16. Flare Mission By James DeWitt

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.
AM Def Ser Cam
Last modified: Friday March 17th, 2023