How many of you remember being the butt of some type of practical joke in our Company? Seabolt remembers as a brand new 67N20 with the 151st, being sent to get a broom to "sweep" the rotor blades and being sent to get a yard of "flight line" among other things. We would love to hear your tale for our newsletter. Things like that can bring smiles to alot of faces.
There are several men in our Association who contributed their time and toil in getting this newsletter together. Seabolt had asked these men for help and received it in spades. It is a pretty heady feeling for an ex SP/5 to get all this help from a bunch of Colonels! My sincere thanks goes out to: Col. Johnnie Hitt (OF 69-70), Ret. Col. Tom Marty (OF 70-71), Ret. Lt. Col. Hal Bowen (OF 67-68), Kirk Martin (WO 67-68), Everett Jeffcoat (EM 67-68), Ned Flecke (EM 66-67), Joe Fornelli (EM 65-66) and Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68). Col. Hitt is officially retiring from active duty on 1 Nov.'96 after serving 30 years and plans to make his home in the Dallas, TX area.
Do not forget the mini-reunion being hosted by R.J. Williams (EM 66-68) May 17,18, & 19, at the Ramada Inn Pocono in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania. To make reservations, call the hotel at 800-251-2610 and ask for Jane Stone. Be sure to tell them you are with the 71st AHC reunion (A 501st was not named in order to simplify reservations, not to leave anyone out). Rooms are $75.00 per night. R.J. Williams can be reached at: 717-664-4087 for any questions you may have.
Just a reminder, our next full scale reunion will be held in Orlando, FL in two years, May 1998. Save up!
This past February, I received three pages of orders from Bernard Wayne Bell (EM 69-71), who lives in Canada. There were many names of men we already had located, but most important, there were 38 men's names and social security numbers that the Association had never seen. At this time we have located 15 of these men and expect this number to keep rising. I also received some orders from John May - (EM 69), that had 16 names that were new to us. Orders have also been received from Alan Helme (EM 70-71) and Gary Parks (EM 65-66). I beg of you to please help us by sending any type of orders from our company that contain other men's names. We network with other units when we receive info that they need. We will never find everyone, but the orders you have may very well contain the info we need to locate someone's best friend.
As we go to print this newsletter, we have 862 men located, of which 311 (36%) have joined our Association. However, many of you that joined us last year need to re-new your membership. Any dues received before 1 January 1996 were credited toward the 95-96 year. After that date, you were listed as paid for
96-97 (or more, depending on the dues submitted). On the mailing label of this newsletter, to the right of your name appears a year if you have paid dues. If this number is 96, your membership will expire on 30 June 1996. (if a C precedes the year, this denotes a charter member) In order to receive our newly printed address directory, this year must be 97 or more, or you must remit your dues of $12.00 to join us or re-new your membership. Our May 95 directory contained 775 men. This years directory will be our most informative ever. Association Officers, former Company Commanders, basic unit history, our KIA list, our known deceased after serving with us list, a new item this year will be a list of men whom we suspect are deceased from the lack of info we received after running their social security numbers, other unit coordinators, and of course the info on our men located. Remember also that during the time span between the printing of our directories that we receive address corrections on 8-10% of our men. If your phone area code has changed since last year we may or may not be aware of it and it would help the Association tremendously if you would pick up your phone, call us at 214-226-4252 and leave a message with your name and new area code. This call would cost you about $.25.
Information has been received by the Association from Kirk Martin (WO 67-68), who is now in the Air Force, about Congress expanding the rules on eligibility for medals. Included in this article: Valor awards for service during the Vietnam War. "Awards will be for valorous acts while engaged with the enemy. Requests for consideration must be received by February 9, 1997." Generally, applications from veterans or their families for an award or upgrade should include verification and documentation. Service officials said requests should be supported by accounts from comrades, unit documents or photographs. Our Association has put hundreds of men in a position to get supporting accounts from their comrades. This could be an opportunity for you to receive any of these awards: Silver Star, Bronze Star with "V" device, DFC, Army Commendation Medal with "V" device, or an Air Medal with a "V" device. Award recommendations should be sent to: Commander, US Army Reserve Personnel Center (DARP-PAS), Decorations and Awards Branch, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.
In our Association update mailed in January, we mentioned that a rebuttal letter had been sent to the editor of Vietnam Magazine concerning an article in the February, 1996 issue entitled "Swift Boats in Operation Market Time". This rebuttal was the result of the Navy version of an incident that occurred in July, 1967 that entirely omitted the "Firebirds" contribution. Unknown to Seabolt, Ken Wiegand (WO 67-68), had also refuted this story by writing to the editors with his very detailed description of the event. In February, the Association and Ken Wiegand received a note from Col. Harry Summers, editor, that stated "In a subsequent editorial the critical role played by Army helicopters in the action described will be noted". In April the Association received a letter from Raul Herrera, who was the author of the above mentioned article. Mr. Herrera stated that he had tried for 28 years to learn the ID of the gunships involved with this action. When he had visited the trawler at Chu Lai he had noted these red bird decals and was told they belonged to a helicopter unit of the 101st Airborne that helped stop the ship. For years he had searched 101st material looking for these symbols. Now he knows what the "red bird" symbolizes. FIREBIRDS!
For any of our men who live in the Chicago area, Joe Fornelli (EM 65-66), a noted suburban wildlife artist, sent us an article from the Chicago Tribune entitled "Collection of art by Vietnam veterans finally finds a home". The city of Chicago has given his group a building in which to house and display their work. Mayor Richard Daley visited last fall and promised them a permanent home which is located at 1801 South Indiana Ave. For over 20 years this group had collected their artwork with no place to show it to the public, and now they are finally receiving some recognition.
At our reunion last May, a print of a combat assault by Joe Kline was on display called "Riders on the Storm". Joe has recently completed a print entitled "Have Guns, Will Travel" which depicts a "B" or "C" model gunship pulling out of a gun run with his wing man behind him. The aircraft is armed with mini-guns and 7 shot rocket pods. Joe will personalize this print for you for the special price of $80.00 if you tell him you are with our Company. You can reach him at: Joe Kline Aviation Art, 6420 Hastings Place, Gilroy, CA 95020. Ph. 408-842-6979. Seabolt's copy of the combat assault print contains: Rattler on the nose, battalion markings on the tail, 71 on pilots door, his own aircraft tail numbers, orange and blue stripes behind the greenhouse and his pilot, Jerry Shirley's, call sign, Rattler 10. In January, Everett Jeffcoat visited with Henry Potter (EM 69-70), then went with Will Drewry (EM 69-71) to visit Doug Chisholm (EM 68-70).
During February, Ken Wiegand and Joe Bruce (EM 66-69) were in Dallas to attend the Helicopter Association International Convention. Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68) spent a day with them, then that night, Chuck, Ken and Ron Seabolt attended a meeting of the Military Order of the Purple Heart where Chuck was the featured speaker.
R.J. Williams, Al Ruter, Chris Palmer and Jimmy Wadell met in Washington, D.C. last November and paid their respects to our fallen comrades at the "Wall". These guys had all been Ems in the flight platoons in the '67-'68 era.
On a Delta Airlines flight from Orlando, FL to New York City on 11 November '95, a couple of old Firebirds were re-united. Jim Collins (OF 67-68) and Chris Palmer (EM 68-69) had last flew together in late '68 as Pilot and Gunner. Last November as Palmer looked into the cockpit of the Delta jet on which he was assigned as a Flight Attendant he saw Collins sitting up front and commented about how long it had been since they flew together. Both men had attended the May '95 reunion in Dallas, so they easily recognized each other. It's a small world! On another flight on American Airlines, Collins, who was hitching a flight, happened to see that Frank Anton (WO 67-68) was one of the pilots and sent word to the cockpit that one of the passengers (himself) had an important appointment and would be irate if he was late. Sure enough, they ended up being late.
Several years ago when the VHPA held their annual convention in Ft. Worth, TX, Chuck Carlock attended this affair and remembered setting with a group of pilots who had served in our unit. During the discussion one of these pilots mentioned having a Viet Cong leaflet that declared our Company as "war criminals". If anyone of you happen to have one of these leaflets, Carlock and the Association would love to have a copy of it.
I suppose every state offers vanity plates, whereby you can have personalized license plates. Among the many plates around this country are the Texas plate of Will Hall (OF 67-68) and the Washington plate of Gordy Sundt (EM 67-68) that read 71 AHC and the South Dakota plate of John Lynch (EM 66-67) that reads RATTLER.
Tom Gates (WO 68-69) was on national TV during the Final Four weekend from the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Tom was trying to hit a three point basketball shot to win one million dollars from Gillette. His shot was close but would not fall through and Tom had to take home "only" $50,000. Congratulations Tom!
On April 5, 1996 Seabolt received a Christmas card from Bob Holly (WO 67-68) that had been mailed on 24 Nov '95 from Nigeria. Thanks for the card Bob, but was it for Christmas '95 or '96? (HA!)
This book by Chuck Carlock has brought a tremendous amount of attention to our Company. The reviews have been fantastic. In a January edition of The Reader's Review, which goes to all libraries and bookstores, Firebirds was rated "excellent", with a popularity listed as "bestseller, steady", and also listed as a "recommended buy". The publishers are ecstatic with this independent evaluation. Berkley Press and Pocket Books, both of New York City have contacted Summit Publishing Group concerning buying the paper back rights. The Military Book Club, which is owned by Doubleday, is making Firebirds their "book of the month" in an upcoming mailing this summer.
The Association is due to receive an initial payment for the royalties of about $8500 from the original printing and the book club rights. Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney, has been hand delivered a copy of Firebirds by Carlock's boss, who is the largest stockholder of the Disney Corporation. We hope it will persuade him that this story should be made into a movie. Imagine going to a theater and seeing that Snake on the front of a flight or fire team of Hueys rolling in on an LZ or NVA position. If you happen to be in any of your local book stores and do not see Firebirds offered, it would not hurt to bug the people a little about getting it, and you might let us know so we can pass the info to the publisher.
Carlock has been extremely busy since January promoting his story. On March 11th, Frank Anton (WO 67-68) visited Carlock and it just happened to be the day that Chuck was scheduled to be interviewed about Firebirds on talk-radio KRLD 1080. This hour long show was carried live on the 52 stations of the Texas State Network. Anton joined Carlock in doing the interview and both did a superb job. Before this interview, Anton, Carlock, Jerry Richardson (OF 68-69), Ron Seabolt and several other friends and family had met for dinner. On March 14th, Carlock did a live three minute spot on the Fox affiliate (channel 4) in Dallas. On March 24th there was a 30 minute segment on Arrow 97.9 FM radio in Dallas. On the official opening day for the book, March 30th, Carlock, Anton, and Mark Leopold (OF 67-68) went to the main PX at Fort Hood where they were met by Michael Kretchmer (WO 67-68) and autographs were signed for 3 hours. Carlock was on live radio from Dubuque, IA on April 11th, Miami, FL on April 23rd, and Pittsburg, PA on April 24th. Radio and TV interviews, speaking engagements, book signings and all the hoopla that befits a well written memoir of this caliber have kept Carlock hopping this spring. I know that Seabolt is biased in his opinion of Firebirds, but everyone seems to be in agreement that the story is well worth reading.
Our financial statement in this newsletter also reflects the impact that Firebirds has made on our Association. Not only has the book sold well, it has caused many of you to join the Association and purchase other items that we offer. If you do not have this book, you can still order an autographed copy through the Association for $18.00 including postage. See the order form 0in this mailing. Remember, the book is listed for $22.95 in bookstores. Frank Anton has recently decided to write a book about his tour(s) in 'Nam which consisted of 10 months with us and 63 months as a POW.
The income from book sales, merchandise ordered and memberships has enabled the Association to purchase a $10,000 certificate of deposit and to buy a new computer system and printer. We were originally given a Compaq 286 a few years back that crashed on us, then Seabolt purchased a used 386 PC that is now pretty obsolete. We now have a Compaq Presario 9240 computer, a Compaq Presario 1510 monitor and a Hewlet Packard Laserjet 4 plus printer.
Chuck Carlock sold a copy of Firebirds to a secretary who works with him, who gave it to a neighbor. This neighbor (a retired Marine Colonel) asked to speak to Carlock because he recognized the name of someone mentioned in the book. Since 1968 this Colonel carried Jim Malek's (WO 67-68) name and call sign (Rattler 1 4) with him to remember what Malek did in September 1968. As the Colonel started to tell Carlock the story, Carlock laughed and told him the story was in the book but got cut because the book had too many words. The Marine couldn't believe the book excluded the bravest thing he had ever seen.
A company of Marines were trapped in a ravine receiving fire from up the hill. They had a ridge behind them, and anyone that moved forward or back (up the ridge) was shot. He had boys about to die, and he couldn't get any Medevac to land. He called Malek on the Special Forces frequency, and Malek calmly said he would take a look at the situation. The Marine told Malek not to land because he had several fastmovers with napalm on station and the NVA were shooting B-40 rockets at the Marines. Malek said some Marine started flashing a mirror at him so he assumed they wanted him to land. The Marine said they were dropping napalm next to their position, and he heard a strange noise and looked around and there was Malek on short final. Malek hauled four loads of wounded and said B-40 rockets hit as he exited the LZ each time. Malek said he kept telling them to get some Marine choppers, and they kept saying, "Please come get them." The story that was in the book, before it was cut, said that that night a Rattler pilot asked Malek what he had done that day. His response was, "Oh, not much. I did haul a few wounded Marines." The Marine wrote Malek up for a DFC, but he never received it.
(On lamenting the Company move at Chu Lai from the beach to a vacated
Marine area at Chu Lai West)
The change in scenery brought our morale to an all time low. Murder of the Group Commander was ruled out because there were too many applicants for the hit man. We found a way to provide at least a temporary morale boost. I noticed Colonel Silver in the mess hall on several occasions. He entered and hung his fatigue cap on the hooks along the east wall, which was the entrance side and the route to begin the chow line.
Everyone, of course, had fatigue caps, but Colonel Silver's had a neatly embroidered Eagle and Master Aviator Wings. If his hat were missing, he would have to exit the building sans cover. He always chewed ass, took names and wrote Article 15s on anyone caught in the group area without a hat. So it appeared worthwhile to swipe his cover to expose his brightly balded bean.
The day I got the idea, I sat with Little Mac, aka Kerry McMahon (WO & OF 69-71) and a couple others. Soon after I explained it, ol' Colonel Ben entered. We were seated at a table along the east wall so he passed right by us. He methodically hung the prize on a hook near our table. As he moved toward the serving line, Mac said we should grab it and haul ass. I disagreed. There were so few people in the mess hall, at that time, that we might get caught in the act. I felt we needed to succeed above all, and the risk should be minimal, for Banjo's sake (Major Myron Davis, Rattler 6, OF 70-71). I received a partial vote of confidence. I left the table to wander toward the club. The others were still involved in carving up their mystery-meat.
Once at the club, I found Callahan and a couple of others who needed a fourth for a game of hearts. I grabbed a beer and sat down to play. We were at a table against the east wall and my seat faced outside. The bamboo blinds were drawn up to allow some air in the grass-thatched lounge. It was still light outside and from my position I could see the mess hall and the dirt road that ran along the side of both. Just ready to trump a trick, I saw a jeep motoring past the club.
The shine from the chrome dome riding in the passenger's seat was unmistakably and hilariously that of Colonel Benjamin Silver! The steam from his ears had his slick top perspiring. He dabbed at it with his white hanky. Fire was in his eyes as he rode past. All I could say was "Little Mac, you son-of-a-bitch," to which I received wide-eyed, strange glances from my fellow hearts players. They glanced quickly at Silver's jeep. Since the card players were not privy to the joke, I told them about the plan. Obviously, Mac had followed it to perfection. We all laughed our butts off, ended our game and ran up to Mac's hooch to see the loot!
Laughter and commotion filled the eight-bed dorm-style hooch. As Mac and others pranced around with Gentle Ben's Beanie, they barked out orders and pantomimed the hanky to brow move so typical of Silver.
Word spread fast. Soon the hooch was packed with viewers of the cap, the fun and the hero. Cameras were out as everyone wanted their picture as a Colonel. Banjo dropped by and with his boyish grin and off key voice, led us in his favorite melody to the tune..."deck the halls with balls of holly"..."f--k a bunch of helicopters, tra la la la.
An ultimate decision as to disposition of Ben's bonnet had not been made. It was sure to be honored in some way. The next day, I saw the Colonel in a new hat. We heard that after he saw his hat was missing, he announced to those who remained in the mess hall that someone had evidently picked his hat up by mistake. He asked that anyone who saw it please return it. What a complete idiot. Did he not realize this was war? Why would anyone return a wad of cheap olive drab cotton with such a worthy ornamentation?
Mac took the cap to the local dink tailor shop. He had the Rattler and Firebird patches sewn on, and he had "71st Assault Helicopter Company, Rattlers and Firebirds 1970" embroidered around the hat. Since there was to be an award ceremony for the Rattlers to receive a Presidential Unit Citation, the decision was made to present it to Colonel Silver then.
The ceremony occurred a couple of weeks after Mac's theft of the hat. In front of the unit, Banjo presented the cap to Colonel Ben Silver. Silver, who was long on absurdity but short on any sense of humor, accepted the cap without a single word. He just frowned. Banjo surely did not get any brownie points. If only Silver could have joked about it, it might have given us a bit of support for him as human and changed our opinion of him. He missed his chance, so our appraisal of him stood intact: an asshole!
March 17, 1970 somewhere from the helicopter skies near Chu Lai, Viet Nam; "Chu Lai GCA this is Skater 67, descending to 1500..." The airways went silent. The helicopter blades no longer whipped the air into submission. That high frequency turbine engine whine that deafens all helicopter pilots was no more. The machine was now quiet but the jungle was not. The birds and animals were fleeing frantically from their normally quiet homes in the jungle canopy. They were desperately trying to escape from the uncontrolled rolling mass of what was once a flying UH-1H IROQUIS helicopter.
"Skater 67, this is Chu Lai GCA, say your intentions, over." Pause...Silence..."Skater 67, this is Chu Lai GCA, please say intentions, over." Silence..."Any aircraft, this is Chu Lai GCA, do you have contact with Skater 67? Over." Pause...The Ground Controlled Radar (GCA) operator at the Chu Lai airfield was a seasoned Air Force veteran who knew he had a problem. With the known deteriorating weather conditions in the entire AO (area of operation), it was not a good time to lose contact with any helicopter but especially not this one. The controller knew from somewhere in the back of his mind that this call sign was familiar. He didn't know who it was but he did know the call sign was special.
"Chu Lai Tower, this is GCA." "Tower..." "This is GCA, lost radio contact with Skater 67 at 1559 (3:59 P.M.) local time. Do you have a strip on him?" A "strip" is Air Traffic Controller (ATC) talk for a small strip of white paper with abbreviated information from the flight plan. Each crew was required to file a complete flight plan with their company operations or the Chu Lai airfield operations. "This is tower, yes we have it! That aircraft is carrying a code 5, that's why we have it." A "code" is ATC language for the passenger being the rank of Major General of equivalent. The ATC coding systems starts with the President of the United States (or any other head-of-state) as a code 1, vice president as code 2, General (four star) as code 3, Lieutenant General (three star) as a 4, etc. The code systems goes to Colonel rank which is a code 7.
"Skater 67, this is Chu Lai tower, over." Long pause..."Skater 67, this is..." The tower controller attempted to make contact with Skater 67 several times but was unsuccessful. Without delay, he picked up the crash rescue line which alerted all of the operations centers throughout Chu Lai. This immediate action taken by the Air Force ATC controller and the tower operator began a sequence of professionally executed and heroic events. These actions would be executed to perfection by a team of Army and Air Force professionals who had the brotherhood of war as their primary motivation.
The 71st Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) Headquarters was located on the South China Sea beach in Chu Lai about two miles south of the Chu Lai East runway. This assault company was better known for their Rattler and Firebird call signs. Rattler call signs were used by the "slick driver" or the UH-1H (Iroquois) helicopter pilots who few missions which included command and control (C&C), re-supply of the 23rd Infantry Division (better known as the Americal Division) soldiers, medivac (medical evacuation) and combat assaults. The pilots of the infamous helicopter gun platoon of the 71st were known throughout the Division AO by the call sign Firebird. This small but lethal platoon of UH-1C (Charlie Model) gun ships were the best and most responsive team to ever support the American soldier. Chu Lai air base complex consisted of two roughly parallel runways oriented generally north (320 degrees) and south (140 degrees). Chu Lai West runway was located furthest west from the beach while Chu Lai East which was basically a heliport (700 feet x 200 feet) was only a few hundred yards inland from the ocean. The Air Force and Army jointly operated the entire facility but the US. Air Force fast movers (jets) launched and recovered exclusively from Chu Lai West. This left Chu Lai East solely for helicopters.
The 71st AHC operations was located adjacent to Chu Lai East. Collocated with operations was aircraft maintenance, the Firebird alert hooch where crews were on 24 hour standby and the flight line which was respectfully known as the snake pit. Of course, the maintenance crews' call sign was Snake Doctor, what else?
Within the operations building, a communications center was manned by Specialist Fifth Class Roger H. Doyea from Tacoma, Washington. The air-to-air communications suite consisted of one FM and one UHF radio. A lonely black dial telephone sat on the operations desk. Next to it was a TA-312 field telephone connected to the Firebirds.
Specialist Doyea answers the black phone on the first ring, "Rattler operations" "Yes, Captain Hitt is here, just a minute." "Sir, its for you, Battalion" "Hello, this is Captain Hitt." Captain Johnnie B. Hitt (Rattler 3) from Wills Point, Texas is the company operations officer with about 7 months of his 12 month tour complete. "I understand sir and we will comply, out!" Captain Hitt picks up the phone and from memory quickly dials the Company Commander's number. "Major James!" was the immediate response.
Major Tommie P. James (Rattler 6) was 34 and hailed from Bixby, Oklahoma. He had successfully commanded the company for four months but his biggest challenge was yet to come. James had been flying in Vietnam since he arrived in July, 1969. "Sir, this is Captain Hitt." Tommy James knew that Captain Hitt's calls were usually not social. "Sir, we have a helicopter down but it is not one of ours. Battalion was notified by the tower and suspects the downed chopper is carrying a general officer. Battalion commander requests you proceed to the area and coordinate the search and rescue (S & R) operations. I'll have a bird and crew ready to go when you get here. I'll try to get more detail." James responded simply, "Roger out." Captain Hitt immediately phoned maintenance while simultaneously giving Doyea details of which crew members to alert for an immediate mission. "Jim this is Johnnie, what bird do you have ready for an immediate takeoff for the old man? We have a bird down, but it's not ours!" "You can have 69-23248, I'll get it ready." "Thanks."
Captain James (Jim) Duke (call sign-snake doctor) from Dallas, Texas and his maintenance crew always had one more helicopter available when the chips were down. They had the best maintenance record of any company in the Battalion. Even if 80% or 90% of the company's fleet of 22 UH-1H's was committed, Rattler maintenance always had one more to fly and they could produce it immediately when a life was at stake.
Jim Duke and Johnnie Hitt had a special relationship that few people get a chance to experience and most hope they never do. While under intense enemy fire, Jim risked his life to land and rescued Johnnie and his crew after they were shot down and crashed in the rice patties not too far from Chu Lai. When Jim called Johnnie or vice versa there was no questioning of what was being asked. There was an understanding you can have only when you have saved a fellow soldiers life.
This short story is only an example of what went on daily in the 71st AHC. The dependence on the professionalism, bravery, and confidence of every member of the company was never questioned and never failed. Every soldier did their job and took care of each other. When someone was in trouble, he was never alone. Fellow Rattlers would be there.
Captain Hitt's next call was to the Firebirds. "This is operations. Aircraft down. Not ours. Six is going out to C & C the search and rescue. Heads up. Do not crank. Want to conserve fuel. Will reposition you when I get a general location." Firebirds, "Roger, out!"
Black phone again. "Battalion, this is Rattler operations. Do you have a general location yet based on the flight plan?" "Best guess is that he is down somewhere near Tam Ky." "Roger, Rattler 6 will be airborne in 10 minutes. Will keep you informed. Out!" "Johnnie?" "Yes." "We are pretty sure that Saber 6, the Division Commanding General, is on that helicopter!" A long pause ensued. "Thanks, operations out!" Captain Hitt put down the phone and stood motionless. It was like someone had tied weights to his legs. He wanted to move and continue the frantic pace necessary to launch an aircraft quickly but he couldn't. The division commander. That is a two star general in charge of the entire Americal Division.
Indeed the Division Commander was a major general (two star) and he was the sole individual in charge of the 23rd Infantry Division. Major General Lloyd B. Ramsey assumed command of the division in June of 1969 just two short years after the division was activated in Viet Nam on the 25th of September 1967. It was the largest division in Viet Nam. Most divisions consisted of nine maneuver battalions but the Americal had 10. Those battalions were distributed three each in the 11th and 198th Infantry Brigades and four to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. General Ramsey had been visiting this brigade. The 71st AHC habitually supported the 196th although they did combat assault missions throughout the AO as part of the 14th Aviation Battalion. The 14th was responsible for providing combat aviation support throughout the division sector. The 14th battalion commander was the individual who directed Rattler 6 to take charge of the search and rescue. The Commanding General (CG) was not flying one of the battalion's helicopters but there were indications that he was down in their territory. The CG's command and control helicopter was provided by A Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion (Airmoble). This battalion provided all general support aviation to the division.
On the day of the crash MG Ramsey had been on a series of visits to the infantry battalions in the field. He had departed Fire Support Base (FSB) Center enroute to Hawk Hill. He was flying with a substitute Aircraft Commander (AC), Skater 67, because his regular AC had been grounded. Most pilots immediately wonder why he was grounded because just the use of the word generates a negative connotation. The flight surgeon in this case directed the grounding because he had flown seven days in a row without the proper rest. A regulatory amount of crew rest is mandated for all crew members. MG Ramsey was quite comfortable with Skater 67 and toward the end of the day had complete confidence in his flying ability. The CG had a meeting at division headquarters in Chu Lai which he was trying desperately to make on time. He had to stop at FSB Hawk Hill to briefly visit a battalion commander. Aviation fuel was readily available at this FSB but not at others. Hawk Hill was a staging area for the Firebirds. The Firebirds maintained a 24 hour crew at Hawk Hill. This forward positioning cut the reaction time to support the infantry by at least 30 minutes. General Ramsey knew fuel was available but specifically instructed his crew not to refuel the helicopter. Normally the CG mandated that the chopper be topped off (refueled) at every stop where fuel was available. He was in a hurry to get to his meeting so he did not want to wait for the refueling operation. This decision resulted in the helicopter having almost empty fuel tanks by the time it arrived in the vicinity of Tam Ky.
MG Ramsey quickly met with the battalion commander and immediately proceeded to his waiting chopper. As he strapped into his large armored seat, he remembered the day, shortly after taking command of the division, his AC brought an aircraft maintenance technician over to the aircraft. The enthusiastic soldier convinced the CG that he needed an armored seat for protection. The UH-1H helicopter is outfitted with two armored seats as standard equipment, one for the AC and one for the pilot. These armored seats saved many aviators' lives but provided no protection for the passengers. Reluctantly, the CG agreed to have an armored seat installed on the right side of the cargo compartment facing forward. He had reservations about how the seat would be secured to the floor, however, the soldier persuaded him the seat would be secure and would not come loose in a crash. When he finished strapping into his seat, the helicopter immediately departed Hawk Hill for Chu Lai. The helicopter climbed to altitude slower than normal. The CG became concerned about being late for his meeting. He leaned against the seat belt across his midsection and placed the radio earphones over his head and adjusted each ear cup over one ear at a time. He then turned the FM (Frequency Modulated) radio switch to the on position. The crew had already applied power to the AN/ASC-10 command and control console securely fastened to the floor of the helicopter. The AN/ASC-10 was made up entirely of airborne radios which gave the CG a variety of radios for command and control in a relative compact area. It measured 32 1/2 inches long, 17 1/2 inches wide and 33 1/2 inches high and weighed about 280 pounds. The console was heavy , big, solid, and very unattractive but it provided the CG with FM radio contact with his division headquarters using an AN/ARC-54 FM radio. General Ramsey started to depress the push-to-talk button to transmit a message to his headquarters when the crew chief leaned over him from his position on the right side of the aircraft and behind the CG's armored seat and flipped up the aircraft UHF (ultra high frequency) radio receiver switch.
Crew Chief Ray Murphy of Connersville, Indiana was a dedicated Specialist Fourth Class and very intuitive about keeping the CG in the loop on what was happening inside and outside the aircraft. He had been doing it for a while and he took pride in making sure everything in his aircraft was in perfect condition for his CG.
Ray Murphy's action allowed the CG to monitor the crew's radio conversation. "Chu Lai weather, this is Skater 67. What is current weather in Chu Lai?" "This is Chu Lai weather, Currently 1500 feet overcast with one mile visibility outside of the clouds. Over." "This is Skater 67, roger, thanks." "Chu Lai approach control, this is Skater 67, over." "Skater 67, this is Chu Lai." "Chu Lai, Skater 67 is a UH-1, climbing to 3000 feet, request GCA." "Skater 67, say position." "This is 67, off Hawk Hill, heading 090 degrees." "Roger 67, turn right for identification." Pause..."Chu Lai GCA, this is Blue 24, west of Hawk Hill at 3100 feet, in the clouds, request GCA, over." "Blue 24, this is Chu Lai approach control, please contact Chu Lai GCA on UHF frequency 285.8, over." "This is blue 24, roger, out." "Skater 67, this is Chu Lai approach, stop turn. Radar contact west of Hawk Hill. Turn to heading 090. If you want to expedite, I can let you down over the water and you should break out at 1500 feet." "This is Skater 67, roger, we will take that procedure, over." "This is Chu Lai, maintain 090 heading and I will take you out another 2 miles so you will be 5 miles out over water." "Skater 67, Roger." The CG listened intently and he was pleased the AC chose to expedite the procedure. "Skater 67, descend to 1500 feet, call me when you are VFR." "Skater 67, Roger." The AC noted the time at 1556 and began his descent. General Ramsey along with all other passengers that ride in a helicopter when they are flying in the clouds noted how much the outside looked like the inside of a milk bottle. It was all white and seemed to be motionless. While observing the milk bottle effect out the front window of the helicopter, he noticed Robert J. Thomas of Reston, Virginia. He made a mental note that this had been a good day for the newly assigned Lieutenant Colonel.
Suddenly, out the front windscreen, the CG first saw light, then green, then trees. All of this happened in moments. At the same time Chief Warrant Officer two Stephen C. Pike (Skater 67) yelled, "Trees!" He decelerated the helicopter by swiftly pulling the cyclic back into his gut...too late! The tail rotor caught the trees and the helicopter mushroomed into the jungle canopy separating the tail rotor and then the complete tail boom as the forward force carried the disintegrating chopper into the side of the mountain. The impact continued through the canopy and into the mountain. One of the two rotor blades struck the upside of the mountain while the blade was traveling toward the tail of the aircraft. The sudden stop of the rotor blade, traveling at 324 revolutions per minute, ripped the transmission out of it's support and flung it into the living space of the passenger compartment brining the engine with it. This mass of heavy components killed Specialist Murphy as he sat in his crew chief seat. The flying hunk of metals tore through the back of the passenger seats and bounced off the CG's armored seat continued around the seat and crashed forward. The mass continued its forward motion from the outside in killing LTC Thomas as it crushed him into the command and control console. The armored seat had saved General Ramsey's life but it could not prevent the resulting serious injuries. He was knocked unconscious during the crash and would remain so almost throughout his rescue.
Deathly quite followed. The breaking of Plexiglas, tearing of sheet metal, and the continuous whine of the turbine engine were no more. Wreckage, crew members and passengers, were scattered everywhere. Dazed and hurt, the survivors struggled to assess what had happened and, more importantly, the current situation? Enemy territory..did they hear us crash? Will they come for use? Who is alive? Who can fight? What do we have to fight with? Captain John P. Tucker from Lima, Ohio felt for his .45 caliber pistol. The action was more out of habit than intention. Little did he realize that out of the two M-60 machine guns which were mounted as door guns, four M-16 rifles, and various hand guns, his .45 was the only weapon recovered. The remaining arsenal was somewhere in the twisted wreckage, in the jungle canopy, in the valley below or on the jungle floor. Wherever the weapons were located, they could not be immediately found by the shocked and wounded crew and passengers. No time to worry about it. How do we get out of here?
The weather continued to deteriorate as Rattler 6 hovered onto Chu Lai East. "Rattler operations, this is Rattler 6, taxing, will be off in two minutes. Any update?" "Six, this is Rattler operations, nothing new. Plan on Tam Ky. Tell me when you want the Firebirds, over." "Six, roger, out." James hovered the UH-1 as though it was molded around him like a custom fit suit. As James prepared to take the active for takeoff, he responded with an affirmative as he executed each maneuver. He could see the bad weather and wanted to make sure that everything worked if he needed to fly in the clouds. Even though this took precious time, it was better to be sure than to have another UH-1 and crew crashed on a mountain. After a very short run-up and obtaining clearance from the tower, Rattler 6 and his crew were off on what would become one of the biggest challenges of their lives.
Tam Ky was located about 20 nautical miles (NM) northwest of Chu Lai.
James turned to a heading of 130 degrees which would place him about
halfway between Hawk Hill and Tam Ky. Hawk Hill was 26 NM from Chu Lai
on a heading of 122. East of Tam Ky was flat land and then the coast.
The mountainous terrain started just west of Tam Ky. The weather was
going down so the intent was to make sure he had Hawk Hill on the left
for reference and Tam Ky on the right. Closer to Tam Ky he would turn
east toward the hamlet. This plan would provide for the most coverage
of the suspected crash site area. It would also allow for maintaining
a good visual reference by using known land marks while trying to stay
oriented in the terrible weather conditions. The cloud ceiling continued
to come down.
His plan worked. About 3 NM southeast prior to reaching Tam Ky, Rattler 6 began receiving a beeper single on the UHF emergency frequency 243.0. Skater 67 was transmitting the emergency signal using his AN/URC-68 survival radio. The URC-68 is a compact, personal emergency transceiver that provides two-way, ground-to-ground or ground-to-air communications. It is compact and lightweight (32 oz) and slightly larger than a can of pipe tobacco. It is very convenient to carry and easy to operate. The radio, not like the weapons, was tucked neatly into Skater 67's flight suit. His only link to rescuers was the radio. This small but vital radio is invaluable to the aviator when all two-way radio capability is destroyed in a crash.
Skater 67 was operating the radio in the "G" (Guard) position which meant that a beeper signal was automatically transmitted on the emergency frequency. In this selected channel position, Skater 67 could hear but could not transmit by voice. When Rattler 6 heard the beeper, he turned his UHF radio selector switch to the preset guard channel thereby enabling him to transmit voice by using the push-to-talk button on his cyclic control hand grip. He immediately pushed the button and transmitted "Beeper, Beeper, come up voice!" These are the international words used to signal a distressed caller to switch his radio to voice transmission. It is also the sweetest sound you can ever hear. Skater 67 immediately switched the radio control knob to the "PPT" position which stands for push-to-talk. "any aircraft this is Skater 6.." His voice faded out as Rattler 6 made a turn to avoid the ever menacing clouds that were now almost surrounding him. He had to fly the helicopter, give directions to the crew, and try to establish radio contact while staying clear of the clouds. The cockpit got real busy. Six's crew was assisting every second by doing their job and responding to their CO (commanding officer). "Skater 6, this is Rattler 6, over." "This is Skater 62, over." At least that is what Rattler 6 thought he heard. "Skater 62, this is Rattler, do you know your approximate location? Over." "This is Skater 67, believe we are near LZ Pineapple, over" "Roger Skater 67, this is 6, stand-bye."
By this time, the Joint Rescue Command and control (JRCC) element, responsible for search and rescue operations throughout Southeast Asia, from the 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group (ARRGP) (USAF) had been alerted. One of the Group's HC-130 aircraft was on station and close enough to monitor the emergency transmissions. At least one and usually two of the HC-130 aircraft were in the air at all times and went by the call sign "King." King 6 was the call sign on this particular day. In addition, one USAF Forward Air Controller (FAC) was on station and went by call sign Jake. Jake was under the command and control of King 6.
Rattler 6 informed King 6 of the message from Skater 67 while heading
toward LZ Pineapple. On entering the valley that runs east and west just
north of LZ Pineapple, the signal from Skater 67 became stronger as he
proceeded up the valley in a westerly direction. The signal began to
fade as Rattler 6 passed north of the LZ. by using this build and fade
technique, six determined that 67 was located somewhere east of LZ Pineapple.
Rattler 6 turned east returned down the valley until they were just to
the northeast of Pineapple. The signal from 67 was very clear and strong
at this specific location.
Six turned south and proceeded up a small valley that runs north and south, east of the LZ. "Rattler 6, this is 67, I hear you approaching, over." This was good news and bad news. The good news was that Rattler 6 had quickly zeroed in on the approximate location of the crash site. The bad news was the weather. The cloud ceiling had dropped from 1500 feet to about 1050 feet and was solid overcast. Rattler 6 cautiously continued up the valley to a ground elevation of 1000 feet. By the time they reached this elevation, they were not flying, they were hovering. Hovering at tree top level just below the clouds. It was like being a piece of meat between two slices of bread, nowhere to go. The solid cloud layer was directly overhead and the treetops were almost brushing the tail boom.
James carefully hovered back and forth while getting directions from Skater 67. The directions were confusing. At one time while hovering up a small draw, 67 indicated that the sound was coming closer. James could not see good enough to continue at this point. The fog was getting thicker by the minute. He slowly started back out of the draw. During this maneuver, Skater continued to say that the sound was coming closer. After two more such confusing directions from Skater, James determined it was not his aircraft that was near the location. James informed King 6 of his analysis. King immediately informed James that a small opening in the clouds was now available southwest of the downed aircraft.
The opening was not large enough for the Jolly Green Giant to get through. Jolly Green Giant was the call sign for the Air Force HH-53E search and rescue helicopter. These helicopters were part of the 3rd Group and were under the command and control of King 6. This specific one was on station from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) stationed at Da Nang which was only about 30 NM away. The HH-53E is large compared to the UH-1 flown by Major James. It is fully equipped with a hoist, stretchers, and trained Air Force medics.
Rattler 6 notified King he was going to climb out through the clouds to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions on top (above the cloud layer). He requested King give him directions to the opening when he broke through the clouds. Rattler 6 started a slow ascent into the fog and clouds. He was fixed on the cockpit instruments because they were now the only method to keep the aircraft level and in forward motion. There was no visual reference. It was "milk bottle effect" all over again. When he broke out on top, King turned him over to the Jolly Green who directed them to the opening.
James descended down through the hole to tree top level and began hovering to the northeast. After approximately 15 minutes, they came to the top of a small ridge and could go no further. They could not make contact with Skater 67. The crew chief told James that he could not see the tail boom through the fog. The weather had gradually moved in behind them. Once again, James climbed IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) through the clouds to visual flight on top. They broke out at 3500 feet.
James proceeded east toward the coast. He contacted King and informed him that they were unable to contact 67 while on the south side of the mountain. James determined the crash location must be on the north side of the major ridge line. Just short of the coast and approximately six miles from the crash site, James again let down through an opening in the clouds. After getting under the clouds, he proceeded back to the vicinity of LZ Pineapple. A definite decrease was noted in Skater's radio signal after passing northwest of the LZ, further confirming James' suspicion the crash site was on the east side of Pineapple.
James proceeded east down the valley to a point just northeast of the LZ and turned south up the small north, south valley. Skater 67 confirmed that an aircraft was approaching his position. James continued up the valley as far as possible, turned 180 degrees and came out. Skater 67 confirmed an aircraft was departing the area. Again James flew into the valley. Skater 67 confirmed an aircraft approaching. James was now certain from Skater's confirmations and the increase strength from the radio signal they were at the correct location. He hovered just over the trees at the south end of the valley at about 1000 feet elevation.
By hovering back and forth and talking to Skater 67, James was trying to more accurately pinpoint the crash site. Skater 67 was not able to tell James the direction they were from the crash site. He could only tell them when they were closer to his position. After five or so minutes of this routine, James felt he had pinpointed 67's location. He began hovering up the hill with Skater giving him directions by saying if they were getting closer or further away. Again the fog was so thick the crew chief and gunner could not see the tail rotor which was only 25 feet from their position. James had to stop several times for as long as five minutes to allow the fog to clear before continuing the slow hover. The visibility was at best 40 feet and as low as 10 feet at several points. He was only able to maintain visual contact with the tree tops by looking out the right window. So far, so good.
Suddenly the aircraft began to lose engine power. The UH-1H does funny things when the engine power is fluctuating. The nose of the aircraft goes left, then right, then back left. A challenge when you can see the ground but horrifying when near treetop and almost in the clouds. James suspected the decrease in power was caused by the increase in altitude to about 1600 feet. The higher an aircraft climbs, the more power is required of the engine especially when hovering. James would find out later the aircraft had a compressor stall and the engine had to be replaced. For now though, James thought it was the weight and ordered the crew chief and gunner to dump at least half of their M-60 machine gun ammunition to lighten the load. A total of 4000 rounds was carried, 2000 per machine gun. This action decreased the weight enough for James to continue the mission. The aircraft performed flawlessly after this.
James requested Jolly Green to steer him toward Skater's location using his radio direction finder. The direction finder was standard equipment on the HH-53E but was not installed in the UH-1H aircraft. Jolly Green attempted to fulfill the request but the results were poor. Finally at 1750 feet, James determined he had passed the crash site based on his verbal conversations with Skater 67.
Time, daylight, and most importantly, fuel were running out. James
only had enough fuel remaining for 10 minutes of station time and a quick
flight to Chu Lai for refueling. James again elected to make an instrument
take off and climb to VFR conditions on top. He very carefully explained
his intentions to Jolly Green and asked for a recommended heading to
get him safely out of the area. He was given a heading of 330. James
was not able to turn the aircraft to this heading while hovering because
of the inability to clear the tail rotor. He departed on a heading of
270 and turned as soon as it was safe to the 330 heading. James climbed
at an airspeed of 30 knots to expedite the ascent. The preferred climb
airspeed in instrument conditions is at least 60 knots. The UH-1H is
much more difficult to handle at this lower speed.
Shortly after takeoff, Skater 67 informed James that it sounded like an aircraft had just passed over his position. James broke out of the clouds at 3000 feet and turned directly to Chu Lai. On the way to the Snake Pit, Rattler Operations informed James that ground troops from the Infantry Battalion were on the way to the crash site by foot. James was directed not to make another attempt to reach the crash site because of the poor visibility and approaching darkness. He did not particularly like the decision because he felt with a little more daylight, he could locate the crash site. Rational thought prevailed. The orders were logical. He did not want to risk another crew in the dark and bad weather. At this time the crash site could not be pinpointed.
The intense activity did not stop during the night of March 17th. The division operations center buzzed throughout the night executing the plan they had developed while planning for March 18th. The 71st AHC also planned for the next day. In coordination with Battalion, missions were assigned to each crew and the aircraft were assigned. Rattler maintenance assigned the snake doctor UH-1H to Rattler 6 for the next days' mission. The Aviation Battalion Commander would fly with Major James. Everyone in the company wanted the mission to go without a hitch. Check and double check was the theme for the night.
Through the 196th Brigade, the 1st of the 6th Infantry Battalion had been given the mission that day to move to and secure the crash site. Lieutenant Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (who most people know as General Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm fame) commanded the 1/6th Infantry. A Company from the 1/6th had been breaking bush since early evening. They would move all night one inch, one foot at a time through the thick jungle and bad weather with no food or rest.
On the morning of the 18th, division presented the final briefing in Chu Lai. Major James attended with the 14th Battalion Commander. Division directed Major James and the Battalion Commander coordinate the days rescue operations and act as command and control for the air landing of troops if needed in the vicinity of the downed aircraft. Major James flew directly from the Snake pit to pick up LTC Schwarzkopf and his battalion surgeon, Captain (Doctor) Luis A, Oliver. It was important to have the commander of the 1/6th Battalion on board since they owned the troops moving toward the crash site plus those that were to be airlifted. The weather was no better than it was the day before, about 1000 feet-overcast. This low ceiling made it impossible to air land troops near Skater 67 so it was essential for James to continue the rescue efforts as a single helicopter.
As Major James turned up the small north-south valley east of LZ Pineapple, Skater 67 came on the radio for the first time in about four hours and confirmed an aircraft was approaching his location. James hovered just above the trees at an indicated altitude of 1000 feet. He carefully maneuvered the helicopter to a position about 50 meters to the west of where they had started up the hill the day before. Skater 67 stated the chopper was very close. James started up the hill very slowly. The fog and clouds were still hampering their ability to visually search for the crash site and more importantly was making it very difficult to hover.
James had hovered up the mountain for 15 minutes. Then..., "Rattler 6, this is Skater 67, I see you, turn left!!" "Rattler 6, roger." James cautiously turned the nose of the aircraft to the left using pressure on the left anti-torque pedal. He continued to hover at a crawl rate. The weather was deteriorating. James suddenly but slowly decelerated the aircraft with a light aft cyclic pull. The crashed helicopter was visible about 50 feet in front of the aircraft nose. It was lying upside down with no blades, no tail rotor, no tail boom, and very few identifiable features. Skater 67 was standing about 15 feet from the crashed aircraft on a large rock. He asked James not to come any closer. The fuselage of the crashed aircraft was very unstable and he was afraid rotor wash from James' aircraft would cause it to roll down hill. James complied.
Now what? It was impossible to land. near the crash site due to heavy brush and trees. There were severely wounded soldiers on the ground, medical attention was a priority. James hovered to a spot he thought he could hold. LTC Schwarzkopf and the crew chief secured a rope to the floor of the UH-1H and tied the other end around Captain Oliver (the surgeon). He was gently lowered out of the cargo door, down through the dense canopy to the jungle floor. The crash was only 20 to 30 feet away from his location. The crew chief and gunner had to direct his every step using hand and arm signals because of the heavy undergrowth. Even this short distance took the doctor 10 minutes to navigate. Oliver called for stretchers to be dropped shortly after reaching the wreckage.
The only possible landing point to pick up survivors was on the wreckage itself. James briefed King 4, who was the search and rescue for March 18th, it would be necessary to make an instrument takeoff after pickup and get a radar vector to Chu Lai hospital. King 4 acknowledged and coordinated the plan with all concerned. The crew chief advised James that the weather was breaking up in the valley below just as he started forward to land. James informed King 4 and requested a Jolly Green to make the pickup. King 4 dispatched a Jolly Green but they could not find the location. James immediately turned and flew to the valley floor where he rendezvoused with the Jolly Green and led him to the crash site. They anxiously waited. The weather was still not good enough for the large Jolly Green to maneuver to a pickup point. In a short time the weather lifted enough to get the Jolly Green over the crash site. The rescue operation was nearing completion. Air Force Staff Sergeant Jules Smith and Sergeant Stephen Sano were lowered to assist Captain Oliver. With their expertise on the ground, the rescue operation was completed.
One-by-one, the survivors were hoisted to the Jolly Green. General Ramsey woke in a daze for the first time since the crash with wind and rain in his face. He quickly sunk back into unconsciousness and did not wake again until he was in the hospital and the medics were cutting his clothes off. He was evacuated to Japan and later, on to the states with a mangled and broken arm and severe back injuries. He served as the Provost Marshall General of the Army after a recovery period at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was medically retired about a year after the crash.
James and his illustrious crew returned to the snake pit heroes. To Tommie P. James and his crew it was just another mission in the land of the Rattlers... "Rattler operations, this is Rattler 6, we're home, please close out my flight plan, over." "This is Rattler 3, wilco, welcome home, out!"
Seabolt note: In conversations with Johnny Hitt, Johnnie expressed the opinion that a mistake was probably made in identifying Skater 67 and Blue 24 resulting in this crash. Johnnie is due to receive a 120 page report from Ft. Rucker concerning the crash, but had not received it as this was printed.
Harold Bowen - Deputy National Director
Ron asked me to write up a "war story" for this issue of the newsletter and being one to never pass up such an opportunity, I agreed. First though I would like to take this opportunity to recommend to you the most vivid and factual collection of war stories you will ever read. You may also find that many of the events and places are very familiar to you. Of course, I'm speaking of our own Chuck Carlock's masterpiece, Firebirds. I'm sure Ron has mentioned the book elsewhere in this letter but it is truly worthy of another note. By all means, contact Ron, obtain your copy, mix your favorite libation and settle back to enjoy a return to your youth. I guarantee the experience will bring back old memories and be far more enjoyable than your original RVN experience was. It will also help to heal the wounds from the more serious experiences of that era. The proceeds from that sale go to your Rattler Association and you will again reap benefits from that purchase at our future reunions.
The event I will relate occurred in early May '67. We were all still trying to cope with the sudden loss of the relative comforts of life at Bien Hoa and adjust to life at Chu Lai. Of course at this time, we were all fully convinced that this Chu Lai thing was a temporary inconvenience and we would soon be going "home". After all, when we moved up, it was for 6 weeks TDY. Yes, that had been extended, but it was still TDY and that did mean "temporary". Surely, the end was near. Bill Arink (OF 67) and Tom Hall (OF 66-67) were Rattler 6 and 5, respectively. Ed Johnson (OF 66-67) was Rattler 3 and George Jackson (OF 66-67) was my Platoon Leader, Rattler 16. I had been in country about 2 months, but had not gotten a great deal of flight time because of the stand down and move north. Prior to my arrival in country, I had a grand total of 25 hours UH-1 time, last flight nine months prior to arrival. Needless to say, I needed a lot more experience before I could be trusted. We obviously had a great group of Aircraft Commanders in the platoon. Not once was I beaten around the head and shoulders, though I did create more than my share of gray hairs, not all mine. I did notice though that I was usually assigned as "Peter Pilot" with George. I've always wondered if that was because I was the senior captain in the platoon and was expected to (and in July did) become Platoon Leader or was this the first (unreported) instance of pilots refusing to fly a mission? After all, even I would have questioned the judgment of an AC who willingly let me fly his bird.
At any rate, this particular day was fairly routine. I was flying "PP" from the left seat with George Jackson as AC. Don Profitt (EM 66-67) and Larry Smith (EM 66-68), both first platoon stalwarts, were flying CE and gunner, respectively. We had done a 2-lift, 10_ship insertion first thing that morning and had then been split up for various ash and trash missions. In the early afternoon, we received word to reassemble for an extraction. The unit we had put in that morning had made no contact and were to be extracted to prepare for another mission. Since this was an extraction from a "secure" area, there would be no prep. Return fire only if the target could be positively identified. No Sweat, Right? Keep in mind, though I had lost my "cherry" already, I had not yet experienced the "thrill" of hot lead or steel passing rapidly through the cockpit. All of my previous hits had been in the tailboom area and were as "harmless" as hits can be.
On the first lift out we were flying #2 in a flight of 10, staggered trail left. As usual, Ed Johnson was flying C&C at his normal altitude, but in those days there were few satellites competing for his airspace. Per company policy (and common sense) both George and I were on the controls during approach and departure. As always, I was slumped as deeply into my seat as I could get in order to take full advantage of the "safety" provided by my "armor" protection. My left shoulder was wedged firmly against the armored side of my seat. At only 5'7" tall, I thought I was in pretty good shape. We landed and loaded without incident. Trail gave the "Lead, You're up!" word and we began departure. As we hovered forward, I momentarily sensed rather than saw movement to my left, followed by a resounding thud and a smack on my left side. I immediately felt complete numbness in my left shoulder and arm. I was certain I had been hit and recall thinking, "it isn't nearly as painful as I had expected, only numbness." Scary as hell but not painful. I reported to George that I was hit and he relayed this to lead and Rattler 3. Meantime, George had the controls and was getting us the hell out there. I checked my situation and discovered that although the sliding side panel on my seat had an approximately 1/2" diameter jagged hole all of the way through and my shoulder was beginning to hurt some, I was not very bloody. Only one small spot on the side of my shoulder aligned with that awesome looking hole in my seat. I told George I thought I was OK, but he insisted we divert to the hospital at Tam Ky to have me checked out. Lead and Rattler 3 approved this diversion so we left the formation and headed for a safe altitude and the hospital. As soon as we began to feel safe, Don Profitt reported that we were losing hydraulic fluid. There was a big puddle of the fluid on the floor just forward of the transmission, but with no visible source. Keep in mind, we still have six grunts on board, so the compartment is full. The guys had a tough time finding anything. With this report, George and I again discussed my situation and he decided that, with a questionable pilot (both experience and condition), a precautionary landing on the runway at Chu Lai was far more desirable than a short final loss of hydraulics at the hospital pad. Smart man, eh? Anyway, we returned to Chu Lai and made a beautiful uneventful precautionary landing, still with hydraulic fluid all over the cargo compartment.
After landing and congratulating ourselves on superbly handling an extremely critical situation, we checked me out. No real damage. A couple of small pieces of shrapnel from the armored seat, but no bullet and certainly no medevac back to the states. Next, we checked the aircraft. There were only 2 holes in the ship, 1 through my sliding armor panel and 1 through the webbing of my shoulder harness behind my neck. From the angle of the hole in the armored panel, we determined that both holes were made by the same round which had entered through my open window, passed through my seat and the shoulder harness and exited through the open cargo door on the opposite side. The other casualty of the day was Don Profitt's tool box, which was stored under the bench troop seat forward of the transmission compartment. That toolbox had a bullet hole through it and so also did the spare can of hydraulic fluid which Don kept in it. That bullet apparently entered through the open cargo door on my side, traversed the width of the aircraft underneath the bench troop seat and exited through the open door on the other side, striking only that tool box. Rather miraculous considering there was 6 grunts and 2 crewmembers in that small area. This was the cause of the hydraulic leak and the very anxious return and approach to a nice long smooth runway at Chu Lai.
That was my first experience with "hot lead" in the cockpit. It ended with all of us having a good chuckle and fortunately, virtually no damage to the aircraft. The sliding panel was replaced and presented to me as memento which I kept for several years, but eventually disposed of it. It was the first of several similar incidents which occurred over the next few days and led to Tom Wolf (OF 66-67) and Ed Johnson christening me as "Magnet Ass". I know of no other incident though where 2 bullets caused that much concern and anxiety with no more damage than we had. Total losses from the incident were one sliding armored panel from a pilot's seat, 1 can of hydraulic fluid, 1 jungle fatigue jacket and at least one (perhaps more, I didn't ask) pair of men's OD undershorts. All things considered, not a bad outcome.
"...Had (he) been a veteran of the Civil War, the doctors would have called his malady 'Soldiers Heart.' Had he served in World War I, they would have said he suffered from 'Shell Shock.' After World War II and Korea, they would have labeled him with 'Combat Fatigue' or 'Nerves.' Since...Vietnam, modern psychiatry has given the illness a name drained of both poetry and blame-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
"'Soldiers Heart' though, remains a pretty good name for it, for PTSD is a disorder of warriors, not men and women who were weak or cowardly, but to the contrary, a disorder of those who followed orders and who at a young age put their feelings aside and performed unimaginable tasks that most human beings never encounter. PTSD is a disorder of the good warrior."
Even though people try to put upsetting memories "in the past" and forget them, traumatic memories come back in a variety of ways. During the day, there may be recurrent recollections of the event which feel intrusive, like a song that you can't get out of your mind. At night, there may be repeating dreams and nightmares about what happened during the war. Vets can feel intense anxiety when exposed to reminders that resemble the original trauma. These triggers may be external - a passing helicopter, the backfire of an automobile, bursting fireworks. Other triggers are internal, such as having a feeling similar to the way the person felt during or preceding the traumatic event. Sometimes, veterans act or feel as if the event itself were re-occurring. These "flashbacks" can range from a dim sense of being in two places at one time (the "here and now," as well as "back then") to becoming totally immersed in the intruding memory, losing track of place and time. When people experience a traumatic event, a conflict is set up in the mind between the need to acknowledge and bear witness to the event, and the desire to forget or deny the event ever took place. The intensity of the symptoms of intrusion and avoidance will vary and the problems of PTSD may be disguised by addictive or compulsive behaviors, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, and workaholism. Trauma survivors engage in these behaviors to avoid thinking about their experiences.
In many parts of the country, obtaining treatment for combat-related trauma means going to "the V.A." The decision to seek help from a federal agency poses a significant hurdle for veterans who condemn governmental bodies as the cause of their problems. Despair. Mistrust. Fear. It requires a great deal of courage to walk into a V.A. Hospital or a Veterans Outreach Center for the first time. It requires greater courage to stay.
(The above has been para-phrased from the book, Soldiers Heart, Survivors' Views of Combat Trauma, printed by Sidran Press. This book was donated to our Association by Everett Jeffcoat (EM 67-68). Seabolt note: If you feel that any of the above symptoms apply to your situation, I urge you to seek help in any fashion you are able to. By our Association having hundreds of men located, perhaps a statement from someone from your time frame to substantiate any PTSD claim you may have will assist you in verifying your rightful claim. Everett Jeffcoat has made copies of all Company and Battalion records he could locate at the Suitland archives near Washington, D.C. and will be glad to help anyone by looking for evidence to support your claim to the Veterans Administration. You can write Everett at: P.O. Box 398, Swansea, SC 29160.
By Ned Flecke (EM 66-67, Firebird Gunner)
We fly the skies so blue to do what others dare not do.
You by me and me with you as one who does not fear what others shutter and quake from.
You are you, but not really you, but we.
We share the wakefulness that is terror.
'Tis not bliss this sky we fly, 'tis the devils den we are in.
We shall not fall from grace in this sacred place you and I,
We hear that call that does not beckon all.
'Tis a few to do the work for Freedom and Liberty.
I look at you and you at me and then we are one for thee.
I grasp my gun, you the cyclic and then we see our destiny.
Not just you but we, thee and me.
With outstretched wings we fly to glories gone by to see God's calling.
You by me and thee my blessed brothers in the sky.
We fly high then low, so low we feel the wind and spray from the dew from whence it grew, from the rice fields.
The dew becomes a hue in the morning light so bright.
We squint our eyes to see from where our challenge be.
A flash of orange then black from our gaze doest see and now a shudder as our craft
doth quake and tremble.
Now we see what other mortals do not see - DEATH.
We do not fear this desperate struggle that we may pass but then may fall as others do.
We welcome what God has given us and relish this and other hours to protect what was chosen by our forefathers - Life and Liberty.
We, ye and me, we do not dwell on where we go, cause we do not know now this road God has given to thee and me to strike those who challenge Liberty.
I look down and see all who fall in the wake of what is just.
The fire and flame does not give us fame or blame for what we do.
You see we shall not fall from this sky, and why? Because you and I we fly so high, not from earth but in our spirit that lifts us high you and I.
Thee and me we see the gold, red, white and blue from the might of God and Country in our souls.
We do not follow, we lead so others can see this precious path we fly. 'Tis not from years gone by but from now and how we stand or land, fly or crash to ash cause you see we are not immortal Souls but those which God has given life to.
In the light of Freedom and Liberty and our Country we fly on and on for evermore.
For you see what was meant to be that ye and me are one soul to fly
these skies for evermore to protect all this Country for eternity.
We accept this challenge where others fear to trod,
For you see this is and always will be our destiny.
With bowed heads now we fall one by one to be with our brothers long gone.
To share their true place in the sky - Firebird - Firebird - you shall never die.
For what is destiny but to be with thee and fly among the stars.