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War Stories 6
By- Bob Seger
One of the tactics employed by the 25th Infantry Division was to construct a patrol base out in the middle of nowhere, but generally close to an enemy concentration. These patrol bases positioned way out in "Indian Country" served several functions. A company of soldiers and a battery of artillery would be located there to provide artillery support in areas close to the border. Generally they were located to interdict the enemy's supply lines and the infantrymen would mount patrols in search of the enemy. They served another valuable purpose, in that they infuriated the enemy. These patrol bases would be placed in enemy controlled areas knowing they would be attacked. These attacks required a frontal assault and negated the guerrillas' tactics the enemy generally unitized. The Viet Cong could not ambush a patrol base. The American forces much preferred a frontal attack and built the defenses accordingly. In this fashion, the full weight of the division's firepower could be utilized against the attacking enemy forces.
Much thought was given to locating the proper location for the fire support base. If one could be found, the patrol base would be located on a rise or small hill which would give the defenders the height advantage. Once a site was selected, all of the division's resources would be employed. First the Little Bears would airlift a company of Wolfhounds to provide ground support, while the Diamondheads in their gunships would orbit overhead. Next came the Muleskinners flying Chinook cargo helicopters delivering the combat engineers and their heavy equipment to assist in the construction of this small patrol base.
Shortly after the infantry had secured the area, Chinooks would fly in with huge cargo nets dangling beneath them carrying supplies to construct the fire support base. Another Chinook arrived carrying a bulldozer. The combat engineers arrived and proceeded to carve out the support base. It wasn't necessary to bulldoze any fields of fire as there were no trees around, so the bulldozer scraped a large circle on the ground. Good guys on the inside and the enemy on the outside.
Next, the bulldozer cut a wide circular path where the interior road of the compound would be. On the outside of the road the bulldozers pushed dirt up into walls in a big circle surrounding the fire support base. Contained in this circle of dirt, would be the bunker line defenses. Soon two more Chinooks arrived with two artillery howitzers hanging beneath them. As soon as the howitzers touched ground, the sling was released and the howitzers settled on the ground. Then the Chinook landed and artillerymen scrambled off the Chinooks and muscled the howitzers into firing positions. Usually artillerymen stayed at base camps and recognized the dangers in the field, so they hurried to place the howitzers into firing positions. It seemed the artillerymen knew their jobs well, as the artillery pieces were employed very quickly. They wanted to be ready for the attack they know would come. Meanwhile, the bulldozer crews were piling dirt into a three foot circular wall surrounding the entire patrol base. There was a particular reason why a short dirt wall was constructed around the fire support base, instead of a much higher one.
A tall tower was built in the middle of the camp to dominated the battlefield. The artillery's forward observer would be high up directing any artillery fire. Height is an advantage in combat as the forward observer could easily see the battlefield. The only problem was if you could see the enemy, then they could see you. The artillery observer was exposed and did not have the luxury of the short dirt wall surrounding the camp. The two artillery cannons sat back-to-back facing away each other. Each howitzer was placed so it could cover 180 degrees of the perimeter. Each cannon was mounted on a swivel base, so the cannon could rotate in any direction bringing artillery fire on any sector of the perimeter. Although these howitzers had a responsibility for covering 180 degrees of the compound, both howitzers had over lapping fields of field. If necessary both cannons could be fired at the same target.
These artillery pieces fired a four-inch shell of different varieties. Most common was the high explosive shell that also could have a VT fuse installed. VT stood for vertical timed and this fuse caused the shell to explode at a preprogrammed height above the ground. The shell exploding over the heads of attacking enemy was more effective than ground bursts. Another shell available to the artillerymen was the beehive round. It received its name from the sounds of bees buzzing around the hive. This round was the modern day version of the canister shot used during the Civil War. During the Civil War, a canister shot was nothing more than finding scraps from the battlefield and pushing them down the barrel of the cannon. Anything was used such as rocks, pieces of metal, broken glass, and anything found on the battlefield that could be crammed down the tube of the cannon.
When the round fired, it slashed to pieces any attacking enemy in front of it. It was extremely lethal. The modern beehive round contained thousands of small fleshettes, slightly over one inch in length and had tiny fins to stabilize it during flight. The fleshettes were miniature steel arrows and would kill upon impact. Anyone or anything in front of a beehive round would be impaled with hundreds of small arrows ripping apart their bodies. The sounds of the thousands of arrows humming through the air gave rise to its nickname of the beehive round.
The artillerymen certainly knew their mission and why the perimeter wall was so short. Soon the infantrymen would learn the reason for the low dirt wall surrounding their perimeter. The barrels of the cannons were about 4 feet above the ground and could shoot artillery rounds, particularly beehive rounds, just inches over the perimeter walls and pointblank into the attacking enemy. If the infantrymen wondered why the perimeter wall was so low, the reason would become apparent when the first beehive rounds fired slightly over the dirt wall would decimate any attacking enemy in front of howitzer.
The tactics of the 25th Infantry Division included placing soldiers deliberately in enemy territory inviting attack. Actually, the brass wanted the fire support base to be attacked, as all of the division's assets could be best used. Division artillery fire and gunships could be used to support the small outpost in the enemy's backyard. Additionally, Air Force fighter bombers were generally available for additional air support. The Wolfhounds were bait in a trap hoping Charlie would plan a ground attack. It was a fine military tactic, however, for those unlucky soldiers lodged in enemy controlled territory, they believed this tactic sucked. They knew the building of the camp invited an enemy response. Usually it didn't take long and would be certain and severe.
All during the day, additional Chinooks would arrive with ammunition, artillery shells, barbed wire, claymore mines, and anything needed by the men manning the patrol base. The Muleskinners flying the Chinooks brought everything but safety for these isolated soldiers. Sandbagged bunkers would be constructed for firing positions for the infantry manning the bunker line defenses. Soon claymore mines would be placed in strategic locations and the entire camp would be ringed with strands of barbed wire. Inside the barbed wire would be a series of bunkers ringing the compound. M-60 machine guns would be employed in many of them. However, the backbone of defense of the patrol base was the common infantryman manning the bunker line with his M-16 rifle. Defense of Diamond fell to the 25th Infantry Wolfhounds. These were the crack Infantrymen of the 25th Division.
In the span of just a few daylight hours, Patrol Base Diamond was forged out of the countryside. In only hours, Diamond was excavated into a defensive position far out in enemy controlled territory. From the air, it was an ugly sight. The bulldozer had scraped all vegation in the area and it had a reddish twinge to it and looked like red Georgia clay. From high up in the air, it looked like something the Aztecs Indians would have built for a ceremony honoring one of their gods, probably their God of War. The location afforded great fields of fire and for the VC to attack it, they would have to do it over open ground, and in the face of horrendous firepower. That never stopped the enemy before, why now. The stage was now set and the isolated Wolfhounds in Firebase Diamond nervously awaited the enemy's response. They would not have long to wait before the enemy responded.
I was a member of a Cobra fire team on duty sitting in the Scramble Shack on February 23, 1969. It was just three days after my 22nd birthday. The Scramble Shack was where pilots and crews waited for a mission and was manned 24 hours around the clock. Waiting in the Scramble Shack could be tedious at times. Crews were on duty 8 hours at a time and could not leave. When the telephone rang, everyone would spring into action, including our heart rates and adrenaline flow. The two copilot-pilots would stay behind to receive the information over the telephone which included the ground coordinates, radio frequency and call sign of the infantry commander. Meanwhile, the other crew members raced to their gunship where it quickly was fired up for combat. By the time, the two copilot-pilots had finished their telephonic briefing, the gunships were ready and all instruments were in the green. After a quick artillery clearance, the lethal gunships were last seen speeding down the runway at Cu Chi and quickly disappearing in the night sky. The gunships were expected to be airborne within a few minutes of the telephone ringing.
This night was no different. The Cobra fire team leader was CWO George Grinnell and I was flying with him. Since I was a copilot flying in the front seat of the Cobra, I stayed behind to receive the tactical briefing while George Grinnell started up the Cobra. After the briefing, I sprinted to my Cobra and before I was fully strapped into my seat, George had our Cobra speeding down the runway.
As we arrived on station I was struck by the sights of combat. Red tracers going out from the defenders of Diamond and green tracers were coming in. I could see an occasional enemy mortar explode in Diamond. Flares were being shot into the night sky to illuminate the battlefield. Artillery shells were exploding every few seconds. I could not imagine being on the ground in the middle of all that carnage.
It was obvious that Rule Number One of War was in effect for tonight. This rule states that young American boys go off to some strange land and die for the preservation of and restoration of freedom. There is no grand scheme to explain why one person lived and another died. It could mean just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can be the best trained and most experienced soldier and that alone will not prevent you from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A bullet does not have to have your name on it to be deadly. I never was worried about the bullet with my name on it. What did worry me were the ones addressed, "To whom it may concern". There seemed to be many of them flying through the skies this night.
The defenders of Patrol Base Diamond were under heavy attack. The two artillery pieces must have had their barrels red hot from shooting so frequently. Artillery shells were constantly exploding across the battleground. Tracers were intersecting all over the ground. As George Grinnell made contact with the commander of Diamond, he requested the commander to notify us where to place our ordnance. We were pleased when he said he had pulled in all of his patrols and they were totally surrounded by "unfriendlies". He instructed us to make rocket attacks wherever we wanted, as he said was under attack from all directions. He only cautioned us to avoid hitting Diamond. It wasn't hard to distinguish the friendly positions, as incoming mortar shells had started several small fires in the compound. It was quite easy to see the outline of the firebase from the sky in the dim glow of the flares lighting the night sky.
As George Grinnell nosed over our Cobra, I already was on the trigger of my minigun. The minigun was an awesome weapon. It had a variable speed trigger, as the harder I pulled, the faster it would fire. When pulling all the way on the trigger, the minigun could fire as fast as 4000 thousand rounds per minute. That was way too much firepower, as four or five bullets would kill an enemy soldier as well as 50 bullets. Besides, firing at a much slower rate conserved the ammunition. Firing the minigun at about 600 rounds per minute was sufficient for my purposes. My Cobra carried 4000 rounds of ammunition for my minigun.
From the front seat of my Cobra, I had a great view of the battlefield. If it wasn't for the fact that men were in the process of dying, it would have been an awesome light show with the flares, explosions of artillery shells, and multi colored tracers shooting everywhere. I quickly was brought back to reality and began placing deadly minigun fire on the enemy machine gun emplacements. Tracers were needed to show where one was shooting at, but it also gave away your position. I concentrated my fire on several machine gun positions whose tracers were firing on Diamond. As I slowly pulled the trigger, a solid red streak stretched from the nose of my Cobra to the ground and into the enemy positions. There were so many tracers it appeared as if one could walk down them. Even thought it appeared as a solid red line, one must realize that only every fifth round was a tracer. Although the battlefield was utterly covered with tracers, only 20 percent of the rounds could actually be seen. Now that was a scary thought. I maneuvered the sights of my minigun to every machine gun emplacement I could see and unleashed a short burst of fire on each target.
There were no lack of targets for me to shoot at. Halfway through our dive I became aware of George Grinnell unleashing some of our 72 rockets we had onboard. The rockets left the Cobra with a flash of light and sped to the ground where they exploded with deadly efficiency. George most assuredly was superb when aiming those rockets. Now there were less of the enemy attacking Diamond than few seconds before. Seconds after George and I made our attack, down flew our wingman to add his arsenal of weapons to the destruction of the enemy. The copilot of that Cobra had a 40mm grenade launcher at his disposal. The 40mm grenade launcher could fire 240 rounds per minute. Each 40mm grenade was similar to the infantrymen's hand grenade and would kill anyone within a 5 yard radius of its explosion and wound those within 10 yards. It was an effective weapon against enemy troops out in the open. Tonight the enemy was out in the open and in full force.
Halfway through our next dive, a .51 caliber antiaircraft weapon opened up on us. The enemy gunners must have been asleep to allow each Cobra a gun run before opening up on us. Or it could be they had other duties attacking Diamond and they now switched to their secondary antiaircraft role. We had to dispose of this threat first, otherwise we could not support the fire support base. The VC gunner was cunning as he rarely fired except when we were pulling out of our dives, which incidentally was when we were most vulnerable to attack. Additionally, the VC had dug a hole into the ground and placed the .51 cal weapon below ground level. Only the barrel protruded above ground. That had the effect of negating our rocket attacks, as our rockets exploded up from the ground at a 45 degree angle. Since the enemy gunners were below ground level, only a rocket placed in the middle of this small hole in the ground could knock out this dangerous antiaircraft weapon.
The .51 cal antiaircraft weapon was a particularly deadly weapon. The American .50 caliber machine gun had an effective range of one mile. The enemy's .51 cal was only a millimeter wider but the shell casing was 3 inches longer and contained far more gunpowder. This gave it an increased explosive punch, velocity, and a far greater range when compared to our .50 cal machine gun. We pilots wore a hard ceramic flak jacket and sat in an armored seat for protection. They would provide absolutely no protection against an enemy .51 cal. There is no doubt the round would blast its way through my flak vest, body, and then through the back of my armored seat and then repeat this process going through George, his flak jacket and seat sitting directly behind me. Then the round would continue with only slightly reduced velocity. They were that dangerous and had to be eliminated first.
This .51 cal was supported by a dozen or more machine gun emplacements. One round through the engine and we would be on the ground within seconds. Soon the sky was full of deadly tracers, both red and green. Since the enemy gunner was only sporadically firing, on our next gun run on the .51 cal, George formulated a plan. He instructed our wingman not to dive in on our next gun run to protect us, but to circle instead. George wanted our wingman to delay his next gun run as George would act at his wingman and switch places.
As our wingman rolled in on the target, George was waiting and delayed his dive. He had timed his dive slightly so that we were beginning our dive as our wingman was pulling up. At that moment the enemy gunner began firing at the exposed belly of the other Cobra. The timing was perfect and George screamed into the intercom, "Kill that bastard". I was able to place my deadly minigun fire right into the hole where the tracers were coming from. In my excitement, I pulled the trigger all the way. My first burst missed the target but I adjusted them to where the enemy's tracers were coming from. After a few seconds, only my tracers were seen going in and none were coming out. The enemy's tracers gave away his position and were his undoing. For good measure, George shot several pairs of rockets at it and in the process eliminated some of the machine nests protecting it. This deadly weapon of war was finished for the night.
Now we could get down to the business of defending Diamond. We made numerous attacks on all points of the compass surrounding the small firebase. There was no lack of targets. We expended all rounds of ammunition and rockets. The firebase commander requested we refuel and rearm and return back on station. He assured us there would be plenty of targets remaining when we returned.
Flying back to refuel and rearm, I could not imagine how the enemy could possibly attack in such appalling conditions. If it wasn't artillery shells or our Cobra rockets exploding all around, then it was our minigun spitting out 4000 rounds per minute, or our 40mm grenade launchers spewing out hundred of grenades per minute. The Diamond defenders on the ground had their M-60 machine guns and M-16 rifles firing thousands of rounds per minute. Every minute of so, it seemed as if a ton of ordnance was exploding in a very small area of Vietnam. Yet the attacking enemy continually assaulted the perimeter. I could see why the infantrymen had given the name "Sir Charles" to the enemy. The enemy was a very determined and brave enemy.
After we refueled and rearmed, we returned back on station to see the defenders of patrol Base Diamond continuing to beat off attack after attack. The enemy soldiers hammered at the small outpost in a vain but persistent attempt to dislodge the Americans from "their territory". Two hours after the initial attack, the enemy was continuing to attack. However, the enemy was unable to penetrate the outer defenses of Diamond. The combat engineers had earned their pay in the construction of this tiny citadel.
Radio contact revealed that most of the enemy fire was coming from only one side of Diamond. As we concentrated our fire on that side of Diamond, this time there was no deadly .51 cal antiaircraft fire to greet us, as only AK-47's and a few machine gun emplacements were firing at us. However, there was no lack of AK-47's to shoot at us. We probably were easier targets than American infantrymen concealed behind the dirt wall. Dive after dive, both Cobras caused heavy casualties among the enemy forces. George Grinnell's rockets were exploding in the midst of the enemy and disrupting their attack. By the time we had exhausted our ammunition, there was little fire aimed at us or at Diamond.
Almost as soon as it started, the battle ended. As the enemy retreated into the surrounding countryside, they could not think but that they had entered a meat grinder. No doubt the once confident Viet Cong had been badly beaten and more importantly discouraged. Firebase Diamond was not attacked for several more weeks. The enemy had taken a mauling and it took then some time to recover their losses.
The night of February 23, 1969, was a bad night for the enemy but was a good night for us pilots. In the award of the Distinguished Flying Crosses, it was mentioned in the citations that the pilots exhibited "personal bravery, aggressiveness and devotion of duty" when confronted by "intense antiaircraft fire". The infantrymen were likewise impressed with our actions that night. A short time later, the enemy's .51 cal antiaircraft weapon was gratefully presented to George Grinnell and the rest of the Diamondheads in appreciation for our support. This magnificent war trophy was then proudly displayed in the middle of our company area.
Date Line Nui Ba Den-Sometime in 1968
There was one striking feature of our area of operations that stood out above all others. It actually stuck out from all of the other terrain features and was known as Nui Ba Den. Nui Ba Den was a rock mountain sticking out of the middle of nowhere close to the Cambodian border. The mountain rose majestically to a height of 3225 feet. Nui Ba Den commanded the view of our entire area of operations. Nui Ba Den translated into English as the Black Virgin Mountain. On a clear day it could be seen from just about anywhere in the division's area of operation. On top of the mountain was a company of soldiers and a signal detachment for communication purposes.
Nui Ba Den was a freak of nature rising up out in the middle of nowhere and where some of the strangest battles of Vietnam were fought. It stood in stark contrast to the rest of the surrounding area. It was a perfect observation post so the Army established a Special Forces camp on top. Later when the 25th Infantry Division arrived in Vietnam, they assumed responsibility for it and also established a communication system on top.
Nui Ba Den was easily the most significant feature of the area of operation for the 25th Infantry Division. It was not that tall as mountains go, but it was a solitary feature and was surrounded by flat plain. Its beauty could easily make one forget a war was ongoing. I saw numerous sunsets with the sun setting behind the mountain while flying in my helicopter. At times like those, I forgot the war for a few seconds. It was a strange and beautiful sight at the same time. Beauty was seen in the midst of the horrors of war.
There are some other memories of the mountain that I have that are memorable in other ways. Resupply missions to the signal troops on top of Nui Ba Den got to be very dangerous because of the unpredictable landing conditions. There was only a small area in which to land on top of the mountain. The chopper pad was very small and required a precision landing. Additionally, the winds would whip around the mountain and suddenly instead of having a head wind, a pilot could be facing a severe cross wind, tail wind, or sudden down draft. This caused many difficulties when the crew was confronted with a landing on top of the mountain.
Since the mountain height was well above our usual cruising altitude, helicopter crews had to climb to altitude before they could attempt to land. Most Hueys approached the mountain top chopper pad at almost eye level. The pilots rarely faced this type of landing and never practiced this type of approach. Except for landing at a big base camp, most landings were performed while circling directly over the landing area. A spiraling while descending approach was the preferred and safest approach. If a pilot made a long straight in approach, the helicopter would get shot at while flying slow and low to the ground.
The landing to the mountain posed another problem as the helicopter was usually overloaded with supplies. A heavily loaded chopper can lose lift just like an airplane and can stall out and fall out of the sky. Helicopters require lift to stay airborne and in rare occasions, can lose actually lift. This is no problem at altitude, as the helicopter just drops its nose and can continue flying. However, if the helicopter is close to the ground, the helicopter will fall to the ground. This happened on a number of occasions to helicopters flying into Nui Ba Den.
Due to windy conditions, helicopters always approached slowly and cautiously. On one such approach the resupply chopper deliberately made its approach to the summit. Just short of the chopper pad, it started to lose altitude as it lost lift. The pilot tried in vain to restore power and control. Very slowly, the helicopter fell out of the sky, and started going down the side of the mountain. It crashed into nothing but huge boulders. Anyone who has been on the mountain knows that once you are below the summit, boulders are everywhere, big ones and little ones. Just before it hit the rocks, the soldiers on top took cover behind some rocks and bunkers and waited until the rotor blades stopped turning. Rotor blades hitting rocks will send shrapnel careening everywhere. After the crash, several of the soldiers ran down and extracted the crew. There was no fire and all survived. I heard later that the troops on the top watching said it looked as if they were watching a slow-motion chopper crash. A helicopter that looses its lift, initially falls slowly out of the sky. Some of the crew in the chopper were slightly injured, but none were hurt seriously.
The following day, another attempt was made to resupply the soldiers on top of the Black Virgin Mountain and to take out the crashed helicopter crew. I am sure a larger crowd was watching this time. As the helicopter got within a few feet of the top, it also started losing altitude and someone on the mountain top probably yelled, “there goes another one”. The pilot increased power and collective but to no avail. The chopper ran out of power. The chopper went down and again the soldiers on top took cover behind the rocks and bunkers. The rotor blades hit and made a god-awful sound as parts of the rotor blades were slung over the heads of those on top of the mountain. The once intact helicopter tumbled down the mountainside and was ripped apart. Again, soldiers ran down and pulled out the pilots and crew. There was no fire, just a wrecked chopper with a few minor injuries and some bruised egos belonging to the pilots. They had been warned by radio and by the crew of the previous crashed chopper how difficult it was to land.
Resupply and rescue was necessary, so the following day another helicopter was scheduled to make the resupply run. By now these pilots are wary, and as the make their approach they can not miss observing the two crashed Hueys lying just short of the peak of the mountain. As the third helicopter approaches, the crowd at the top was getting larger as they were expecting another show. Sure enough, they get it. Like the two previous helicopters, down this one goes, just like the others. Same results: no fire, lots of bumps and bruises and, of course, the pilot's bruised egos. The crew all scrambled to safety with assistance from the “Mountain Men”. By now they are getting proficient at rescuing helicopter crews. Now, the daily helicopter landing was an exciting event for the troops on top and a death defying maneuver for the pilots and crew.
Three lucky crews are on top and three unlucky helicopters lay strewn on the side of the mountain. Word spreads regarding the danger of the landing situation and reaches the division commander. Pilots insist the Huey is not stable enough in the unpredictable and windy conditions and is not capable of the mission. Helicopter pilots strongly recommend resupply by a Chinook. The commanding general is unconvinced of the danger and believes the helicopter pilots are exaggerating the dangers. Since the division commander knows more than the lowly helicopter pilots, he decides to fly to the top of the mountain to demonstrate that it can be done in safety.
The division commander's helicopter is unlike all the other helicopters in our division. His helicopter resembles his clean uniform, crisply starched, with spit shined boots. Of course the General does not do those things himself, as he has an army of minions for manual labor. It is the same with his helicopter. It looks a bit different from our Hueys, as it very clean and shiny because of it being washed and waxed all the time. It has painted on its nose, the Electric Strawberry patch representing the division's emblem. There is no mistaking the general's helicopter. Every other helicopter assigned to the 25th Infantry Division is a combat veteran and looks as if they have seen an abundance of combat. The general's helicopter looks just like it just rolled off the assembly line. Another mission is scheduled and the commanding general will be aboard this time to prove his point. The General is not that supremely confident of the tactical situation, as two Cobras are schedule to fly in support of him. We take off from Cu Chi, the general's helicopter and two Cobras, all in support of the General's ego.
This time, everybody is at the top watching the general's helicopter attempt to land. They have been informed the General is on the helicopter. Will it be Mountainside 4 and Helicopter 0, or will it be Mountainside 3-1. Vegas bookies would not want to handle these odds, as the Black Virgin Mountain was no longer a virgin. Her mountainside had been bloodied and she is a combat veteran. She is littered with the remains of three helicopters. The crashed helicopters had parts scattered all of the mountainside. I had no pressure on this mission, as I was along for the ride and enjoying my simple part of the operation.
However, the pilot in command of the general's chopper had tremendous pressure thrust upon him. Tension was high and the stress had to be unbelievable. As the troops on top were watching the spectacle of the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division approach for a landing, the pilot had to be apprehensive beyond any description. Scared shitless was more like it, for three good reasons. First he had an enthralled audience well schooled in ducking flying rotor blades. Secondly, three prior crews, equally qualified, all failed in their attempts to land. Thirdly, the other crews did not have added pressure of having the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division onboard. Everybody on top was aware of the three prior crashes on consecutive days and how dangerous and difficult it will be to land. The pilot of the general's helicopter certainly comprehends this but the General does not appreciate it. As I circle overhead the mountain, I watch the approaching general's chopper, I am watching this circus and can plainly see all the troops on the mountain top that have a front row seat.
The general's pilot has to be sweating bullets as he knows the three previous choppers are scattered in many pieces on the mountainside. Additionally, he knows that crashing the general's chopper with him on board, cannot be good for your career advancement. So guess what, there goes a flying career and the general's helicopter, along with the General in it. Down the mountainside goes the beautiful, simonized Huey dropping into the rocks and boulders on the side of the mountain. The pilot has misjudged his descent and starts to lose power and altitude. The pilot is attempting to add full power as the rotor blades clawed the air, trying to pull away from the mountainside with little success. The RPM's were bleeding off and the rotor blades were not providing sufficient lift. Soon the pilot loses power, altitude and ideas at the same time. Slowly down the mountainside plunges the once proud Huey belonging to the General. The troops on top are treated to another spectacle. The mountain has won again, as the General and his helicopter are going down. I imagine by this time, the drill was well orchestrated, as the troops on top take cover for the fourth time and avoid rotor blades smashing against the rocks and boulders. As soon as the crashing noises subside, the “Mountain Men” scramble down the mountainside to rescue the hapless General and the crew.
I had previously instructed my wingman to stay at least 500 feet below me, as I did not want to have to watch out for him also. Additionally, he knows I will keep the general's chopper in sight, while he looks out for any enemy activity. I do not hear any “Mayday” radio call from the general's helicopter, as it happened so quickly and the crew were struggling to control the helicopter. I plainly could see the general's helicopter lose lift and then slide down the mountain. The rotor blades were moving slower and slower. It is a good thing I had my wingman below me, as I was transfixed watching the general's helicopter. The general's helicopter rolled over slightly and the rotor blades hit the side of the mountain coming to an abrupt stop. Long before the helicopter stopped falling down the mountainside, I excitedly screamed in my radio to division headquarters, “the General's down, the General's down”. Quickly, I calmed down and regained proper radio procedures and requested some assistance from Cu Chi. It was one thing to leave lowly helicopter crews stranded overnight on the mountain top, but I assumed the General would not be spending the night there and an effort would me made to immediately extract the General.
I was in contact with division headquarters as they were closely monitoring his flight. They wanted to know his condition and I replied I did not know, and informed them the general's helicopter did not explode on impact nor was there a fire. I told them I could see individuals exiting the crashed chopper and soldiers scrambling down to rescue the occupants. All survived the crash, except for the beautiful helicopter. I presume the general's pilot, was no longer the general's pilot. I learned later the General got out of the chopper, stumbling and tripping and falling, as he was desperately trying to get away from the chopper, as highly combustible jet fuel was spewing everywhere. Helicopters use the same type of fuel as jet fighters and is extremely flammable.
I radioed the top of the mountain and requested to know the General's condition. I was not exactly specific enough, as I only wanted to learn if the General survived the crash. I was advised that when the General got to the top, the General was absolutely exhausted from the climb and out of breath. With that small bit of information, I knew he was alive. It was a harrowing experience for him. I was told the General needed assistance climbing to the safety of the mountain top. As he lay on the top of the mountain exhausted and out of breath, I wondered if the General now agreed with the expertise of the helicopter pilots regarding the unsuitability of landing Hueys on top of the mountain.
When I first entered the Army, I learned there were two ways to do things in the Army; the Right way and the Army way. Well I was wrong, as now, there was the General's way. The General, like so many high ranking officers, was a man accustomed to giving an order but not aware of the practicality of carrying it out. The destruction of his once proud helicopter proved that.
Since the mountain was a signal station with the best radios available, I can assure you the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division would be in radio contact with Cu Chi requesting assistance. Very quickly another helicopter was dispatched to pick up the General. It did not take long getting there and it was not a Huey. It was a Chinook, a twin rotor helicopter capable of carrying about 45 fully equipped troops. It was a much heavier helicopter and considerably more stable in the high winds conditions surrounding the mountain. The Chinook rescued the General and helicopter crews and flew them back to Cu Chi.
After that, by order of the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division, only Chinooks were permitted to resupply Nui Ba Den. That was great news for those soldiers who eventually would be flying off that mountain by helicopter. They knew they would now be able to safely fly off the mountain. The General did not know how lucky he was. American forces owned the top and bottom of the Black Virgin Mountain, however, the VC controlled everything in between. He could have been captured and all due to his willingness to prove a point. Sometimes, there is a God. This was the same general that kept me aloft one long night for no apparent reason, while flying a flare ship for over five hours without once dropping a flare. The General had me counseled (the polite military term for a severe ass chewing) the following day because I had the audacity to question a mission he ordered, but that is another story. Stupidity and foolishness I learned, were not limited solely to Privates or Lieutenants.
As dawn broke over the horizon in Cu Chi it would prove to be the beginning of the adventure I had dreamed of for so long. I had finally gotten my first ship to crew. It wasn't much, the Diamondhead Junker trusty old 459. That ship had been around since the beginning of the war. It was old, underpowered and abused. It wouldn't fly with a full load of rockets and fuel. It would play like a frog, and just hop up and down and go nowhere if fully loaded. She was delegated to fly with 1000 pounds of fuel only so her stay on location was never long.
This day, I was full of pride with the old Junker. It was mine. I would just overcome the old girls shortcomings, and take pride in her. I arrived at the flight line at 7 a.m. She desperately needed a bath. A thick coat of exhaust smoke was all over her tail boom, the windows were dirty, and the inside was cluttered. She was just in a state of neglect since she was the ship that was used in emergencies only. She was like the spastic stepchild. Nobody liked her.
I went and got the water truck, and hosed her down. I got the soapy water and give her a good old bath. When I was finished I stood back and looked at her. Much better I thought. Now to get those windows all cleaned. It had rained the night before, and water streaks were all over the Plexiglas. I got the Plexiglas cleaner out and started with the chin bubbles inside and out. I removed the paper from the chin bubble and removed the dirt that had built up, applied the cleaner and buffed it off. Those bubbles I made shine like a shining star. Now to reproduce that luster on the windows would take much effort. There were crusty old dead bugs stuck all over them. I followed the same procedure inside and out starting with the co-pilots windows. When I got to the pilots side, there were these grease pencil marks all over the window, little green x's and red x's and blue x's. it took much scrubbing to get them off.
I was about to discover I had just really fucked up. Those little x's were the aiming marks for each pilot that flew her. Each color was a different pilots mark.
When Mr. Stock, her pilot for the day showed up to do his pre-flight inspection he noticed I was hard at work, and commented how well she looked today. Then he looked inside. The marks were gone. What in the hell did you do! He stated. I asked, “ What do you mean?” The marks, “What Marks”? The Grease pencil marks!!..they are gone...SHIT! Now we have to go to AO Earp and re bore site her again he growled. I felt like crawling under a rock and die. Never again would I make that blunder.
We made ready to depart, and I gave the clear left, and Marvin my gunner was still laughing his ass off about the marks.
I just pouted all the way out to the range. I was soon to be introduced to what would be a yearlong contest of mind over matter. Bird Hunting Mekong Style. We got everything completed, the rockets zeroed, the guns checked out, a little target practice, and then we sighted them...Marvin my gunner said Sir!! There them suckers are, like they were old friends of his. Off in the distance I could make out a flight of white birds. The VC cranes. They were headed for our target mud hole. We orbited for a bit and waited for them to land, and prepared to ambush them. As they settled into the mud hole we started our gun run. We were half loaded with rockets, eighteen of them. One thousand rounds of door gun ammo, and miscellaneous small arms. After three passes, we had expended every round and rocket on the ship. All we had to show for the effort was mud on the Chin bubble, and a floorboard full of used brass. The score was, Cranes 40-Pilots zip.
Some time later we returned to the same area. Destination AO Earp to bore site more rockets. As we cruised along at 1500 feet on a beautiful spring day Ace, my gunner for the days mission spotted them first.
You guessed it; the VC white cranes...the ones that are contortionists. Hose them with a door gun feathers fly everywhere. And in the end the bird fly's away, less many feathers and a newly acquired bad attitude. We would count them in the mud hole we used as a target...yeah, “we got them suckers this time” I heard the pilots over the intercom say. I see 14 in the mud hole sir! We roll in from 1000 feet punch off 2 sets feathers fly everywhere...and 14 flyaway.
Well, we decided after 6 months of this shit we were going to at least have a body count of one fucking bird. We went back and rearmed with Beehive rounds and returned to the mud hole...Sir 17 in the mud hole! We set up at 1500 feet and began our run punching off 8 sets on the way down. Whoosh goes the rockets, shit, mud, rice paddy, feathers just erupted from that mud hole...and 17 very muddy, pretty much featherless VC cranes flew off into the sunset to the astonishment of the pilots. My gunner says to the pilots, “Sir I'll show you how it's done”. He grabbed an M-16 off the back of the seat, at 50 yards flying at 90 knots out the crew chiefs door...BLAM!..One shot, one crane with his head blown off plummets out of the sky. The pilots stared in disbelief...It had to be a fluke, a lucky shot. Ace commented to the pilots. “You guys are paid to drive, leave the shootin to us back here,” with a shit eating grin on his face. That was the total body count for the year. We probably spent 200,000 Tax Dollars on munitions. So in celebration, I stenciled a crane on the side of the gunner's door. It would before long have company. Soon to be added were a lambretta, a tree, papa sons fishing pole, and one water buffalo. Those are yet other stories:)
By Greg Bucy
“Where did the fire come from”, asked the Lt. Col., commanding the armor column, as we straggled out of the four-foot tall elephant grass and approached a tank. I opened my mouth to tell him from the base of the mountain but couldn't say a word - I realized I had cottonmouth so bad I couldn't speak. “Where did the fire come from”, he asked again. Once again I tried to mouth the words, but no sound would come. At that moment any further conversation was drowned out by the approach of the Cobra less than ten feet over our heads. Although expended, my wingman, Dave Watson, was making another low level pass over us just as he had when we began running from our burning helicopter. In an effort to answer the colonel's question, I turned and looked back toward the “Black Virgin”, Nui Ba Den, pointed at her, and whispered, “from the base”. As I turned, I saw my crew huddled together, Ed Schenk, my pilot clearly exhausted but still running on adrenaline, with our wounded crew chief Del Herne on his back, and our gunner Floyd Jackson who had carried Herne most of the way, now supporting our wounded passenger, a grunt, his arm still in the sling it was in when we had picked him up. Their faces wore the mask of those who meet death face to face, the frenzied long and knowing look of wide eyes in emotionless pain. The colonel seemed satisfied with the answer and motioned for us to follow him. Behind the column of tanks and APC's I could see a Little Bear landing, a resupply ship no doubt, since these troops had been in heavy contact all day. As we approached the ship I could see the crew hurriedly tossing things to those on the ground, but as soon as we got there they stopped, helped the five of us aboard and took off for Tay Ninh. As we climbed aboard, they still had ice bags on the deck, and as the effects of our adrenaline wore off I could tell Herne who had been shot in the hip was in obvious pain from his as yet untreated wound. So he sat on the ice as we flew to the field hospital in Tay Ninh.
The day had begun like so many others in Cu Chi; first, the crews assembled, discussed any planned missions, then while one pilot did the pre-flight the other read the log and discussed the ship's condition with the crew chief. The pilots would then man the `scramble shack' on the flight line while the crew performed any last minute maintenance. When finished the crew would join the pilots (it was common for the crew to spend an extraordinary amount of time on their ships). As members of B Co. 25th Avn Bn, the Diamondheads, it was our primary job (although we had many missions) to provide attack support for elements of the 25th Infantry Division when they were “in contact” with the enemy. Toward this end we maintained two Light Fire Teams (two armed helicopters which fought as a unit) on alert status 24/7. These teams would be dispatched on a moments notice to provide rocket, minigun, and M60 machine gun fire, in support of the ground troops engaged with the enemy. Simply put, our job was to provide immediate overwhelming fire power at the precise location on the battle field which would inflict maximum damage on the enemy and force the withdrawal of any who might survive our onslaught. Our teams consisted of various helicopters, usually either two Cobras, or two `Charlie' Model gun ships, each armed with rockets and/or miniguns or some combination of the two. The Cobras were faster, more maneuverable, and more heavily armed, but the `Charlies' had four extra eyes and two M60 machine guns, which in the hands of experienced crew compensated for the `apparent' weapon load advantage of the Cobra. So we occasionally flew as a `Charlie' and Cobra team, with the lead being the `Charlie'. Such was the case this day the 8th of January 1970. Heavy fighting often required both fire teams, this call was usually made by the ground commander. If in his judgment the situation on the ground required constant intervening fire -i.e. the enemy would not disengage - he would call for both. So while one team was rearming another would be supporting the troops. Again, this was the case this day. The primary team lead by George Conger (a Cobra team) was scrambled, followed shortly by my team (the Diamondhead 50 team). When the phone rang in the `scramble shack' the crew ran to the ships - with the exception of Ed, pilot of the lead ship, who got the phone and took the mission particulars. When he came running out with our destination and radio contact we took off on our second mission of the day.
We were to return where we had been earlier that day, the northern slopes of Nui Ba Den and Nui Cau, mountains with a saddle between them, which rose very steeply from the surrounding flat land. All of us were familiar with this area; I had been in Vietnam nearly eighteen months, and had seen battle after battle fought in this area. It's proximity to the Cambodian border allowed the enemy to get large numbers of troops into this area. We controlled the bottom and top, and the enemy had the area between, an area honeycombed with caves and fortified fighting positions. The mountain top positions had to be resupplied by air, because no one could make it up the slopes, and the enemy on the slopes could not take the top though there were times when they tried in great numbers and with great ferocity. As we arrived on station I was briefed by George and then by the ground commander. A ground unit of the 3/22 Inf., was conducting a ground sweep of the earlier area of contact and had made it to an area about 200 meters from the base of the slope, where they had become pinned down by heavy fire. As they had attempted to withdraw, the enemy positioned some of their forces to their rear (between the grunts and the armor column about 1000 meters behind them that was supporting them); other infantry elements moving in to support them had in fact become engaged. When we arrived they were in effect surrounded, at very close range, and taking heavy fire from the slopes. The armor could no longer support them with fire to their rear since it would have involved shooting toward those trapped. We began placing suppressive fire between the element trapped and the armor column, to allow them a way out. On our first pass, we took very heavy machine gun fire from the slope (we were flying parallel to it) as we broke. As we lined up for our next pass, we could see the muzzle flashes of machine guns on the slope as they fired (at us I suppose). Since we were firing very close to friendly troops I was flying at about 500 feet. The machine guns appeared to be up slope at about 200 feet elevation. After several passes on the machine guns, they were silenced, and I believe disabled because I was shooting at muzzle flashes I could see through my cross hairs, and by that time I'd gotten to be a pretty good shot. The ground fire had gotten less intense and we turned to other targets. The ground element called numerous times for critical Dust Off. Dust Off made several attempts to get in to them, but was turned away by ground fire. Dust Off would get to within 100 meters of them at an altitude of 50 feet or less and then have to turn back. The friendlies were so close and virtually invisible in the elephant grass that there was little we could do to suppress for Dust Off. When Dust Off left, we expended our heavy ordinance in the area to the rear (North) of the friendlies and on the slope.
As I advised the ground commander we were expended except for door gun in the Charlie (Dave's Cobra was totally expended) and nearly out of fuel, the ground element once again requested critical Dust Off. I advised the ground element that we would make an attempt to pick up his wounded, to have them and smoke ready, and that I would approach from his Northeast (Dust Off had approached from the Northwest). I then briefed the crew and started the approach. As we approached I told ground to pop smoke, both gunners were firing at the slope some 300 to 400 meters to our front, as we neared touch down both gunners stopped firing and I turned our tail toward the mountain and landed. As I looked over my left shoulder the wounded got up out of the grass, one walking with his arm in a sling and one stretcher borne, carried by four others, no more than 30 feet away. Both gunners resumed firing to our rear, and within seconds the walking wounded climbed aboard; then, almost simultaneously, Del Herne, crouched over his M60, jumped up and started to slap at his hip, the guys with the stretcher now less than 10 feet away dropped back into the grass. As Jackson (behind me on the right side of the ship) continued firing at the slope behind us, Herne made his way up to the console between Ed and myself, still slapping his hip where he had obviously been hit. I turned to the front and initiated takeoff in an extremely nose low attitude. The `Charlie' had plenty of power since it was empty. As I started to pull the nose up to a more normal attitude, I heard my wingman say, “You're on fire, 50 you're on fire.” At that point, and believe it or not, as my life flashed before my eyes, my “Army Training” as an aviator took over, because without thinking I lowered the collective, and flared the ship. The ship hit the ground, I have no idea how hard, and slid along until it nosed over into a bomb crater. I remember almost standing on the tail rotor pedals and pulling back on the cyclic. Apparently we had sufficient rotor speed to back out of the crater, because the ship came to rest almost level.
Stunned, I tried to move and couldn't, and after briefly thinking myself paralyzed, I realized my shoulder harness had locked. So I undid my seatbelt and harness then reached up with my left hand and turned off the switches (haven't a clue why, Army Training I guess); I looked around the ship and was amazed that no one was on board. It was then I noticed the battery compartment to my front was burning. I threw my `Chicken Board' (body armor) which was setting on my lap, secured by the shoulder harness, to the side, and tried to slide the armor plate beside my right arm back to get out - it wouldn't budge. I climbed over the radio console, headed for Ed's door, which I noticed, was open. Just as I was about to dive out, I saw Ed lying on the ground, and about at the same time, realized we were still taking fire. I could hear bullets hitting the ship, hitting in the grass, and in general `popping' as they went by. Ed, who was facing me, raised his head, and said, “I came back to tell you not to get out on this side there are briars everywhere.” To this day I can't help but chuckle when I think about that. Bullets or briars, for me it was an easy decision; I'll take briars every time. So I dove out, briars an all. Ed and I crawled a few meters (he was right about the briars, we both got cut up) from the ship, which seemed to be taking the worst of it although it was nearly consumed in fire. I asked, “Where's the crew?” After saying he didn't know we both began to call out. Seconds later, our gunner Jackson jumped up and shouted, “We're over here.” (On the other side of the bomb crater) Immediately they started to draw fire, and I could tell Jackson had them moving, and in the right direction, north, because I could see the grass moving although I couldn't see them. I called out for them to join us at the north end of the crater, the way they were headed. When we joined up with the crew and our passenger, we took stock of our situation. We were still taking fire, although it was sporadic unless someone stood up, we had one gun, Ed's 38 with 5 rounds, either Jackson or our passenger may have had an M16 but no ammo, and we had two wounded. One who could walk and one who couldn't, although Herne tried valiantly, he was shot in the hip and it was just not possible for him to get far. We weren't sure how far we'd flown, but it couldn't have been very far (100 to 200 meters at best). We knew there were enemy troops in the area, probably small groups, but we had not taken any fire from beneath us as we made our approach, and if we egressed via the same route maybe we'd get lucky. Just after we set off, Dave flew over us, not ten feet above our heads, moving at a high rate of speed and justifiably so, because he was being shot at from what appeared several directions, but mainly from our rear. While he was in the area it became apparent we needn't worry about them shooting at us, they were going to shoot at him.
As we left, I knew the armor column was in front of us, deployed in line, so I didn't have to navigate precisely. At times we could see a few feet at best, but the mountain behind us loomed large and the occasional tree made for good bearings, with luck we could make it out. Hopefully, Dave would let them know we were coming out. The grass was tall enough that at times you could almost stand erect, and even though we continued to take fire for sometime, Dave got the brunt of it. Jackson and Ed took turns carrying Herne piggyback, though Jackson, a big guy, carried most of the load. We moved very quickly. Amazingly Jackson kept up carrying Herne. When he could hardly stand, Ed took Herne. Though it was only around 800 meters to the armor column, which as walks go is not that far, at times that day the column seemed a lifetime away.
By-Allen B. Allcock "K.C."
Only a short time after I had been in country with Delta Troop, 3/4 Air Cavalry, I was asked to become a team member of a reactionary/recovery squad. Although I don't know for certain if "reactionary/recovery" is the proper name that was used, but it does describe somewhat the mission. It had become the SOP of our unit to perform many of the "rescues" of our troop's aircraft, especially those that were downed from mechanical failures that could be quickly repaired and flown out to safe areas for better, permanent repairs. Enemy engagements also brought about flight failure. Sometimes in enemy infested areas, maintenance crews were flown to the sites to make repairs so that the helicopters could be flown out.
One good thing about the helicopter is that it has the ability to autorotate down to somewhat of a safe landing without the power of an engine driving its rotating wing. Altitude and the quick action of well trained, experienced pilots and crew could make a landing area out of practically nothing. If altitude wasn’t present, in most cases the landing would be rather abrupt. Damage and injury would be certain, and recovery of injured crewmembers would be a priority. Our smaller areo-scout, "loach" aircraft, we could sling load under our UH-1, "slicks" and do our own recoveries, but when our larger aircraft, such as the UH-1H, or the Cobra gunship came down, about all we could do would be the performance of minor, quick maintenance, getting it airborne again under its own power, or else call in a recovery helicopter unit that had the large, "Chinooks".
It was in June/July of '69 when I was used for the first time to work on an aircraft that was down in the, "boonies". I can't remember if Captain "twinkle-toes" Dixon was the maintenance officer still yet, or if he had rotated home already? (twinkle-toes was a nickname that many of the Officers and EM used to refer to the little rock upon his toes he used with each step) But, for sure, Captain Mack was the officer who I recall as getting us to and from the "downed" aircraft. A cobra that was flown by Mr. Bobo. They were down not to far from the base of the famous, "black virgin mountain", in somewhat an open area. There had been a failure of the 42 degree gearbox located at the base of the vertical fin, and with the right tools, a couple of aircraft mechanics, spare part and a few long, "eternal" moments, we could have the cobra flying "before sundown". Sp/4 Richard Waite, and I were, "volunteered", and away we went. The flight up from Cu Chi was great, and as we flew onto location, we noted some perimeter defenses had been set up for our protection and the downed aircraft protection. By perimeter defenses is best described as a couple of squads of infantrymen encircling the downed aircraft, and keeping "charlie" from moving in to close to "snipe" at the aircraft or those working on it. Then, some of the infantrymen were making a sweep of the area just to reinforce those who were protecting us. All of this could be clearly seen from the air as we approached but when we landed, that was the last we saw of our, "defenses". For when we were on the ground, the sweep patrol seemed to be swept out of sight. Feverishly, Rick and I went to work removing access panels and taking bolts loose and hoping we would not drop and loose anything. At every moment I could feel the searching eye of an enemy sniper upon my being. Finally, after about an hour, we were ready for a test run-up and very ready to get out of there. We got the attention of a circling scout ship, and communicated to them that we were ready for the Cobra flight crew to return and fly the downed aircraft out of harms way. That burned more time off of the already dimming evening hours, but it wasn't before long that they returned, firing up the cobra, giving us the "thumbs up" and flying off. In those moments, other "slick" choppers started arriving and our security also started pulling out. None of these helicopters came close to the place where Rick and I were waiting with our tools and we began to get somewhat concerned. We were armed with M-16’s and plenty of ammo, but I believe it would have been a short battle. We just hunkered down and waited. After what seemed to be an eternity, (probably about five or ten minutes), we finally heard the buzzing sound of a scout ship and saw Captain Mack quickly land and motion us aboard. Phew! were we relieved. A red sunset was blazing in the west as we flew and it wasn't until we were safely heading toward Cu Chi that my heart rate began to slow down. However, the flight home was not without incident. As we were flying back to Cu Chi, I starting noticing tracers arcing up from the left side of the aircraft and toward the front of us. And, it seemed like we were flying closer and into their path. Captain Mack, seated on the right side of the aircraft, didn't seem to notice. Finally, as the tracers kept coming closer, I remarked to Captain Mack, "I believe we are being fired at!" He took notice, pulled in a little pitch, made adjustment in direction, and silently flew us on home. (He was cool under fire)
Several times over the next few months, I got to practice the "art of recovery" a few more times. Delta Troop had an outstanding record as far as good mechanical operations on the choppers, and it was a rare thing for the choppers to fail mechanically. However, the enemy would hit a vunderble spot now and again and bring one down, especially one of our scouts. Since the majority of the areo-scouts work was much of the time flying at very low levels, buzzing back and forth along suspected enemy trails and bunkers, Charlie would occasional "bag" one. Somehow, regardless of how hard one might try so as to not become real close and personnel with flight crews, more times than not, you considered the pilots, crewchiefs and gunners of Delta troop as your brother, friend and ally and any loss was personnel. Many times we were successful in snatching a downed crew and aircraft out of the grasping reach of the enemy. And just as often, those doing the recovery were elated with joy and relief.
But the strangest incident occurred about February of "70. I say about, because I can't narrow it down, but by mentioning the names of one of the scout ship's crew, someone might be able to tell me an exact date. Normally I flew on all test flights that came out of our hanger. A Warrant officer by the name of Tom Shirley usually shared that duty with me. This was his third tour of Vietnam, his second as a pilot. On this particular morning, we had a "slick" readied for test flight following a hundred hour P.E. Mr. Shirley, had gone to an early appointment to a dentist, so they gave me a new pilot to fly the test flight with me. He was a "new guy", in our unit, and did not know me, nor did I know him. To me, he just looked like any other soldier in OD green, and I guess I looked like any other to him. Especially, when you put on a flight helmet, and slide the tinted visor down covering the eyes. It was while we were on that test flight when we got the call to return ASAP. Being only a few miles out with the helicopter, we returned to the base and I was quickly briefed on the emergency. One of our scout ships had crashed and needed to be recovered. I told the new pilot about my duties regarding the expected recovery and ran into the maintenance hanger, grabbed the tools and recovery slings and loaded the items aboard the awaiting helicopter that we had just returned to base in. I was flying in the A/C seat and the new guy was at the controls on the right side, and we headed for a spot near the Cambodian/Vietnam boarder. It was there that the "loach" had lost a tail rudder blade to a tree, and the aircraft had spun to the ground. During the "hard, spin-in landing", Chester Stanley, one of the crewmembers aboard the downed aircraft, had been thrown from the aircraft and was injured. Chester at one time had been one of my men before becoming one of the elite scouts for our unit. A team member cobra gunship was still flying large circles above the downed scout ship to give it protection when we arrived, but had to leave station soon after because of running low on fuel. What we needed to do was simple. We land, I grab the sling, a couple of tools, run over to the crumpled scout ship, pull the rotor blades, pin on the slinging device, position myself high enough for the "Slick" to hover directly above me, and once I slip the eye of the sling over the cargo hook of the slick, the pilot hovers it a little sideways, As we came in for a landing, we could see the downed helicopter in edge of the bush and the crew members of the aircraft huddled around a prone body at the edge of a nearby clearing. The downed pilot flagged us safely in for a landing among the trees. I vacated the pilots seat I had occupied on the trip out, grabbed the recovery sling and the essential tools, and headed for the downed aircraft. Since it was back in the bush a ways, it did not take long for the foliage to swallow me up. While I was headed to do what I needed to do, the downed crewmembers loaded the injured crewman aboard, and the other pilot from the downed aircraft climbed into the left side pilot seat, which I had just vacated. I heard the Huey pulling in pitch, so I climbed deeper into the underbrush and all vision was lost of me. Then, to my sickening surprise, as they pulled pitch, they turned away from me and flew off. I thought surely that someone would notice there should be five aboard, but I guess that there was such relief in the thoughts of the rescued crew and concern for the injured crewmember, that no one noticed I was not aboard. After all, put a helmet on, the familiar OD green on, we all looked about the same, especially to a new guy not familiar with any of us. Since the cobra had flown off of station, and the "loach" had not been shot down, recovery of the downed aircraft took second precedent over the injured crewmember. Nevertheless, I was terrified. In fact, terrified is to small of a word to really describe how I felt, because the only thing I had removed off of that aircraft before it had left, was the recovery sling, and a couple of tools. My M-16 and all ammo was aboard. I did have a knife, but somehow I didn't feel confident in my abilities to survive very long with only that, although in reality, I would probably last about as long with a knife as I would with a rifle. The clock seemed to stop, yet it was my heart that beat faster. I begin to look around for some place to hide, and hope that soon someone would add things up, and come back. I just knew that by a short time, I would either be dead, or a prisoner. Off in the distance I heard the rattle of a short firefight, and knew that the enemy was coming to have a peek at this downed aircraft. It wasn't going to be flyable, but they might want to rob it of some of its gear. When the downed crew had been picked up, they had loaded their machine guns aboard along with the injured crewmember, so there was no danger of "Charlie" getting any arms, but things such as radios they would steal. Probably thirty minutes later I heard the rumble of a tracked vehicle squeaking towards me. Since there was a quite a bit of foliage in the area, and the approach of this vehicle was from Cambodian boarder side, I could not determine if it was friend or foe. Certainly I wasn't feeling very positive about my situation, so I figured that it was foe. Moments later, in a distance, I heard the tracked vehicle(s) pull up, and then as the moments ticked by, I heard the approach of humans by foot tromping toward my hiding area and the downed aircraft. All life simply drained from me. I knew I would never see my beautiful bride back home ever again. How would my mother take my disappearance. In fact, I just wondered if the enemy would keep me alive, or just kill me and my body would never be identified. I felt totally whipped. Then, all at once, I thought I heard English being spoken. Then, again from another point. GREAT! I headed out of my hiding place, jumping for joy, elated about having someone with the same nationality being so close to me. About that same time, instantly all of my elation vanished, because all the bullets in the world begin to zing in and impact all around me. I realized what a stupid move I had made. The English speaking soldiers were firing at me, not knowing what the noise they heard coming from within the bush meant. They didn’t know if I was friend or foe. I hugged the ground, and finally when somewhat of a calm had taken back over, I yelled out. "Hey! I'm An American!" After a short silence, I heard a voice yell back to me! ""Aright, come on out, and boy, you'd better be American." I did, and the next statement I heard was, "What, and Who (blank-a-dee, blank-a-dee, blank) are you...doing here!! To this day, I can't remember what "tank" unit these boys were from, but there commander was a red headed 1st lt. If he is a 3/4 Cav.. guy, I sure would like to shake his hand and buy him a steak dinner somewhere. To end this nightmare, around noon we hear a chopper beating the air coming toward us. When it made its flare, I could see a familiar face, Tom Shirley at the controls, and all by himself. It seemed that he asked a few questions, put two and two together, took all the little things that was slipping through the cracks, and started making corrections. We got the "tankers" to slip the eye of the recovery sling into the eye of our cargo hook, and flew back to Cu Chi base camp.. What a beautiful sight. Delta Troop got their downed aircraft back, I got back, and no one ever knew the difference..... All blunders were covered, which was something that seldom happened, and everything was intact except for the hair on my neck, which stood for years. After I was separated from the army, I looked up Tom Shirley and stay in some type of contact to this day. We are forever friends. One thing for sure, I learned a lesson! Today, whatever I do, I like to size up the situation, and let all know who are involved, what I am going to do. I don’t like the idea of being left alone.
This is a true story, no names have been changed, and I am sorry for the lack of memory on some of the others in this incident. Regardless, I am very proud of the unit I served with, and it people.
By - Bob Seger
An emergency resupply of ammo was a mission I will never forget. I was just lounging around the company area when an urgent request for ammunition came down from headquarters. The Wolfhounds were heavily engaged against Charlie and they desperately needed ammo. They asked for volunteers to fly a load of ammo into the field for the Wolfhounds. I had nothing to do, so I volunteered as the aircraft commander. They said it was an emergency, so the other pilot and I sprinted to the Beach. The crew chief and door gunner were already waiting for us. Those guys must sleep on the chopper, as the other pilot and I had hustled to get down to the flight line and they were ready and had untied the rotor blades.
We quickly started up the helicopter and hopped over to the ammo dump. As the crew were loading up the helicopter with cases of ammunition, I was on the radio getting us an artillery clearance. Before every flight, it was necessary to determine where the artillery was firing to avoid it. Occasionally, we had to make a long detour to avoid flying directly flying into the trajectory of our own artillery shells. Artillery shells and helicopters were like oil and water, they just did not mix well. The flight characteristics of a helicopter struck by an artillery shell would be similar to a streamlined manhole cover, straight down.
As I received an artillery clearance, I learned I would have to take a long way around to get to the Wolfhound's location. However there was an alternative to speed the ammo into the field. I knew if I took off downwind I could avoid the artillery fire and proceed much more quickly to my destination. Since the Wolfhounds were in a firefight and running short of ammunition, it seemed imperative to fly the ammo to them immediately. After loading up at the ammo dump, I decided to take off downwind even though I recall my flight school instructor telling me never to take off downwind.
On many occasions, I was told to never, and I mean never, take off downwind. The wind assists a helicopter in getting up the air, while taking off downwind does just the opposite. Since I had been instructed to get the ammo out as quickly as possible, I decided to disregard my old instructor's advice. I decided to take off downwind as that would take me to the infantry's location quicker
That was a big mistake. I knew there was a problem when the aircraft was over so overloaded that I was barely able to pick it up to a hover. That should have been my first clue to a major problem. As I took off downwind, I could feel the strong tailwind picking up the tail and wanting to flip the helicopter over on its nose. Normally this is not problem as I simply pull back on the cyclic stick and the nose then comes up and the tail drops. However, as I pulled back on the cyclic stick, nothing happened. I continued to pull back on the cyclic stick until I could not pull it further.
What happened, was I ran out of cyclic, which means I had the cyclic stick pulled all the way to the rear and the nose still was still dropping. I had lost control over the helicopter. I had the cyclic stick pulled all the way to the rear and the nose was still continuing to drop. With the tailwind, we were zipping along the ground like crazy. My life seemed to flash by also. To someone watching our takeoff, with our nose low and our tail high, they probably thought we were in a very unusual takeoff position. Actually, we were in a good crashing position and that scared the hell out of me.
Luckily, the helicopter reached translational lift just inches before impacting the ground and we became airborne. It is a good thing as the wind and our momentum most likely would have tipped us over on impact. Then when the rotor blades hit the ground the helicopter would have been ripped apart. We were loaded with high octane jet fuel and a ton of ammunition on board. It was an explosive combination.
It was only a few minutes' flight to the scene of the firefight, but on the way there I was concerned about our landing. There was no doubt in my mind, with the heavily loaded helicopter, it was absolute necessary to land into the wind. I certainly did not need a repeat of my takeoff. After contacting the ground commander, I learned the disposition of the friendly forces and the direction of the enemy fire. When smoke was popped, I was greatly relieved when the smoke revealed I would be able to make a landing into the wind and at the same time, avoid over flying the enemy's position. This made our potential landing safe but then what to do on takeoff, as takeoffs and landings were always made into the wind. I did not like the idea of taking off right over the enemy position.
As we started getting close to landing, one brave soldier stood up with no cover or concealment and was waving his arms and instructing us to land at his location. As we got close to the landing zone, I could see the muzzle flashes of Charlie straight ahead shooting at us and they were not that far off. The landing went fine but I remember how impatient I was sitting on the ground in the middle of a firefight. I did not want to stay on the ground for very long. We were making a very big and inviting target. Charlie was very close to us. I looked back and saw the door gunners in the back handing the boxes of ammo to a soldier who placed them on the ground. I told them just to kick the damn boxes of ammo out on the ground, to hell with neatly handing them to some soldier. I said, “Didn't you see us taking fire when we landed?” They complied with my instructions and just threw cases of ammo out both sides of the aircraft as fast as they could.
After unloading the ammo, I knew there was no way could I takeoff, into the wind, as I would then be directly over the enemy position flying only 30 feet off the ground and about 30 knots. They could hit us with a rock. Since we were considerably lighter now, I took off into a cross wind with no difficulty. I learned my lesson and always took off into the wind after that. I was more careful on all takeoffs after that.