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War Stories 9
By Dave Henard
Even though we may not all share the same faith, I have my own faith and belief system, just as everyone else does. As a Civil War buff, I have read enough history to believe that God did miracles on both sides of the battles of that war. God is not put off by the battlefield. The Old Testament makes this fairly clear. I don't think that he has missed out on one battle throughout history. He is there when one man or several men risks their own lives for another. Jesus said in Matthew 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” He was also there because we (the American soldiers) were trying to help the South Vietnamese people. Somewhere along the line, the worldwide news media forgot that the communists were taxing and killing the folks in South Vietnam. If a village did not support the VC, they simply tortured and killed the village chief and hung him in some ugly form in the middle of the village. This stuff was written in our newspapers up through 1966 and was recorded by Bernard Fall in his book describing the involvement of the French in Vietnam, “Street Without Joy”, and others. I guess that part of our Congress, the news media, and Hollywood forgot all of that after Tet. It is pretty clear that once the war in Vietnam became unpopular, politics led our paragons of Statesmanship and our news media leaders to run from the support of the war to get those votes. After all, the numbers favored those who didn't want to fight, especially when you included their friends, family, and relatives. As I recall, there weren't hardly any of us who really wanted to fight. We just did it out of a sense of duty. Once there, we did it in an effort to keep each other alive, even when that involved killing the enemy.
I lost several friends in Vietnam including a high school buddy and two really close flight school buddies. I struggled for ten years after my return from the RVN because of the death of one of my flight school buddies, Lt. Jim Moore. He was a Centaur gunship pilot and was stationed just across the Cu Chi airstrip from us. He was waving the other Centaur troops into their counter-mortar bunker during one of the frequent Cu Chi rocket attacks after Tet when he was cut down by one of those 122mm beasts. I believe that God loved him so much, and many like him over there, that he took him home right then. It seems to me that God gets lonely for brave people who love others like he does. Sometimes he just wants to have a few of them close to Him.
I read a story, written by a Vietnam helicopter pilot recently, that describe a med-evac operation where the enemy fire was so intense that all of the oil hoses and fuel lines to the engine were shot off. The pilot-author couldn't understand how the chopper managed to fly for the fifteen minutes required in transporting them to the hospital helipad. I believe that I understand how that may have happened. However, that is not my story. My story follows.
We were scrambled to a location roughly midway between Cu Chi and Saigon. The aircraft that we were flying had come directly out of depot maintenance after a major overhaul that included the disassembly and reassembly of the rotor system. Just after I radioed the unit commander from our 1000 foot altitude to tell him that we were about five clicks from his location, the nose of our Charlie model pitched up and the stick hit CWO Gronberg, who was flying left seat, and me, in the stomach. I grabbed the cyclic with both hands and we both pushed with plenty of adrenaline pumping. It did not budge. (The Aircraft commander of our wing ship (this was the tall blond warrant officer that flew my wing in February and March) told me later that he was confused. He thought that the cyclic climb may have been a set up for a gun run, but I had always radiod first in the past.) Just as other stories tell you, my life flashed before my eyes in a nanosecond. I could envision us falling tail first until the nose rolled over just prior to hitting the ground. At this point, when a bright light shone surrealistically from behind, the cyclic freed up and we moved it forward to start a glide. We had a severe vibration through the cyclic that actually caused my tight cushioned, ear-padded helmet to move around on my head. The metal-on-metal noise was deafening. I told the crew to lock their shoulder harnesses for this landing. This was my first radio communication that our wing ship heard since the nose pitched up, and it didn't help much except to tip them off that we were in trouble.
After a rough ride with both hands on the cyclic, I picked a rice paddy to shoot for. When we got to a height of about ten feet, the chopper started to yaw and I had to take a hand off of the cyclic to pull some pitch. I got the chopper back to level flight and adjusted for the next rice paddy. We cleared the dike and touched down in a good-sized paddy before sliding across it. The chopper stopped just short of the dike on the far side. I shut down as the door gunner let me out to set up a perimeter. The others were already out. Our wing ship was covering for us and had radioed our location to the Battalion TOC. There was a slick out there to pick us up in no time.
A Chinook sling loaded that ailing aircraft back to Cu Chi so that Captain Strong, our maintenance officer, could check it out. He found me in the officers club after he had inspected the rotor system and had checked the aircraft maintenance incident history on Hueys. He told me that we had been the second crew to survive that particular maintenance incident. The first had crash-landed in the top of a tree and had climbed down the tree to the ground. Ours had been the only known Huey up to that point in aviation history, with that rotor condition, to have made it to the ground. He went on to say that the servo motor bolts that provide cyclic control on the squash plate had been sheered to within a thread of breaking completely into. The squash plate had been installed incorrectly during the depot maintenance that was performed prior to out takeoff.
I surmise that God freed the jammed squash plate so that we could get that chopper in a glide and that he kept our helicopter servo bolts together until we got to the ground. God works through angels and in other mysterious ways that are both seen and unseen and are misunderstood by many. God also kept the aircraft in the air that had all of it's fuel line and oil lines shot in two so that the wounded soldier that they saved would make it to the hospital and so that the crew that saved him would be saved. Don't ask me why some are saved and others are not. It has dawned on me that some are taken home right away because they are ready to be with Him while the rest of us need more work, but I am sure that it is more complicated than that. In any case, He knows.
This realization did not come to me immediately. In fact, I spent ten years just thinking that I was a great pilot and that we had all survived as a result of my skill. As I said, I struggled for ten years with the death of Big Jim Moore from the class of '67-10, with the death of OK Korando from Murphysboro, Illinois and with the guy that spent the most time with in flight school, Don Kemble. Don and I shot skeet together, dated two girls from Atlanta, Georgia together, and flew together. I spent a week in San Franscisco with Don and we flew across the big pond to `Nam together. It took ten years after my departure from `Nam before I was re-introduced to God. This time, he was a loving God who cared about me and the rest of us instead of a God who said no to anything that even seemed like it might be fun.
Some may ask how strongly I believe that what I have said is true. Maybe the following will illustrate. I am accepting the fact that many of those who read this will consider me a kook. I have been willing to lose nearly every non-Christian friend that I have known, many of them veterans, because I have shared my faith with them. Albeit, one turned to the Lord and one is enough to keep me going. I can convey how fickle the world is to demonstrate how unimportant this is to me. Before I made a public testimony of my faith, I was considered to be an intelligent, successful computer systems analyst and manager who really had it all together. I was asked to be a school board member and to represent our neighborhood in a negotiation with the community where we lived. After recognizing the truth and testifying to it, I've been relegated to a lower classification. I believe that “squirrel” has been mentioned a time or two even though I possess the same brain. That does hurt a little, but it isn't as important as telling the truth. If I love a fellow soldier or a neighbor, I'll want the very best for them. That is what Jesus did. He knowingly died a horrible death to save any who would accept him. I believe that he was called a few unseemly names as well. So, that's my story and I'm sticking to it….
Lt. Henard at the time
By- Dave Henard
We were all aware that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers did not like helicopter gunship pilots. In fact, several horror stories were told about the things done to captured gunship pilots and crew - the treatment given definitely did not fit within the terms of the Geneva Convention. We were all convinced at the time that we did not want to be captured. Therefore, we were going to use those 45's for close combat even if none of us could hit anything with them. The joke was that they were more accurate if you threw them at the enemy at very close range.
I just learned during a television documentary about the helicopter war that the NVA had a bounty of $25,000 in gold on the heads of all helicopter gunship pilots. This makes the following story a little morebelievable.
It was mortar season and Cu Chi was getting hit on a regular basis. I took pictures of our blown up mess hall three times in early 1968. You'd think that they had something against eating, or something. This particular period was sometime during the month of January 1968.
Short hair was a blessing in Vietnam, so beyond military discipline, we got our hair trimmed regularly. The barbers were Vietnamese unless you were lucky enough to have a soldier friend who trimmed hair. I still remember feeling uneasy about the lack of rapport that I had with this particular Vietnamese barber. You might say that we didn't “hit it off.” It wasn't what I said either, since I don't speak much Vietnamese. He must have been in a particularly bad mood that day because he cut me badly when he trimmed around my ear with a razor that day. It was a bad enough cut that I had blood running down my neck. Now a bad haircut is one thing, but this was going too far. I decided to change barbers after this.
Several days later, we had a particularly bad mortar attack. It was long enough in fact, that the light gunship fire team that was on counter-mortar duty that night was able to get out there in time to see some flashes and to put some 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rocket ordinance into the area of flashes. A patrol (it is likely that it was a LRRP unit, but I'm not sure) was sent out before dawn to investigate the reported area within the Boi Loi woods near Cu Chi.
Dawn did not burst onto the scene that morning. In fact, we were socked in with fog. The patrol had come into contact with a Viet Cong unit of unknown size and gunship support was needed. The Diamondhead 10 fire team was on primary that morning, but we were grounded due to the fog. I volunteered to go up to see how thick the fog layer was and believed that I had flown traffic patterns enough that I could fly the pattern by memory while avoiding hangers and other tall buildings. It turned out that the fog was only a couple of hundred feet thick and would burn off quickly. My blind descent put me very near the airstrip and I briefed Division headquarters on the radio and said that we would go see if we could help.
The Diamondhead wing ship followed me on the second takeoff. When we got on the battle scene, there was little to see but fog. However, I found a hole in it and spiraled down through it. I have to diverge here to give some credit to the bush pilot who gave me some of my fixed wing training at Vichy field near Rolla, Missouri. He taught me to spiral through fog in these emergency conditions. The same trick saved me one night when the entire area south of the central highlands became socked in while we were on a mission. We were into our fuel reserve and needed to get down. The ground controlled radar was broken at Tay Ninh and Saigon's Tan Son Nhut was too busy landing fixed wing planes to take us. A Little Bear slick had been in the air for fifteen minutes longer than us that night and was really nervous. When I got on the ground at the airfield at Bien Hoa, I pointed our landing light up through the hole to help the slick see the hole and get down through it. The aircraft commander of the slick gave out hugs that night.
… Back to the battle scene: Once we got down there, we found that we had seventy feet or so of headroom below the fog. Thus, we were able to put some rockets and machine gun fire into the area surrounding the patrol once they popped smoke. The fog was burning off quickly at this point, so some slicks were able to fly out to pick up the patrol.
Guess who they found among the dead enemy soldiers. Yup, it was my favorite barber who was bad with a dull razor. He had maps of our Cu Chi base on his person and had marked our mess hall as well as the position of our gunships along the runway. It is apparent that this wasn't the only copy of the map that was ever made, since they hit our mess hall a couple of times later. However, there wouldn't be any more bad haircuts from this guy.
Lt. Henard at the time
By- Bill Osthagen
The AC was CW2 Riley, I'm pretty sure his first name was John and being a large fellow some of the pilots called him 'Big John'. I believe you might have known him 'cause he had been with Diamondhead for a year before I got there. I think he extended to get more total flight hours.
We were doing GS stuff this particular day, can't remember the other crew members names (Jeez). I remember some talk between the pilots about the bird being under powered, lots of hours on the engine and not running so good. You can probably give me a quick class on what that means. At the time I was the grunt in the back enjoying the hell out of the ride, so I didn't know what they were talking about and didn't care.
We get to the LZ where we are going to off load a bunch of C-rats, water, etc. to the grunts. The LZ is one of those that had been cut out of the canopy, so you had to pull to a hover and ease your way down in. Plus it was a tad tight, not much extra room for the blades. So Mr. Riley pulls to a hover planning to go in slow and he's telling us to watch the blades and all that. But about the time he stops over the LZ we lose power and just kind of fall in, doing about a half turn on the way down. We ended up on top of some logs and we're rockin' back and forth a little. We are all sorta having that Whew! feeling. The grunts are grabbing their stuff and then on the radio one of them is saying: "Man, that was great, you got in here in about two seconds, hell, everyone else that's been in here took about five minutes to get down.
Then, the next voice is Mr. Riley saying: " I didn't fly into your damn LZ, I fell into it. And I will not be back here today with this aircraft." No answer on the other end, as a grunt myself I knew they didn't know what he was talking about. Then on our intercom Riley was muttering about: "damn idiots can't tell the difference between a landing and almost crashing".
I was cracking up in the back, but not on the intercom 'cause it occurred to me that Mr. Riley was still a bit upset.
By- Fred Startz
Looking down, all I saw were giant fireballs leaping from the earth. Quickly glancing skywards I saw three sets of contrails tracking across the severe-clear sky. I was caught -- literally -- between the fire and the
One late afternoon in 1966, the pilots' hooch field phone rang. It was the brigade operations center (BTOC) calling. The fragmented instructions went something like ". . . we need an OH-23G on the command pad at 1700 hours;the brigade artillery commander will brief the pilot on the pad".
The current brigade artillery officer was a lieutenant colonel who had been in Special Forces for many years and was now in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade pulling a mandatory "leg" assignment before making full bird. I respected this guy. He was STRAC, spoke succinctly, and always briefed pilots adequately whenever we flew him. I liked his apparent thoroughness, his determined, military stride and marveled at his always near-perfect uniforms -- despite the Vietnamese heat. I would be his pilot that afternoon.
The mission was simple, if unusual. The colonel wanted to hold just south of our base camp at Tay Ninh until several flights of B-52s had dropped their ordinance on a suspected VC build-up. "There will be", the colonel said in his usual terse style, "three flights of bombers with three aircraft in each flight. When the Arc Light is finished, we'll recon the area and then [the colonel] will call in artillery on anything left moving".
Also flying in the area that afternoon was the 196th's full-time, resident Air Force FAC and a backseat, Army lieutenant in their Bird Dog. They, too, were there to observe the upcoming "Very Heavy Artillery" being advertised on the Square Lobster frequency.
I set up a racetrack pattern at 4,500 feet, clear of the Bird Dog, several miles north of the impact area. After holding for about 20 minutes, all hell suddenly broke loose over the bomb drop area. The first flight of three B-52s dropped its tons of explosives, followed by something like a 60-second lull. The second and third flights followed similarly, one after another.
During the bomb drops and ensuing periods of calm, I subconsciously counted "out loud", and (actually!) progressively stiffened fingers of my cyclic hand until three fingers were extended and locked <g>. You can bet it wouldn't be *this* WOJUG who'd make that kind of stupid mistake! <gg>.
After the third, and final, bomber flight passed, I put the Hiller into a slow, descending turn to 1,500 feet. We began flying the first of several planned runs down the center of the bomb drop corridor, from end to
starting point. However, less than halfway through the initial run, fireballs --heading my way -- began erupting on the ground a half-mile in front of my aircraft.
Someone once said that a good baseball batter can slow his "internal time" down to the point where he sees the stitches on a pitched ball. This ability must be adrenaline-related, because my thoughts and subsequent options began materializing like frames in a slow-motion video. For one second I sat transfixed by the oncoming, mushroom fireballs. "What in hell's name could be causing those orange and black, 700-foot high geysers?", I wondered. I quickly discarded the notion that the "incoming" was artillery, because the arty commander was sitting next to me and hadn't yet made a fire mission call.
Instinctively, I looked skywards and there they were: three, very small, silver fuselages in a perfect "V" formation. It was an unexpected -- and much unwanted -- fourth flight of bombers!
During the next second, bomb smoke began obscurring the area and, in the pall, I remember making a few, quick calculations. Because our aircraft was only halfway up the bomb drop corridor, and the latest bomb tonnage was still exploding and heading our way, I imagined my ship flying through the ordinance of the flight's trail aircraft at almost any instant.
Pushing the cyclic to nearly its forward stop, I watched the airspeed indicator swing through one in a hurry. A moment later, and only reluctantly, I eased back on the cyclic then racked into a tight, right turn -- the shortest route out of the bomb drop corridor. I vaguely remember seeing with my peripheral vision the colonel's arms flailing around on his side of the cockpit.
From beginning to end, it was over in seconds. After figuring I had cleared the impact area, I slowed the aircraft, regained some altitude, and turned to look at the colonel -- just as his head very slowly swivelled to look at me. Each of our 1000-meter, wild-eyed stares met somewhere over the center cockpit seat. We were both gawking at each other until the colonel broke the spell -- with a full, but nervous belly-laugh. To this day, I'm not sure what that laugh meant. Was he laughing because of (1) the expression on my face, (2) our extremely good fortune, or (3) his own embarrassment at having received and then given me bad briefing information?
Later that evening, on my way to the officers' area piss-tube, I crossed paths with that same Army observer who had been flying in the Bird Dog. He stopped me to earnestly ask how I was doing. Then he recounted that, when he saw the last group of explosions start, and the black smoke swallow my helicopter, he discreetly asked the Air Force pilot over their intercom, "do you think they'll make it?". Just as the FAC dejectedly replied "I doubt it", they were both treated to the sight of an OH-23 diving out of the
thick, black smoke with, the observer said, its "tail boom nearly straight up, and going like hell".
It was only then that I could afford to laugh . . . like someone who had just run through a rainstorm without getting wet <gg>.
This is not a story. These are lists of thoughts that we remember. The thoughts that show up in our dreams. The thoughts that made us laugh. The thoughts that make us cry. The thoughts that generate flashbacks. The thoughts about our friends from so many years ago. To a Vietnam Veteran, these mind pictures need no explaination.
The sound of main rotor blades beating the sky into submission
The thump of out going mortar fire
The whistle, thump of incoming mortar fire
The smell of rice patties in the heat
The feel of rain so heavy you think you're going to drown.
The taste of ice cold "33"
Or luke-warm "33"
Heating C-Rations with C-4
The ever-present smell of hot JP-4
The scream of 30 turbo-shaft engines under load
The beautiful dark green of the mountains
The smell of burning diesel fuel and shit
Flying lazy circles at 10,000 ft to cool off the beer
The sight of unfamiliar constellations viewed from the top of a sandbagged bunker on a pitch-black night
The chatter of an M-60
The smell of hot gun oil, burning gun powder and overheated metal
The sight of green tracers reaching up
The feeling in the pit of your stomach when you look around and realize that all the civilian workers have disappeared into the bunkers for no apparent reason
R & R in Vung Tao
R & R any place
The whistle a main rotor blade makes when it has a bullet hole through it
The call of a "fuckyou" lizard in the middle of the night
The breath taking beauty of the country from 5000 ft.
Waking up in a panic in the middle of the night because the Artillery at the end of the field isn't firing and it's to quiet.
The scream of the scramble siren in the middle of the night
The feel of your M-14 on full automatic
Drinking Jim Beam straight up and chasing it with warm black cherry soda because that's all you've got
A kidney busting full throttle run down thunder road in a sandbagged duce and a half
The feeling when fewer ships come home than left that morning
The mind numbing sight and sound when Puff lights up the night and saves your sorry ass
The absolute silence when Puff is done
Flying over the mountains and seeing a high valley still covered in the early morning fog. And the fog spilling out of a high pass, like cream out of a cup.
High "pucker facter" while hovering up a road into 200&1/4 rain and fog Over the high plateau during the monsoon, cruising along a road in 200 & 1/4 (or less maybe?) and having to pull collective to miss a deuce truck coming at you and going IFR. Never forget the look on that driver's face when we came face to face" for an instant.
Foggy days at Bao Loc. Lining up, one by one, between the revetments and taking off into the fog at 30 sec intervals. Breaking out at 4000 msl, PZ was at 5000 msl and the LZ was still higher.
Sliding down to the ridge lines in my Loach and pretending to do a recon while riding the updrafts like I was in a sail plane as the fog starts burning off. In my mind sailing a small "cat" in Cape Cod bay.
Cloud skiing :-)) Get to the top of a puffy cumulus over the coast during the rainy season. Get right on top and dump collective. Try to keep just the skids in the cloud while following the contours.
Cool night air at one mile high and one mile out over the coast.
High "pucker facter" while hovering up a road into rain and fog.
The smell of human blood.
What a hard sideways flare feels like when started at 120 kts and 30 feet AGL.
Sitting on the ground, looking up at a clear blue sky through whispers of ground fog; then flying over that same fog bank towards Dak To, finding only one FSB poking up through the fog. Then sitting on that FSB,
drinking varnish removing coffee made in an aluminum pot over a Mo-gas powered squad stove, waiting for the fog to lift.
Running thru the rounds to get the team airborne when it was your turn on counter-mortar standby.
You notice how small trees look when you had a blade strike at 2000 feet.
You notice how many lights are not lit up on a master control panel.<zero>
The beautiful curving red lines of tracers at midnight.
The rice in the rocket pods.
The blood on the windshield.
The basketball size green tracers going upward in slow motion at midnight looking for you.
The eerie light of a parachute flare.
The true beauty of a mini-gun when you are down in the rice.and your wing ship is above covering your sorry ass.
The sight of Nui Ba Den as dawn breaks the horizon.
The mosquitoes that carry harpoons
The sting of a rocket cap hitting your shins.
The taste of crushed cookies.
Pinto Beans cooked on a popcorn popper.
Measuring the grease in C-rat beef stew.
Finding a use for powdered eggs.
Watching momma son pop the heads off those big roaches in the mess hall and eat them.
The whistle of a 122mm rocket inbound...right in the middle of "The Good The Bad The Ugly"
Taking a shower at the edge of the roof during monsoon season.
Missing the submerged boardwalk during the monsoon on the way to the club and find the 6' deep green ditch instead.
Naming all the rats.
Roach races as a sporting event.
Playing Lambretta chicken on Hwy 1
Scrounging missions just for the hell of it.
The white cranes that are bullet proof
The humidity in August.
Finding the true meaning of rocket city first hand.
Rockets in the Mess hall....With me in it
Plugging hydraulic leaks with bubble gum just to get home
The smell of Napalm.
The smell of rocket fuel
The smell of burnt JP-4
The smell of a drunk Bear<Spooky>
The cherry glow of a red hot M-60 barrel.
The pop of a .51 as it flys by to close
The nurses at the Medi-vac pad.
The connex box of the dead
The incessant dust of Cu Chi
The sucking mud
Honolulu looks clean enough to eat off the street from the air.
The ring of the telephone that sends you to action station.
The ring of the phone at 2 am in Hawaii that almost sent you off the 17th floor balcony.
The backfire of a car..the embarrassment..of being face down in a ditch.
The joy of DEROS Day
The loneliness the days after Travis..and ETS
The confusion that followed
Wondering why the grunts dont shoot your hook after it blows the air mattress out of their poncho tent and onto the concertina wire at LZ Leslie
Watching the rotor wash of your hook dismantle a hooch and not even care
watching the water buffalo drag the farmer and plow across several dikes cause the boo doesn't like hooks
St Elmo's fire on the rotor blades
Wondering why the marines at Phu Bai don't have counter mortar anything
Listening to 2/20 ARA birds salvo doing counter mortar in Cav controlled area (THANKS!)
Swimming with sea snakes at Wonder beach
Watching how high a blivet can bounce when punched off (50 feet)
Being damn glad to be in Hooks when the last flight of the day you sling back a dead Huey and you can see the pilots helmet rolling around in there. He wouldn't have left it if he were okay............
Wade Kane, Hook Crewchief
The sound of armed forces Radio at 0600...Goooooood Morining Viet Naaaaaammm!
The click as a round went past...
The sounds of the "Mama's and the Papa's" Monday Monday...and you start another day, another one down and ??? to go...
The quite voice of the FDC..."One on the way, wait...." and you wait for the bright flash of the parachute flare to see if you can see Charlie...and you can't.
The voice from the GCA controller, Hey are you hovering up there???
The whispers of the FO..."The Fuckers are close, be careful"...
Ya OK down there?...chick, chick....sigh of relief
The crew chief..."I think we took some on that last pass!"
The taste of a grimy tear in the hollow darkness.
Greg Bucy 25th Avn
THE BEAUTIFUL SOUNDS OF THOSE ROTOR BLADES AS THE "BIRDS" CAME TO TAKE YOU OUT OF PLACES TOO BAD TO REMEMBER!
Andrew Alday 3/22 Infantry
The joy of finding that the spice in the noodles are tiny insects.
Hitting the sack after a 14-hour day, waking up to CS two hours later from those 116th SOB's.
Flying in the middle of nowhere during a rainstorm and having the caution panel light up like a Christmas tree.
Seeing your friend passed out in the "green ditch" and thanking God it's him and not you.
Wondering why a baby's rattle is on a battle field. (VC grenade)
Why is everyone hiding on the ground?
Hearing "Radar service terminated" while night IFR on the downwind into TayNinh and the beacons OTS.
Analyzing the proximity of the AK-47 firing while in the club at Dao Chang.
Your last flight from Chu Chi.
Your first flight into Chu Chi.
Being a FNG
Picking up the FNG at hotel 6.
A box of cookies from home.
Running to a magnesium 229 gal. JP-4 container, in the middle of an open field while incoming falls all around you, then trying to start it.
Saying goodbye to mom and dad at the airport leaving for RVN.
Saying "I love you" to your wife as you depart for RVN.
Saying a last goodbye to a friend as he boards the freedom bird.
Saying The Last Goodbye to a friend at the base chapel.
Saying goodbye to all your friends as you board the freedom bird.
Saying nothing but a big hug and then, "I love you" to your wife at Travis upon returning.
Saying "it's great to see you" to your mom and dad at Travis.
Saying "I miss you" at The Wall in DC.
Saying "Freedom isn't free" to your kids.
Ed Mitchell-25th avn
Sitting on a hot refuel pad in the middle of monsoon at night waiting for the rain to let up so you could return to station or back to the flight line. With no doors.
Pulling bunker guard with your poncho liner over your head, and the mosquitoes sounding like Fox 4s over your head.
Coming in on a late night flight and the cooks ( Bless them! ) they always had something for you to eat! Our cooks were the best!
Yeah, its all coming back now, But they are good memories considering all that went on. You see, I've learned that with all the bad we went through...There were the good times too.
A oriental band at the club trying to sing " If your going to San Fransico" Hey? What a trip! Or playing Wipe out.
How about pulling a late night intermediate on your bird, and while getting oil samples, you look out over the wires and see our brothers working out with Sixties and mini guns a blazing? Then try finding a pilot to do a run up. Good luck! Many thanks to Parish for doing that for us.
Richard Muenz A 25th Avn
The pop of the hand held flares as they lightened the darkness of the midnight sky.
The carefully placed footstep of the one that went before you in the rice fields.
The fear of letting your brothers down as the radio message of a sit rep awakens you and your glad to be alive and now one noticed that you fell asleep on third watch. As the sun rises and it is the end of the A/P.
The deafening ringing in the ears of the APC Driver as he drives and the 50cal mussel blast is 11 inches over your head. Trying to hear the commands of your squad leaders orders in the head set.
The thought of the hot beer as you see the the slings dangling from the underside of the chopper
The cloud of smoke streaming from the rocket pods of those fire breathing Gun Ships as they streak over the top of us, terring the hell out of the rubber trees.
The visions of the carnage that such a air assault left behind. Thinking how glad that Sir Charlie that got his.
The feelling that GOD has been there as you were loaded in the Dust Off on you way to the 25med back in Cu Chi.
This is my way of letting all you Sky Warriors know. Thanks we depended on you more than you will ever know.
Mike Wager 4/23 Armor
Saying "I love you" to your wife as you depart for RVN. That one was a trip. Leaving for second tour with her standing there, eight months pregnant with our "first." She's trying to be brave, with trembling chin and I'm trying not to look like the "rat" I am for leaving her at a time like that. She's a keeper ... eight kids and going on 33 years.
Listening in the morning for the original "Gooood Mornin Viet Naaam" Original now, not the wimpassed stuff later after he had rotated and gotten out. Somebody will remember his name.
Making a fresh pot of coffee at 5000' while going around in lazy circles over the Crows Foot area waiting for ground fog to burn off. Gunner Bill watching all the time, staying alert, looking over his M60, "just in case a
hole was to open up". I almost spilled the fresh made coffee LMAO.
Sling breaking, with large load of Arty rounds some armed or whatever it is they do with 105 Arty rounds when they need them in a hurry(hey, I used to be in the Air Defense Artillery and later self propelled stuff)Rounds impact partially in river partially next to village and some do blow. Save the dounut. THEY will not believe sling broke. Later, THEY inform us that there is residue on the sling where it broke and THEY think a lucky round caught the sling, cutting it. Whatever! Woke us all up with a big bang and several unplanned feet of altitude and do not want to do R&R in that village!
Night Arty resupply mission to Crows Foot area. Green balls coming up off the hills along Hwy one north of old Phu Cat before it was an AF base. Guys up front "Think they can see us up here?" Ship in trail, "Panther 140 if you shut off your rotating becons they probably would stop shooting at you." "Oh shit!" Bill Corbin our gunner opening up and them pretty red dots raining all down and around where the green dots were coming from. Green dots stop coming up. Guys up front felt a bit leftout of the loop since Bill hadn't asked their permission to return fire. Yeah, we had rules back in 66! Bills comment was something to the affect, "Bet they don't shot at anyone else tonight." Later that night I got hungrey thinking about green balls of fire.
Cooking some ham and limas on the one burner cookstove at a couple of thousand at night in the backend of the fat lady and the guys up front wondering "Chief, is there a fire back there?" in their whining voices,
afraid of what they might hear in return. "No, I am cooking some ham and limas on the one burner stove" Real quiet for a long time after that. Of course the big yellow flame lowered to a warm and toasty blue cooking flame soon. They never thought I was quite right after that. Smoking in flight was ok but starting a fire was something else to them.
Dragging the first piggy back load down the middle of an Arty base cause they had not told us something was hooked to the gun. People running for their lives down there. Fat Lady not doing so well handling that little old 105! And why is it hanging way back behind the hole? Then they get on the radio and tell us we are dragging the ammo net behind us. Whoa lady!
Bouncing a piggy back load off the edge of a bluff and hoping that the fat lady will recover RPMs and fly. She is still flying.
First night artillery lift and it is with piggy back loads. Approach LZ Foot or Italy to a black hat with a flashlight and feel things kind of tugging at the Fat Lady. Turn on flashlight and shine on the load and we
are dragging the ammo sling thru the tree tops. Wonder out loud if the stuff is armed.
Punching off two blivets because that damned #2 engine was doing compressor stalls again on approach and "the rpms are drooping and heat is going up and we are shutting 2 down." "Probably should release the...." Bam, I ain't waiting on you guys to debate the situation! All them Huey people running for cover on their piece of the Turkey Farm as the two blivets bounce towards the mess tent. Looked like Artillery guys running! A feeling of relief when blivets stop bouncing and come to rest on either corner of the mess tent without flattening it. "Oh you guys should have seen that shit!" Stopped eating breakfast with the Huey guys and stuck to our own piece of the Turkey Farm.
Damned #2 engine again, doing its galloping .50 cal thing just as we cross over the river on the left side where we ain't supposed to be. Did not pull the d ring that time. Let the guys in front go to jail. Fat lady held
together and we come back across the river still burping but on the good side of the river now.
Low leveling over the S. China Sea, south of Quin Nhon, glassy water, no wind, 130 knots, almost washing the wheels off, playing chicken with a inbound destroyer escort. I swear his mast leaned before we turned away! No shit!
Starting that damned #2 engine by winding her up with fuel and when evidence of fuel came out the back yell "ignition" into the mike and watch that big assed flame come whooshing out the back end.
Setting down in that small clearing in the middle of the bamboo thicket that looked big enough to get them guys out until the tops all leaned in and all we could do was come up out of it. What a mess, water and green stuff all over the place. Later...long dents in the bottoms of all the blades. Keep the blades, how are we going to get rid of that damned #2 engine.
Listening as the #2 engine transmission chewed up and swallowed the sprag clutch as we were flaring on a Arty resupply of 105 stuff slung under us.
Finally getting rid of #2 engine for one that started normal and did not go into hiccups at the worst of times.
Not having to blow up air mattress to sleep on when out with the fat lady. Could sleep 6 in comfort on the seats with the skeeter netting all tied up nice and neat. Then there was the fresh coffee!
Larry cranking the APU to charge up the little battery cause the lights were dimming while the die-hard cribbage fans played up front. Of course that happened just as you were about to drop off to sleep.
Sling breaking...dropping about 15 fuel blivets into the Cheo Reo River. Shucks, missed the sampan by several feet. Quick...save the do nut cause they will never believe the sling broke...THEY never do.
Hot resupply mission for Artillery guys. Pilots a bit under the weather. Been to the occifers club you know! Off we go towards Cheo Reo and along the way call for Arty Advisory and told there is negative Arty. Yeah,
sure, how come stuff is impacting in front of us. Go for altitude. We are first ship in, no lights cause of the bad guys around. Drop off ammo on the portable landing lights and 180 and we are out of there. Standing in the door and notice this big assed black shape go by heading the opposite direction. Tell guys up front. They call second ship and he says he is just approaching the LZ. Why are suddenly all sweating a bunch. Later we all smile and laugh about it over a beer.
Flare ship dropping flares out in the Crows Foot and the metal casing comes crashing down thru one of the aft blades on the ship next to us. Foot had seen that before at base camp and was hiding under his aft transmission next door telling all the guys to get some cover cause when that flare popped the can comes loose and it could kill you.
Oh you guys, get my mind to wandering over the good times or at least some of those we laughed about afterwards. I will try not to remember the other times that weren't so good. At least I will try not to remember.
Chris the Bigfoot
Busting rocket boxes and linking ammo
The metallic zip of a rocket being slid down the tube, and the click-snap as it locked in place
Free-for-all to see who got the pound cake and peaches
Watching the slicks go "covey" when a cold LZ suddenly went hot
Night missions- keeping one eye out for flare chutes
The absolute blackness after passing Phouc Vinh headed for Song Be
Warm French bread wrapped in newspaper and washed down with 33
Round wicker baskets full of chickens and ducks
Hauling marmite cans stacked to the ceiling, full of hot chow...while you ate C's
Cold showers from drop tanks that held the faint remnants of JP-4
Rats! BIG Rats.
Slogging thru knee deep runoff to get that shower
Watching for the team to get back on your day off
Getting dressed to go to bed
Ah yes...A CCN "Prairie Fire" some place west of the Ah Shau (where nobody ever went) in '71. It was dusk over the PZ and the ropes were coming straight up with little people hanging from them. Then the blade tips at 10 O'clock from a Snake giving cover. Oh yes, and the rubber knees that made those darn pedals turn mushy. What a rush. Couldn't see shit. Lots of noise and flashes from all directions. A near midair. Nothing like a low intensity twilight to carry through life.
The distinctive sound that rounds make as they "slap" into the sheet metal of the aircraft;
Sitting in the gunner's well while traveling 100 knots a. soaking wet and freezing b. with one's feet propped up on the ammo can enjoying a sunrise or sunset; being saturated with Agent orange and being told that this stuff won't hurt you; getting blood sprayed all over you and realizing it's not yours;
Cleaning up the aircraft after hauling KIAs or removing the remains of a fellow crewman and all evidence of his demise;
The smell of blood and zinc chromate paint;
Trying to replace an engine oil filter at 10 pm with your Zippo lighter after you have been flying since the crack of dawn;
The blessed feeling of being able to take any kind of shower after a long hot dirty day;
Heating C rations in the exhaust of the engine;
Mud, mildew and rot during monsoon season;
Dust sweat and jock itch during the dry season;
The empty feel of being left behind as you watch your unit fly off into a day of CAs when your bird is "down" for maintenance;
Flying into a hot area just ahead of a CA as you lay down a smoke screen...realizing that every gun is shooting at you;
Cooking a pizza at midnight in the mess hall with the night baker;
Fishing with hand grenades;
Eating fresh fish and being careful not to bite down too hard for fear of finding grenade remnants in your meal;
The smell of wood smoke in your clothing when the Vietnamese laundry has to dry your uniforms over an open fire during monsoon season;
Sneezing... and nearly losing your false teeth at 200 feet;
Trying to take a leak out the door at 200 feet;
Flying over the nurse's quarters at Cu Chi and hoping for a "cheap thrill";
Cooking Jiffy Pop on a Sterno stove;
Beer on your corn flakes.... beer and cookies.... brushing your teeth with beer... soaking your dentures in beer... warm beer.... cold beer... beer
Packages and letters from home;
Working in the "hell hole" of a UH-1 when the temperature is 120 degrees;
The Bob Hope Show!
Tri Borders (Laos, DMZ and Vietnam)
FOB (Flight over the Border)
Standing on the helipad on Nui Ba Dinh enjoying the cool brisk breeze wash over you.
Balancing the stench of the "green ditch" vs. the value of the shower shoe you just lost in it.
Playing a weightless astronaut at the top of a cyclic climb.
The empty pit of the stomach feeling you get looking up through the greenhouse at the hole in the tree canopy, a hundred or so feet up, you just hovered down from
The excitement of stumbling across extension cords and light bulbs while scrounging.
Larry Carter-25th Avn
Not yet dawn, preflight done, walk to tail boom and fling blade strap from stinger. Remove blade hook and blade slowly inches it's way upward. Doors open awaiting arrival of pilots, sure hope we don't get????? For a Peter Pilot today. Gunner mounts 60's and ammo cans securely to gun posts. Pilots arrive, explains the days mission, which of course you already knew from talking to OPS specialist and who also switched the PP that you didn't want in the first place. AC and PP go through start-up, adjust radio freq. and then yells "clear' and igniters pop into action. Turbine slowly gains momentum and the bird begins to rock back and forth coming to life. You suit up, first the 'chicken plate' then the gloves. You swing yourself onto your
armor plated nylon seat, grab your helmet, plug in the mike cord and adjust the mike until it just makes contact with your lip. It was such a rush just getting suited up, you felt almost invincible, almost. AC checks to see if you and the gunner are ready, double click the mike is your reply and he gets clearance for liftoff. Blades turning ever faster, skids get light, a slight rock to the left then the right, then forward motion begins. Clear left, clear right, tail clear, a little transitional shudder, you're past the perimeter pull your 60 from it's clamp on the post and we're up. The day begins like almost every other day, but what will it hold. You fill in the'rest of the story'.
It was only yesterday, wasn't it? We ALL share the same emotion to this part of our lives. Thanks for providing this network of brother and sister hood that allows us to share those moments. IT REALLY MEANS SOMETHING!
A Rhoades, SP5, CE, C/229th AHB, 1st CAV, 6801-6902
Flying past the Batangan Peninsula late at night with no ground lights and no stars my first week in-country ( and first night mission) on the way to a Med-Evac pickup near Mai Lai. Seeing that little flash out of the corner of my eye every minute or so and finally startled when the Master Caution Light started to blink too.
I look closely at the instrument panel and the transmission indicators are almost inverted. Pressure going down. Master Caution light turns on solid.
AC (Aircraft Commander) apparently peeing his pants and no help, as he probably is thinking we are dead and what will happen to our main blade when the transmission freezes up, or when we set down and the bad guys come avisiting.
Dropping stupidly down below 500 feet because it feels safer.
I maintain control of the bird and fly to Quang Ngai MACV compound, all the while waiting for the transmission to freeze.
Landing in absolute blackness and having to use the main landing light to find the compound.
The feeling that I have used up one of my nine lives on shutdown when we check the transmission reservoir and find it empty. The knowledge that I was alive only because I was too stupid to give up, and had so very much to learn.
Finally, thanking God for the Training acquired at Fort Wolters and Fort Rucker, that made me keep control of the bird, rather then executing a forced night landing in Indian Country.
Wondering today where the Crew Chief and Gunner from that mission are...
Thinking of being very small
The 3/4 Cav hauling ass to Ton son Nhut to shore up the defenses
Ed pike was hit in the chest with a .51 and was dangling form his monkey strap..the tailboom was crimson in his own blood
After the first hour we had no aircraft flyable.
Playing bunker guard at Ton son Nhut, I don't get paid to be no damn grunt..
There is to damn many of them,..where is our ride out of here
It never came for two days
Being in that ditch along the airfield rockets and mortars going off everywhere wishing that ditch was deeper ...
The sky being lit up like daylight...
Wishing I was on the other side of that road at the Ops Command Bunker...
Hot shrapnel falling all around you....
YOU MEN SPREAD OUT!!!
DON'T RUN WHEN INCOMIN!!!!
SET UP HERE AND DON'T KILL GI'S
YOU, YOU , YOU COME WITH ME..........................WHERE'S YOUR FUCKING GUNS?....GET GUNS GODDAM IT!
WATCHING THE VIKINGS TAKE OFF THROUGH A BLANKET OF 50'S.
WHO'S IN CHARGE!!!!
MAKING AN ASSAULT TO THE RUNWAY AT CAN THO. AT NIGHT WITH CROSS FIRE FROM BOTH SIDES.
WATCHING THE AMMO CANS PILE UP TO 14 FEET HIGH(GOT PICS OF THAT).
A HUEY BURNING FROM A DIRECT MOTOR HIT IN THE REVETMENT.
THE SILENCE ON THE PERIMETER AT 3 IN THE MORNING.
AW SHIT NOT ANOTHER MORTAR ATTACK.
SEE HIM? NO. FUCK I KNOW HE'S OUT THERE. LISTEN. SQUINT EYES TRYING TO SEE THRU THE BLACK.
IT JUST GOES ON AND ON
DID YOU HEAR? A PILOT IN THE 336 GOT HIT IN HEAD WITH A MORTAR AND HIS ROOMMATE FLIPPED OUT?......CAN'T BLAME HIM FOR THAT.
THANKS RON I NEEDED THAT.
I BETTER STOP NOW OR I WON'T SLEEP TONIGHT.
A 101 COMANCHEROS 71-72 zorba
121st AHC SOCTRANG TIGERS 67-68 WRECKER2
CWO2 Lowell L. Eneix
NOOOO SHIT SHERLOCK! :^)
Actually, most times it was a long time ago in a far away land, other times, it was just yesterday...............
Smitty 25th avn
For us, it always will be....TET 68
Jay Marion 25th Avn
Doc Warden and I usually spend Tet together. It is sort of our unbroken commitment to each other.
I would not be here with out the skill and daring of David Royal "Doc" Warden Jr., and I wrote this story several Tet's ago right after Doc and I had spent the evening talking about that week in our past.
I have rewritten this story several times, but this is the first draft and with all of its warts it place I am submitting this for you all to read 34 years after the fact.
Incoming in Saigon, my sleepy brain never really sleeps. My bed is on the first floor, I am instantly awake, I can tell the difference between incoming and outgoing in my sleep. That was definitely incoming.
I had just transferred to the 120th Assault Helicopter Company, flying out of Hotel-3 in Saigon from a serious kick ass line outfit, the Blackhawks or 187th Assault Helicopter Company in Tay Ninh, we got rocketed all the time there. I knew the drill. Get as many of the helicopters in the air as you can, and if you can scrounge a crew take a gunship. Warrant Officer helicopter pilots can and will fly just about anything that has rotor blades on it and I was running full speed through the confusion to the heliport to get at least one helicopter out of harms way.
Captain Payne is waving both arms over his head standing in front of his Razorback C model gunship, she was running and I dove in and strapped the chopper to my ass and we pulled pitch off the Hog pad. We are into the inky dark in seconds looking for mortar tube flashes, but what we see is a sea of little lights showing thousands of NVA and Viet Cong heading for the airfield, the lights stretched out into the night. I don't scare easy. This sight was unnerving.
We can see a huge volume of fire concentrated on one of the gates and open fire on the human wave attack. We are expended in seconds. Flying low over the bunkers dropping hot brass on the MP's, cutting swaths in the wall of NVA. I finally get the MP's on the radio. They are pinned down fighting for their lives, we tell them we will be right back and make the two-second trip to rearm just across the runway.
We rearm as fast as the crew and the armors can lay the linked ammo in the trays. The rockets all have to be seated and extra M-60 barrels for the Crew Chief and Gunner, we are off.
We fight hard and the volume of fire from the NVA never lets up one bit. I am worried about the MP's, but I can see the tracers coming out of their positions. We covered a jeep full of ammo, so they could keep fighting.
As day was starting to make the sky pink in the East, we finally took so many hits to that helicopter that we could no longer keep oil in the engine and she started to burn on short final to Hotel-3. Now I am out of the
Gunship business, but still in the fight.
The 120th AHC flew most of the generals and dignitaries around Saigon and the South part of Vietnam, and so had some beautiful new UH-1 H Model C & C ships with center radio consoles and leather seats. So when the company ran out of Gunships, with the help of the Crew I took the center console out of
the C&C helicopter and made a ammo hauling monster out of that clean new ship. Now I needed a copilot, so I flew the helicopter down to the Long Binh area to look for Doc Warden. Doc was the Flight Surgeon for our aviation group, and had flown 500 plus hours with me at the 187th Assault. I hated to admit it but he was as good as any line pilot in Vietnam, and better than most, Doc had never been to flight school. Major David Royal Warden Jr. MC was sitting in his ambulance on the Black Jack Pad, I had him strapped in and on the intercom in seconds. Doc, we are out of pilots again. Can you fly today? Doc looks over and smiles, when the chips are down, Airborne Ranger Doc will pull you through, I was already pulling pitch.
I knew the men in the BOQ were almost surrounded and trapped inside with no weapons, (a ruling coming from drunken fights in the back area) I could hear them on the radio, so we loaded cases of pistols, clips, rifles, and ammo. We had to hover over the roof and drop the heavy boxes, right through the roof to the trapped men below, while a Playboy Cobra gunship team flies cover for our exposed hovering helicopter. The NVA open up with a .51 cal and hit one of the cobras killing the pilot, one of my roommates from Flight
School Class 67-3, Roger Cameron. It is starting to be a long day.
The MP's have fought hard and are still holding the perimeter, there are bodies everywhere. We finally get a chance to pull the wounded back from the outer bunkers and move some larger machine guns out. Our usually spitshined MP's look like grunts in the field, and fight like grunts in the field. They made us proud. The NVA threw everything they had at the MP's and could not budge them. The fight was not over by far, but we knew we could handle anything they could throw at us and hold.
With the aid of Doc Warden, I flew 26 straight hours in a helicopter, got 4 hours of sleep on the floor of the helicopter and cranked it up for another 20 hours. I am sure I could have never survived with out the help of Doc Warden at the controls. We took hits on one helicopter until something vital was hit, then we would find a replacement and keep on flying. I knew from flying for the Blackhawks, the most important thing in a fire fight, is to keep the ammo coming to the men in contact.
I never looked at an MP the same the rest of the time I was in the military. The ones I knew held against impossible odds and a volume of fire unknown before the Tet offensive. If they had not have held, we would have been overrun no doubt about it. When you have seen a MP standing on a bunker radio in hand directing fire, like I have, not caring about his own safety, you know why they held.
Wayne R. "Crash" Coe
The C & C Helicopter was General Abrams bird, and he never complained.
Bunker mate's M16's bolt locks up,so he panicks give him a box of grenades,after along toss it goes off in front of the bunker,he threw it straight up in the air.No one was hurt was quite funny later.
Dale Fritts 25th Avn
Flying into Hotel 3, while 51 mm tracers are following you into down wind - gettin' closer.
Spending the night at Hotel 3, in a UH-1D, with two nurses, needing to go to Cu Chi. Tower won't clear us for departure due to excess ground fire.
Rob Amiot 25th avn
Returning from Hong Kong R&R 1700 hours 30JAN68
Planning to stay that night in Saigon with Jim Weeg at U-8 company BOQ,but saw Little Bear courier bird landing at Hotel 3 and decided to catch a ride to Cu Chi instead
Mortars and rockets every 45 minutes after midnight
After first couple of attacks, sleep in bunker
Flying 14 hours A/C time one day
Shut down at infantry bn CP one day; 5 days to DEROS. Sniper in tree starts firing at us; Carl Muckle and I unassed the ship in record time; paddy dike for Carl, nothing for me; new sprint record to nearest foxhole, rounds hitting dirt beside my feet, jumped in on top of the grunt; called in Diamondhead guns,they shot sniper out of tree
Zippo track hit by RPG near Trang Bang, exploded, top panel of track body up to our 1500 ft altitude
Jim Jaap lowering M-16s to people on roof of U-8 company BOQ in Saigon during night 31JAN68 because Victor Charlie occupied lower floor; glad I changed my mind about RON in Saigon
If I had been coming back from R&R one day later, I would have been stuck in Hong Kong another week (tough duty) before charter flights were allowed into Tan Son Nhut
Riding with the Old Man in his jeep from flight line to ops; C-130 landed and offloaded fuel blivets, the rockets came in to try to get the130; Old Man , driver and I lying in the ditch by the road 'til counterbattery fire started
We were refueling at DakTo right across the runway (a 9-iron shot) from the Ammo Dump when the NVA mortared two C-130's off-loading ammo. Both Herky Birds were hit in the process, stored ammo was cooking off and all Hell broke loose in a matter of seconds. I was monitoring both the IC and the FM tower freq.
We'd come in "dry" but had taken on about 1/2 a "tank" when the festivities began. I saw it and yelled at the CE and Gunner that we had "incoming, drop the hoses and cap it off, didi, didi", got them on board and called forward that the ramp was up ready for flight. We exited poste haste!
Meanwhile, from the the DakTo Tower, a Conex box on some telephone posts just to our west came:
"All fixed-wing aircraft cleared to the active. All rotary-winged aircraft cleared for flight. DakTo Tower is off the F**kin' air!" Followed by a blur leaping out the side of the Conex to the ground about 15-feet below. And, to the ATC's credit, he never broke stride betwixt the "tower" and a nearby bunker.
Point being: if MY pilots hadn't gotten out of there I'd have left them in the LZ:-))
Taking off from Tan Son Nute lying on a strecther on a C-141 and watching F-4's wag their wings as we left VN airspace and headed out over the South China Sea toward Japan.
Brian D Piggott x]:-})
C Trp 3/17 ACR
Scouts Charliehorse 16&17
Tay Ninh 67-68
In World War I he was called a "Doughboy." In World War II he was "GI." Now, in Vietnam, he's called a "Grunt." It's not a pretty name, but then neither is an infantryman's lot. It is a twenty-four hour a day working,
sweating, grunting job. But believe it or not, he's sort of proud of the name ---"Grunt."
True, at the end of any given day the Grunt would never be chosen for an honor guard on appearance alone. Because of the work he must do, it is inevitable that his hair be mussed up and maybe a little sun-bleached; his face grimy from mud and dust; and his uniform dirty, wrinkled and torn. He's no glamor boy. Those boots, a trademark of sorts, are brown, not black, and scratched from scrambling in and out of choppers. The dirt is unavoidable, and though he doesn't like it, he learns to live with it as an irrevocable part of this war.
He works hard. On a sweep, he walks over rock-hard dikes into knee-deep mud of rice paddies, through stinking, leech-filled canals and then claws his way through hedgerows and undergrowth alive with biting, burning red ants or bloodthirsty stinging mosquitoes. Sometimes these prove to be more of a challenge even, than the enemy. Certainly they are more plentiful.
When he gets a chance, he stops and grabs that worn-out, dirty, lonesome sock, and from it, takes some C-ration cans. Washing down that food with ample gulps of warm canteen water, he may think about home, his wife or girl, or flying that beautiful "Freedom Bird" to the land where times were better.
Now that he has that rare spare moment to rest, he cleans his M-16 and maybe scrawls an answer to one of those crumpled, stained and soggy letters he's been carrying in his breast pocket. But there are hours of lost sleep and a body aching for rest. If only for a moment, he dozes into a sleep so deep that only those who have worked to near-exhaustion can understand.
In a fire fight, the Grunt's display of guts and courage is common --- but never commonplace. Sure he's scared, like any other human being. He has no time to think of being scared, though, and the difference is self-control. He knows what to do and he does it. Many times he does much more than what is expected of him ... then he is called a hero. Perhaps later that Grunt will say, "Man, I never thought I'd do some of the things I did today." But he did them because his life or the life of his buddy depended on it.
Because of what he does in his job and the hardships he endures, the Grunt is a special kind of man. He has lived in a way that most people can neither comprehend nor imagine. The CIB, that blue and silver symbol, identifies this different kind of man who has lived in hell, who has known that glorious feeling of coming out of a situation alive when he could have been killed, and who has died a little each time a buddy was wounded or killed.
Yes, he even calls himself a Grunt. And he's kind of proud of it because it's more than a name --- it's a title.
Friendship and bonds were forged between us all through the fires of war. When one of us was lost the hurt was felt by all. Sometimes the hurt was more than with others only because we each hung out with certain people. In a company, you know everyone, but only a few do you ever get so close too that the hurt becomes unbearable.
by Tom Marshall
For the helicopter pilots, the rules were simple. If Americans were in trouble, the pilots would come to their aid no matter what.
Fire Support Base Ripcord, one of a string of firebases along the eastern perimeter of the A Shau Valley, came under heavy enemy fire in the early summer of 1970, while American troops were using the base as a jumping-off point for operations in the valley. Their mission was to block NVA divisions positioned to move on the coastal city of Hue.
Ripcord had been carved out near the top of a 2,800-foot-high mountain. First used by the U.S. Marines in 1967 and 1968, the firebase had again been operated by the 101st Airborne Division in 1969 and closed when monsoons prevented its resupply. It was reopened once more in April 1970. On April 1, B Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry (2/506), 101st Airborne Division was inserted in the firebase.
Soon after the infantrymen arrived, the level of NVA activity increased around the Khe Sahn plain and the A Shau Valley. The intensity of the fighting in the area around Ripcord soon overshadowed ongoing enemy harassment of nearby ARVN Firebases O'Reilly and Barnett.
Ripcord came under sustained recoilless rifle fire for the first time on July 2. The fire was coming from Hill 10000, the first high ground to Ripcord's west. That evening, Ripcord also came under attack by 120mm mortars-the first known enemy us of 120s south of the DMZ. The presence of the 120mm mortars-powerful weapons that could be sighted and walked across targets with devastating effect-indicated a major logistic success by the NVA. Clearly, trucks or tracked vehicles had been used to transport those very heavy mortars, base plates and ammunition into position.
On July 10, eight artillery attacks on Ripcord killed two and wounded 17. Between July 11 and 16, ground action below Ripcord would claim another 10 Americans killed and 52 wounded. Only 12 North Vietnamese could be confirmed killed in their heavily fortified positions, and artillery attacks on Ripcord continued.
On July 18, a Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying a sling load of 105mm howitzer ammunition toward Ripcord was shot down in flames by 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine-gun fire, which was followed up with mortar fire. The flaming wreckage of the chopper crashed into the ammunition storage area, where it touched off a series of explosions. Six 105mm howitzers from B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery (2/319), were destroyed as thousands of shells exploded in the fire. Two recoilless rifles and counter mortar radar were lost. Colonel Benjamin Harrison, who on June 23 had assumed command of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne, was flying over the camp when the chopper crashed. He later recalled that it looked as if the entire mountaintop were erupting.
That was the second loss of a 2/319 artillery battery in the same region. Two months before, on May 13, 1969, C Battery, 2/319, had been overrun at Firebase Airborne while the 60-man battery was providing fire support for the fighting on Dong Ap Bia-better known to American troops as Hamburger Hill. NVA sappers killed 22 of the American artillerymen.
With the destruction of the Chinook and Ripcord's 105mm howitzer battery on July 18, the tactical situation and defensive capabilities of the firebase were greatly diminished.
On July 20, Captain Chuck Hawkins, commander of A Company, 2/506, which had reinforced the original B Company defenders at the firebase, reported that a tap had been made on a land line between an NVA division headquarters and an artillery regiment on the valley floor below Ripcord. The Americans had learned that surrounding the firebase were four NVA regiments with up to 12,000 men. Their immediate objective was the destruction of Ripcord.
On hearing that new and disturbing intelligence, Maj. Gen. Sidney Berry, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, took action. Early on the morning of July 21, Berry called Colonel Harrison and told him, "We're closing Ripcord." The firebase was already scheduled to be closed in October for the monsoon season, and rather than risk heavy losses, Berry decided to withdraw the troops, then pound the enemy with artillery and tactical air power after the firebase was evacuated.
At first light on July 23, 14 Chinooks-each large enough to carry more than 30 men per trip-headed toward Ripcord to begin lifting out the B Company 2/506 troops. Everything went smoothly until 7:40 a.m., when anti-aircraft fire again knocked out a Chinook. The chopper crashed in flames on the firebase's large lower landing pad, preventing the other Chinooks from lifting out the rest of the men, artillery and heavy equipment. The infantrymen would have to be evacuated by Bell UH-1 Hueys, which could carry only six men at a time. All available Hueys in the 101st Airborne were detailed to head for the beleaguered firebase. They would dart in and out one at a time, dodging continuous anti-aircraft and artillery fire.
While events on top of the mountain were taking a drastic turn for the worse, D Company, 2/506, was also using Hueys to assault the valley floor, in an effort to reinforce A Company. Once reinforced, the American infantrymen began beating back their NVA attackers. The plan was to extract the infantrymen in the valley once the firebase above them had been evacuated, while gunships and jets kept the enemy at bay.
The Hueys were refueled and assembled for one of the largest hot extractions of U.S. forces in South Vietnam. Sixty Hueys from the companies of the 158th Aviation Battalion and the "Redskins" from Camp Evans and 60 Hueys from the 101st Aviation Battalion and the "Hawks" at Camp Eagle - both groups flying Bell AH-1G Cobra gunships-plus the 4/77 "Griffins" in rocket-equipped gunships, joined the lift birds and the other Cobras from Camp Eagle in the mission to subdue the NVA around Ripcord.
Aboard one of the Hueys was Captain Randy House, platoon leader from C Company, 158th Aviation Battalion, who was serving as leader of the extraction flight -- call sign Phoenix one-six -- that day. Approaching the area, he could clearly see that it was time to get on with the mission, but as yet his flight had had no contact with the command-and-control ship flying high above. It turned out that the NVA and some of their Communist Chinese advisers had managed to deny the Americans use of the radio frequencies. Alternate frequencies one, two and three were jammed with voices or continually interrupted via keyed mikes. After boring holes in the sky for 20 minutes, Captain House left his flight to fly over Ripcord. House instinctively knew that a costly screw-up was in the making unless something could be done quickly to help the embattled infantrymen.
House observed that the firebase's upper landing pad, located near it 155mm howitzers, was taking much less mortar fire than the lower pad, which was under continuous shelling-and at any rate was partially blocked by the burning Chinook wreckage. House made contact with a pathfinder (a combat controller) at Ripcord and told him he was ready to continue the extraction. House ordered the 101st Airborne Division's Hueys to approach the firebase along a riverbed, turn above a waterfall on the mountain and continue to Ripcord. Others from the the 158th and 101st Aviation battalions would follow.
House directed the choppers to the available landing areas. As the extraction continued, the pathfinders instructed some birds to land on different pads, but the NVA were clearly listening in on their communications. If a Huey was directed to a particular pad, mortars were fired on that landing area. Undaunted, the pathfinders working the extraction from Ripcord developed their own strategy to foil the enemy's efforts. When they heard the mortar shells fired, the pathfinders would divert each Huey to another pad at the last second. Five soldiers would scramble aboard and the Hueys would lift off, just before the next round of mortars arrived.
One by one, the Hueys touched down. Some of the landing pads were big enough for only one Huey to land at a time, pick up five or six passengers and depart-all under .51-caliber (12.7mm) anti-aircraft fire, joined by fire from hundreds of AK-47s. One of the upper pads was not targeted as often, receiving only intermittent 88mm mortar and 75mm recoilless rifle fire.
As the evacuation continued, Warrant Officer Ken Mayberry was serving as an aircraft commander, with Warrant Officer David Rayburn as his co-pilot. There were small groups of men scattered on the mountain-top, and the continuing barrage of 82mm and 120mm mortar and recoilless rifle fire left blackish-gray clouds of fragmentation everywhere on the firebase.
As Mayberry and Rayburn's chopper approached the landing zone, Rayburn was dismayed by the ferocity of the mortar fire. Both pilots were experienced combat veterans and had taken hits on multiple occasions. The scene reminded Mayberry of one equally hot extraction he had participated in south of Ripcord, at LZ Kelley, where he had flown through a wall of tracers and was rocked by an air burst that nearly nosed him into a mountain. Of 20 Hueys in that earlier operation, only four aircraft had remained flyable after the extraction.
Mayberry and Rayburn grimly continued their approach. Mayberry counted nine mortar shells exploding around the landing pad he was headed for. He also saw six GIs standing in the open, waiting for him. Someone radioed him, "Go around!" but Mayberry replied, "We're going in."
Rayburn looked over at Mayberry and said, "Ken, are you sure you want to do this?" Mayberry kept looking straight ahead, watching the LZ they were approaching. Finally, he said, "We're their only way out, and if we don't get them...." Both knew that they were all that stood between the troops on the ground and the NVA surrounding them. Their unwillingness to give up on what was clearly a very dangerous rescue mission was typical of the resolve demonstrated by many warrant officers who flew Army helicopters in Vietnam. It was an unspoken, solemn vow. The Phoenix crews would do their best, no matter what.
As they made their final approach, the fire got heavier. Mayberry slammed the Huey down amid exploding mortars while six heavily laden soldiers rushed for the helicopter. A mortar round hit in front of the soldiers, a second round just behind them. The infantrymen were thrown to the ground, all of them badly wounded.
Mayberry shouted to his crew chief, Spc. 5 John Ackerman, and door gunner Spc. 4 Wayne Wasilk, "Get them!" The two young Minnesotans rushed 20 yards through the mortar fire, helped four of the wounded infantrymen up and carried them to the helicopter. Fire continued to fall all around them. It seem to Rayburn that he could the AK-47 rounds and mortar fragments peppering the Huey as if the helicopter's skin were his own.
Mayberry looked over his right shoulder, through the cargo door to his right rear. Mortar rounds were being walked up the mountainside as he watched. He held his breath, waiting for the next hit. The crew chief and door gunner struggled to get the injured men into the cargo bay. The crew chief shouted, "Go! Go!" and Mayberry lifted off in clouds of fragmentation. Moments later, a second chopper, piloted by Warrant Officer Dave Wolfe, came in and picked up another group of six soldiers-again under heavy fire. At the time, Wolfe thought that his bird had suffered amazingly minor damage during the pickup. There had been no wounds to his crew or the passengers.
Flying behind Mayberry's Huey, Wolfe called Mayberry on the aviation net (VHF) in a state of amazement and disbelief. Wolfe disregarded all normal radio procedures (which typically involved using call signs and waiting for replies), announcing to Mayberry: "Ken, you're smoking. I don't see flames, but there is smoke everywhere. You're losing fuel. There are pieces falling off everywhere. I think you better put that thing down now." Both Hueys were still 10 miles west of Camp Evans, over the Annamite mountain range.
Mayberry came on the radio and responded, "I've got a little vibration. I might be losing some instruments. All my packs are badly wounded, so I'm going direct to Charlie Med pad (the 187th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital); we'll check it out there." Specialist 5 Larry Frazier, Wolfe's crew chief, watched Mayberry's limping Huey, amazed that it was still flying and relieved that his bird was not in the same condition.
Mayberry and Rayburn carefully piloted their bird back to base. On the ground, they counted more than 40 holes from enemy fire. Their close shave did not stop them for long, however. As soon as they could get a replacement aircraft, they continued to extract troops from "hover holes" below the mountaintop.
Frazier had helped six infantrymen scramble aboard under fire at Ripcord. Shortly after they lifted off, a rifleman motioned to Frazier and handed him a piece of paper that he had taken from his pocket. Frazier read what was written on it and handed it to the pilots. It read, "Thanks for saving our asses." It was a heartfelt thanks Frazier would not forget. He was impressed that the GI had written it while under artillery bombardment, before being picked up. The GI knew the birds would get them out, no matter what.
After the operation ended, Wolfe flew back to refuel at Camp Evans. Frazier hopped down from his crew chief's well and walked forward to open Wolfe's door and move his sliding armor plate back. As he reached for the pilot's door handle, he was startled to see Wolfe's "air-conditioning." Frazier pointed out the damage and trajectory of the enemy rounds that had holed the bird-many had hit very close to Wolfe's seat. The lower part of his pilot's door had been blown away by rounds passing through the nose radio compartment, exiting under Wolfe's legs, through the left pilot's door. They also found several holes in the fuselage under the door gunner's seat. Frazier later joked about Wolfe's reaction: "If he hadn't been sitting down, he might've collapsed." Wolfe had been so distracted by the damage to Mayberry's Huey that he had been unaware of just how badly his own bird had been hit.
Captain House, still circling above Ripcord, continued the extraction with the other lift companies. They were circling in sight of Ripcord, keeping an eye on the deadly landing zones marked by mortar explosions. House continued to fill the position of command and control. He had just seen his Hueys getting shot to hell while getting the job done. Painfully aware that there were troops still waiting for extraction on the firebase, House understood his importance in the role of impromptu air mission commander. He figured the sooner they finished, the better.
House called to the leader of the Ghostrider flight, "Rider one-six, Phoenix one-six." Ghostrider one-six responded, "Go!"
"This is Phoenix Lead. The other briefers are not up," said House. "It's pretty strong (anti-aircraft fire) west of Ripcord. I hate to be the one to keep this damn thing going, but give me your poz (position)."
"Between Phon Dien, blueline by Jack (southwest of Camp Evans combat base over the river)" came the reply. House then gave the pilots instructions on the best approach direction. Ghostrider Lead briefed the other birds in his flight, but he knew all of the pilots in the area could see the continuous bombardment underway. Ghostrider Lead continued, "I'm not gonna order you into that stuff, but if you think you can get onto the pad, do it!"
The Hueys would come as long as there were Americans on the ground. The pilots and crews saw what they would have to go through and made their approaches one by one. The airwaves became clogged with incessant reports: "Pretty white stuff on top," called a Ghostrider as he approached the upper LZ in a flurry of mortar shells.
"It's CS," another pilot calmly remarked-tear gas.
Another asked, "Are we using CS?"
"No," responded the first pilot. "They are."
Not only would the Huey pilots fly through walls of .51 caliber anti-aircraft tracers, but they would now land amid exploding clouds of tear gas which might temporarily blind them.
While he was sitting on the ground at Ripcord, Ghostrider one-six called over the radio, "Mortar fire hitting all areas of pad, 5 to 10 meters apart, all the way down the hill!"
Another Ghostrider, also touching down at Ripcord, called, "Go in top pad, one more hit just right beside me!"
A pathfinder at Ripcord asked, "Did a slick (UH-1D) just get shot down?"
Commanchero one-one, from A Company, 101st Aviation Battalion, replied, "No, a mortar hit him sitting on the ground."
Ghostrider Chalk-Seven broke in with: "Taking small arms fire 100 meters out. They're leading it onto the pad."
Ghostrider Lead called, "Abort, Chalk-Seven!"
Chalk-Seven responded: "No, I've aborted three times already, I'll just continue in!"
Ghostrider Lead said: "I'll leave it up to you. Go in if you can!"
Another pilot called out, "POL (the fuel dump) just went up-took a mortar, right beside me."
The lift companies - Phoenix, Ghostriders, Lancers, Comancheros, Black Widows and Kingsmen - continued the procession. Many of the choppers were taking hits. The smoke, the streams of green and gold enemy tracers, the jets swooping low, laying napalm while Cobra gunships attacked lines of enemy troops-all of it nearly overwhelmed the senses of the chopper crews.
But the Hueys kept coming. When one chopper was shot down, another landed to retrieve its crew. By noon, only 18 fighting men remained at Ripcord from an original force of nearly 400. Driven from their secure positions by exploding 155mm ammunition that had been ignited by the fires, those remaining soldiers ran to one end of the firebase and attempted to form a security perimeter. They could see NVA swarming up the mountainside toward them like ants, breaching the lower perimeter wires less than 100 yards away.
Most of the GIs were carrying M-60 machine guns, firing from the hip as they moved from one position to another. They simply wanted to get off that Godforsaken mountain alive. Private first class Daniel Biggs watched as a Huey approached the pad and landed in the exact spot where two mortar shells had hit seconds earlier. Biggs later told a Stars and Stripes correspondent, "He came right in, didn't turn away or nothin'."
Above Ripcord, another flight was concluding the mountaintop evacuation of troops. Warrant Officer Jim Saunders, a Navy admiral's son, was on short final approach when his Huey was shot out of the sky by 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Saunders' bird crashed further down the mountain, on Ripcord's lower landing pad, in the midst of a group of NVA. The Huey continued to slide down the mountain until it became entangled in the firebase's lower barbed wire perimeter.
The crew fled the burning wreckage of the chopper and scrambled up the steep hillside toward another pickup zone. Saunders looked over his shoulder and saw NVA crawling through the concertina wire at the perimeter, less than 25 yards from him. Saunders and his crew ran madly up the steep hill, shedding their armor and flight helmets as they went-anything to lighten the load and speed their flight.
They made it up to the top of the next hill only to confront another group of NVA clambering up the other side. Hueys were circling above them, machine guns were firing all around, and a door gunner waved them on toward a clear area at a slightly lower level. They dashed downhill between two more columns of NVA who were tangled in concertina wire, so close to each other that they did not fire for fear of hitting other NVA. Saunders and his crew finally made it onto another Huey and escaped in a hail of small-arms fire.
A short while later, the last Huey to lift off from the firebase sustained major damage and heavy casualties to its passengers. The last men off the mountain were members of B Company, 2/506. They had also been the first ones to arrive in April. The troop withdrawals from the valley floor below would not end for another two hours.
By early afternoon on July 23, all known survivors at Ripcord had been carried back to Camp Evans. However, several battle-dazed Americans, hiding in their bunkers, had been unwilling or unable to run the gauntlet of mortar fire to reach the Hueys. Some had apparently even hid from their own comrades who had searched the bunkers to ensure that everyone got out. The troops who had stayed behind were killed there by NVA using flame throwers or bayonets. The NVA swarmed over their conquest until airstrikes abruptly ended their celebration. The remains of several American soldiers were recovered six weeks later.
Operations in the area around Firebase Ripcord had proved to be a costly undertaking. Between April 1 and July 31, 1970, 135 UH-1H Hueys were seriously damaged and rendered unflyable. They vast majority of the division pilots and crew members survived despite combat damage to their aircraft. Ten Cobras and three Hughes OH-6A Loaches also sustained serious hits. Only two of the six Huey lift companies involved in operations in that area did not lose a crew killed in action. All the pilots who participated in the evacuation earned Distinguished Flying Crosses. The crew chiefs and door gunners received Air Medals with a "V" for valor.
Despite the losses, the action at Fire Support Base Ripcord was a highly successful fighting withdrawal. It left the enemy in control of the jungle, but nothing else. The NVA were pounded continuously by Boeing B-52s and tactical air support, and the mountain jungles were defoliated.
Helicopters, including gunships and lift ships, were crucial to the evacuation of Ripcord. The withdrawal could not have succeeded without the courage and daring of Huey pilots and crewmen who repeatedly braved direct mortar fire, recoilless rifle fire and walls of neon-green .51-caliber anti-aircraft tracers to save the lives of their countrymen.
As an Army helicopter pilot, Tom Marshall was awarded 22 Air Medals for more than 1,000 combat flying hours, logged while he was serving in Vietnam. In addition to serving with the 101st Airborne, he also served with the 4th Infantry Division at An Khe in 1970-71.
Tom Marshall has recently had his book published by Ivy Books, be sure to pick up your copy of "The Price of Exit - A true story of helicopter pilots in Vietnam." This book is available in paperback from most bookstores.