CO. A/501 AVIATION BN., 71st ASSAULT HELICOPTER COMPANY

VOL. III. NUMBER 2 - ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER - NOVEMBER 1997

This newsletter's "attaboy" for sending old orders to this Association goes to Jim Waterbury (OF 69-70) for being responsible for us receiving a complete company roster dated 1 January 1970. There were 59 names on this list that we had never seen before and many of these have now been located because of this list given to us. Please, if you have old orders with other men's names on them from our company, make a copy and send it to the Association ASAP.

We are always looking for war stories, whether they be humorous, tragic or heroic in nature, for this newsletter. Sincere thanks goes to the men that contributed to this edition! Will you be next to have your story printed? We need those stories, men!

REUNION - APRIL 1998

Please make your reunion reservations now. Our reunion will be April 23 - 26, 1998 in Orlando, FL at the Holiday Inn International Drive Resort, located at 6515 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819. Room rates are $69 per night plus tax. For reservations, call 407-351-3500 and be sure to tell them you are with the Rattler/Firebird reunion. These rooms all have small refrigerators, microwave ovens, coffeemakers, hair dryers and a safe that you enter your own combination on. We only have 200 rooms blocked for the reunion and we very strongly urge you to make early reservations. This block of rooms will only be held until 30 days before the reunion. Reservations made after that time will be charged at the full rate. not the group rate. The full rate is $109 per night. Reservations can be canceled up to 24 hours before with no problems. If you are arriving by automobile, from Interstate 4, exit at exit 29 (which is Sand Lake Road ! Highway 482). Go east one block to International Drive and turn left (north). The hotel is about 1/2 mile down on the left. If you take an automobile from the airport, from the north exit, get on the Beeline Expressway (toll road) and go west to the McCoy Road ! Sand Lake Road exit McCoy Road becomes Sand Lake Road at the Flordia Mall area. Stay on Sand Lake Road about 10 miles to International Drive and turn right The hotel is about 1/2 mile down on the left.

Frank Anton is going to host a golf outing at the reunion for all who are interested. This will be held on Friday, April 24th Frank says the total cost will be under $50, and will include prizes for the winner. If golf is your game and you want to get in on this, please contact Frank no later than March 24th. His address is: 730 Palm Dr, Satellite Beach, FL 32937. Phone # 407-773-0059.

An election will be held for the Board of Directors during the business meeting at our reunion. Only current dues paying members of this association may be elected or vote in this election. Our nomination chairperson is R.J. Williams. If you wish to nominate someone for our goard, please contact R.J. at: 745 Orchard Rd, Manheim, PA 17545. Phone # 717-664-4087.

THE LAST KIA?

This Association has tried to compile a complete list of our KIAs that died while serving with our unit The total number is now at 55 men with the addition of SP/5 James D. Schmidt. Schmidt was promoted to E-5 after his death according to information obtained from the Army under the Freedom of Information Act. Specialist Schmidt died from wounds received on 17 July 70. If our information is correct, within a 44 day period in 1970, we lost three men whose last names were Schmidt, Schmidt and Schmitz.

On 2 July 1967, a couple of our aircraft were assigned to dispose of some old ammo and explosives by throwing them out of the aircraft over the ocean. Aircraft 796, commanded by WO Conrad Howard, was damaged severely by an explosion during this mission. The crew chief, John Lynch, suffered extensive wounds that rendered him 100 % disabled. Lynch has said that while in the hospital he was informed that the gunner brought in with him had died. This was a "Sunday" gunner, not a regular member of the 1st platoon. An entry in Ron Seabolt's diary mentions that Lynch's gunner "Clark" was badly wounded. Does anyone remember this "Clark" from maintenance or anywhere else in the company? Please notify this Association if you can help us positively identify this gunner or give any info on him.

ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIPS

In our last newsletter, notice was given that we are now offering lifetime memberships. The fee is based on a sliding scale according to your age. See the membership form for more details. At this time we have 52 lifetime memberships sold. Thank you for this support. Charlie Morehouse (WO 66-67) made this comment to the Association concerning a lifetime membership: "At my age (76), I don't even buy green bananas anymore". Life membership list is shown in this newsletter.

We have ran out of the address directories that were printed last June. All memberships or renewals received after January 1st will be applied toward the July '98 to June '99 membership year.

SICK CALL

This Association has been informed of these illnesses. In October Conrad Howard (WO 66-67) had surgery for lung cancer. He is reportedly doing fine. Last July Ed Gwynn (WO 69) had surgery to remove one of his kidneys that had a malignant tumor. Ed is back at work an cancer free. Rick Spradlin (EM 71) continues to battle his paralysis from an auto accident. Ned Flecke (EM 66-67) is still struggling with his back pain and the VA bureaucracy. Please remember these men.

 

AIRCRAFT PARTS, WHERE YOU FIND THEM!

Our first two display aircraft were lacking a few parts here and there and Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68) used the old field expediency method. So far, Chuck has used two trash cans, a bicycle, a lawn chair and a post hole digger to come up with parts for these ships.

Carlock is in the process of acquiring a T-55 helicopter to add to our display items. The T -55 was one of the aircraft that many of our pilots were trained on at Ft. Wolters, TX in the primary school.

MODERN FlREBIRDS

This Association was contacted this past summer by Major Pat Garman, Commander of A Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment. His unit call sign is Firebirds and these men fly the AH-64D Apache Longbow. This aircraft is the latest, most advanced attack helicopter on earth. Major Garman's Company is stationed in Mesa, AZ at the McDonnell Douglas facility while training takes place on the Longbow version of this helicopter. When Major Garman received one of the old Firebird calling cards, he said he was going to make a poster sized card out of it for his men to be reminded of what they were there for. As the card states: "You call, We kill! Dealers in Death and Destruction! Death on Call. Dial 3626 Chu Lai."

GOING TO WAR
Excerpts from a letter from LTC Jesse James, USA Retired (OF 64-65)

I have many fond memories (and a few scary ones) about the people that I served with for so many months. I am sure that Lew Henderson (the original Rattler 6) has informed you that the original company was the 3rd Aviation Company formed at Ft. Benning, GA about mid August 1965. Lew was CO, Buck Crouch was XO, Duke Schwemm was 1st Platoon, I was 2nd Platoon, Duane Ginter was Firebird and Billy Taylor was the Snake Doctor. We were filled from assets already within the 11th Air Assault and incoming members from the schools and overseas replacements. Lew was the first to leave, going to Vietnam about 10 days before the rest of us. Buck, Duke and I brought the rest of the unit over, leaving the States on Thanksgiving day, 1965. We had a crew rest in Honolulu for about 18 hours. Surprisingly, and true to Rattler form, every man was back at the base at the appointed time - no A WOLs or any other problems. Some were a little hung over, but they had several hours to recuperate before a short crew rest and breakfast at Clark AFB in the Philippines. The last leg was made without incident and we arrived at Bien Hoa and were met by Lew and assorted other personnel from the 145th Battalion. Infusion took place at that time. Some of us were lucky and remained with Lew. There were Duke, Me, Billy, several junior officers like Lyle Nutt and many senior WOs. We got Gordie Stone and numerous fantastic personnel for the ones that were infused from out of the unit.

We were ready to go to work, but the powers to be wanted us to get in-country experience and orientations before venturing out into the cold cruel world. At this time we were still the 3rd Avn. Co. but were known as the Rattlers and Firebirds. Several of our members participated in combat assaults and numerous ones had earned their first Air Medal as members of the 3rd Avn - not the A Co. 501st that we were redesignated to on/about 14 December, 1964.

Our first company operation in which we flew as a unit was on Christmas Day, 1964. We were looking for several American prisoners who were reportedly seen in the Tay Ninh area. I was the only unit (2nd PIt) to have Mighty Mite gas dispensers. The operation was to spray the area and send in the grunts to find the POWs. What a sensation - this was my first chance to lead the formation and we were doing it at 40 knots, treetop level and with protective masks on! The new masks had not been perfected yet so we had to remove our boom mikes and tape them to our faces inside the masks and then seal up the masks as best as possible with more tape. Unfortunately, we did not find the POWs as they had been moved to Cambodia we later found out.

This operation started our glorious run to fame with both the Americans and the Vietnamese. As you are probably aware there are 12 animals in the Chinese calendar. These were the animals which came to Buddha and the years are named in the order they arrived to see him. The Chinese year that came up at Tet was the YEAR OF THE SNAKE. What could be more appropriate especially with the Vietnamese. They did not want to fly on any other aircraft except SNAKES because we were good luck. The Rattlers traveled all over II, Ill, and IV Corps area. We were in and out of the Boloi Woods on so many occasions that I couldn't count them. We consistently flew the Iron triangle at Cu Chi when no one else would. We were there the first day they discovered NVA in the III Corps area and we flew in support of the very first B-52 strike. We filmed king cobras, we carried the "Fighting Priest", we shot up all of the radios in the operations tent, we had a crew chief fly an aircraft to Saigon during a rocket attack only to get a bronze star for his actions and a court martial. We had a mid-air where everyone walked away, we were the ones to first report rotor separation due to erosion, and we had a snake for a pet until he was shot by the 173rd Airborne. Last, but not least, after the mid-air, CWO A.J. Capers was almost court martialed over the incident but got off because on the next combat assault after the mid-air, he was wounded at Duc Tho. We staged in a funny farm one time, we were on hand when the Green Berets fired a Chinese Nung Company and we were one of the lead companies at Dong Xuai.

Lew, Duke, Gordie and Billy Taylor can substantiate 99% of what I have to say. We started with nothing but a super bunch of guys - both enlisted and officer - we fought like hell for a year and established our name and mark in III Corps areas and achieved all of this with only one KIA and probably less than 25 WIAs. Oh, yes, we made the national papers on several occasions. The first was my helicopter, upside down in an LZ and burning to a crisp. The second that I can think of was Dong Xuai, when the LIFE photographer won the Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism excellence and the last one I remember was a picture of my aircraft in War Zone "C", taken by the National Geographic.

Editors note: During my search for our men, there has been no one in this unit that has been asked about more than Jesse James. It seems that all the men that served with him had very fond memories of him. Jesse is in retirement in the Tucson, AZ area and plans to attend our Orlando reunion.

ALMOST TWINS?

During the '67 era, our unit had a set of identical twins, Dave and Don Benidict. An article, with a photograph, appeared in the "Stars and Stripes" about these guys. What "Stars and Stripes" missed while doing this story was the chance to do a "separated at birth" story about R.J. Williams and his crew mate Walt Mitchell. These guys could also pass for twins. R.J. told me that he sent a photo of them home to his mom and she didn't know which was her son. During this time, being an identical look-alike of R. J. Williams was not and enviable position. To say the least, R.J. was a "free spirit". Mitchell tells of the time when he was walking in the company area when 1st SGT Hillhouse screamed at him to get in the orderly room. As he entered, Hillhouse told him, "All right R.J. your ass is going to jail this time!" Mitchell said he told Hillhouse, "I'm not R.J." Hillhouse told him, "Don't start that S--T with me." Anyway, Walt Mitchell has been recently located in Downey, CA and is looking forward to a reunion with R.J. in Orlando. See the 1967 era photo of these men in this newsletter.

AIRCRAFT DEDICATION OF 65-09889

Four years ago, the U.S. Army gave an old Vietnam era warrior to the local Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) in San Angelo, TX. This VV A chapter put out the word of this aircraft hoping to learn more about her past. Our Association was notified that this was one of our old ships, and we needed to find who had crewed it. After calling around it was discovered that this ship was a 2nd platoon aircraft that Bill Gross (EM 66-68) was assigned to as crew chief. Bill was just about the best crew chief around at that time and for that reason the 2nd platoon leader, Major Bill Hennigan (OF 66-67), claimed Gross as his crew chief. These men were informed of their aircraft's whereabouts and put on alert for the dedication ceremony when it occurred.

On May 17, 1997, this dedication took place. The ship is mounted on a pedestal at the entrance to Mathis Field in San Angelo. Also attending this service was Bill Marshall (OF 66-67) and Ron Seabolt (EM 66-67). Fine speeches were delivered by all, but none more poignant than the one by Bill Gross, who recalled his many missions flown and survived in this ship. His breaking voice described what it was like to be in a war that took lives and how this ship had also saved lives. The audience of 250 were spellbound by Gross' comments.

The only time that Ron Seabolt crewed this ship was while Gross was back stateside on an extension leave. On May 26, 1967, Seabolt was assigned to 889 because his ship was in maintenance. At this time 889 had never taken a hit. She was cherry and Bill Gross was proud of it. While on a re-supply mission that day, 889 was hit three times in an LZ. When Gross returned to the company, he was not too happy about the patches on his ship.

The San Angelo VV A Chapter were selling engraved bricks around the dedication site to create funds for the upkeep of this Memorial. The four bricks, dead center in front of this ship, were engraved with the names of the four men from our company in attendance that had flew on 889 in combat. This was a gift from this VV A Chapter to us and very appreciated.

NEW DISPLAY ITEMS

Jim Miller (WO 67-68) on a recent business trip to Vietnam had boxed, crated and shipped new items to be displayed at our reunions. How about a 4.7 meter long Viet Cong sampan, a VC bicycle, and an alleged mounted water buffalo head. Carlock plans to put a metal bottom in part of the sampan to ice down some cold "beverages" at the reunion.

AIRCRAFT 64-13560

In our last newsletter, we ask if anyone remembered ever flying on aircraft 64-1 3560? This ship had been located near Ft Worth, TX and was being re-worked by the owner who planned to make the old bird flyable. John Mateyko (OF 65-66) sent us records taken from his flight log showing many hours flown in this ship in 1966. Thanks for the input John!

SALES of FIREBIRDS

The Amazon Book Company, which boasts of being the largest book store in the world, sells their books by mail. In their listing of the top 50 Vietnam books in demand, Chuck Carlock's Firebirds is listed as number ten in the hardback version and number 42 in paperback. Firebirds came out in paperback this past summer and is reportedly selling very well.

WHY DIDN'T YOU GET ME OUT, by FRANK ANTON

Frank Anton's book, Why Didn't You Get Me Out, is also selling very well. This is the story of Frank's five years as a POW and his agony over the MIA issue. Anton has been on several national and many local radio talk shows about his book and has had excellent reviews. This book would make a great Christmas gift for anyone. You can obtain an autographed copy, directly from Frank, by sending a $20.00 check or money order made out to Frank Anton at this address: 730 Palm Drive, Satellite Beach, FL 32937.

NEW BOOK

In a recent newsletter we mentioned the possibility of writing a book with a collection of stories dealing with the exploits of our company. Chuck Carlock says that based on our newsletter stories, he will be shocked if we couldn't get it printed. Numerous paperbacks have been printed about the war that are just collections of stories. Carlock believes they are trash compared to our newsletter stories. If we do this, no names or stories would be used without permission of the authors and all proceeds would be saved and used for our reunions exactly as the money from Firebirds is used. In 30 to 40 years the principal money that is left could go to a museum to house our choppers and other display items we have.

Based on our experience with getting Firebirds published, we would need about 100,000 words to go to the publisher. They would probably trim the book to about 85,000 words. We currently have an estimated 35,000 words IF we were given permission to use them by their authors.

For a straight paperback, you don't make much money unless you have a very "hot" seller. There are many men in this Association who believe this book should be written, just to memorialize the events forever. Ron Seabolt and R.J. Williams have agreed to do the initial editing on this project

We know there are numerous stories out there that should be documented. Stories like Jim Miller's "Major on a chain", Jim Collins' "VC admiral going down with his sampan" and Roger Farrells' "big guy with the writing on his helmet" story, just to name a few.

If you want to see your name in print, set down and jot down your story. DO NOT worry about your writing skills or spelling, that's what editors are for.

FIREBIRD DISAPPEARANCE of 10 JANUARY 1970 

In our last newsletter, Ted Lorvine (OF 69-70), had ask the question, who was flying with him the day one of our Firebirds and crew was lost. This ship was trying to make it back to Chu Lai in bad weather but was never heard from or any wreckage located. The passing of 25-30 years can really fuzz the memory. Apparently Ted was not an Aircraft Commander at this time, but later was Firebird 94. It may be that John Blakley (WO 69-70), was the Aircraft Commander of Ted's ship with Gene Waldrip as gunner and Ernie Coffia as crew chief. John wrote to us that he was Firebird 94 until March, 1970 and like Ted, he cannot remember the names of any of his crew on that day. John wrote, "We all took off in very bad weather. Almost immediately I was IFR. I stayed on instruments for what seemed like an eternity and finally broke out of the clouds southwest of Chu Lai." Wally Honda (WO 69-70) has also informed us that he was the A/C of a slick that was also stranded with the gunships. Wally wrote this:

It was monsoon season and the ceiling in that area was well below the mountain ranges surrounding that area. We waited several hours for the weather to clear, but there was no let-up in sight. We evaluated the choices of setting up a perimeter there at Tien Phuoc and spending the night or trying to get back to Chu Lai. Not being "grunts", we were not thrilled at the prospect of spending the night "in the bush". Eventually, there was a little break in the weather and we decided to depart Tien Phuoc before the weather got worse.

We agreed on an easterly heading between the mountain ranges at three minute intervals. I don't remember which Firebird departed first, but I did get a call from Lorvine that he broke out of the clouds and cleared the mountains safely. I departed shortly after the call.

I remember going IFR (instrument flying required) shortly after departure and feeling a great deal of relief when I finally broke out into blue sky. The relief was short lived. The weather was clear at altitude but the cloud cover below extended well beyond the coast line and I had no idea where I was. I had visions of having to make an IFR approach into Chu Lai. After some time, I spotted an opening and descended below the clouds near the mouth of the Hoi An.

The winds were extremely strong and variable. Although we all departed within six minutes of each other and kept the same heading, Lorvine, as I recall, broke out at least thirty miles south of my location. We made several attempts at radio contact with Capt. Crosby with no success. We were all hoping that maybe something was wrong with his radio and that we would see him and his crew back at Chu Lai.

The Company search the following day was very frustrating. The weather was much better but the distance of the search over scattered cloud cover and triple canopy jungle yielded no clues. The rest of the story on their whereabouts remains a haunting mystery. For months after the loss, I know that every Rattler and Firebird flying a mission near Tien Phuoc looked for signs of the missing aircraft.

I have the same request as Ted, and would like to know who the crew members were on my ship that day. If you flew on this mission with WO Honda, please contact this association and we will pass it along.

Daniel Garren (EM 69-70) wrote this association with these comments: In 1989 I met a retired pilot by the name of James White and he let me read some after action reports that he had. One of these reports was on the Firebird that disappeared on 10 January 1970. The reason that I remember this AAR so well is I was on the combat assault that took place before they disappeared and the name Capt Crosby stuck with me for some reason. In the report, a villager said that about 3 or 4 days after the ship went down, he saw some NVA troops come through his village with Capt Crosby. I remember that we spent three months looking for this downed Firebird. I can't tell you how many tail booms there were in our AO, but there were a lot and we checked them all. I was assigned to Rattler 312 as gunner and that ship must have put in at least 100 hours looking for the downed Firebird. WO Bouteliller was my AC and SP/4 Steven Lively was my crew chief.

Editors note: Almost 28 years have passed since the above incident occurred. No two people have exactly the same memory of this tragedy after this many years. All the men agree to the frustration of not being able to locate anything.

THE LAST CHECK RIDE - by DENNIS HAND (OF 66-67)

On Friday, October 14, 1966, I had been scheduled to be on a pigs and rice mission (general re-supply) with WO Beryl Scott as my peter pilot when I was informed that as Platoon IP (instructor pilot) I would be taking a newbie, a twenty-one year old from Norfolk, VA, WO Robert (Bob) Pruhs, on his initial check ride. Like all newly arrived pilots, Pruhs knew how to fly, but needed to know the Rattler way of doing business.

At the aircraft we did an extra careful pre-flight for Pruhs' benefit. When we were satisfied that all was in order, we left Bien Hoa with plans to do a round robin flight of all the usual places. After showing Bob around the general area of our operations, we flew to Vung Tau. Later,] had planned to get into Saigon and show Bob the approach lanes and who to call to get proper clearance.

About an hour into our flight we received a call from operations to report to the Race Track in Saigon for a combat assault briefing. Upon arriving I was informed that I would be flying the lead ship in a flight of ten slicks and we would have a heavy AND a light fire team (5 total) of Firebirds with us. We would be picking up elements of the 30th ARVN Ranger Battalion at the Race Track and heading about 18 klicks southeast of Saigon to a place called Bin Chanh. Each ship would carry six ARVNS on this lift. The mission purpose was to interdict a VC tax team supposedly in the area. We were informed that a 2nd lift might be necessary from Saigon. The C & C ship was under a MACV Major with an ARVN Colonel as overall mission commander. Naturally, C & C informed us they would be at 2500 feet for the mission.

The Firebird fire team leaders were Major Bill Tingler and Lt. Charlie Bogle. The Firebirds were instructed to do a fly over of the LZ, but not to prep it in order to maintain the element of surprise. As the Firebirds overflew the intended LZ, WO Bill Burgner advised the flight that we needed to approach from the east over the river via low level. The flight came in as instructed and we started to receive some light incoming fire while still on long final. C & C ship was informed and told us NOT to return fire. We neared the LZ and about 500 feet out, everyone noticed that the ground fire was increasing to an alarming level. At this point we were told we could begin suppressive fire and the Firebirds were given the okay to use all their machine guns, but no rockets. Upon flaring to land, all hell broke loose as the entire world seemed to light up with incoming rounds. The fire was mainly coming from my right side and one of the rounds came through the chin bubble, went under Pruhs' right leg and then hit his left femoral artery. At this time we lost most of our radio commo from hits in the console. I knew Bob was hit but did not know how badly. Three of our AR VNS got out in the LZ and the other three were killed by this fusillade of bullets. Instead of a VC tax team, we had landed in the midst of a VC battalion.

The Firebird with WO Bill Burgner and Capt. Billy Joe Harvey at the controls was making a gun run when the cylic control was hit and knocked out of Burgner's hand. By the time he could grab the control again the ship had dropped too much and bounced in the LZ, knocking the armament system off one side, damaging the skids and causing the crew chief, James Markowski, to lose his M-60 and be knocked out of the aircraft. Markowski was saved by his attached monkey strap and Burgner was able to get the ship back into the air and clear the LZ. Brugner received shrapnel wounds from the hit.

As quickly as possible, we cleared the area and headed back to the Saigon Hotel 3 pad (MASH). My crew chief, Ernie Palmieri, got Bob out of his seat and tried to stem the flow of blood but by this time it was too late. Bob's heart had emptied his body of blood and the entire interior of our ship was awash with his and the ARVN's blood. Randy Billings (WO 66-67) had been to my right rear when we landed in a vee of threes. Randy has told me that this LZ was the only time in his tour that he actually saw the enemy firing at him. The VC soldier was about 50 feet directly in front of his ship in a hedge row/tree line firing an automatic weapon. Billings banked left to avoid flying over this enemy, brought it out and followed me back to Saigon with his wounded aboard. Sam Arthur, Billing's crew chief, administered morphine to a wounded ARVN who was screaming in pain. Billing's ship had 1100 pounds of JP/4 fuel on board going into the LZ. Upon landing at the ARVN medivac pad, crew chief Arthur saw how much damage the aircraft had suffered and gave Billings the kill-it sign (hand drawn across the throat). At this point the engine quit due to fuel starvation. All the fuel had leaked out from the damage of over 80 hits.

When Hand's aircraft landed, the bodies were removed by the medical personnel. Hand continues, "My aircraft was shut down to be inspected because of the damage sustained. Suddenly I was approached by two men. BG Sennif, the 1st Aviation Brigade CO and Col. Campbell, the 12th Group CO had received word of this mission and they were very interested in what had just taken place on this combat assault. About the time that I completed a short briefing of events another Rattler ship landed nearby in the only spot he could find. The A/C, David O'Quinn (WO 66-67) came running up to me and said "My God Dennis, are you okay?" I assured him that it was Bob's blood that I was covered with and that I was uninjured. At that point, a SP/4 tapped O'Quinn on the shoulder and told him he was parked in the General's spot and would have to move his ship. O'Quinn promptly replied with "You can tell the General to go f--k himself'. Hearing this, General Sennif and Colonel Campbell did an about face and walked off."

When we tried to return to Bien Hoa, Billings' aircraft had to be left on the spot for repairs. I flew my ship back to our maintenance area for extensive combat damage repair and cleaning.

This was Bob Pruhs' first and last flight as a crew member in Vietnam.

First Aviation Brigade general orders number 1671 dated 15 December 1966 awarded the Air Medal for Heroism to everyone that participated in this combat assault.

Editors note: Input for this story was received from Charlie Bogle, Bill Burgner, Ned Flecke, Randy Billings and Sam Arthur. From the private standpoint of a crew chief that flew many missions with him, Dennis Hand was the BEST pilot, bar none, that flew in the 1st platoon in the '66-'67 era.

THE REST OF THE STORY by HAL BOWEN (OF 67-68)

After reading Chuck Carlock's excellent book Firebirds and seeing Bob Parson's story in it, (4 March 1968) my memory was jogged and I recollected my own experiences surrounding that incident. I wrote to Chuck and related those experiences essentially the same as the following article. As Paul Harvey says on the radio, "And now, the rest of the story".

I was the Company Operations Officer at that time and was nine days from DEROS (it turned out to be only six. because with all of the furor this story created with 14th Battalion Headquarters, I was allowed, POLITELY URGED though unnecessary, to leave three days early to get me out of the area). Anyway, when Parsons was shot down, I happened to be in the area coordinating for a combat assault to be conducted the following day. Jerry Richardson (OF 68-69) was flying the pilot's seat, David Crowe (EM 67-68) was crew chief and I think my door gunner was Lynwood Clifton (EM 67-68), the usual door gunner for the Operations C&C bird. I got word of the downed Firebird and proceeded to the scene, arriving just as Mike Kretchmer (WO 67-68) was lifting off with the crew aboard. I inquired as to the status of weapons, SOI/SSI, radios etc. and was informed that the radios and some individual weapons had been left on board. Kretchmer also reported to me that he received no fire going in or out. With that info and without much thought, I made the decision to go in to retrieve the remaining gear. I had only my crew aboard. We made the approach without incident and landed on the ridge line to the southeast of the downed bird. Crowe and Clifton dismounted and went to retrieve the gear. About the time they arrived at the downed Firebird, Charlie got them in his sights and all hell broke loose. Jerry and I could only sit and watch those guys as they were chased all of the way back to us with rounds impacting right on their heels. They made it back and we got out OK, though that .50 caliber did raise hell with our pucker factor. We took very heavy fire on takeoff with a few hits, but all were superficial skin hits only. No real damage to the aircraft.

After climb out, we stayed on site to coordinate the recovery efforts. Snake Doctor arrived in about 30 minutes. They made a couple of passes but by now Charlie was well positioned and ready. He wasn't about to let anyone else get in to the downed ship. Snake Doctor exercised their usual sound judgment and pronounced the aircraft unrecoverable, so, following normal procedure, I called 14th Battalion Operations and requested permission to destroy the Firebird. The memory of what Anton's ship looked like when we were finally able to get to it was just too vivid. Anton's has been stripped of everything Charlie might be able to use and I'm sure some of it was used against some poor grunt. I certainly did not want to see anything like that again on my watch. Battalion Operations finally came through, gave their approval for the destruction and thus began one of the biggest Rat F--Ks I saw during two years in country. ,

The Firebirds did not have another gun team available. I requested and received a Musket (176th AHC) fireteam which came on site and made two halfhearted passes, breaking off each firing run about one mile out. They reported the fire too intense and said they could not destroy the downed bird. The 196th TOC offered us artillery support, so we refueled and picked up a young artillery lieutenant from the 8" howitzer unit and he attempted to adjust their fire onto the aircraft. Well, we had no luck there either. They hit all around it but never close enough to do the job. We were really getting desperate. One damned crashed helicopter and the army can't destroy it. We even negotiated for an airstrike to do the job but were unable to get one. By now, it's over two hours after the bird went down and I still can't get it blown up. Charlie is probably well into his stripping process by now and this is getting more ridiculous by the minute. If I hadn't already been down there and seen how Charlie had the area covered, I might have considered going down and touching my trusty Zippo to the JP-4.

Fortunately, before our frustration reached that point, I received a call from 71st Operations (probably Tom McAuley) saying that the Firebirds now had a light fire team available, if I needed it Boy, did I! I said "Yes, that would certainly be appreciated", and within a few minutes they were on site. I don't recall who was flying in that fire team, but they did some typical Firebird shooting. They made one pass and it was all over but the crying. As I recall, they only fired one pair of rockets. However, just as they rolled in on their pass, my radio started crackling. It was someone from 14th Battalion Operations calling for Rattler 3. I responded to the call and this desk jockey tells me we are ordered not to destroy the aircraft. Roger that, however we have a small problem. There are two rockets in the air and they do not respond to such orders. I responded that it was too late, we terminated the call and my crew and I sat back and enjoyed the bonfire. It may occur to some of you that we deliberately ignored the cease and desist order from battalion, but honestly the sequence of events was just as I described. The rockets were already in the air before the call came through.

Upon my return to 71st Operations, I was informed that the Battalion Commander wanted to see me first thing the next morning regarding the destroyed ship. Okay! Next morning I went up, dutifully, and was waiting outside the battalion commander's office when the S-3 (operations officer) came along. The 3 was a Signal Corps major and was fairly new as the 3, though he had been in the battalion awhile. As I recall, he was the Battalion Signal Officer before becoming the 3. Well, it seems I was not the only one who had been summoned on the carpet. He and I started discussing the previous day's events. Apparently, the situation had been reported to 1st Aviation Brigade shortly after Parsons went down and they had ordered that the bird not be destroyed. However, relaying that order from Brigade Headquarters in Long Binh to me in the air over the Que Son Valley just simply took too long. Now, since that order had been violated, someone had to pay.

What began as a calm discussion of the previous day's events quickly degenerated into a shouting match. The Major and I were screaming at each other, each blaming the other for what now very much appeared to be a major flap. He informed me that I was only a captain and did not have the authority to request permission to destroy an aircraft. Of course, I screamed right back, confident by now that my career was over, that I could request anything I wanted and if his people were dumb enough to approve it, I could do it. Remember, this is all occurring in the hallway outside the battalion COs office. We haven't yet been called in. Needless to say, the loud racket did attract attention and the battalion XO, LTC Rutkowski, came out of his office to find out what the hell all of the racket was about I stated my case, which of course was that I had only done what the battalion duty officer had authorized me to do. Upon questioning by LTC Rutkowski, the major grudgingly admitted that his duty officer had indeed given me permission to destroy the aircraft. With that admission, LTC Rutkowski told me I could leave. I needed to hear no more. Without hesitation, I snapped to, saluted, said "Yes Sir" and gleefully got the hell out of there, leaving the dour S-3 to face the music alone. I don't even remember the battalion COs name (some LTC) but Rutkowski was an OK guy. I served with him during my second tour in the 165th Avn. Gp at Long Binh and he remembered the incident and me but didn't seem to want to discuss it. I can only assume that he took a lot of flak because of a screw up by his staff. It couldn't have been too bad though, he was a full colonel in 1970.

I wrote recommendations for my crew members to receive Distinguished Flying Crosses for that action. Since I was leaving country in a few days, I did not have the opportunity to follow up on the awards and learned from Jerry and David at the '95 reunion in Dallas that they never received anything. I was thankful to get out with my skin and career intact, having made a stupid decision to land there in the first place. I still consider the decision to destroy the aircraft the correct one under the circumstances, although I'm certain that doing so is what cost my crew the medals. When I turned in the recommendations for their medals, I suggested that since I was the aircraft AC, someone might think it appropriate to also write a recommendation for me. I was told not to push the point and to consider myself fortunate to be leaving with no record of the incident. During that time frame, the deliberate destruction of an aircraft, regardless of the circumstances, was a very unpopular thing to do. But, what the hell, the only ones who were going to get any more use out of that aircraft was Charlie and I wasn't about to let that happen, not after knowing what had he had done with Anton's bird just two months earlier. We had also requested permission to destroy that aircraft, but it was denied and we followed orders.

So, Bob Parsons and all the rest of you guys involved, glad to see that you survived this crash and are doing well. Congratulations on a job well done. NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!

IN SEARCH OF SMITTY by DENNIS WHEELER (WO 68-69)

I was a green peter pilot in late '68. On my first day in the AO, I was given, with little fanfare to a "Mr. Smith" of 2nd platoon. I could fly a "Huey" or so I thought. Ten minutes out of Chu Lai we had an engine failure. Being fresh out of flight school with simulated failures "ad nauseum", I was quicker than Mr. Smith and hit the collective before he put it down. At the bottom with collective pull, the engine came back and we were sideways before we realized that it was a compressor stall and not a failure. During the decent I had two realizations. One was that I was a great pilot because I had been quicker than Mr. Smith to the collective. The other was that I was going to be murdered as soon as we hit the ground. We flew back to Chu Lai where maintenance hovered our aircraft around, shrugged and said "go fly it". I knew then that it was going to be a long year.

For the next six weeks, I flew almost exclusively with Mr. Smith. It didn't take me long to realize that I knew almost nothing about flying a Huey. We did a lot of work for the folks at LZ Center. In those days, LZ Center could be a very interesting place. With great patience, Mr. Smith tutored me with his hands in his lap. I lumbered our tired "D Model" in and out of those tiny clearings and as my skills grew, I did most of the flying.

When the LZs were hot, Mr. Smith would sit up a little straighter but his hands were still in his lap. Only when the grunts were crawling to and from the aircraft on their bellies would Mr. Smith take the controls. He wouldn't just tell me what to do, he would tell me why. It was Mr. Smith who taught me how to get in excess of 3500 FPM on the VSl during an "overhead approach" and it was Mr. Smith who sat with his bands in his lap as I thundered out of them at the bottom.

I never realized how important Mr. Smith was to me until they started pairing me with junior ACs and Mr. Smith returned to the states. I don't remember ever thanking him for the skills and insight which were certainly necessary to my survival.

Later, when I was given green peter pilots of my own, I tried to remember and pass on the gifts that had so generously been given to me. I was not as calm as Mr. Smith. I was not as tolerant as Mr. Smith. When the LZ was hot and the grunts were crawling, it was I on the controls. When the popcorn was cooking, it was I that roared out at the bottom of a high overhead approach. But I didn't forget. I explained what I was doing and why. I tried hard to keep my hands in my lap. I didn't always succeed, but I tried.

Mr. Smith was an F-troop AC in 68 & 69. I don't remember his first name. He was just "Smitty". Of all the men I have known in my life, none more deserve the title "MISTER". Dennis Wheeler, Firebird 98.

Editor's note: We had a WO George A. Smith, Jr. that served in our company in this time frame. At this time we do not have this Smith located, but a last known address was in Augusta, GA. Dennis Wheeler's experiences as a peter pilot could have been written by any of hundreds of newbies that were taught the tricks of survival by the old hands.

FIRE TEAM LEADER KELLY McHUGH by ROBERT COMBS (WO 69-70)

This story is taken from a letter written by Robert Combs to John Wiklanski (EM 68-69).

I was co-pilot on the day Kelly McHugh was wounded. That was a pretty rough day all around. As I recall, I had been a "wing" A/C for a few months as Firebird 97 and Kelly was the senior Fire Team Leader. He was giving me a Fire Team Leader check ride that day. We were escorting a large assault into a valley west of the big valley that was east and south of LZ East. After the first lift was inserted, we were escorting the slicks back to LZ Baldy when a Rattler was shot down on fire. Two slick A/Cs, Dan Foe and Jim Evanson were flying together and they autorotated their crippled, burning ship to the top of a hill. Just as they flared, the transmission locked up and they fell through the last few feet but thankfully, no one was injured.

On the second lift, we were flying inbound to the LZ when I felt something strike the aircraft and there was a bright flash of light in the cockpit and all at once, Kelly's left calf was shattered all over the cockpit and blood was everywhere. Bits of flesh had splattered all over me, and the seats. Blood was quickly pooling in the chin bubble. The flash of light apparently was caused by the .50 caliber round that struck Kelly's leg as it took out the top of his collective lever and throttle assembly. I recall shutting down at Baldy and being unable to roll off the throttle to cool the engine prior to shut down because of the throttle damage. In the second that elapsed before I realized what was happening, a small caliber round came through my side of the instrument panel and hit me in the right upper arm. I knew I had been hit, but it was nothing compared to Kelly's wound.

I immediately hung a 180 and reported to the world in general that Mr. McHugh had been hit and I was returning to LZ Baldy. Kelly was, I believe, in deep shock in the short flight to Baldy which I think prevented him from experiencing great pain. I switched frequencies to the Dust Off push at Baldy and called ahead. Somewhere en route to Baldy, Wiklanski pulled McHugh's seat pins and leaned his seat back and put his belt on Kelly's leg as a tourniquet. That act might have saved his leg, but I'm sure as a minimum, it prevented him from passing out. Kelly did the most incredible thing... as we were approaching Baldy on final, he reached up and pulled the circuit breakers for the weapons systems! How he had the presence of mind to remember to do that is incredible. It was my responsibility as the one taking the check ride. I believe I was somewhat in shock myself at the sight of Kelly's injury and didn't have my act fully together. I'm grateful that my bullet wound was so minor as to allow me to get the ship back to Baldy.

When we got to Baldy, the medics hustled out to aid Kelly. The only time he ever cried out in pain was when they lifted his wounded left leg over the cyclic. His shin bone was shattered and his leg hinged between his knee and ankle. The medics tried hard to get him out without bending his leg, but they had to bend it to get it over the cyclic. That must have been excruciatingly painful. I could see the gaping hole where his calf used to be because the impact of the round blew away the back half of his pants leg too.

After I got the bird shut down, someone dragged me to the medics hootch and looked at my arm. The core of a .30 caliber armor piercing round was sticking out of my right biceps. Big deal. A few stitches and a bandage and I was out of there. I'll always be impressed with Kelly's bravery and presence of mind and I was impressed with Wiklanski's actions in tying off his leg.

I was still a slick driver in June when I was on a mission in the valley in which were situated LZs East, West and Center. I had just lifted off East and was barely in transitional lift with some grunts and cargo aboard, when I heard a mayday call. I looked out toward Center and saw Wiklanski's ship autorotating in flames to a hilltop. I kicked a pedal turn, landed back on East, dumped the grunts and hauled out to the area. By the time I arrived, Jim Leech (WO 68-69), Rattler 27(?) had already picked up Wilkinski, McHugh and the rest of the crew. Dennis Wheeler and Steve Moy had been providing cover in Firebird 98 when Leech came in. Next thing I recall was Wheeler's mayday as they were going down with engine, hydraulic and tail rotor failure. They had been picked off by one of the two .50 cals setting up ambush in that valley. Anyway, I was still a mile or so away and Leech was climbing to altitude and now directing me to the hilltop where Wheeler and Moy had crashed. I spotted the Charlie model gunship resting on its side and shot a high overhead approach (taught to me in my peter pilot days by none other than Dennis Wheeler) to the hill top. We were getting tons of fire, mostly small arms in the descent. I flared out at the top of the hill and realized it was deep elephant grass. I mean deep. My rotor was barely over the top of the grass. As I was flaring, I looked over to my right and saw an oriental man in the grass at the edge of the "clearing" the crashed Huey had created. Somebody in back yelled "gooks' and I yelled not to fire. It was Steve Moy holding an M-14 and looking every bit like an NV A in the grass.

I don't think he knows to this day how close he came to getting blown away. Anyway, as soon as I came to a hover, I figured I was a goner because the small arms had increased loud and close. Wheeler, Moy and two crewmen came flying out of the elephant grass and leaped horizontally onto the cargo floor. As we were taking off, I vividly recall Moy and Wheeler doing their best John Wayne, blasting up the countryside with their.38 caliber pistols. It still seems funny. We popped out of the grass and I dumped the nose down the hill to get through transitional lift and get some airspeed. About the time we started flying, we passed right over the top of several NVA who just beat the crap out of the underside and tailboom with their AK-47s as we passed over. They were on their way up the hill to capture Wheeler and crew. Looking back, they weren't 150 meters from the wreckage.

Immediately after getting past the NVA, all hell broke loose. I was flying and a flash and explosion happened right in front of my face. It was the first of two .50 cal incendiary rounds that came in the top left comer of my windshield and exited the top right comer (I was in the left seat). A second or two later, the same thing happened, only this time a big round piece of the window, big enough to stick your head through, was blasted into my face by a second round. Both rounds left black, blistered streaks across the windshield. My face, arms and everything above my chicken plate were peppered with plexiglas. The big piece of windshield blasted inward hit me in the face, breaking one lens of my sunglasses. Dip shit that I was, I did not have my visor down... I got glass in my eye and was flying with one eye bleeding.

When we gained altitude, I set a course for LZ Center. No radios, leaking all sorts of fluids everywhere and had the most incredible vibration you could imagine in the rotor system. I didn't push it farther and landed at Center. Apparently Leech had called for a Dust Off which was waiting down the hill when I landed. I later learned there were at least 15 small cal hits and four or five .50s in my bird. The vibration was caused by a round which took out two of the four bolts attaching the stabilizer bar to the rotor head. Once again, lucky!

After I hitched a ride back from DaNang, where they patched up my eye, Dennis told me when his aircraft was shot down, he lost the engine, hydraulics and tail rotor control and they just sort of cork screwed their way to the ground and crashed. The transmission was ripped loose and thrown forward between the seats and literally took out the front of the cockpit. The ship had come to rest lying on it's right side and Dennis said he felt a tremendous blow as they crashed. As it turned out from the gash on his helmet, the transmission whacked him upside the head as it went out between the pilot's seats. He also said he could hear the dinks coming up the hill.

Dennis and I were stationed together at Ft. Wolters after Vietnam. When his second child was a boy, he named him Robert Combs Wheeler. Dennis told me at the reunion in '95 that he personally nominated me for the Medal of Honor, but it became a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. I still consider Dennis Wheeler my best friend in the world.

Editor's note: This Association has been told that a gook was actually killed by one of these men with his .38 pistol from the helicopter during this rescue.

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
by Cadet Major Kelly Strong
Homestead High School, FL.

I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze.

A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud.

With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mother's tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom is not free.

I heard the sound of Taps one night,
When everything was still.
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That Taps had meant "Amen",
When a flag draped a coffin,
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard,
At the bottom of the sea.
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom is not free.

TAPS

Reprinted from Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Newsletter

Its sad, haunting melody is one of the most familiar tunes in America. It will be played tonight, just as it has been played for the past 134 years, at United States military establishments through the world. The sad tune not only marks the end of the day for soldiers: it also denoted the end of their lives. The melody might spring to mind, but the title of the tune may not.

The tune is Taps, and it was written by Dan Butterfield. Butterfield was a Union General, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and after the war he served as the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department. He was born in Utica, New York, on October 31st, 1831. He was the third son of John Butterfield, renowned for his dealings with both the Overland Stage and American

Express. Taps sprang from Dan Butterfield's imagination in 1862. During the Civil War, as the United States fought to either tear itself apart or heal its differences, Butterfield spent July in Virginia with his men. He was as restless as his men that night. Sweat made it's sticky trailings under dirty blue uniforms, plastering the wool against the too hot skin. The brigade was camped at Berkley Plantation, overlooking the James River near Tidewater. Butterfield sat on his cot and thought about the good fortune he had had last month during the battle of Gaines' Mill- his wounds had not been serious. Others, of course, hadn't shared his good fourtune. Many dead and wounded had been left behind there. Those that had escaped might have fallen a few days later at Malvern Hill, when Lee's troops attacked but fell back before the Union soldiers. But Butterfielf's ruminations were interrupted by his bugler sounding Extinguish Lights.

Butterfield had never liked Extinguish Lights, a tune borrowed from the French and played to signal the end of the day. He thought it too stiff and formal for everyday use. In his imagination played a different melody to signal day's end - something peaceful, soothing, and just a bit melancholy.

Besides his soldiering skills, Butterfield had other talents. He reached into his pocket and drew forth a crumpled, stained envelope. Whistling and humming, he got down to work, finishing his imagination's song.

O. W. Norton, Butterfield's 22 year old bugler, recounts what happened next; "Butterfield, showing me some notes on staff written in pencil on the back envelope, asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me.

"After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound the call thereafter, in place of the regular call. The music was beautiful on the still summer nights and was heard far beyond the limits of our brigade. The next day I was visited by several other buglers from neighboring brigades asking for a copy of the music, which I gladly furnished."

The music also drifted across the battlefield and was soon taken up by the Confederate buglers. Later, at a Union military funeral, Taps was substituted for the customary rifle volleys at the graveside. It seems that Union officers were worried that the ceremonial gunshots would set off an attack by the edgy Confederates.

Taps was well on its way to becoming the nation's requiem. It was played when General Dan Butterfield was laid to rest on July 17th, 1901, thirty nine years after he spent a steamy night in Virginia scribbling on an old envelope.

He was buried at West Point where his white marble monument still stands. In the Oneida, New York, Historical Society's collection resides General Butterfield's Medal of Honor, his silver mess gear, two of his swords and other memorabilia. That, and the haunting melody at sunset, are all that's left of him.

 

"MAINTENANCE SQUAWKS"

contributed by BILL MARSHALL (OF 66-67)
Taken from actual U.S.A.F. squawk sheets:

Problem: "Left inside main tire almost needs replacement."
Solution: "Almost replaced left inside main tire."

Problem: "Test flight OK, except autoland very rough."
Solution: "Autoland not installed on this aircraft."

Problem: "#2 Propeller seeping prop fluid."
Solution: "#2 Propeller seepage normal."
Problem #2: "#1, #3, and #4 propellers lack normal seepage."

Problem: "The autopilot doesn't."
Signed off: "It does now."

Problem: "Something loose in cockpit."
Solution: "Something tightened in cockpit."

Problem: "Evidence of hydraulic leak on right main landing gear."
Solution: "Evidence removed."

Problem: "Number three engine missing."
Solution: "Engine found on right wing after brief search."

Problem: "DME volume unbelievably loud."
Solution: "Volume set to more believable level."

Problem: "Dead bugs on windshield."
Solution: "Live bugs on order."

Problem: "Autopliot in altitude hold mode produces a 200 fpm decent."
Solution: "Cannot reproduce problem on ground."

Problem: "IFF inoperative."
Solution: "IFF inoperative in OFF mode."

Problem: "Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick."
Solution: "That's what they're there for."