God created Slicks giving them the mission of Medivac, rescue, re-supply and transport and He said this is good,
but the Slicks will need protection,
so He created Gunships to protect the Slicks and He said this is good,
but the Gunships needed targets,
so He created Scouts to find targets for the Gunships and He said this is good.
Upon surveying His works, God realized that He needed crews for his creations,
so He populated the Slicks with the best and most disciplined Aviators,
He populated the Gunships with lesser disciplined Aviators,
and with what was left over He populated the Scouts.
He looked upon His creations and said this is good, now My Slicks will be properly protected and supported in their missions.
God spoke to the assembled Slicks, Gunships and Scouts, saying unto them; go forth and support My most favored creation……….the Grunts.
My first mission in Vietnam was Kilo-2, affectionately known as “Snoopy” or “Sniffer”. Prior to mission launch, a detector was installed in the helicopter with a probe attached to one of the skid tubes. The detector would sample the air drawn in through the probe and would measure the presence of ammonia in the air. Ammonia is a by-product of human perspiration and urine. Where ammonia was detected, humans were present.
We would be assigned a particular grid area to cover, usually about two square miles. After arriving at the grid coordinates we would drop down to just above the tops of the trees and fly a zigzag pattern until the entire area was covered. One pilot would fly the pattern; the other pilot would keep our location identified on the tactical map and call the turns to the pilot. The machine operator would monitor the gages and call over the intercom whether the contact was a “mark”, “heavy mark or “needle pegged” indicating the strength of the signal. The pilot responsible for the map would mark the locations of the marks according to their strength. The door gunner and crew chief would be on their guns ready to suppress fire as well as observe activity through the jungle canopy when possible.
This mission would be flown for up to a week to build intelligence as to troop movement and strength which would be followed by combat assaults, artillery, air strikes or all three.
The NVA and VC learned quickly the significance of what was being done and were not the least bit hesitant about exposing their position to fire on us. We received more ground fire flying Snoopy than any other mission except hot patrol or LRRP extraction. Eventually we had a fire team of UH-1C gun ships and later, AH-1G Cobra’s that would orbit above us while we flew and would engage the positions foolish enough to shoot at us. The crew chief and gunner would drop smoke grenades when this happened to mark the location and the gun ships would roll in and hose the area down with rockets and machine gun fire.
Snoopy was a popular mission for the more adventuresome, aggressive pilots and especially with the gun ship guys because they almost always got to shoot. We flew this mission off and on for the entire year of 1968 so it must have had plenty of intelligence value. I know that many combat assaults were the result of the mission. I don’t recall the loss of any pilots or helicopters when flying Snoopy but we did take plenty of fire that resulted in battle damage of our Huey’s.
Dawn C/A just after engine start
C/A’s usually consisted of a flight of two or more Huey’s and sometimes involved our entire company. This is how we did it:
The make-up of a C/A consisted of the C and C (command and control) aircraft and was usually flown by our company commander or experienced platoon leader. Rank was not really a consideration due to the fact that a Major, newly arrived in country with little combat experience might be assigned to the C and C aircraft but the actual function of directing the C/A would revert to the other pilot while the higher ranking officer observed, shared flying duties and learned. Sometimes the C and C duties went to a WO-1 with considerable combat flight experience and proven leadership. C and C would orbit above the C/A and direct the flight path headings, altitude, airspeed and anything else requiring our attention.
Flight lead, or the first aircraft in the C/A was always assigned to an experienced pilot regardless of rank and the main consideration was that he be a “smooth stick”. Flight leads had to fly fluid, gentle flight paths because his control inputs and resulting attitude changes were amplified the further back in the formation you were flying. A flight lead that was rough on the controls, or would not hold constant altitude or headings made it miserable for the rest of the flight to remain in formation.
Tail end Charlie or the last bird in the C/A also had to be an experienced pilot. This pilot was always an aggressive stick that could adjust constantly to the whip effect the further back in the formation you were. Tail end Charlie also needed to have proven leadership abilities as he was in a position to observe the entire flight in front of him and advise the flight lead as to when formation changes were complete. He also had the responsibility to pick up the crews of any aircraft shot down during the C/A
The rest of the aircraft assignments mixed an experienced A/C, “aircraft commander” with a new or less experienced pilot.
A C/A would normally begin for us well before dawn so we could get some breakfast, attend the pilots meeting for final details of the C/A, pre-flight and move the aircraft from the revetments to the correct position on the staging area to the side of the runway. The grunts would arrive by truck and wait for the command to load up. We’d then man the aircraft and wait for the signal to start engines. We normally cranked when the C and C aircraft launched as this was normally the pre-arranged signal. This was when the grunts boarded up. We maintained radio silence and waited for C and C to call for the check in. We’d start with flight lead and work our way back to "Tail end Charlie." If a bird went down at this point for whatever reason, the standby aircraft, (if one was available) would load the downed aircraft grunts and join the flight just in front of tail end charlie when we launched.
C and C would then call for lead to launch the flight. Lead would call the tower for takeoff clearance. By now we were all light on the skids, (flight RPM and enough collective pitch to almost hover) and lead would initiate the launch. We’d launch as a flight and start the climb to the prearranged mission altitude. At this point, C and C would call for the flight to go to “V’s of three”, “staggered trail”. (right or left) or whatever formation suited the LZ. C and C would guide the flight to the IP, (initial point) call the turn to the LZ and change the formation if necessary.
At this point, the gun ships joined us and went ahead of the flight to “prep” the LZ. The UH-1C Hueys or AH-1G Cobras would make their runs down either side of the LZ and hose it down with mini-gun, 40 mm grenade launcher and 2.75 inch rockets.
By this time the flight was on short final to the LZ and the most dangerous part of the C/A as we were low, slow and not changing direction. We were a stationary, ever increasing size target for the gooks that shot at us. The Hueys would land and unload the grunts who would take up a defensive perimeter, then quickly clear the LZ for the next aircraft to land. We took the most fire when landing and departing the LZ and lost a number of aircraft in or close to the LZ.
At times, we would do a “false insertion” and fly the entire C/A as described above to a bogus LZ but not unload the grunts. This supposedly would fool the gooks and maybe it did. What it did for certain was increase our workload and use up a lot of fuel and ordinance for the gun ships.
We’d form up in a tactical formation and return to base camp to re-fuel, re-arm and assume regular mission assignments. Several birds would fly re-supply to the unit we inserted to deliver C’s and ammo or whatever they needed.
C/A’s took a lot of planning and practice to execute well. Timing was critical and flight discipline a must. A well executed C/A got the aircraft in and out, the grunts unloaded and the LZ secured without loss of life or aircraft.
One evening, Jimmy and I got back late from a resupply mission and went to the showers on the edge of our company area. We always just disrobed, wrapped a towel around us, slipped on shower shoes, grabbed our toilet bag and walked down to the showers. In the middle of our showers, base camp came under rocket and mortar attack. We briefly discussed our course of action and decided that it was closer to the flight line than back to our bunker in the company area that we’d go get a Huey and launch.
We untied the first Huey we got to, grabbed the gunner and crew chief’s helmets and quickly launched. We flew around trying to find the source of the rocket launches and found them coming from the Michelin rubber plantation about three miles to the west of base camp. We called in the location of the position and directed artillery on it.
When we ran low on fuel, we called on our company operations frequency and explained our uniform status, (towels) which they thought was hilarious! We asked for the crew chief and gunner to meet us at the refueling area and to bring some more appropriate clothing with them.
We refueled, got the gunner and crew chief aboard and alternately put on the olive drab T-shirts and boxer shorts they brought with them. They explained that was all our fellow aviators had sent.
Since we now had the capability of putting fire on the gooks, we went back to the plantation and had the gunner and crew chief hose down the area where we spotted the launch tubes. By this time it was getting light and by the lack of activity, everyone agreed that the position had been silenced so we asked for and received permission to return to base camp.
When we finished our approach and were hovering to the revetment area we were directed to, “hover up to the hot spot and shut down”. Since we weren’t very well dressed we declined but were told by our company commander that General Stone, the 4th Division commander was there with his staff to congratulate us on a superb mission, shake our hands and have pictures made. Jimmy and I laughed about the implications but hovered to the hot spot, (VIP pad) and shut down. The look on everyone’s face was pure astonishment as we exited the Huey and stood in front of it at attention wearing our olive green towels, skivvies and a smile. General Stone never showed a sign that anything was out of the ordinary and returned our salutes and shook our hands. Pictures were made but we never got copies for some reason and a commendation was never mentioned.
Since we weren’t on the flight schedule for the day we opened the officers club and with the help of our crew chief and gunner were pretty well crippled by 9:00 in the morning.
After a resupply of the ARVN’s one day, we were returning to base camp and had climbed to about 10,000 feet or so to enjoy the cooler temperature when the crew chief, SP-5 Larry Ray* came on the intercom and told me, “Sir, we have a left over chicken. What do you want me to do with it?” After some consideration I told him, “Take one of the wooden ends off the cage and stand by to launch chicken”.
Since I was flying left seat, I eased into a left turn and keyed the intercom and gave the command, “Launch chicken!!” Out it went and I continued the left, rapidly descending turn as I watched the little chicken tumble end for end for maybe a thousand feet when suddenly, it extended its wings and flapped furiously, shedding feathers but giving a courageous attempt at flying!
By now, I was laughing so hard I was having trouble controlling the aircraft so I keyed the intercom and said, “You got it!” Jimmy acknowledged that he had the aircraft and immediately reversed the turn to the right so he could keep track of the rapidly descending chicken. “It’s just tumbling straight down with feathers coming off—look at that, it’s trying to fly!” Huey almost out of control again. “You got it!”
Back into the left turn again as I watched the chicken still descending at whatever terminal velocity was for it, feathers shedding, wings flapping and tumbling end over end. After exchanging control a couple more times, we were now several hundred feet from the ground and it appeared that the chicken would meet its end soon.
When it was about 50 feet from the ground, it again extended its wings and in a fury of flapping and feather shedding, almost stopped it’s descent before landing. We were at a hover now and watched in amazement as the little bird came to a dusty stop, got to its feet and scurried off into the brush! It probably joined the NVA!
We toasted the little aviator that evening and considered trying to enter his amazing and hilarious flight into the Guinness record book but never did.
*After 45 years Larry and I were reunited through our Face Book page 4th Avn. At the time of this mission, I was "short" or close to going back home and Larry was a relatively new crew chief in the unit. He lived in Missouri and I'm thankful for our friendship!
I just learned that Larry passed away August 31st 2015 of a sudden heart attack. Rest in peace Larry. You left us way too soon but the Lord must have wanted some humor in Heaven!
Almost every unit had a mascot and ours was a small orange mongrel named “Lifer”. He was well liked by everyone and in return, seemed to like all of us. The only problem with having a dog in Vietnam was the fact that the Vietnamese (and many other Asian cultures) ate dogs. He clearly avoided the indigenous personnel that worked at Camp Enari who eyed him like he was a prime Angus. He flew missions with us sometimes but preferred to remain in the maintenance hanger, probably because his main caretaker was one of the NCOs’ that supervised activities there. He had free run of the company area and would show up at any given time to socialize with us. He liked Budweiser and would get loaded with us if he was in a festive mood. He was a nice little dog and was still the Company mascot when I went home. There seems to be some conjecture as to this little guys name. When I scanned the slide it had "Lifer" written on the back so that's what I used in the original post. Then someone commented that the dog's name was, "Toolbox" so I changed it. Whatever this pooch's name was he was well liked and I really think this is "Lifer", so that's the way the post will remain!
Flying the chaplains to conduct worship
Sundays gave us the opportunity to fly the chaplains to different locations to conduct worship services and our favorite was the helipad on top of “Signal Hill” on the northwest corner of base camp. The helipad was about 50 feet from the edge of the mountain and when we left to take him back to the main helipad at Hensel we would just feel the shudder of translational lift as we broke over the edge. With the landscape rapidly falling away we’d push the nose over as far as we dared and go roaring down the face of the mountain. When we got to the bottom, we’d be at VNE or “velocity never exceed”, (about 130 MPH) and pull up into a zoom climb that was certain to have the chaplain praying like he never had before. Jimmy described this sort of maneuver as “whoop tee pooping”. We did a lot of “whoop tee pooping”.
Original artwork by Joe Cline
Having an engine failure will point out how well you learned your emergency procedures in flight school and if you practiced them, mentally anyway.
Jimmy and I were on a C/A, (combat assault) one day and the third or fourth ship into the LZ. We had six grunts on board, were on short final at about 60 – 70 knots airspeed and simultaneously the low RPM beeper started it’s “teeeeep, teeeeep” and the master caution illuminated. Engine failure!
I had control of the aircraft at the time and Jimmy called the N-1 (or compressor turbine) RPM as “decaying” and that the engine / rotor tachometer had “split” which meant the engine had declutched automatically at the sprag clutch in the transmission. I had the collective pitch on the bottom, (but never remembered doing this consciously). Jimmy called the rotor RPM, airspeed and when we were clear of the trees at the edge of the LZ.
I pulled the nose up to bleed off the little airspeed we had left and applied the collective pitch to stop the descent. We settled on gently and slid about one aircraft length and the grunts exited. They didn’t even realize we had had an engine failure. The C and C, (command and control) aircraft called for us to clear the LZ and Jimmy responded that we couldn’t since we had lost our engine on final.
We tied down the blade and with the help of a couple grunts, established a defensive perimeter around the Huey. When the next bird unloaded their troops, we hopped on and returned to base camp with them.
It was all pure text book stuff with Jimmy and I reacting automatically and doing all the right things at the right time. The undamaged Huey was sling loaded back to Hensel by a Chinook; the engine changed and was back flying a couple days later. Maintenance told us the engine failure was caused by FOD, “foreign object damage” to the compressor section. The FOD was determined later to be several rounds, probably from an AK-47. This time, the maintenance officer and our CO got us drunk!
All this was absurdly dangerous for all of us but I guess we never gave it a second thought. The little yellow-green bananas were the sweetest, most delicious I’ve ever tasted and made an absolutely wonderful Daiquiri.
Kilo-8 or “Night Hawk” was a night reconnaissance mission used to observe road traffic and provide flare coverage for patrols and units in contact. The helicopter used for this mission was a UH-1H with a large boom mounted search light in the left door. The search light had visible as well as infrared capability and could be directed using the umbilical with a joystick. We normally used the visible light selection but could use the IR feature by utilizing special binoculars that “saw” the invisible light beam.Doug Hensley, Senior Electronics Specialist for the Zenon light system
Night Hawk also carried a large amount of canister parachute flares. These flares had a cable lanyard that was hooked to any number of floor D-rings. All the crew chief or gunner had to do was heave one out the open door and the cable would start the ignition and parachute ejection sequence when the flare reached the end of the cable. They provided superb illumination, (several million candlepower) for the time they descended under the parachute. We had to be careful not to fly into them if we used the flares to accomplish an emergency extraction of someone in trouble. We also used the flares to mark a location on the ground as a target reference for AC-47 “Spooky” Air force fixed wing attack aircraft. We did this by flying low and slow and having the crew chief or gunner throw a flare out the door. The flare would ignite but being so low, would land on the ground without the parachute deploying and provide an excellent aiming point for the attack birds. All we had to do was tell Spooky which direction from the burning flare to place their fire and they would adjust accordingly. Spooky would put one round, (or bullet) every square inch on the ground. The sight was spectacular at night since every sixth round was a tracer and with six GE mini-guns shooting 6000 rounds per minute the effect was like a huge sheet of flame coming out of the sky. The sound on the ground was awe-inspiring as well and sounded something like a very loud baritone, “BAROOOOOOP”! The captured gooks that were interrogated after a strike called Spooky “The flaming tongue of death” or “Death from the sky” It was a lot of fun working with Spooky because we knew what these guys could do. They were aggressive, professional and eager to shoot. Toward the end of my tour, the “Super Spooky” AC-130 gunship was developed and had much greater firepower.
While flying Nighthawk we were frequently called upon to extract patrols that got into contact. These three or five man teams would set up ambush locations and frequently get in too deep with a superior force when they triggered the “Claymore” anti-personnel mines. We would get a call on our company frequency to change to an alternate frequency and contact the tactical call sign of the patrol in trouble. When we made contact we would invariably hear gunfire in the background, (sometimes in the foreground) and the situation was usually desperate, sometimes involving injured troops. The “RTO” or radio telephone operator would sometimes whisper because the contact was so close. We found the patrol using a variety of methods including “homing” on their radio transmission, visually locating a high intensity strobe light or simply finding the tracers from the ongoing firefight. Our tracers were yellow/orange appearing and the enemy’s tracers were a green color. This color difference made it easy to see where our guys were and determine what size of force they were up against. The patrol would try to break contact and make their way to an area we could at least hover to pick them up. We made approaches to strobes, smoke grenades and even Zippo lighters. Usually the guys would be formed up in a defensive perimeter, roughly an outward facing circle, and on our call would fire a short burst from their weapons to help us pinpoint where they were. When we finally got them on board our concern was mainly if there were any injured and that the entire patrol got out.
In this situation we sometimes received intense fire when on final approach and when departing the pickup area and our gunner and crew chief would return fire with their M-60 machine guns. The guys we picked up would join in with their M-16’s. We would take any wounded to the hospital at Pleiku Air Force Base and drop the rest at the helipad at Hensel field, Camp Enari or sometimes the "Oasis" West of Camp Enari.
The guys we pulled out occasionally came to visit us afterwards armed with whatever booze or beer that was available. We’d sit around getting hammered and telling each other how crazy we were to enjoy doing what we did. We developed deep respect for each other.
The pickup area was normally at a secure location such as Camp Enari, Dak To, Ban Me Thout and An Khe. We would establish contact with the unit we were working for after loading up the C-Rations, ammo or both and deliver it to the forward location. Usually we would resupply all day until we were released by the assigned unit. When we completed the resupply activity we were at the disposal of the ground commander and flew whatever mission profile he conjured up. The field commanders were usually 2nd or 1st lieutenants or sometimes a captain. They sometimes used the resupply bird to evaluate their defenses, reconnoiter the area adjacent to their position and plan for whatever assaults, patrols or ambushes they had planned.
At times we disagreed with their use of us as it was evident the newer less experienced ground commanders got a serious ego trip riding around in a Huey rather than use it to actually resupply. When we suspected this we gave them an unforgettable ride making every effort to make them airsick. We had two Huey’s resupply the same unit once and two young lieutenants insisted they both get on individual birds and fly around the surrounding area to “recon”. During the formation flight, these two jackasses were giving each other the finger and making other gestures while communicating to each other using head sets attached to drop chords. Without them knowing, we started alternately climbing and descending as we flew close formation and the effect was immediate as they watched the other Huey climb and descend. Added to the visual stimuli were the slight positive and negative G forces. Almost simultaneously, they both became airsick and wanted nothing more than to get back on the ground. We worked for this unit many times in the future but the young “LT’s” never wanted to fly with us again.
One other situation comes to mind but this time it involved a Lieutenant Colonel that we delivered to a forward location to “inspect” his underlings and generally strut his stuff. His attitude was clear as he referred to us as “pilot” almost with the same tone of voice he would say “cabbie” back in New York. We picked him up later in the afternoon to return him to base camp and on the way had a tail rotor hydraulic failure. We elected to make a running landing on the dirt at edge of the runway at Hensel field.
Since we got pretty busy trying to maintain directional control using the throttle to add or reduce torque to yaw the aircraft and set up our approach, we ignored the Colonel’s constant rhetoric from the back until it became too much. My dear friend Jimmy Zeimet who was flying with me told him as best as I can remember, “Colonel sir, we’ve had a tail rotor hydraulic failure and were going to try to do a running landing back at Hensel and maybe save our collective asses. Please tighten your lap belt, shut up and let us do the job we are trained for.” There was total silence from the Colonel. The running landing was dusty but otherwise uneventful and when we came to a stop we looked in the back and the Colonel had exited the aircraft and was on the run about a hundred feet away! He later contacted our unit commander and didn’t refer to us a “pilots” but as “highly professional aviators.” He wanted to recommend us for citations but Jimmy and I declined as “we already had enough.” He never flew with us again either.
Since Psy. op's didn’t cause legions of gooks to march in to be voluntarily incarcerated, it certainly did tempt them to fire on us, compromise their position and allow the gun ships to engage. From this experience, we devised a new mission that capitalized on what we learned.
The mission consisted of a UH-1H and a fire team, (two gun ships) or heavy fire team, (three gun ships). We would launch in the evening as the sun was setting since this was the most prevalent time to take fire for some reason. The UH-1H would act as “bait” and fly about 100 feet over the jungle canopy at 50 – 60 knots with all our navigation lights on bright. The gun ships took up an orbit about a half mile away and wait for us to take fire. The gooks could not resist this tempting target and fired on us with little restraint. Upon receiving fire, the gunner and crew chief would drop smoke grenades then we’d clear the area as fast as possible and call the gun ships to identify the smoke color and clear them in hot. They’d roll in on the smoke and hose down the area with minigun and 2.75 rockets. Sometime the gun ships would take fire too and when they were “Winchester” or all ordinances expended, we would call in artillery on the area. Occasionally, we used “Spooky” to engage the target. Since this mission ended in darkness, we seldom got a confirmed assessment of KIA, (killed in action) or battle damage. What this mission did accomplish was to almost completely stop the gooks from shooting at us in the evening as had been their habit. They learned pretty quickly not to compromise their position.
Rocket and mortar attacks on base camp. Camp Enari started coming under rocket and mortar attack in January of 1968 during the Tet offensive. The rockets were 122 mm or almost five inches in diameter. The following description comes from a website called “Rocket City”. (Rocket City was the nickname for Da Nang Air Force Base and received more than their share of rocket attacks.)
“Generally, it took two troops to man-carry each rocket to the launch site. One carried the warhead, another, the motor assembly. The assembled rocket stood about 6 feet tall, and weighed 100 lbs, had a range of about 15,000 meters, (over eight miles) and had a warhead weighing about 50lbs, (approximately 14lbs explosive and 37lbs shrapnel) as I recall. Its primary function is anti-personnel, although the little rascal can do quite a number on buildings and, of course, aircraft.”
When we came under attack, the sirens would go off, the generators shut down and everyone would make their way to a reinforced bunker. We never found out how effective the bunkers were because none ever took a direct 122 hit while I was there. Some did impact on our hooch’s and did considerable damage. We also lost several Hueys to the 122’s and after a close or direct hit the Huey’s fuel would ignite and turn it into a pile of melted aluminum. It was amazing what a small pile of junk a Huey could turn into.
We tried to launch as soon as possible after the attack was over to seek out the launch site but we were invariably too late to accomplish anything. (The exception I can recall to this was the prior narrative of Jimmy and me flying in our underwear.) I always found it remarkable that the gooks would hump these rockets all the way down from North Vietnam and then almost indiscriminately shoot them at us like large firecrackers.
The 60mm, (about 2.4 inches in diameter) mortars were less intimidating but were still a threat. They would shoot these things in volleys and occasionally one would impact on a building or other structure. Compared to the rockets though, mortars were a mere annoyance.
Our crew chiefs were usually 18 -22 years old and did a commendable job of keeping their birds flyable. If their bird was assigned to a mission, they flew with it manning the door mounted M-60, supervised loading and securing the load, and kept us clear of obstructions in extremely tight LZ’s. When we returned after eight or ten hours of flying they pulled all the maintenance according to the manual, worked off any write-ups we entered into the log book and made certain all was ready for the next day of flying. When their bird developed a main or tail rotor vibration, we went back to the flight line to assist them in “tracking” the blades. They frequently worked late into the night or early morning to get their bird flyable and were there to greet us when we pre-flighted for the next day’s mission. The gunner kept the M-60’s in perfect working order, loaded the linked belt ammunition and maintained the aircraft’s supply of smoke grenades as well as working with the crew chief, acting as his assistant. Sometimes, I wondered when they got any sleep.
We became very close to these guys and did our best to take care of them as far as promotions, decorations and time off was concerned. Our lives were in their hands and we had the utmost confidence and trust in them. Fraternizing of officers and enlisted men was prohibited but we did it anyway, especially if we all had the same day off. We’d invite them to our “hooch” and sit around listening to music and getting hammered. I wish I had stayed in touch with many of them but we all seemed to go our separate ways after our tours were over.
It was late afternoon and got a call to divert to another units fire base for an emergency ammo resupply. We were not aware that the unit was in heavy contact but when we checked in with them we could hear all the weapons fire and general chaotic noise of an ongoing battle.
As we made our approach to the pad on the side of the mountain we realized what we had gotten into. The firebase was swarming with activity from the defensive positions and nearly everyone seemed to be actively firing their M-16’s, grenade launchers or throwing fragmentation grenades toward the perimeter wire closest to the helipad. After we unloaded the ammo and were getting ready to leave, the helipad started receiving mortar hits that were so close they caused our aircraft to lurch sideways. We could clearly see and hear the “Shooom” as the rounds impacted and the sound of the shrapnel as it sprayed the helicopter.
I thought for certain that we wouldn’t be able to get away without major damage or worse. When we finally got stabilized we got a call asking us to try to put some fire on a bunch of gooks right next to the perimeter wire we were closest to. Still at a hover, we maneuvered almost directly over the perimeter and spotted a group of uniformed NVA that were readying a mortar or some other form of weapon. Our crew chief and gunner depressed their M-60’s almost straight down and engaged the gooks. We had to turn from side to side to allow them a clear shot at the now retreating enemy which still had the wherewithal to engage us with their AK’s. We took several rounds through the “chin bubbles” or lower front windows directly in front of our feet that impacted the flack vests placed there for this very situation. One of the two inverters took at least one hit and this caused the master caution to illuminate. We pulled the circuit breaker for the inverter as a safety precaution and the master caution turned off.
The firefight ended abruptly with the gooks slipping back into the foliage at the edge of the perimeter. The outgoing fire continued sporadically from the firebase and our crew chief and gunner continued to fire until their M-60’s were expended.
We called for permission to depart and were thanked profusely for our help which made us pretty happy as we made our way back to Dak To to refuel and check out the bird. We had developed a high frequency vibration that indicated some sort of tail rotor problem,could hear the distinctive "whoosh-whoosh" noise that a main rotor blade makes when it sustains damage and the crew chief said there was fluid streaming back along the tail boom and he figured it was either transmission or hydraulic oil. I also discovered that I had taken some shrapnel in my ankles and lower legs and was bleeding through the nylon sides and water vents of my jungle boots. No real pain as I recall, just a mess on the floor around the pedals where my feet were.
After refueling we shut down and checked over the Huey for damage. We had sustained numerous main and tail rotor hits, shrapnel damage to a large portion of the tail boom and a severely leaking hydraulic reservoir located on the engine deck. We didn’t fly this bird home but left it tied down to be sling loaded back to base camp by a Chinook the next day. (This Huey was a “hanger queen” for some time to come as it required main and tail rotor blade replacement, considerable sheet metal repair and patches, hydraulic line and reservoir replacement, two new chin bubbles and a new inverter and electrical repair. I eventually test flew this aircraft at the completion of all the repair work and it was again a fine flying aircraft that I credited with saving our lives. She became a favorite of the entire crew!)
Before Jimmy moved to the Medivac outfit in Pleiku, we probably logged 500 hours together as it wasn’t hard to get over a hundred hours a month on a normal flight assignment schedule. I finished my tour with 1226 combat hours.
We flew plenty of resupply in the Kontum – Dac To areas and I think they were always “hot” due to the proximity to the Ho Chi Minh trail, Cambodia and Laos. Flying from Kontum to Dac To up highway 14 put you in a vulnerable position because the highway was at the bottom of a valley between two mountain ranges. You could look to the right and left and see nothing but steep high ground which frequently hid 51 caliber machine gun positions. We took a lot of small arms fire in this valley and you gained an uncomfortable sense of the concentration of the enemy force that was there.
My first exposure to the aftermath of battle was during resupply of a company size unit on hill 875 close to Dac To. The unit had been assaulted during the night by a very large enemy force and a fierce fire fight ensued. After loading up ammo and medical supplies in Kontum we flew back to Dac To. Hill 875 was northwest of Dak To and after finding it on our tactical map we had no trouble locating it and called the unit telling them we would be working for them for the day and were inbound with a load of C’s and meds. Nothing could have prepared us for what we found. Hill 875 and the surrounding area were almost totally barren of trees and vegetation. We identified the LZ by the smoke grenade ignited, called the color and made our approach from about 500 feet. All the way from the base of the hill to the perimeter concertina wire there were literally hundreds of green colored “lumps”. As we got lower to the helipad we identified the “lumps” as dead NVA troops. There was so many that in some areas close to the perimeter wire they were two and three deep stacked on one another. AK-47 rifles, ammunition, grenades, backpacks and pith helmets littered the ground as well. We were told later that this had been a regimental size “human wave assault”. To defend the position, the artillery pieces had been depressed to aim straight down the hill, loaded with what was called “beehive” rounds and fired at the advancing enemy. This round is loaded with 8,000 8-grain steel flechettes and was strictly used as perimeter defense ordinance. This ammunition was fired by the 105 howitzers. The company also defended itself with their M-16’s, M-79 grenade launchers, shotguns, pistols hand grenades, hand to hand fighting and bayonets. On the opposite side of the resupply pad were row upon row of the dark green rubberized body bags awaiting pickup for their final trip home. There is no need to get any more graphic about this horrible sight but it had a profound effect on all of us. We flew mostly in silence as we made our way back and forth from Dak To and Kontum delivering ammo, meds and C’s. Other Huey’s flew “dust off” at the same time, first removing the injured and then those that had perished. We were released in the evening and silently hoped we would never have to witness anything like this again. This happened 39 years ago and will haunt me forever as as one of my worst experiences of the war.
On December 3rd, 1929 Richard Briggs Haskell was born, eventually graduated from West Point in 1952, met and married my mom and became my step-father. He was a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army when I met him. He served in Viet Nam as an “Advisor” during 1964 in Quang Ni province trying to teach the ARVN’s how to be soldiers. A “B” model he was a passenger on was shot down by the gooks but landed without any damage so I figure some wise and weathered CW-2 or CW-3 saved his life. Whoever that was, I’m forever indebted to you!
Dad left the service in 1972 and settled in California to finish raising the rest of the family, eventually moved to Nevada and from there moved to Perryman, Maryland where he enjoyed his grandchildren, continued to fly as a private pilot, played golf and was a great provider for Mom.
Dad passed away on Tuesday, October 23rd 2007. He was 78.
According to my flight records, (DA 759) I flew a lot of night time in May through July, 1968. I most likely was flying a mission called “Nighthawk,” which was a recon or observation flight that normally launched at dusk and ended at sunrise the next morning. Many other aviation units had this same type of mission with the same name or whatever they came up with. So this closely approximated a third shift schedule and caused the crew to sleep during the day.
The mission was not too popular among most of the aviators for some reason and the enlisted crew didn’t really have any choice. A hooch mate and I liked the advantages of flying during the cool of night and the variety things you might encounter during eight to ten hours of flying then.
The Warrant officer hooch’s normally had three aviators assigned and we slept mid-morning until evening chow time. Everyone knew our sleep schedule and tried to limit excess noise. They also knew if we got awakened too much, they might have to fill in for us so it was a pretty good system.
During this time the orderly room got a PA system that had speakers in the enlisted area that was adjacent to our area. The system was loud enough and when used enough it would awaken us and quickly became very unpopular with the Nighthawk crew members while we tried to get rest during the day. We discovered that the wires from the orderly room to the speakers were run under the eaves of the building our hooch was in. In fact, right by our hooch windows. After a nearly sleepless day we snipped the wires and that solved the noise problem for a week or so while the breaks were tracked down and spliced. Then the booming, “Attention in the Company Area” resumed and we hatched a plot to end the problem more permanently.
This time, we snipped the wires and brought the end that went to the orderly room into our hooch and plugged them into an 110V outlet. (We were told later that the amp in the orderly room literally went up in smoke!) So that ended the announcements and allowed the Nighthawk crews to sleep.
The speakers were still installed in the enlisted area so we ran the wires from them into our hooch and attached them to one of our stereo amps. We made our own announcements like, This Place Sucks! with tremolo or reverb effects and high volume. We played, “We gotta get out of this place” by the Animals which was well received! Someone finally took down the speakers so that was the end of the PA system and a lot of enjoyment.
I also did post maintenance aircraft check outs of Hueys that had engine replacements performed, main or tail rotor blades replaced or just about anything else that created a “Red X” or non-flyable aircraft status. I never left the traffic pattern during maintenance check outs because of the possibility of an engine failure or other mechanical malfunction. Sometimes the bird would take hits in the main or tail rotor blades or other parts of the aircraft and there would be concealed damage somewhere else that in the haste of getting the aircraft back up would be missed. I had several engine and other mechanical failures hovering out to the active runway or in the pattern that were a genuine embarrassment to the maintenance guys. I told them honestly that it was a lot better for me to discover it flying solo than with a full crew and a load of grunts in a combat assault. Newly released Hueys were always assigned to very experienced AC’s or the unit IP. Only after 10 or 20 hours were the aircraft placed on the completely flyable list for missions.
You got checked in for your flight, selected the appropriate uniform for the season back home and then spent that last night whooping it up at the Air Force Officers Club. It seemed like the Air Force pilots took a special liking to us Army pilots for some reason and any Air Force officers club we visited treated us very well. (The F-4 Phantom pilots all thought we were borderline lunatics for flying some of the missions we did.)
The next day was emotion charged as you checked in again and finally boarded the big Boeing 707 for the trip home. During the takeoff roll the cheering started and when we felt the wheels “thunk” into the wells there was back slapping, more cheering and crying all around. Many guys brought liquor with them even though it was forbidden to do so and quickly another party was going full blast. We slept through most of the flight and soon we were on final approach and the cheering started again. It crested when we felt the wheels touch the ground and knew we were finally home alive. Many of us knelt down and kissed the ground when we exited the aircraft we were so happy. We entered the terminal at Seattle, Washington, claimed our duffle bags and tried to make our way to telephones or to arrange further flights to get home.
There were large groups of protesters in full hippie regalia that chanted slogans and even attempted to spit on us as walked through the terminal. We were warned prior to landing not to get into any altercations with the protestors. We were called baby murderers, killers, assassins and all sorts of other things and it was frustrating and confusing to be welcomed home this way. Most of us couldn’t change out of uniform and into civilian clothing fast enough. It was comforting to get on another flight for the final trip home to our wives and families. I’ve read that reports of the protestors demonstrating and spitting on the returning servicemen was a myth or legend but it was the real thing. None of us liked the Vietnam war either but few of us had any choice about being there.