War Stories 13
If You have these little stories about pilots or crewcembers you wish to share, please contact me. If we don't tell them, they will not be told, and part of our history will be lost forever.
Long after, After Action Report
We all have memories of certain events that have remained with us over the years. Little snippets of time of major moments in our life. Most of the in-between stuff is long forgotten but you still remember the big events. These events sometimes involved good or poor flying techniques,
either performed by other pilots or ourselves. We remember because it may have scared the hell out of us or because it was just awesome. I'm not sure why I relate this, other than the fact that I am still so proud of the pilots and crew members I flew with. Like Ron Leonard has said, these
stories should be told.
Patrol Base Kotrc (see After Action Report 60) had been a source for enemy contact for sometime. According to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund web site, Patrol Base Kotrc was named in honor of Major James Carl Kotrc, who died on 29 July 1969. It was "A tiny fort near the Cambodian border built in August 1969, with two purposes, to draw enemy attacks as a means of fixing and destroying enemy forces, and disrupt the enemy communications route passing through the area."
On September 5, 1969 there was a lot of action going on. The base had been under attack and in need of supplies. Late in the afternoon John Driscoll, from the Little Bears, got the call for an ammo run. Hey, who wants to run low on ammo after it turns dark. John knew this and said so. So he had the ammo depot boys load his Huey to the gills with small arms ammo, mortars, the works. I mean you couldn't see the crew chief or gunner. And it was heavy. This might be their last ammo supply until the next day. Well every time he tried to sneak into Kotrc to off load, and the skids were about to touch down, the bad guys would mortar the place. It would take a few minutes to unload and you can't sit there, waiting to get hit. So he'd lumber out, dragging the skids in the mud, and the mortaring would stop. He was the target and the bad guys wanted his aircraft. Over your right shoulder you could see trees explode from incoming, look over your left shoulder and see our guys running around, mud flying up from the impacts of incoming and wonder how come they had not been hit. Get in, in get, out and stay alive. Come back in and the same thing would happen. I know he made at least three attempts, maybe more before the crew was able to off load the boxes of munitions. I know all this because I had the second best seat in the house; I was sitting next to him watching this incredible show. This guy was so cool I don't think anything jacked up John's heart rate. Had we been hit, September the 5th would have looked like the 4th of July. But John knew the troops needed this load badly, and did well. He also knew what the down side could be. Months earlier he had been shot through the legs and was evacuated to Japan to recover. Then, lucky for us, they shipped him back-to our unit.
Between the night of September the 4th, through my afternoon flight with John on the 5th, I flew 17 hours in a 27 hour period, 10 of those hours being night (I think Jim Collins was the aircraft commander for that portion). I still have my DA form 759-1 (individual flight record) to prove it. In the Bears we flew days one week, nights the next.
Not all pilots are created equal. Earlier I mention poor flying techniques along with the good. Part of a copilot's job is to absorb, retain and
apply the good qualities we saw in an aircraft commander, while remembering and discarding poor techniques that we were exposed to and can get you into trouble. One dark night I had an aircraft commander doing a high overhead approach to a remote landing zone. We were so far over on our side, it was the only time I didn't know which way was up or down. For those who do not fly, the high overhead approach is used to keep you in close to your landing zone. You fly over your spot, bank the aircraft on its side and circle down, flaring at the bottom. It is not a good idea to have the aircraft on its side on a dark night when you are more likely to be killed by the accident, than by the enemy. You will be heard but not seem. Still, you may get shot at. Fortunately there were enough good pilots to lead the way. That brings up:
Over the long haul I probably learned more good qualities flying with John Mistretta than any other. Maybe it was because I flew with him as much as I did. His fine techniques served me well in my flying career. John had a smooth thought process and the control touch to go with it, in addition to being a good guy. Whether it was making an approach to a landing zone in the woods on a pitch-black night in stormy weather with really strong winds, and the only light source marking the landing spot was a strobe light inside a helmet or maybe even a flashlight - or low leveling in heavy rain, or spending hours on end doing re-supply, my time flying with John was some of the best.
An honorable mention should go to Diamond Head pilot Mike Finnegan. On August 12, 1969, I ended up with some ground troops, and from a groundhogs point of view, I watched Mike earn a Silver Star by repeatedly flying a Huey smoke ship between us and bad guys, laying down columns of dense smoke so that an assault helicopter company could land troops behind it and not get hosed down. He must have been flying over those guys. He was good, and lucky that day, but I think he took some hits. We were close enough that I thought I was going to get scalped that day. Shrapnel from 500-pound bombs, and napalm that was dropped from our F-100's and A-4's was screaming overhead and splashing in the water around us. I was sure I was going to get it in the forehead. I remember thinking; wow, I can feel the heat of the napalm the instant I can see the orange flames. A Lt. Colonel took a round from small arms standing about 10 feet from me. Those were the good old days.
As always, kudos to Ron Leonard for giving life to the 25th Aviation Battalion, through his web site.
Mr. Nobriga was awesome. I gave him a phone call in Hawaii when I got out. We had a great conversation.
I am sending on an excerpt from my memoirs on Mr. Nobriga.
I’ve got him on film, adjusting his collar, after coming back from a mission on 440.
Mr. Nobriga, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, was extraordinary to the point of becoming a legend. He was always calm, cool and collected. Soft spoken and deliberate in all he did. A true gentleman. He liked to wear leather flight gloves when he flew and wore clean, well-tailored uniforms. The most extraordinary occasion I can recall while flying with Mr. Nobriga was capturing a fleeing Viet Cong. When the VC broke across the rice paddy, Mr. Nobriga gave us strict orders not to fire a shot. We came in low and hot, banking so severely I thought our rotor blades where going into the ground. The nearly vertical rotor plane cut right in front of Charlie who was now backpedaling as fast as he could in the mud of the rice paddy. After getting solid footing, he took off in another direction, and Mr. Nobriga gave it full cyclic forward, swooping down for another pass. The ground was so close I found myself pushing back, as if that would give us more room between the tip of the rotor plane and the rice paddy. We may have made another 4 or 5 passes in the same manner…all of us hanging on for dear life as Mr. Nobriga deftly guided 440 through more swooping turns and banks, as a maestro would play a Stradivarius in Carnegie Hall. The now panting figure in black pajamas finally stopped, threw up both arms and remained still. Tropic Lightening ground troops who had lined up on the dikes of the rice paddy to watch this amazing performance, rose to their feet to give us (Mr. Nobriga) a standing ovation.
After my year in Viet Nam, I was assigned to an Air Cav outfit in Ansbach, Germany. On one of our flights close to the Czech boarder, I bumped into Mr. Nobriga again at some obscure airfield. We were both surprised to see one another, but before I could say “how ya been”, Mr. Nobriga grabbed me by the arm and took me into the pilots lounge and presented me to the group. “O.K. Frye, tell them about how we rounded up that VC”. Evidently this “story” had preceded Mr. Nobriga, and all of the pilots in the room were skeptical that such an event ever happened. I recanted my recollection as Mr. Nobriga took it all in…arms folded and eyes flashing as we all re-lived that incredible event.
DAVID S NOBRIGA 27 Nov 1930 15 Jun 2001 (V) XX732 (U.S. Consulate: GERMANY (FRANKFURT)) Diamondhead Pilot 67-68 that made his home in Hawaii and died in frankfort Germany.
Gary Jones Bio
Thanks for getting back to me so quick. I'm sorry you're not included in the VHPA, as you guys really saved our ass when we "marked the enemy position with a burning LOH". So hat's off to you.
I was there after you left, as I didn't arrive at D Troop from B Company until late June 1969. I was WIA in mid-September, so I wasn't there very long. My platoon leader was "Buddah Tom" Sinclair, who took over the platoon from someone else, whose name escapes me (Odam?), who got shot down in flames (and survived). At least that's the story I recall, after 30+ years. We also had an Aussie pilot, John (can't remember his last name, I think it was Evans) who flew "the Iron Butterfly" (LOH) and was shot down three times in LOH alley, before they refused to give him another helicopter to fly. My crew was Steve Snoddy, crewchief, and Rocky Rhodes, gunner. Rocky started to fly us out when I got hit down south of Cu Chi on a last light mission. I've never had the guts to find them or contact them. Something about survivor guilt, I guess, although neither of them are on "the wall".
I have been in the National Guard for over twenty years, currently pushing Shithooks around for the past ten years. Since they can't find any "kids" who want to fly, they keep us old guys around (probably for laughs). There was a guy in our Guard unit who was a D Troop Blue, having transferred from the Little Bears. His name is Jack Orr, an American Indian. I didn't find him in your 1968 picture, so he must have been there before you were.
He was with the Little Bears when "Spooky" the Asian Brown Bear mascot was just a cub. Jack has retired from the Guard and is now a Native American Shaman in Reno, NV. He and I used to talk about the old days in the Troop, when he wasn't getting drunk and telling me that, as an Indian, he would have to kill me when the fighting started again between the whites and the Indians. He really was a great guy. Let me know if you know of him.
Anyway my name is Gary A. Jones, and I was a 22 year old (old fart) LOH pilot who was transfered from B Company, 25th Aviation Bn, 25th Inf Div, on June 25th, 1969. The story I was told that D Troop was down aircraft (LOH) and pilots due to combat losses, but my feeling was they transferred me because I was a pain in the ass, and didn't like taking orders, especially stupid orders. So I and my LOH, and I think a crew chief, ended up coming over to the Centaurs. They even loaned me the B Co. CO's jeep to drag my shit over to the Troop just to make sure there wasn't any delay.
There were two slick pilots already with the Troop, who were classmates of mine in flight school: Randy Meade and "Sandy" Sandmeyer. I did OK in the Troop although my first body count was an ARVN who was in a patrol along a river to the west of Cu Chi. We didn't know the patrol was down there, and as we flew over they popped smoke, I saw the flash, thought it was a muzzle flash and told my crew to open up. Shortly after that we did take fire from the ARVN patrol, but who could blame them? On 12 September 1969, I volunteered to take a last light mission for my platoon leader, who had been flying all day, and his crew hadn't had a chance to eat. Also, last light was a good time for body count, and I think Bob (Fortier?) and I were tied for highest body count that month. We were working an area south of Cu Chi, south of the highway, in an open rice paddy area with a small stream and one large, dead tree. As we flew by the tree we saw a naked guy (he had been taking a bath in the stream) trying to pretend he was part of the tree. We opened fire on him and I think Steve even threw a grenade at him, wounding him. I then violated the LOH pilot's rule of never staying in one place too long.
As I flew around the tree for about the third time, one of the guy's buddies jumped up out of a hole, stuck an AK47 in my door and pulled the trigger. I don't think he actually stuck it in the door, but it felt like it, and my CE Steve later told me the guy was "really close". Most of the burst went by, but one bullet him me in the leg, bounced off my chicken plate, and went through my right bicep, before exiting out the bubble over my head. I guess I was lucky it didn't bounce the other way, into my head. Anyway, it blew me off the controls, and Steve yelled at Rocky to take the controls and Rocky grabbed the sawed off broomstick we had for the gunners cyclic, pulled a hand full of pitch, and away we went. The higher we climbed the better target we became, and by this time the rest of the NVA company had come up out of their holes, and feeling they had nothing left to lose, started hosing us down pretty good. It looked like the 4th of July with all the red, white and green tracers. I grabbed the controls and put us back in the rice paddy a couple of hundred meters from where we had first been hit.
Steve and Rocky got out with their M-60s and started shooting while the Cobra was making runs overhead trying to keep us from getting killed. There was blood (mine) all over the cockpit but I didn't seem to have any broken bones and I knew if we stayed there we were either going to be dead meat or POWs, neither of which really appealed to me at the time. So I got the guys back in the LOH and we started to low level out to the west. The Cobra said it looked like we were leaking fuel, we had been belly deep in the flooded rice paddy and water was draining out of the bottom of the LOH, but I didn't know that at the time. Also, I was starting to go into shock, and was saying really stupid things on the radio, I saw a dirt road ahead, and slid the LOH in on it. I shut the aircraft down just as a Little Bear C&C slick was landing, probably called in by the Cobra. After I shut the helicopter down, I walked (stupid macho shit) to the slick and got in. A Sergeant ajor handed me a gauze bandage from the first aid kit (like what am I supposed to do with this?) and off we went to 12th Evac. I was operated on there and then medivacced to Japan a few days later for more surgery and eventually went home via Air Force medivac, to the San Diego Naval Hospital for unbelievably good food and really painful physical therapy. After convalescent leave, I was reassigned to Ft. Ord, Fritzche Army Airfield, where I remained (with a really bad attitude) until I ETSed on 31 March 1971. I returned to school and graduated from UC Riverside in 1972, got a job as a juvenile probation officer for Riverside County, got married, and "settled down" as much as any of us ever did. In 1975 I transferred to the El Dorado County Probation Department in South Lake Tahoe, joined the Nevada National Guard in 1977, had a daughter, Erin, in 1980, transfered to the District Attorney's Office as a DA investigator in 1981, and will retire from almost 30 years of law enforcement on the 4th of July, this year. (That is one long, run on sentence).
Well that's about it in a nutshell, so I'd better get this off to you and to the others, if I can remember how to send a cc. If I don't remember, please forward it on to someone who gives a shit, or can at least get my basic info on the website. Keep me advised of unit activities, as now that I'm going to be an old retired guy, I need something to keep me occupied. Thanks for taking the time to respond, and as caustic as I have been this letter, I do believe we have all formed a bond by our service in RVN, that transcends time and place. So, welcome home my friend, and thank you for a job well done.
Gary A. Jones
Go Dau Hau
Some events in life are so traumatic that you can't speak of them…or can't quit talking about them. The one I'm about to relate falls under the former. In an instant, the many participants are melted into a single unit. The bound is so strong, it can never be broken. A component of that unit is Jack Mosley, the best gunner I had the privilege of flying with. You knew the ship's guns were going to work every time. You knew whatever happened, Jack would be holding up his end. He was simply rock solid. I only hope he trusted me half as much.
It was early evening. There was some moonlight but not a full moon. We were supporting an armor unit that was surrounded by NVA near Go Dau Ha. They were really getting hit hard. Tracers were coming in from every direction. Flares drifting slowly down.
Every time we flew over their northwest perimeter, we were taking 37mm AAA. It was so heavy, we were not able to effectively support the troops. The pilots quickly developed a plan to locate and neutralize the gun. Lead would circle normally. We would trail with our nav lights blacked out. That way he wouldn't know where we were. As soon as he revealed himself, we would pounce on him.
In the semi-moonlight, I had already located him from earlier and was telling the AC where I thought he was. At that moment, he had Lead in his sights and had sent the big snowballs skyward. I was already hosing him down before the tracers reached our altitude. He quickly swung his barrel onto us. We were lined up; toe to toe, so to speak.
We nosed over from a pretty high altitude so we had a much longer time than normal to engage the target. The snowballs were passing on both sides of the ship. God bless whoever devised the tactic of descending faster than the gunner could lower his tube. As the AC dropped pitch, we were literally falling out of the sky. The master caution light is glowing bright; over-speed.
I've made hundreds of gun runs but none like this one. Both M-60s were blazing away. The mini-gun stream was broken only by the salvos of rockets. The NVA didn't need nav lights to see us now. We literally expended all our ammo in one run. Our rounds were right on target. They were ricocheting into the night sky. It was speculated that the gun was in Cambodia since the emplacement seemed to be concrete. I don't know for sure but I suspect Lead was following us down that stairway of lead.
As we neared the bottom of our run, we were screaming. The old girl had never gone this fast in her three year life. As the AC pulled pitch and tried to level out, the master caution is on again; under-speed. She shuddered as the blades tried to arrest our descent. The blades must have had an awful cone to them.
The ground is coming up fast. I've unbuckled my monkey strap. I decided long ago that should a crash look inevitable, I would bail before being balled up with the burning scrap metal. I'm not sure how far I was from making that decision when she leveled out a few feet (3 to 5) above the rice paddies. We were so low you could see the rice stalks in the pale moonlight. Jack and I looked over at each other and reached across and shook hands.
We made several more trips out there that night but there was no more AAA. I've often wondered about that NVA soldier; what it was like to do your best and hell continues to rain down on you. Most certainly, you don't duke it out with the Diamondhead warriors. We flew down the dragon's throat, grabbed it by the tail and turned it inside-out.
The next day in the daylight, it was obvious the old girl had almost given her all. There were so many loose and pulled rivets in the tail boom that the 725th fitted her with a new one.
I see the faces but can't recall the names of the pilots. If they are reading this, I would sure like to hear from them. I'm sure Jack would also. If you were a crew member on the lead ship, we would like to hear your prospective on this action also. I believe it happened between October '68 and February '69.
I haven't found anything in the after-action reports about this. There were many debriefings on this action so it wasn't an everyday occurrence.
Jack and I have discussed this many times but not to others. We decided I would write the story for Ron. I sent it several months ago and received his reply. I later asked him about the story. He had no recollection of receiving it. I told sure you did; you answered me back. I couldn't find evidence of sending it or even writing it or his reply. I suppose I only dreamed it. I'm saving this copy right now!
Modern Waste Disposal Techniques in The Land Of OZ
Upon my arrival into the Land of OZ I discovered there are things in normal life that you take for granted, drinkable running water: consistent electrical power: air conditioning: hot showers and flushing toilets.
But in OZ these things no longer exist especially the flushing toilets. In OZ when you go you walk up to a small wooden building, open the door and step into the past. There you find a wooden bench with several evenly spaced holes, which you are to place your posterior over. I was lucky enough to be assigned to a unit that had scrounged up some “Back in the World” style wooden seats. Ass you place your posterior upon the seat and pick up the latest copy of Stars & Stripes, you may be alone or all the holes may be full. Partitions or stalls you ask? Huh? A waste of wood!
The guy next to you may ask for a light, a smoke, part of the paper or all of them. Mama-san may just walk in bum a smoke and light and park next to you. Its embarrassing only the first time, after that its cool!
Now as you may be aware in normal old fashioned outhouses they usually sat over a hole in the ground, but No!, here is OZ they sit up off the ground with ½ of a 55 gallon drum placed directly center under each hole. Now this is odd you say to yourself. But the next morning you find out the systematic reasoning behind and under this amazing structure. For in formation the 1st Sgt. Calls out your name and says “Shit Burning Detail”. Everyone glances over at you the newbie and grins.
And old hand takes you in stride and leads you over to the rear of the structure where you open up 4 trap doors build into the rear of the building, and proceed to use a metal rod to drag the ½ barrels out about 25 ft. behind the outhouse, you then install new empty half barrels under each hole and close the trap doors.
Now comes the good part? You pour approximately 2 gallons of premium military issue diesel fuel into each drum, add a generous splash of JP-4, add a smidgen of MO-gas, then you step back a goodly distance and toss in a burning piece of C-rat box. Now if you know what you are doing and have the drums placed in the appropriate position and are smart enough to be on the up wind side you can actually get up to 8 drums lit at once.
If you scew up and get the wrong combination of flammable liquids, figure the wind wrong or generally screw up in any other way the results could be detrimental to your health and welfare.
Now that the enlisted latrine is taken care of it's off to do the officers latrine. What you expected them to do their own, Damn newbie, you got a lot to learn! And 364 days to do it
East POL at Cu Chi
By Bobbie G. Pedigo, LTC AR (Ret)
I was commander of the 341st Airfield Operations Detachment at Cu Chi from 16 Feb 97-14Feb 68. I built the East POL across the road from the Muleskinners. The four 500 barrel JP4 storage tanks, the refueling facility with the 4" line across the field with 24 nozzles, the three or four helipads of East Resupply with two nozzles each to fuel CH 47s, and the single point refueling pad for the CH-54 Flying Crane. We pumped an average of 40,000 gallons of fuel per day and I built the pump house that later burned after my departure. I also built the VIP helipad for the CG, the Airfield Operations office down in the corner for PAX. I got the aircraft control tower started before my departure and I built the ammunition storage/rearm point at the south end of the refueling area. The 54th Engineers were supposed to build all this stuff but could never get to it so I got them to scrape the pads for the tanks and we bolted them together ourselves. I could store 200K gallons of JP4 and the greatest amount dispensed in one day was 80K. I received eight tankers every day from the resupply convoy when all four were built.
I found the tanks at 1st Log Cmd in Saigon and got them one at a time. I went to Cam Rahn Bay to get the first pump, a 6" single stage Gorman Rupp booster pump and then found the Vitaulic tubing, couplings, elbows, reducers, gate valves, etc to lay the pipe for the fuel line. The final reducers were 4" to 2" plumbing fixtures with a 2" tee on top. To this I had to find an adapter that would accept the OPW coupling of the hoses. I discovered that the valve coupling elbow of the 500 gallon collapsible tanks fit perfectly with the female end of the 2" tee and provided the OPW fitting for the hoses. I needed thirty valve coupler elbows so I turned to the 1st Log Cmd POL division and traded C Rats for the couplers. My next problem was finding thirty nozzles and sixty lengths of rubber hoses to complete the refueling point. I did this by going to the Saigon Docks at the Fishmarket and searching the supply areas until I found what I wanted and then took the NSN, nomenclature, location, and quantity to the Inventory Control Point. (They had no clue what was in the yard). After getting this far I prepared a requisition right on the spot and submitted a priority 5 request. It was approved and I then took my paperwork and vehicle to the yard and obtained the objects I was looking for. (An interesting point here: my supply channel was through the 25th Avn Bn [to whom I was attached although I was a 1st AVN BDE detachment], then through the 25th Div and then through their LNO at the Supply Center. I had my own property book and somehow managed to establish a direct account on my own with USARV and could requisition up to Priority 5 material. Division was in fits because I could get stuff in one day and it took them months).
I built my own company area and hootches across from the 25 Avn Bn NCO club and my personal hootch was just west of the blue 25th Avn A Frame EM Club. We painted our hootches and buildings yellow with brown gables.
I built an arc of pipeline in front of the pumphouse with three connection points and I could off load a 5,000 gallon tanker in four minutes using the 1200 GPM pump I had. It took longer to hook up than to offload. The pony pump of the tanker pumped only 75 GPM and the drivers had time to eat their lunch atop the tanker but we changed that with the 4" lines and big pumps. Later I also obtained a 2000 GPM pump that was a 6" two stage but we had to reduce it to 4" to mate with the three filters of 350 GPM each. I figured out the manifold configuration so that I could offload the trucks and keep the pipeline charged at the same time by a system of gate valves and reducing the flow into the storage tanks when a flight came in to refuel.
I had a total of 21 personnel, including myself, and we did all the work I've mentioned above ourselves. None of us were engineers but we figured it out. It worked and I helped get construction started on similar projects at Tay Ninh and Dau Teng by helping them lay out the setup and obtain equipment.
After Cu Chi I went to FT Rucker where I was a flight commander in the Fixed Wing Branch with the 0-1 low level navigation branch, Feb 68-Apr 69, then to Ft Knox for Adv Crs 69-Feb70, and back to Bien Hoa in June 70 to take command of 68th AHC when I stood it down and served as XO of 145th CAB (Old Warrior 5). The 145th and 269th traded flags in 70 (trying to keep the 145 in country as the first in and last out CAB) and I brought the 269 colors and a small amount of equipment back to Ft Bragg in Apr 70. I was enroute to Bootstrap at Omaha and I stayed 90 days at Bragg as XO of 269th with my good friend Herschel Stephens. I was in Omaha for six months and snowbird at Creighton University with the ROTC for six months while I worked on my MA at Omaha and waited for the next CGSC class in 72. In 73 I returned to Rucker as ACS Officer and departed for PMS at Univ of KY in 76 then to Ft Knox in 78 as Director of the Senior Officer Courses in the Armor School. I retired in Dec 80 and started working as an Army employee until Jan 2003 when I retired again.
The 554th Engr scraped the sites for the 500 Barrel Low Bolted Steel Tanks. After we bolted them together the 554th pushed up a berm around each of the four tanks. They had the task of constructing the tanks but due to their heavy commitment to the Division they could never get to it. The tank berm in the northeast corner took a 122mm rocket into the side of the berm closest to the pump house. It scalloped our a sizeable amount of soft dirt and when I returned in 1970 the scallop was still there but the berm was covered with penta-prime to stabilize it.
The re-arm point was one of their projects that we pushed to get. The berm was pushed up around the ammo storage area by the 554th also.. Initially, the rearm point was on the main airfield on the east side by the crash rescue section. Rockets were stored in a CONEX container and small arms ammo was in another beside the rockets. The refuel points were also on the main airfield by the rearm point and consisted of 10,000 and 2,000 gallon membrane pillow tanks rounded out with 500 gal collapsible tanks (the rubber donuts). We had several refuel points as it took 20-30 minutes to refuel a UH-1 with 250 gallons. It can easily be seen why the East POL was needed. I have timed a flight of twenty birds refueling at the pipeline and it took only 4 ½ minutes to refuel the entire two flights from the time the first nozzle was inserted into the helicopter until the last nozzle was removed.
We were a 1st Avn Bde organization and supposed to be attached to the 269th but initially the 269th was not activated and I elected to stay with the 25th Avn once they were.
When we had to do any work on the pipeline to the nozzles, we had to do it at night after most operations were ended. We sometimes realigned it, put in more points, elevated it out of the water in the wet season, and improved the system after dark and up until about midnight. We were all conscious that we were immediately behind the perimeter bunkers with good fields of fire from outside the perimeter. No one had to tell the guys to hurry up as they were as anxious as I was by being exposed in vehicle headlights working on the pipeline.
Operating the pumps was a one man operation after we got it built but I always sent two men out there at night. They needed the comfort of another body to talk to and pass the time. I had the Engineers to dig a hole behind the pump house for a bunker and the guys would sit on top just over the entrance and when anything happened they would simply slip off the front and be inside with only one step. The berms around the tanks were not completed until Dec 67, just 30 days before TET of 68.
JP 4 consumption in Feb 67 averaged 20K gallons per day, in Jan 68 the average was 40,000 daily. The greatest amount pumped in one day was 80,000 gallons during TET of 68. Each day I took eight tankers from the resupply convoy from Long Binh and we could suck a 5 K tanker dry in four minutes with the 2,000 GPM pump we had. We would off load three at a time in the half circle off load area we built and by the time the drivers opened the hatches he started closing them again. That is how fast we could unload them.
I have about 1500 35mm slides I took of the construction of the tanks, our orderly room and the pipeline. Some are early in the tour and others just before and after TET.
There are several of the base camp but mostly related to activities in which we were involved.
The Crash/Rescue crew came from B Company, 25th Avn Bn. They were a motley bunch with an E-5 in charge and lived on the airfield in a tent. The tent was located across the street from the 554 Engr. They were the fire fighters for the entire base. I had a fire fighting section in my detachment (three guys) but they were not trained and I had no fire fighting equipment. The “old” guys didn't need them as they rarely had any activity and I did need them to build our orderly room and the fuel tanks. The ammo detail came from A and B Company but worked for me. The ATC guys were from the battalion also. When I arrived there the “tower” was a portable hutch mounted on something slightly above ground level and was located north of B Co Maintenance. I worked with the ATC in Saigon and got priority for a tower to be constructed with a full console and it was built between the East POL and the airfield. I've got some pictures of its construction but TET occurred before it was finished and I am not sure whether it was ever finished or not. I believe it was but not to the original specifications.
Since the 341st AOD had a firefighting mission, the firefighter injured in the rocket attack* you mentioned may have come from them. The AOD may have assumed that mission after we departed and the new guys came in. My unit all PCSed on the same day and when we departed Cu Chi on 12 Feb 67 there was only two persons in the unit, the commander, Major Bob Zion, and one new enlisted man who arrived just days before we departed. Maj. Zion did not stay long as he was looking for an AHC to command and felt the Detachment was beneath his talents. The TOE for the 341st had a LTC for Commander and several of the guys who built the units at Ft Benning with me were replaced by LTCs when they got in country. We had two LTC commanders at FT Benning who moved with us to RVN. They went to Vung Tau and Qui Nhon. There were eleven detachments formed at Benning and I was the “supply” officer for the group. I was a captain at the time and there were two majors and one 1LT with the rest captains. I made Major at Cu Chi in Oct and commanded the unit for a full year, which was unheard of in a combat zone. The command tour length was six months but I got twelve. The former Chief of Staff of 1st Avn Bde was Colonel John Dibble and he was my wing mate in flight school. I stopped by to see him in Saigon before they moved to Long Binh, and asked if it was true that LTCs were replacing the AOD commanders and he told me that two in the Delta were already replaced and I commented that it was a hell of a deal that we did all the work of forming the organizations, obtained the equipment and moved them to RVN only to have them taken from us when the real command began. I knew a captain in the S-1 Personnel shop who had served in Germany with me and asked him to give me as much notification as he could if I was being replaced so I could pick my unit of assignment. He said he would but I was never notified. On my second tour I commanded the 68th AHC at Bien Hoa in the 145th CAB and have the rare experience of having two combat commands.
Before I departed Cu Chi, LTC Smith, Bn CO of 25th Avn, asked me to extend and he would give me the next company to come open in the battalion. The next to come open in about a month was B Company but I declined as it would have meant adding seven months to my tour. I made the correct decision as you know what the next seven months entailed. My wife would have been most distressed if I had extended.
Bobbie G. Pedigo
When You Can't Kill 'Em
Sometimes a Cobra fire team needed just a little extra. Too bad the crew chief didn't fly with us, because I'm sure all the possible contingencies would have been covered. As it turned out on this particular day, four WO's went to war unprepared for the ensuing battle. It happened like this:
We were scrambled from the “scramble shack” on the flight line and since this was a daylight mission the crew chiefs were already at the ships performing whatever magic it was that they always performed to keep my young ass in the air. Of course, they had our two Cobras ready as three of us hurried to the aircraft, the pilot (front-seater) of the Fire team leaders Cobra got the mission details on the phone and then ran to the lead ship. By the time he was strapped in we were taking off. One advantage of the Cobra over the “Charlie Model” gunship was its more powerful engine, a combat ready Cobra would actually hover which made takeoff more science than art, the combat ready “Charlie Model” well, it hopped instead of hovering and only real pilots could get one in the air. But I digress (and probably will again before this story is told).
My pilot briefed me as to the direction we're headed and the frequency and “call sign” of our contact in the target area. I briefed my wingman, who was flying behind and slightly above me as we climbed to our en route altitude of 1500 feet. I recognized the call sign as that of one of our local FAC pilots (Air Force pilots who at that time flew the OV-10 “Bronco”). The target area was just south of the Angels Wing (a part of the Cambodian border northwest of Saigon that looked like its name) in the Plain of Reeds. This was a large area, flooded to a depth of three to six feet during the monsoon season with grass or reeds of about the same height. During the dry season the water receded into a series of wooded creeks or streams that ran roughly from Cambodia into Vietnam through the Plain of Reeds to a river that served either as the border between Cambodia (a no-no at that time) and Vietnam or the eastern edge of the Plain of Reeds. There were no `friendlies' west of the river 99.9% of the time. The border was constantly patrolled by the FACs and they count the leaves on the trees from 1500 feet. Needless to say, it was not a good idea for the NVA to try to cross the border during daylight, duh. But they tried anyway, and it usually didn't work and it wasn't going to work today either.
A big sampan chock full of nuts had been spotted by the Bronco driver trying to hide in one of those wooded creek lines, and since he was by himself he called for us. When we arrived and started our orbit at about 500 feet, we had no trouble finding the sampan once he marked the target (read blew about 6 to 8 NVA out of the sampan). We rolled in, sank the sampan and began to blow up everyone who was left. Our job. It wasn't long until we were no longer receiving AK fire from the folks who had abandoned ship. Then it began to rain, and anyone who has been in a monsoon knows I'm not kidding about the rain. Some of the time it was raining so hard the only direction you could see was down, and there is just no way to shoot rockets aiming through the rocket site and the canopy of the Cobra when it is raining. By the time you see the target you are much too close and the rockets don't arm (I believe that takes about 300 feet), and unless you stab the target with a rocket (which has been done) it just sticks up in the mud. We had to shoot the chin turret miniguns at such a deflection they soon jammed which was one problem we had with the Cobras and tried to avoid.
By the time both ships guns jammed we were down to one lonesome NVA, who had made it 100 to 150 yards from the splitters of the sampan. We stabbed a few rockets in the ground around our prisoner, but it became obvious we just couldn't see well enough to shoot. I looked around and discovered that in my haste to leave I had left my side arm in the scramble shack. So I inquired of my pilot “Dandy” Dave if he had his - can you guess his reply? Nope, so I called my wingman to inquire if either of them had a weapon, thinking we would just pull up beside our NVA - who wasn't going anywhere - and boom, no more NVA. Can you guess their reply? Yep, no guns. At this point, both we and our NVA are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. There's no way I'm leaving the area with an enemy left alive. So I called battalion to see if they could divert a slick to pick up our prisoner, and although they answered in the affirmative, it was going to take 20 to 25 minutes and we just simply could not remain on station that long. So that's out, which leaves us with just one option - capture the prisoner ourselves.
The only extra seat on a Cobra is one of the ammo bay doors underneath the pilot or gunners position. Cobra pilots have opened one or both of these ammo bay doors in dire circumstances, usually to effect a rescue (one door on either side of the aircraft, which open out and down to form a tray on which you can slide the ammo cans from beneath the pilots seat to rearm them - each holds 4000 rounds of 7.62 mm ammo. Each door is about 4 feet long and 2 feet high [or wide when open]). I told Dave, up front, I had a plan if he would get out to open the ammo bay door. He answered in the affirmative and I brought the aircraft to a low hover 100 yards or so from our prisoner. Dave opened up his canopy and dismounted (not such an easy task on a slick aircraft in a monsoon). While standing the skid as we hovered above the Plain of Reeds, Dave somehow managed to get the ammo bay door open without being knocked off or falling off the skid. He climbed back in and hooked up and I told him my plan. I was going to hover over to our prisoner, he was going to motion for our prisoner to sit on the door, and all the while he was to make very threatening gestures with our breakout knife (the breakout knife is a piece of safety equipment on the Cobra, it is about 10” long, weighs about 10 pounds, and has a 1” to 2” blade; its main job in life is to allow the crew to breakout the canopy when there is no other means of escaping a Cobra whose canopy cannot be opened). As soon as our prisoner was aboard, I would come to a high hover, and in the event of a struggle at least our prisoner would have a long way to fall (assuming Dave was successful). We had spent considerable time checking out our prisoner and had determined if he was armed it was hidden, because he appeared to us to be as anxious to surrender as we were to capture. Happily, everything went according to plan. So off we went in the rain with Dave hanging out of the cockpit making threatening gestures with the breakout knife, and our prisoner hanging on for dear life.
On the way in we had flown by a fire support base some clicks back so I called them and ask if they would meet us outside their wire because we had a prisoner for them. Although I'm sure it sounded fairly stupid, I suggested that someone bring a weapon since we didn't have any. They took our prisoner, who happened to be an NVA nurse (probably headed for the tunnels under Cu Chi) and we returned to base (Cu Chi). After the CG's briefing the following morning where, so I'm told, the proper use of Cobras was discussed, higher-ups suggested, strike that, ordered us to refrain from capturing prisoners with Cobras in the future; which leads me to believe the amount of intelligence gathered from our prisoner was about equal to my own.
Death Of a Donut Dollie
Death of a Donut Dollie - The Ginny Kirsch Murder
Tropic Lightning Academy - August 14, 1970
"A Bad Place To Be"
Army, 4th Infantry Division, Pleiku & An Khe
© Copyright 02/29/2008
This is where it all began. The Tropic Lightning Academy was the entry point for all replacements to the 25th Infantry Division and its base camp at Cu Chi, Republic of Vietnam. New arrivals sat in bleacher seats and heard the somber words of seasoned veterans lecture on about what to expect. The Academy was situated within the confines of camp headquarters and had a view of the Donut Dollies billet. On this day, a sign was hung at the billet doorway that read “Welcome Virginia”, giving all assembled the name of someone they would like to meet. The orientation droned on! Everyone was anxious to meet Virginia. Finally, after hours of drilling details of division legend and lore, a petite young girl in a powder blue dress stepped to the front of the bleachers and was introduced by the Donut Dollie in-charge. “I would like you to meet our newest arrival - Miss Virginia Kirsch”. The new girl looked up at the assembled troops and simply said - “You can call me Ginny”.
Virginia (Ginny) Kirsch was born on December 2, 1948 in Erie, PA. She had four sisters and two brothers in her family. Her father was a co-owner of a men's clothing store. Her mother was a high school English teacher. Ginny graduated from Brookfield High School in 1966 and from Miami University of Ohio in 1970. For a brief period, she taught English and Religion at Badin Senior High School in Hamilton, Ohio. In July of 1970, Ginny attended Red Cross training classes in Washington D.C. and arrived in Viet Nam about two weeks later. After a brief period of orientation in Saigon, Ginny was ordered to report to the American Red Cross at Cu Chi.
The Donut Dollies
Donut Dollies were American Red Cross volunteers who had heard the nation's call to serve their country at a time of war. They were young women with college degrees from all across America. At the request of the military, the Red Cross sent teams of young women to Vietnam to operate Red Cross Recreation Centers
and to conduct audience-participation programs for men stationed in isolated sections of the country. Approximately 280 thousand servicemen took part in these recreation programs. The women traveled 27,000 miles by jeep, truck, airplane and helicopter each month. Red Cross officials estimate that, during the seven years the program was in operation, the women logged over two million miles.
A Bad Place To Be
The experience of Vietnam always began with the plane ride. Upon sight of the South China Sea and the coastline of Vietnam, all aboard became noticeably quiet. The wisecracks and bravado of the American GIs quickly subsided. In its place, soldiers came face-to-face with the stark reality that destiny now controlled their lives. The stewardesses, so playful and carefree early on, sat sullen in their landing seats and contemplated the soldiers' fate. They had given their all to help these young men endure the ever-so-long flight. “They are in God's hands now. Please protect them and bring them home safe and sound.”
There are two things that one remembers when the plane door opens. The first is the sledge hammer impact of stale, hot air on your face and skin. The open door instantly sucks all the cool air out of the cabin. The second sensation arrives the moment you step down the metal stairs to the runway. “What is that awful smell?” You are escorted with haste through a billowing black cloud to the awaiting transport. The sight you see is equal to the smell. A Vietnamese worker (or a disciplined GI) is hauling a burning oil drum across the tarmac. A nearby latrine has recently been relived of its human waste, doused with JP4 jet fuel, and set ablaze. The pungent odor that permeates the nostrils and lungs is unforgettable to this day. Even without the war, Vietnam would be a dangerous place. The country is rife with snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, rats, and leeches. Its weather is either monsoon rain or dust bowl dry. The American GI quickly realizes that he doesn't belong there. Even a Donut Dollie, emboldened with patriotism, has to question what the future holds.
Field Operations - August 15, 1970
Back in Cu Chi on the following day, Ginny and another girl headed out by helicopter to a Special Forces camp at a fire base near Katum. It was located within a few miles of the Cambodian border. It was Ginny's first opportunity to do what she was there to do. She clowned around with the troops, posed for photographs and movie pictures, and generally made everyone just love her. She was in her element. It was an exhausting visit, but certainly a memorable one.
On the return flight to camp, the helicopter pilot received orders to visit an infantry platoon of the 25th Infantry on Nui Ba Den, (i.e. Black Virgin Mountain). At first, the troopers wanted no part of the fun and games that the girls had come to deliver. When the platoon leader in charge told Ginny that his men were not interested, Ginny asked the lieutenant to “just let her try”. After a quick hello and glow from her, the men were hooked. They welcomed her warmly and played her silly little games.
On the flight back to camp, the helicopter pilot asked her out for a date. She was caught off-guard with the unexpected attention. She was there for duty and country, not dates. But she did not want to rock the boat in her first week, so she nodded okay. They agreed to meet at the officers' club that night. Ginny wondered what this unanticipated attention would do to her mission there.
Back In the World
In 1970, the United States military in Vietnam reflected an ever-changing mixture of soldiers rotating in and out of country. With designated tours of 12 or 13 months, there were thousands of GIs on the move every day. You would see green troops arriving and brown troops departing each day of the year. For an American soldier, there was never a good day to arrive or a bad day to leave.
With the composition of the military in a continual state of flux, the problems of America at home were quickly reflected as problems for the military in Vietnam. Civilians with problems at home now became soldiers with problems at war. It should be no surprise that everything bad about America could be found in Vietnam.
Although the Vietnam War was in its late stages by 1970, the war machine continued to require fresh recruits to meet its operational requirements. The first troop withdrawals began in July of 1969, with an announced withdrawal of 40,000 expected by Christmas 1970. There were a number of factors that affected the quality of the new recruits. First and foremost would be the seismic shift in sentiment about the righteousness of the war. In the latter half of 1969, hundreds of thousands participated in antiwar demonstrations across the United States. The fateful culmination of national protest was the Kent State
shootings on May 4, 1970. Ohio National Guardsmen fired on student protestors, killing four students and wounding nine others.
By the summer of 1970, there was little inclination for eligible military candidates to risk life and limb for what was, at best, a questionable cause. Inequities in the Selective Service System drove many of the best candidates to National Guard and Army Reserve enlistment. Many others fled to Canada. Some were coerced into enlistment by offers of favorable occupational specialties or training. All thoughts were to take whatever actions were necessary to avoid service in Vietnam. There were numerous reports of unethical recruiters offering enlistment deals that could not possibly be honored. Some recruits signed up for three-year Army enlistments in order to avoid jail time for petty crimes and misdemeanors. Others were promised occupational specialties for which they could not possibly qualify.
The US military in Vietnam was afflicted with all of the societal problems of America back home. Drug use in America had quickly evolved from recreational use to mainline addiction. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were premier performers at the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in August of 1969. Marijuana and LSD were the refreshments of choice during those days. No one in attendance could have imagined that both Jimi and Janis would be dead of drug overdose by the end of the following year. Drug use, more than any other problem, had become a major destabilizing force to troop discipline and operational effectiveness in Vietnam.
Donut Dollies were not typical of the times. They were emboldened by Kennedy-era ideals about service to their country. They wanted to do something important. The Vietnam War was a noble cause fought by America's noblest. What better place to make a difference in the world.
The Murder - August 16, 1970
The major was awakened with a shout. The enlisted man standing over him was frantic. “A Donut Dollie has been killed. An MP with a jeep will take you down to the morgue”.
The base camp was utter pandemonium. People were running. Lights were flashing. Sirens were blaring. Everything was moving much too fast. The girl's name was Ginny. She had been in base camp only a day or two. How could this happen?
Official investigative reports of the homicide state that at approximately 3:50 AM, August 16 1970, an occupant of the American Red Cross billet observed a man run from the back door of Kirsch's room. She entered Kirsch's room and observed Kirsch on the floor with stab wounds to the throat, left side, left arm, and left finger. Kirsch was transported to the 25th Medical Battalion Dispensary and was pronounced dead from the stab wounds. She was not sexually molested. Kirsch's remains were released to the 25th Infantry Division Graves Registration for medical examination.
There were two military policemen on duty at the time of the incident. One was on duty at a static post at the front gate to the billeting area. The other was on duty in the area and talking to the front gate guard when they observed a man force the rear gate of the billeting area open and escape. A US Army survival knife was found at the scene.
The witness at the scene described the fleeing subject as a male Caucasian, dark hair, 5'10”, 160 lbs., age approximately 23, wearing white t-shirt, white trousers, and a dark jacket.
Roger A. Christian
On November 4, 1970, Christian was administered a polygraph examination. He showed deception. He then verbally admitted to crime investigators that, on the morning of August 16, 1970, he was high on heroin and looking for a place to sleep. He walked into some billets, a dark room, and was surprised by the occupant. Christian said that he remembered stabbing a girl with a knife and left the room.
On November 9, 1970, Christian was charged with unpremeditated murder.
On January 17, 1971, the eye witness at the crime scene failed to identify Christian in a physical line-up at Ft. McPherson, Georgia.
On February 24, 1971, all charges were dismissed against Christian because of insufficient evidence and he was discharged from Army service.
Gregory W. Kozlowski
On the morning of August16, 1970, Kozlowski was found in possession of a tape recorder and camera which was stolen from the Red Cross billets between 1:00 - 3:50 AM that day. These items were the property of the witness at the crime scene who lived three doors from Ginny's room. A few days later, Kozlowski became a murder suspect as well. On August 21, and again on August 25, Kozlowski was included in two line-ups. The eye witness failed to identify him in each of those lineups.
Shortly thereafter, Kozlowski was medically evacuated to Japan with a diagnosis of mental illness. While the Army's investigation was in progress, Kozlowski was placed on convalescent leave in the United States. He was granted immunity by the Commanding General, 25th Infantry Division, with respect to the larceny offense in order to provide possible information regarding the homicide.
On October 21, 1970, Kozlowski shot himself. After initial medical treatment, he was transferred to Letterman Army General Hospital, at the Presidio, San Francisco. Because there was evidence of mental illness, his case was referred to a medical board for psychiatric evaluation.
On January 9, 1971, this board determined that Kozlowski was unable to adhere to right and wrong at the time of the murder and, further, that he was unable to cooperate intelligently in his own defense. Because the latter finding precluded trial until he was able to cooperate in his defense and because the former effectively precluded conviction, the charges were dismissed by the convening authority. Meanwhile, further Army investigation had implicated Gregory Kozlowski in the Kirsch murder. On January17, 1971, the eye witness identified Kozlowski in a pictorial line-up as the person she saw leaving Kirsch's room the morning of the murder.
A different medical board was convened to determine whether Kozlowski was fit to remain on active duty. It determined that he was not, and he was therefore placed on the Temporary Disabled Retired List and his medical records were transferred to the Veterans hospital at Wood, Wisconsin, where Kozlowski was sent for further inpatient care. The charges against Kozlowski were not dismissed because of any lack of evidence but rather because of his mental incompetence, both at the time of the incident and at the time charges were preferred. In view of the findings of the medical evaluation board, it was concluded that there was little else the Army could do with respect to Gregory Kozlowski.
The Dodge County Sheriff
Edwin E. Nehls
On June 8, 1972, Gregory Kozlowski was arrested for the murder of Kenneth A. Glasse, 21 years old, of Milwaukee. On June 19, he was charged with first degree murder and detained in Dodge County Jail under the jurisdiction of Sheriff Nehls. Later that evening, Kozlowski asked to speak with the sheriff on a matter of utmost urgency. Kozlowski admitted to the sheriff that he was guilty of another crime of homicide, the slaying of a Red Cross girl in Cu Chi, South Vietnam, on August 16, 1970.
Immediately after Kozlowski made the admission on June 19, the sheriff contacted military sources in Washington, who confirmed that on August 16, 1970, a Red Cross girl by the name of Virginia Kirsch had been stabbed to death in her bedroom at Cu Chi. Military sources revealed to the sheriff that no one had been convicted of the murder. However, they said they had suspects and that Kozlowski was a suspect in the Virginia Kirsch case. The sheriff informed the authorities that he had documented information in the Kirsch case, made by Kozlowski.
On September 6, military officials advised Sheriff Nehls that were closing the case, as they were convinced that Kozlowski was responsible for the death.
On September 19, Sheriff Nehls called Max Kirsch, father of Virginia Kirsch, in Brookfield, Ohio, and relayed the information to him. According to Mr. Kirsch, he had not been contacted by any other authority about the latest developments. The sheriff told Mr. Kirsch that he had held this vital information for the past three months and felt he had an obligation to advise Virginia Kirsch's parents.
As regards the first degree murder charge in the Glasse case, Kozlowski entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He subsequently underwent several rounds of mental examination, the results of which indicated to the Court that Kozlowski was capable of standing trial on the murder charge. Kozlowski was ultimately found to be mentally ill. He has spent his entire adult life in mental health institutions within the State of Wisconsin.
After years of treatment and therapy, the psychiatric doctors deemed Kozlowski to no longer be a threat to either himself or others. On January 22, 2008, the Circuit Court granted Kozlowski a conditional release to a group home in Milwaukee. There has been no further information regarding his whereabouts since that date.
Tragedy or Travesty
Virginia (Ginny) Kirsch loved her country. Ginny was quoted by the American Red Cross in Saigon as having said “I felt that I could do something for the men over here and for my country.”
The wanton loss of human life is an unwelcome product of war. There are always unintended consequences of military conflict. For the most part, the military goes to extraordinary lengths to account for all such events. We are well aware of detailed investigations of alleged atrocities or friendly fire. So why is it that a 21-year old civilian woman can be brutally murdered at Division Headquarters, in a billet protected by armed guards, and no one is held accountable? It took two and a half months to identify one suspect while another suspect was permitted to leave the country shortly after the murder. Was the US Army in Vietnam in such disarray at that time that it just dropped the ball? Or was there more to it than that?
There is no indication that the American Red Cross pressed the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) to apprehend and prosecute Ginny's killer. On the contrary, by all outward appearances, condolences were expressed, memorial services abroad and at home were held, and it was back to business as usual. If Ginny's death had been an unfortunate accident, one could understand this response. But Ginny's death was not an accident. It was murder! What was the organization's responsibility to seek a full accounting of Ginny's murder? How could this organization, in good conscience, continue to recruit, train, and send young women to Vietnam, knowing these women could not be adequately protected? What was their responsibility to the women who were already serving there?
George F. Slook, E-5
4th Infantry Division
Pleiku and An Khe