Pilots Brave Bullets To Bring In Ammo
CU CHI - A 25th Aviation Battalion helicopter crew braved heavy enemy fire to resupply an Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) compound under attack from the Viet Cong.
Responding to the call for more ammunition was a Company A, 25th Aviation Battalion Huey, commanded by Warrant Officer Pat Lawlor of Plattsburg, Mo., and piloted by Major Jerry “Doc” Holliday of Memphis, Tenn.
It was after midnight when Lawlor and Holliday had the needed ammunition loaded into their Little Bear helicopter at Trang Bang. They then took off in a heavy rain storm and proceeded north to the compound near X Rung Cay.
Lawlor and Holliday orbited their craft at 2,000 feet over the compound for a time, hoping the barrage of RPG's, mortars and small arms fire would subside.
However, with the ARVN's need for more ammunition now desperate, Lawlor and Holliday could wait no longer. Down into the volley of fire they took their craft, guiding in on a small light near the middle of the compound.
The doorgunner, Specialist 4 Carlos Pizza of Astoria, N.Y., and crew chief Specialist 4 Ronald Robinson of Midland, Tex., gripped the triggers of their M-60 machine guns and tried to distinguish the enemy and friendly fire.
The helicopter landed safely near some concertina wire and the ammunition was quickly unloaded. In less than 40 seconds the Huey headed back into the sky, luckily taking only a few hits from small arms fire.
With their mission accomplished, Lawlor and Holliday took their craft back to Cu Chi as gunships flew in to support the ARVN's.
Diamondheads Give Support During Seven Hour Battle
CU CHI - More than seven hours of continuous fire support was provided by Diamondhead gunships from Company B, 25th Aviation Battalion, as a platoon-sized ambush patrol from the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, beat back enemy attacking from three sides. Firing as close as 15 meters from the friendly position, the choppers were guided by a fire of burning clothes and boots.
While performing counter-mortar duties at Dau Tieng Base Camp, the Diamondhead 20 light fire team was called to assist the besieged infantrymen near Tay Ninh City. Enroute to the contact area, the fire team leader Second Lieutenant Neil M. Weems, received the tactical briefing from the ground commander. The U.S. element was surrounded on three sides with the enemy no more than 30 meters from the friendly unit's perimeter.
Arriving at the contact area, a more thorough briefing revealed the situation to be critical. The Wolfhounds had suffered numerous casualties, and their ammunition supply was dangerously low. The seriousness of the situation was magnified by the lack of any means to mark the limits of their perimeter, which prevented immediate fire support.
The urgency of the mission heightened when the ground commander reported he had visual contact with numerous enemy as close as 15 meters to his perimeter and expressed doubt that, due to critical ammunition shortage and massing enemy troops, he would be able to withstand the imminent ground attack.
As a last resort for position identification, the infantrymen set fire to a pile of clothes, boots and anything else they could find. With this one light, aided by artillery illumination, immediate firing passes were initiated by the Diamondheads. After expending all rocket and minigun ordnance the situation remained such that the Diamondheads resorted to firing personal weapons.
Having expended all ordnance aboard and dangerously low on fuel, a member of the fire team, First Lieutenant Kenneth Griffith, an artillery officer, adjusted supporting artillery fires enabling an airborne forward observer to pinpoint the location of the ground unit.
With repeated passes through enemy ground fire, it became apparent that continuous air support was required. Coordinating with his wing ship, commanded by Warrant Officer Robert H. Moore, Weems arranged to have one gunship continue to engage the target while the other aircraft returned to Tay Ninh to rearm.
The continuous fire support over a seven-hour period was instrumental in deterring the imminent ground attack long enough to allow reinforcements to reach the area. Later sweeps of the area revealed that at least 56 enemy were killed in the fierce battle.
VC ASSAULTS FAIL
FSB Buell Forces Crush Enemy Drive
1ST BDE - The apparent lull in the Vietnam conflict ended for units of the 25th Infantry Division and Vietnamese forces in Tay Ninh Province. Base camps, fire support locations and numerous outposts came under heavy enemy fire as a determined Viet Cong force attempted to overrun U.S. positions.
The attacks triggered a two-day battle filled with fierce fighting as 179 Viet Cong soldiers were killed near Tay Ninh City before pulling back late Monday. The attacks were apparently aimed at denying U.S. and Vietnamese control of the city itself.
Initial action was triggered as an ambush patrol from Delta Company, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry spotted an estimated enemy battalion three miles northeast of Tay Ninh City. As they let the Viet Cong force deliberately pass their ambush site they engaged the enemy's rear elements while coordinated artillery fire blasted away at the front of the column. Five VC were killed in the action, two rifles and one pistol captured.
At Fire Support Base Buell II, only three and a half miles to the northwest, base personnel were alerted by the ambush and were aware of the imminent danger. They were ready when at 1:23 am, 75 to 100 rounds of 82mm mortar and 12 rounds of 107mm rocket fire crashed into their perimeter.
Moving under the cover of the rockets and mortars, an estimated enemy battalion made a vicious ground attack on the base, hitting first in the direction of the 7th Battalion, 11th Artillery. During the following four-hour battle, the fire base was hit from the southeast and northwest.
Small arms and sustained automatic weapons fire plagued the staunch U.S. defenders. The 105mm howitzers from Bravo Battery, 7th Battalion, 11th Artillery and the 155mm guns of Alpha Battery, 3d Battalion, 13th Artillery retaliated with point blank fire. Elements from the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry, 4th Battalion (Mechanized), 23d Infantry and 2d Battalion 34th Armor delivered a devastating fire into the VC as they pushed their attack.
As the elements of the 9th NVA Division attacked from the shelter of a nearby banana plantation to the northwest, Base Coordinator Lieutenant Colonel Alexander H. Hunt, battalion commander of the 3d Battalion, 22d Infantry directed the artillerymen to use direct fire on the approaching enemy.
The VC attempted to penetrate the perimeter of the fire support base, and met a wall of flame and steel from the hard-working artillerymen. Within seconds the 155mm howitzers of Alpha Battery, 3d Battalion, 13th Artillery (The Clan), under Captain Clifford Crittsinger, joined the 105s of the threatened Bravo Battery under Captain Robert A. Snyder in presenting tremendous firepower to the stunned enemy.
Lieutenant Colonel Hunt used flare ships and called U.S. Air Force tactical air strikes within 150 meters of the perimeter. Helicopter gunships from Delta Troop, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry and Bravo Troop, 25th Aviation Battalion continually strafed the enemy with machine gun fire and rocket attacks. They were assisted by the 187th Assault Helicopter Company, under the operational control of the 25th Infantry Division.
As the shattered enemy assault forces began to retreat, the 7th Battalion, 11th Arty followed their movement with continuous fire from their 105mm howitzers. Twenty minutes later, another assault force attacked from the southeast. This time The Clan was directly faced with the charging enemy.
Leveling their self-propelled howitzers, the artillerymen once again fired round upon round directly into the enemy's front. Howitzer crews of both batteries continued to man their pieces despite small arms fire and automatic weapons fire throughout the attack.
Heavy fighting continued until 4:40am when the enemy started retreating after suffering heavy casualties from the combined Infantry, Artillery and Armor team at the fire support base. Eighty-three enemy were killed while American forces suffered only one killed and 26 wounded. Over 700 rounds of artillery alone were expended.
“It was a real joint effort. The artillery batteries here did a real fine job as did the tank's direct fire,” commented Major Jerome Johnson, the 3d Bn, 22nd Infantry Operations Officer from Green Bay, Wis.
Meanwhile, Tay Ninh base camp was attacked at 1:15am during the enemy operation but little damage resulted from the five 82mm mortar rounds and the nineteen 107mm rockets hurled inside the perimeter.
A second target for the coordinated enemy advance was the communications center atop the 3200 foot Nui Ba Den mountain near the fire support base. The small signal relay station received fire from small arms, automatic weapons and RPG rounds, beginning at 2am. The sharp conflict continued until dawn. At one point, four bunkers were occupied by enemy troops. Ten Viet Cong were killed while eight Americans died and 23 were wounded.
At 7:20 am Monday, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 5th Infantry made contact with prowling enemy units three and a half miles due west of Dau Tieng base camp. Two VC companies unleashed small arms, automatic weapons and RPG fire on the infantrymen.
Throughout the day, the Bobcats aggressively fought the enemy, proving too strong for them by 4:30 pm when the VC broke contact. Forty-two Viet Cong bodies were found.
During the coordinated attacks, Tay Ninh City was hit as the VC mortared the district headquarters in an attempt to move into the city itself. An unknown size enemy force was reported in the city.
As the Regional Force and Popular Force units in the area, assisted by the 51st ARVN Ranger Battalion moved in to rout the VC, it became evident that the enemy could not hold their quarters and the Long Hoa market district, fled to the southwest at night after two firefights between 5 and 8 o'clock at night.
Early Monday morning, the Vietnamese soldiers including elements of the 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry and 2d Battalion, 34th Armor who maintained blocking positions in the southern city limits, swept the city. The sweep confirmed that the enemy had left the city itself. During the two days of fighting around the city, these units killed 14 VC while tactical air strikes accounted for another nine enemy killed.
During the actions, 16 AK-47 rifles, two RPG-7 launchers and 32 rounds, 11 RPG-2 launchers and 84 rounds, six .51 caliber machine guns and one .30 caliber with two barrels, one M-16, one radio, 214 hand grenades and 40 rifle grenades, 4,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition and twenty-one 57mm recoilless rifle rounds and 10 pounds of documents were captured. Thirteen enemy soldiers were detained for questioning.
Ron, Sorry for the delay, but here is my faded memory about 8/18/68 on top of Nui Ba Dinn with Aco/3/22 Infantry
My memories of our time on the mountain start with a crap game going on just before we lifted up there. It was the typical hurry up and wait routine, we where gathered at the base of the mountain waiting to get lifted up there, so someone took a towel from around his neck, laid it out with a "c" ration box at the end and produced a set of dice, instant Las Vegas! I never played Craps before or after, but that day I won $20. I guess our ride came in before my luck would change.
I think we thought this was going to be a vacation, 3 hot meals a day and no sweeps or ambush. I remember the sleeping quarters, pretty good compared to a poncho and poncho liner, almost like a small house with bunks. The bunkers looked good, not too far apart, although the Helo pad bunkers seemed isolated.
My bunker was, I believe, on the west side of the perimeter, and I was with some guys from other platoons, I don't remember one of their names to this day. Maybe I just ended up at the wrong platoons bunker. I was sleeping in the sleeping quarters when someone came in and said we were getting hit. I made it to the bunker, there was a Sgt (e5) there and he took charge. I was inside the bunker and they, the Sgt plus 2 others were coming in when an explosion went off just outside the back of the bunker. It had to have been an RPG. I was knocked out for a short time
and when I woke up the bunker was about destroyed inside. I crawled out to find one guy beyond help, I don't know his name now and always felt I should have tried to remember him by his name. The Sgt was badly wounded, I believe he had some serious head wounds but he was able to walk. The other fellow was ok, but in shock. I told him to walk the Sgt up to a medic, I grabbed a 60 and layed out some cover fire while they moved out. About that time, my squad leader, Sgt Kraynak calls out to me that he is coming over to my position, his bunker is also destroyed and he is the only one left at it. He says we should fall back between the bunkers to watch over both fields of fire.
We set up in some rocks just in front of the rubber fuel bladders, not the best place to be but we had a good view of our area. We stayed there all night. At one point a lone figure appeared to my left about 20 feet away. He crawled up on a boulder and was watching out towards the perimeter. He looked small and was wearing a soft cover hat, I started to raise my rifle as I felt he was probably a vc, but even when the
flares lit up the area, I couldn't be sure. I had heard we had special forces inside the perimeter, and they wore soft covers, so I had to be sure. It wasn't long before he saw me and we both stared each other down. He disappeared between flares, I never did find out who he was, but I often wonder if my hesitation was to cost my Sgt and friend his life. At daybreak things were pretty quiet, Sgt. Kraynak told me to return to my bunker, he was heading to his and to keep alert until help arrives. I would be the last person to talk to Sgt Kraynak. We both headed out, I heard the shots that took his life, but there was still some shots being fired all around so I just sat tight and waited for someone to show up.
Maybe if we had gone back as a team things would have been different, I have thought about it many times, but thinking about it won't change things. Did I let his killer get a free pass, or did I make the right choice by not shooting the lone figure on the rock. Days later, I looked around the compound for the special forces group, but was told they where gone. Did my luck from the crap game follow me up on the mountain? No, I
don't think so, it's just the way things go.
I think of Jim often, his hometown is a days drive from where I live and I visited his grave last year.
It was a very powerful moment, reading his name on the tombstone.
He was well liked by all the guys in 4 plt, I think loosing Jim was probably the reason I asked to go to Aviation, it wasn't the same without him and his leadership.
Some of my other memories of the Mountain are Steve Rye, with his foot gone, leaning against a bunker waiting all day to get medivaced. The word of the short timer(14 and a wake up) from the Cav who was kia. The guy who carried the grease gun, Lowe I think, getting shot in the back, he was a popular guy in the company. How the Native American, Smith, told us in broken English how he was by himself and threw
grenades at a bunch of VC, then opened up on them with a 60 and killed 5. The bodies were found by his bunker by the Helo Pad. How we all went ape shit and cheered when they dumped the dead 15 dead VC from the Chinook cargo net out over the lower mountain. True, not
something anyone else would ever understand, it just seemed right at the time. I also know the fellow who had the dice for that crap game died out by the Helo pad that night. His buddy told us he hid under his body when the bunker got taken out and the gooks swarmed it. They shot inside, but somehow he lived. I watched the first helicopter come in and crash with a General on board. I believe the pilot went threw the
windshield and suffered a very bad facial cut. This is what I can remember of 8/18/68, sometimes I catch myself reliving the night and wondering "what if", but then who that has been in combat dosn't do that?
Robin Lauer (B Company Gunner after this fight)
I remember this night all to well.
We were heavily engaged at FSB Buell, and were flying on the north side of Nui Ba Den to Tay Ninh to Rearm and refuel, we had got jumped with very heavy anti-aircraft fire that night on that northern refuel route, but that is another story. I will have to write it sooner or later, but I can't right now, it stings a little to hard yet.
I heard the desperate pleas for help from the mountain over the radio, but it was impossible to help. The whole top of the mountain was socked in with fog and clouds, all you could hear was the sounds of war, machine guns and explosions, and desperate men. All you could see was the eerie light of a flare burning in the clouds. I to still see this night in the twilight of sleep in a surreal sort of way. Had we been able to help, maybe the VC would have disengaged, maybe Sgt Kraynak would have lived..but fate dealt a bad hand on 18 August 68.
Chopper Crew Does Job of 14
CU CHI - A job usually given to an entire assault helicopter company was handled recently by one helicopter from the 25th Aviation Battalion when elements of an infantry battalion needed to be transported to their night location.
Because of a tactical emergency during the day, 85 Golden Dragon troopers of the 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry, had lost helicopter support and at dusk they were five miles from their night location near Phu Long. Intelligence reports indicated a numerically superior enemy force in the area.
Because of the tactical situation, only Little Bear 086 from Company A, 25th Aviation Battalion was able to respond when word was received that the Golden Dragons had to be extracted.
With heavy cloud cover blocking the moonlight and only radio contact for prior planning, the Little Bear's four-man crew, commanded by First Lieutenant Julian Clements of Tifton, Ga., located the infantrymen and started the shuttle. Without gunship escort and with the decreasing number of troops in the pick-up zone, time was critical.
Commented Clements, “The mission was extra hazardous because the landing zone was surrounded by tall trees. Because of this, we had to use our lights and come over and go straight down.”
In two hours and 45 minutes, picking up six men at a time, 086 flew 14 sorties and safely removed the Golden Dragons.
LITTLE BEAR CREW - From left: Specialist 4 Joe Phipps, gunner; Warrant Officer I William Linder, pilot; First Lieutenant Julian Clements, aircraft commander; Specialist 4 Conrad Neilsen, crew chief, flew 14 sorties to single-handedly transport elements of the 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry to their night location. (PHOTO BY MAJ. C. M. BARROW, JR.)
Psyops -- Weaponless War Of Words
HIGH RANKING CHIEU HOI - Lieutenant Colonel Huynh Cu, former Chief of VC Training Section, Military Region V, is pictured on Psyops leaflet encouraging VC guerrillas to rally to the government.
Leaflets And Loudspeakers
Persuasion In Stereo - Allies
CU CHI - In Vietnam, battles are fought daily with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, helicopter gunships, artillery, and air strikes. But, there's “another” war being fought in Vietnam today. It's not a conflict of guns and bullets, but a war fought with words.
“Never in the history of the United States have we practiced a more extensive use of psychological warfare tactics, than in Vietnam,” remarked Captain Audris Endrijonas, 25th Inf Div psychological operations (Psyops) officer.
“Last month.” he continued, “we dropped approximately 22 million leaflets over the division's area of operations. Another 30,000 leaflets were disseminated by ground teams, and 98 hours of loudspeaker broadcasts were logged.”
The basic purpose of Psyops is to convince the North Vietnamese Army forces and Viet Cong guerrillas that the South Vietnamese government is the true government of Vietnam. “We try to take advantage of a psychological weakness of the enemy in a particular situation,” added Endrijonas.
If the VC or North Vietnamese have a large number of sick or wounded on the battlefield, and no medical supplies to treat them, the Psyops teams spring into action.
The teams develop a theme based on that particular weakness and then deliver the message by means of either aerial or ground loudspeaker broadcasts, or printed leaflets.
The message presents an opportunity for the enemy to “Chieu Hoi”, or rally to the government of South Vietnam. He is assured he will be treated not as a prisoner but as a citizen of the Republic of Vietnam.
Upon rallying to the government, the former enemy soldier is sent to a special Chieu Hoi center where he learns what the South Vietnamese government stands for and how it functions. After the indoctrination period he may remain at the center if he chooses, or the government will help him find a job.
Not all psychological messages are aimed at enemy forces. Frequently, messages are directed to the family of a VC member. This is an indirect approach, but very often successful because of the extremely strong family ties associated with the Vietnamese society.
Many broadcast messages are made encouraging the Vietnamese citizens to report Viet Cong activity in their area. Leaflets inform the civilians of rewards they may collect for giving information to the whereabouts of enemy troops, equipment, or supplies. Many rewards have been given to villagers for reporting VC weapon caches.
When American or allied fighting units come in heavy contact with enemy forces, a Psyops team flies over the battle scene, saturating the area with propaganda leaflets, and broadcasting taped messages over a 1,000 watt loudspeaker. Both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are used in the Psyops flights. Ground teams carry 250 watt “back-pack” speakers, which have been used extensively in coaxing the enemy from tunnel complexes.
The actual production of broadcast tapes and writing of propaganda leaflets is handled by Vietnamese interpreters. American teams give the interpreter a general theme to follow, which he writes or records in his own words. According to Captain Endrijonas, “this eliminates the American touch in the messages. We put the ethnic background and inherent language capabilities of the Vietnamese to maximum use.”
In addition to furnishing interpreters, the Vietnamese also have their own Psyops teams. These teams from Vietnamese Army units have loudspeaker and audio visual capabilities, as well as the facilities to produce printed messages.
Often a Vietnamese team accompanies American Medical Civil Action Program (MEDCAP) teams into villages, informing the civilians of the medical attention available. Movies with various propaganda themes and overtones are often shown. The Vietnamese teams tell the villagers the difference between living under Viet Cong rule and the rule of the people.
Is the Psyops program working? There is no sure way of measuring the success of the program, but a significant number of Chieu Hois monthly indicates that the messages are getting through to the people.
During 1967, 27,000 enemy troops rallied to the Republic of Vietnam under the Chieu Hoi Program. Of this number, 17,000 bore weapons.
Perhaps an even greater indication can be seen in the demand of the North Vietnamese delegation at the Paris peace talks that the United States end the dropping of leaflets and cease the conduct of all psychological operations in Vietnam.
Colonel's Chopper Hits Fleeing VC; Kills Five
3RD BDE - In a blazing exchange of gunfire, the gunners on the command helicopter of COL Leonard R. Daems Jr., CO of the 3rd Bde, killed five Viet Cong fleeing across a rice paddy.
The five VC killed were credited to SP4 Louis R. Beam, Jr. of Lufkin, Tex. and SP4 Tony Grosso of Derby, Pa.
The 20 minute engagement with an estimated force of 50 VC took place 30 kms northwest of Saigon. It was part of a day long action by elements of Task Force Daems, which netted 183 enemy bodies.
The task force consisted of the 4th Bn, 9th Inf; 4th Bn (Mech), 23rd Inf; and the 2nd Bn, 34th Armor.
On a reconnaissance flight near the village of Bao Tre, COL Daems and crew members of his command ship spotted the enemy force. The door gunners of the “Little Bear” chopper of Co A, 25th Avn Bn, opened fire on the enemy, as the pilot, WO Clay Maxwell of Midland, Mich. and aircraft commander WO Alan E. Gould of Stroudsburg, Pa., maneuvered the ship into position.
The VC answered with volleys of small arms fire and RPG rockets, while racing toward jungle cover nearby. Numerous tracers whizzed by the command chopper.
While the enemy force fled in the direction of the jungle, COL Daems called in a cut-off force from the 4th Bn (Mech), 23th Inf, in an effort to head off the VC.
CHOPPER KILLS 25 VIET CONG NEAR BORDER
CU CHI - A 25th Avn Bn gunship killed 25 Viet Cong and detained one while on its way to support an ARVN compound at Diamond Village near the Cambodian border.
After the initial assault, pilot CWO George A. Grinnell of Berkeley, Calif., swooped his Huey in low. He and his co-pilot WO Robert E. Hayner of Wichita Falls, Texas, spotted two VC scuttling into a foxhole.
A hail of bullets from door gunner SP5 Bill Caubeaon, Ellwood City, Pa., brought one of the enemy out to surrender. The chopper landed and picked up the suspect with his AK-47.
While enroute back to Cu Chi, the detainee told Grinnell, who speaks Chinese, that he was Cambodian, and that the VC had pressed him to fight.
Later, he was turned over to the ARVNs.
Diamondhead's Smokey Is An Infantry Favorite
CU CHI - In the world they call it smog - and most people are annoyed by it. In Vietnam, they call it smoke - and the infantrymen love it.
Diamondhead helicopters of Company B, 25th Aviation Battalion, create the smog in the area. The smoke dispensing helicopter, appropriately named Smokey, is capable of laying a smoke screen by flying low-level and dispensing smoke over the desired area.
Smokey is used to shield friendly elements by denying the enemy a visual target, and can be effectively employed by ground forces or in airmobile operations, day or night.
Diamondhead Smokey was used recently by one infantry unit to enable them to evacuate wounded men. Enemy fire prevented the infantrymen from getting to the wounded until Smokey screened them from the enemy's view.
The smoke ship made numerous passes over and in front of the enemy. Each time, Smokey received intense enemy fire. Continuing even after darkness had fallen, Smokey made it possible for the friendly elements to recover their casualties and continue the offensive on the enemy positions.
In the airmobile concept, Smokey is employed to shield the troop-carrying slicks in the landing zone and enable the inserted troops to assume an offensive position. On one such mission recently, Smokey was the first to discover that the landing zone was hot.
Asked about the intensity of enemy fire, Captain Jerry Boyington, executive officer for the Diamondheads, said: “It was as it they were in the back seat shooting at us.” Boyington really felt smoked when a round passed through both of his boots. However, the wounds were minor, and he was smoking for another combat assault two days later.
The statement “Smoking may be hazardous to your health” certainly applies to flying the smoke ship since the crew must constantly expose themselves to enemy fire to successfully complete their mission.
LOVE THAT SMOG - A Diamondhead smoke ship from Company B, 25th Aviation Battalion, lays a smoke screen to shield infantrymen from the enemy's sights.
Routine Mission Turns Out To Be Headache
By SP4 Tom Quinn
CU CHI - It was to be a routine mission. The Company A, 25th Aviation Battalion, Huey took off from the Blaster pad at Cu Chi at 8:30 in the evening.
Warrant Officer Randy Juge of New Orleans, La., the aircraft commander, and First Lieutenant John Lebansky of Glen Cove, N.Y., the pilot, has been diverted from a counter-mortar mission to pick up three detainees held by a 25th Division infantry unit seven miles northwest of Duc Hoa.
As the helicopter approached the location, Juge - nicknamed Cage by his cohorts - flipped on the radio to one of the frequencies designated to contact the infantry unit. On the one frequency he could hear only the chatter of Vietnamese voices. He flipped on the other frequency.
Upon making radio contact Cage was requested to land from east to west. The strobe light which would direct him in would come from a dike on a rice paddy and the copter should land to the right and bottom of the light. There was a tree line further to the right so Cage should be careful.
Cage lowered the craft to 100 feet and then turned on his search light to scan the landing zone. Below, through the haze, he could see the soldier with the strobe light lying on a dike trying to conceal himself in the foliage as much as possible. To the left, Cage spotted other soldiers lying scattered along a road.
Cage turned off the light and brought the craft down, turning the light on for the last 20 feet. The Huey landed at the predetermined spot and a soldier brought over one detainee. The MP aboard helped him in. The detainee threw himself onto the floor and covered his head, knowing perhaps what was to come.
As Cage waited for the other two detainees to be put aboard all hell broke loose. From seemingly all directions, mortars flew, RPG's cut through the air and small arms fire cracked in the night.
It seemed evident that the Viet Cong had been waiting patiently for the helicopter to land and now they concentrated all their firepower on it.
Cage hesitated to take off thinking the other two detainees were to be put aboard. The doorgunners' fingers twitched on their triggers but without permission from the aircraft commander they could not fire. To open fire was out of the question since the American positions were not known.
Cage waited no longer. He pulled pitch and took off. When he got about 20 feet off the ground an armor-piercing AK-47 round cut into the right side of the copter by the cockpit pillar passing six inches behind the head of Lebansky and tearing into Cage's helmet, grazing his forehead and then exiting out the left door.
The impact of the bullet ripped Cage's helmet off, shattered his visor and thrust the upper part of his body violently to the left and down onto the control panel, ramming his chest into the cyclic stick.
It was hard to imagine that the bullet had such force. But as Cage would later recall, “It felt like I was hit with a brick.”
For a terrifying moment, control of the ship was lost as the copter dipped back toward the ground.
In these frenzied seconds Lebansky might well have taken over control of the craft. However, since Cage's helmet had been knocked off he was unable to communicate with Lebansky and the pall of darkness and din of battle prevented Lebansky from quickly noticing Cage's plight.
Besides, there was nothing unusual about the way the helicopter dipped; often this is done to gain air speed.
As the volley of fire continued to be concentrated on the ship, Cage struggled to regain his senses. He had lost control of his craft at its weakest moment. When a helicopter goes out of control from 10 to 100 feet, it has very little airspeed and usually goes into what pilots call the “deadman's drop.” The helicopter would almost assuredly slam into the ground, tumble over and burst into flame.
Groping for his helmet and fumbling for the cyclic stick at the same time, Cage finally got hold of the cyclic and pulled it back. The helicopter streaked into the safety of the sky.
At 800 feet Cage put his helmet back on and told Lebansky to take over the controls. Cage then radioed ahead and explained the situation.
While heading back for Cu Chi, Cage was still somewhat dazed and disoriented. He didn't know for sure how badly he had been hurt. But, he realized he had been lucky.
He thought how when the bullet struck he had been sitting back in his seat while usually he piloted his ship, like many other pilots, by leaning over like a jockey. In such a position he would have been hit dead center in the head.
Coming into Cu Chi, Cage had planned to drop off at the 25th Medical Battalion. But as the copter came over the 12th Evac Hospital's pad, Cage, seeing the big red cross, told the pilot, “Put her down here.”
Cage walked into the emergency entrance of the hospital and, spotting two doctors and a nurse, asked if anyone had a band-aid. He told them that a bullet had gone through his helmet and creased his forehead. But nobody seemed to take him seriously until one of the doorgunners walked in with the helmet. Then as Cage remembers it, “Their jaws dropped.”
After his wound was cleaned and he was given a tetanus shot, Cage scurried back to the pad and hopped into his helicopter. He took over the controls, doing the job he liked best.
That night, he signed the mission sheet off as an average counter-mortar mission.