56. My Memories Of The 134th AHC by Richard Sheehan
I am Richard (Rick) Sheehan/Demon 25 and I was a Captain in the 134th Assault Helicopter Company 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 AHC website was gone I searched for and found the new site started by Hans J. Underwood. 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 start 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
drinkingflight 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 Souvenirsthat 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
taxioff 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 hawkon 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 hawkbefore 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.
|Last modified: Saturday March 18th, 2023|