58. Birddog Gun Cover For An Extraction 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.

This was just a few weeks after I got shot down just north of LZ English with Steve Franich by just ONE round which came up through the engine deck into the diffuser and disintegrated the engine internally.

I still wonder and would love to know who was the great crew I had that day that never backed off for a second. And the crew chief who ended up with a hell of lot of sheet metal repair for just one morning on a supposedly calm resupply mission.
AM Def Ser Cam
Last modified: Saturday March 18th, 2023