widespread missions we flew. Even though we stayed “based” at Phu Heip, most of us had some great times at Ahn Khe; and got to tour much of the country. I had missions as far north as I Corp with some jarheads and south almost to Saigon with the US Secretary of Agriculture. You all remember Laos and Cambodia. As Walter Chrobak so correctly stated, we had majestic support from our crews and maintenance. They were the truly hard working heroes that kept us pilots enjoying the great view from the seats up front.
There are lots of great stories when we look back, most with a lot of humor now. I must admit that we seemed to be having a good time back then, despite the seriousness of our mission.
Yes, Nagel and Bittner tried to chase down the VC we found planting ammunition. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Nagel claimed the rights, as he was in the left seat that day. After they left the ship, our wing was going crazy, as we forgot to tell him what was going on. They raced some 200 yards and would have caught the guy, we really wanted a prisoner, but he jumped on a motorcycle he had hidden earlier and drove off. I had taken off from where we originally landed and was providing cover for our crew in pursuit of the bad guy. After landing to pick them up, we still wanted to chase the guy, when we realized I had to take off again out of a confined area LZ. You may remember C models with full armaments don’t actually hover. It was really, I mean really, tight. We continued the chase until he got to the main road and picked up his girlfriend. We let them go.
One of the funny stories happened near Kung Song. A company of the 173rd was pinned down from a horseshoe shaped ridgeline. There was a 12.7 at each end, with a lot of NVA in the middle. We made several passes on the 12.7’s getting them to let up on the Airborne troops. There was the standard box of grenades between the CP and myself, and with the passes breaking over the top of the ridge; we decided to drop some WP on the clumps of NVA on the ridge top. As the ship broke left, on my side, I tossed out two WP’s and watched a great airburst as one of the grenades was hit with rounds from the CE’s M-60. A large chunk of burning phosphorus flew through the open side window, past my eyes and out the right side, again through the open window. Both of us in the front and the CE all said bad words.
The door gunner on the right was a FNG and missed most of the action. We made the next passes, tossing regular grenades as we were out of WP, or so we thought. The door gunner had continued throwing grenades on each pass. There were some billows of white smoke, but we thought it was leftover from the WP’s of earlier passes. Suddenly the FM cracked and the grunts were screaming the NVA had gassed them. About that time the CP and I got a huge cloud of white smoke, tear gas, as we passed over the ridge. Again we all said bad words. I turned around to see if the guys in the back were OK and behold, the gunner has a tear gas grenade in his hand, ready to throw. I told him to toss it and NOT pick up any more. We made a few more passes, expended and then returned to rearm. The teargas had cleared out when we returned to the ridgeline to finish the NVA. New rule, no more WP to be carried in the grenade box.
What made the story stay so clear was more than the white hot flame that passed inches from my nose. Stateside, as a troop commander in the 6th Cav, I was recounting the story to one of my NCO’s. Turned out he was in the 173rd and on the ground for the encounter. He recounted that we had wiped out the two 12.7’s on the first two passes. They also saw the airbursts of WP, thinking it was really cool. Moreover, they really did believe the NVA had gassed them. Few of them had gas masks with them, and after the event, had to add them to the gear they were humping for the next month. Oh, buy the way; we did get a lot of NVA.
Time spend in the 134th was too short for me, as I took over as CO of HHC of the 268th. I had a transmission and another engine failure in country. No scratches. Nagel attracted bullets, I attracted mechanical challenges.
After completing my Army servitude and some other fun stuff, I transferred to the Air Force, attended AF Flight School and became a fighter pilot. That was also fun flying.
Time has ravaged names and faces. Many of the events are clear, deeply etched in sight and sounds, and will remain a legacy of knowing good men doing great things. It is with supreme sadness that I saw David Bittner has departed. All crew members of the 134th owed him some debt at one time or another. There was no greater Crew Chief, no better shot than Bittner. Those who were so very privileged to sit in his ship know his incredible contribution to every single engagement.
Again, all of us who were
honored to be able to fly in the 134th are forever indebted to
the fine hard working and dedicated men who worked on and maintained our
machines. You were the true backbone of the unit.
By SP/5 Kirk Muth
7/67 - 7/69
My story starts out in Germany. There was about 20-25 of us guys that were stationed in Germany as helicopter mechanics. We got orders to go to the 134th Helicopter Co. at Ft. Bragg. Most of us were in the same company in Germany. When we arrived around July 1967, there were no mechanics but they started coming in straight out of helicopter school. Most of us had just made SP/4 in Germany. Within a few months we got the top slots and got promoted to SP/5. Most of the time, we did very little work on the helicopters at Ft. Bragg. I was sent home to take a 30-day leave and to show up at Sharp Army Depot in California around October. We were to be the advanced party that accompanied the Helicopters to Viet Nam. It was about a month at Sharp and all we did was show up for roll call and the Sergeant would have us hang around a few hours and then tell us to show up the next morning. I believe the Officer with us had to leave and all we had was a sergeant in charge of us. We left Sharp aboard the USS Kula Gulf. It was an old Aircraft Carrier that was now a Merchant Marine Ship. There was another helicopter company aboard with us. It took us 30 days to get to Vung Tau VN. There was nothing to do aboard ship but sleep and go topside and lay in the sun. There was a typhoon close to the Philippines and the sea was very ruff. Many of us were very seasick and could not eat. Upon arriving in Vung Tau we spent several days putting on rotor blades and getting the aircraft ready to fly off to Saigon Air Base. We spent the night in the helicopters on the side of the runway. There was nobody with us that was ever in Viet Nam before to explain what was going on. We stood guard and all I remembered was hearing Vietnamese people talking and I thought everybody was a VC. We flew the ships to Phu Hiep and all I remember was how pretty the coastline was.
At Phu Hep we didn’t have very much. We built wooden frames and put tents over them for housing and I can tell you it was very hot in there and then there was the rain. We also got wooden pallets and made wooden walkways to get out of the sand. And of course we had to dig the urinals. It wasn’t long before we moved down the street into wooden buildings with cement floors. Paul Codorniz and I roomed together in a cubical. We were smart guys and saw where the officers kept their stuff for themselves. We got the mule and acted like we knew what we were doing and loaded up ourselves a coke machine and took it to our cubical. Until I left, I always had cold cokes and beer. I would sell to the whole hooch cold drinks. That coke machine would almost freeze the drinks.
I was a PE team leader and had 13 guys working for me. I had to fly on all the test flights when our ship would come out the 100-hour inspection. I collected flight pay every month that I was in country. I believe that not one of the aircraft our crew worked on ever went down for any mechanical problems. It was very hard supplying men for guard duty and KP and still getting the aircraft out on time. I can’t count the times we all worked late into the night. I had to work some people until after midnight to get the ships out. I would be very upset because they would want us to paint the whole aircraft to make it look good. The other thing that pissed me off was working late and being very dirty and when I would hit the showers there was no water or it was cold. Have you ever tried to get oil off your body with cold water? There were only a few times that we ever had time off. I remember one time the men were upset about no time off. We didn’t even have time to go to the PX. I told the guys that they could take one day off, one man at a time and not tell anybody. They could not go to the PX because somebody would see them. I told them I could cover for them if anybody was looking for them. I would never have a full crew. They had to go to Tuy Hoa and stay there all day. Well you can guess what comes next. One of the men went to the PX and was caught and that was the end of that.
I remember one day that a ship came into maintenance area with 2 deer and a fawn. These guys were very big deer. They cut them up and the officers had venison. I know somebody else has a story about this. I have pictures of them in the maintenance area.
Mid 1968 Joe Molingo, from the linecrew and I went to An Khe TDY to do the maintenance for the 4 slicks and 2 guns ships that went there. This was one of my best times in Viet Nam. Every day the crews would fly off and come back late in the day. Many days I would go around to the mess hauls and beg for hamburger, hot dogs, steak, chicken or anything else they would give me. I would fire up the BBQ and serve the crews when they came in for the day. Since the crews and the ships were gone all day there wasn’t anything for me to do. My job was to take the dirty laundry to town and pick up the clean laundry. We had no hooch maids there. I would spend all day walking around Sin City joking with the girls. There was one shop owner that I would visit almost every day. We would talk about a different subject every day. It was that day forward that I realized that they are just like us. I had always thought they weren’t like us. She had invited me to her house to eat and visit with her husband and kids. I left An Khe before it could happen. There was a warrant officer friend of mine (?) that I introduced him to them and I don’t know if he ever went to her house and visited them.
It was in An Khe after working on a slick that I was sitting in the co-pilots seat on the test flight. The pilot asked me if I had ever hovered a helicopter before. I said no and he asked me to try it. I did very well and the pilot said that he thought I had hovered before. He never had anybody do that good on there first try. I told him that I have worked on helicopters for several years now and know how the controls work
After one year in country I went home for 30 days leave and had decided that when I come back that I wanted to be a crewchief. I was tired of working the very long hours. I thought that I was going to die about 4 times while being a crewchief. One of the times we were flying the Koreans into a hot LZ. We were going on to a very steep mountainside. There was only room for one helicopter at a time. We were the third ship into the LZ and we took a round threw the windshield. It sounded like a bazooka that had gone threw the ship. It missed the pilot’s head by one inch and my head by one foot. There was a hole in the windshield the size of a watermelon. The pilot quickly asked if we were OK. He then asked if we wanted to shut down here or try to fly it out. All the instruments were in the red. The one that bothered me most was no transmission oil pressure. We made it back to base and found out that it was only electrical wires that were bad. You don’t know that at the time when the light are flashing.
I had just started being a crewchief when we were doing a new pilot in-country orientation. We were doing touch and go over near the Koreans base. He quickly turned the radio so I could not hear what he was saying to the co-pilot. He had about a two-mile final and the co-pilot overshot the LZ by 100 feet. I thought that this co-pilot didn’t know how to fly this ship. What will we do if the pilot gets shot?
There was the time coming out of maintenance when the maintenance officer wanted to make a parts run to Quin Nhon. He told me not to get the gunner that we would be making a quick run up and back in no time. I was sitting in the copilot’s seat. He called Phu Hep tower and asked if there was anybody needing a ride to Quin Nhon. We picked up a couple guys and he then done the same thing at Tuy Hoa. We now had about 6 guys in the helicopter. It started to rain very hard. There was no top to the clouds so we dropped below them and was following Hwy 1. Of course we were so low that we lost radio signal at Quin Nhon. We were in flight for over one hour and our compass was acting wrong. I now looked out the door and I saw the same bay a second time. We were going in circles. The bottom dropped out of the clouds and there was a small hole in them to a beach. He landed the ship on the beach and I asked the passengers if any of them had a weapons? One of the guys had an M-14 with one clip for it. Soon the clouds lifted and we got to Quin Nhon. We were very low on fuel. It scared me a lot.
There was the time we were doing re-supply for the Arvin’s. They were loading the ship and I wasn’t paying to much attention. They thought if there was room put something in there to just keep adding things. I was trying to stop them from putting more supplies in. The pilot did a weight check and said we are a little over weight. He backed the helicopter all the way back with the tail over the fence. We were now going to try to take off with a long run at it. Just as we got close to the fence in front of us a jeep pulled in our path and the pilot had to over torque the rotor (red line) it. We just barley missed the guys heads in the jeep. I thought we weren’t going to make it over the jeep. After a couple miles the pilot still had the torque meter in red so I radioed him that the danger was over and he could let off the collective. He didn’t say a word to me about it.
Now there was the time when we were doing re-supply for the American troops. They were high in the mountains and in a lot of trees. They had to blow up some trees for us to get in there. It was a very tight location. I had a bad engine that they were waiting to replace it when I came in for 100-hour inspection and that was about 10 hour away. They loaded the ship with men and dirty laundry. We were coming strait up and as usual we started loosing RPM. This time we lost more RPM than usual and the ship started to drop. I yelled at the guys to throw everything off the ship but they didn’t know what was happening. The pilot was just high enough to nose the helicopter down the mountain and picked up the RPM. When we made it back to base we changed the engine out. Being a mechanic first than a crewchief second lets you understand all of the problems and you know what is going on.
The worst job was trying to pick up some dead bodies. We had tried to get into this LZ for several days. Finally the shooting had stopped and we were able to pick up the two Arvin’s wrapped in ponchos. That sure is a smell you never forget. On the other hand there was the mission doing re-supply for the Koreans. We would be hauling water in the helicopter. By the end of the day the helicopter would be full of mud. On the last sortie of the day they would hose down the whole inside of the aircraft. Then they radioed for us to land out in the field. That was something that made us very nervous. We thought it could be a booby trap. They popped the smoke and we landed. One of them ran up to the helicopter and threw in 2 live chickens that were hog-tied. We knew that they were showing there appreciation for the days work but we all looked at each other and said what are we going to do with 2 live chickens. We were headed back and were probably going to have steak when we got to the mess haul.
It was on a day that all we did was log a lot of hours flying back and forth. Sitting in the back doing nothing all day is very boring. We were finished for the day and had about an hour ride back to Phu Hiep. The Captain (?) flying the helicopter and I were friend as only as it could be, as not to fraternize with the EM. He asked me if I wanted to fly the ship. I said yes! Of course. He just set the ship down in an open field and told the co-pilot to get in the back. We had about a half hour to go and he said you got it, take her up. I thought I would do a good job but at 3000 feet above the surface it’s harder than you think. It is because there are no land references to help you. Trying to fly a strait and level flight just using the instruments is tough. I found myself either climbing or descending or try to keep the aircraft from crabbing instead of flying strait.
I was happy to serve in
Viet Nam and with the 134th AHC. It never troubled me after my
Army carrier. We were trying to do the right thing. I went back to Viet Nam
in 1971-1972 for a year working as a civilian working on Army helicopters
and the Vietnamese Air Force.