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As the fighting in Vietnam was escalating in late 1965 and early 1966, elements of the 175th Aviation Company that had been training in Air Mobile concepts at Ft Benning Georgia were shipped to Hawaii. In February 1966, their aviation assets were put at the disposal of the 25th Infantry Division. Those assets included personnel and a boatload of brand new UH-1's, which would be sent directly to Vung Tau, Vietnam. On their arrival they were flown on to Cu Chi.
In mid March 1966 the personnel of the 175th Aviation Company began arriving in Hawaii. B Company's personnel would evolve from these assets.
LTC Sam Kalagian was integral to this transition. As the battalion commander he was running the “Shotgunner” school, and had some expertise in helicopter applications in the jungle. In his own words, “ I knew most of the aviators, and I made all the initial personnel assignments”. The "Shotgunner" program, training Infantry machine gunners to become aerial door gunners for helicopter-armed protection was three weeks long and produced over 2,000 trained aerial door-gunners by the time B. Company and the rest of the 25th Aviation Battalion were ready to deploy to Vietnam.
During the time the "Shotgunner " training was going on scrounging missions were underway to find equipment and materials to support the infrastructure of the Battalion. Tent kits and lumber had to be procured. Mess facilities, generators, radio gear and a multitude of other items of equipment were obtained to make them self sufficient and battle ready upon their arrival.
Sam Kalagian and a handful of officers flew to Vietnam in December 1965 to Pleiku and other bases in Vietnam to develop a plan for deployment of the 25th Infantry Division's aviation assets, pick a site for the air strip and begin preparations for setting up camp. Upon their return to Hawaii, they had to plan, gather, organize and package materials and equipment so they could be assembled quickly upon arrival under conditions that might include hostile fire.
The place the 25th Aviation Battalion would ultimately call home would be Cu Chi Vietnam. Located 25 miles, as the crow flies, from Saigon. This infamous facility would be known as "Hell's Half Acre". It would see, and be part of the bloodiest fighting in all of Vietnam from it's inception in 1965 until the 25th Aviation Battalion stood down on 7 December 1970.
The 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 25th Infantry Division had secured the site at Cu Chi late in 1965. The company areas at this time were simply a field. It was a bare spot in an inhospitable jungle.
April 29th saw the battalion disembark the ship General Walker at Vung Tau, Vietnam. Within a few days, the battalion was at Cu Chi to take their place along with other elements of "The Tropic Lightning Division".
Don Helmich was among those troops that made the voyage over by ship from Hawaii to Vung Tau and then on to Cu Chi. The following are excerpts from his journal concerning this trip.
At Schofield - Days Before Departure
I asked the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kalagian, if I should take my last class through the University of Hawaii extension class, which was to last 8 weeks. Colonel Kalagian said 'yes' to take class. The final exam was given the night before day of departure. Everyone in class was wearing fatigues with green underwear. They were a strange bunch of students. I had no idea I was cutting it so close in finishing class the night before the unit was leaving for Nam. Atmosphere among Battalion personnel was strange, not knowing exactly when
were to leave. We had to be ready at any time to grab our stuff and load on buses.
Day of Departure
Early that morning we loaded onto a caravan of buses and headed for Pearl Harbor. I can't remember the exact day although it was sometime in mid Aprilof 1966.
It was sad to see families of 25th Infantry Division personnel waving and saying good-bye to their loved ones. For myself it was no big deal. I had no family around, just said to myself "what the hell am I doing here?"
On Board the General Walker it seems like 7000 US Army guys from 25th Infantry Division and 5000 'jarheads' from the mainland. The jarheads were crazy, they were half drunk and looking forwarded to action in Nam (I was already looking forward to when I was going to be able to leave Nam) The enlisted bunks were just stacked as hammocks below sea level of the ship about 4 deep. There was barely enough room to get into them.
Some of the more engaging GI's in the middle of the night swapped our shitty C-rations for the good C rations stored in various locations around the boat. Now that was fun sneaking around the boat!
I remember getting a little green card that said "You have Crossed the Int'l Dateline". Some guys really wanted that card. You would have thought they were discharge papers.
Days Before LST Landings
It was hard to sleep, and we waited in Vung Tau harbor for a couple of days before being sent ashore to continue on to Cu Chi. Guards tossed grenades over the side of the ship around the clock to prevent any sabotage of the ship by the VC while we were anchored in the harbor.
First Couple Days In-Country
We boarded LSTs to go ashore finally (I felt like a friggin' jarhead). I was in front of the LST with a mix of officers and grunts. It was kind of strange to be in a situation where rank seemed insignificant if attacked. I did feel good about having my M-14 versus a 45-caliber pistol that the officers carried; I always carried more than my share of loaded 308 magazines around with me.
Landing on shore we were greeted by a six-piece band welcoming us. I never understood the significance of the band.
We boarded 2 ½ (deuce and a half) ton trucks for the ride to Cu Chi. I was thirsty as hell when I arrived in Cu Chi. It had been a long trip from waiting to get off the ship in Vung Tau, and being transferred onto the LST and then the convoy ride to Cu Chi only to have to set up tents on vacant land. I asked the A Company Commander, Captain Johnson, for water for us guys. He called in a water truck and made it immediately available for us. That was the best tasting water that I have ever had!
We had to pitch tents and dig trenches around the tents because the monsoon rains would flood the ground and I needed the water to run off and away from the tent area.
First Couple Months In-Country
We had to set up hooch's for battalion Headquarters and various officers living hooch's. They came in packages that had to be assembled. It was a big job. The sun was hot and it was dusty but then could get muddy with flash flooding in a heartbeat.
I wanted to know what the water was doing running under our living hooch/quarters. I found out it was water running in the tunnels of Cu Chi. I was told that they were cleared out of VC (We hoped). The lightning storms were unreal in Cu Chi. The lightning rebounds from the ground up to the sky. There is a name for this freak of nature. A heavy voltage generated and when the ground gets over charged it sends a pillar of lightning back up to clouds.
The 25th Aviation Battalion departed Vietnam on 7 December 1970 for
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.