FOR YOUR INFORMATION
In our May newsletter, there was no mention made of the availability of our reunion group photo. It was, however, offered on the merchandise order form. This photo is 8 X 12 inches and has 133 of the 157 men who were at the reunion included along with an ID sheet so you can tell who is who. We are offering these for $12.00 each if you are interested. Please see our order form.
Your editor continues to harp on a couple of things. Please send this Association any new changes in your address or phone numbers. We still can use any old orders from our Company that contain others men's names for the purpose of finding new men. I know you get tired of reading those two things in your newsletters. Please send copies of those orders.
In an e-mail received from Carl B. Jones (EM 70-71) we were informed that the original 71st guidon was in the Vietnam Veterans Museum in Angelfire, NM. Ron Seabolt's brother-in-law, Wilkie Boyd, toured this museum in August and photographed the guidon. Chuck Carlock is using these photos in an attempt to get this guidon reproduced by a flag company to be used in our displays. As mentioned before, 1SGT John Howell (EM 66) had donated to the Association the original A 501st guidon and we now have it encased and framed for posterity.
In listing of our Board of Directors, an omission was made by not noting that Doug Womack (WO 70-71) is officially our Sergeant -At-Arms. Doug would very much like to assemble info from our men concerning actions our company was involved in throughout the war for the purpose of committing to paper a historical account of our unit. Doug can be reached at: 711 Long Point Rd, Grasonville, MD 21638-1071. Phone: 410-827-8720.
Through a conference call held by the Association Board of Directors, Johnnie Hitt presented the results of our reunion survey taken in Orlando. The comments were 99.9% favorable with a few recommendations for future reunions. Using these surveys and direct input from our men, a Reunion Committee was appointed for the 2000 reunion and part of the 2002 reunion committee was selected.
The Reunion Committee for 2000 consists of: David O'Quinn, chairman, Vic Bandini, co-chairman, Michael Beaumont, Bill Keller, Bruce Kelly, Don Lynam and Les Winfield. This reunion is planned for Las Vegas, NV with Phoenix, AZ being the alternate site.
The Reunion Committee for 2002 consists of: Vic Bandini, chairman, Curtis Crouch, Mike Hansen and Kerry McMahon. This committee may be added to as needed for this reunion slated for either St. Louis, MO or Kansas City, MO.
The Association wishes to thank everyone who participated in the survey and all the volunteers to work on these reunions. Don't worry, we won't forget you volunteers!
At our reunion, several men expressed concerns about a rumor they had heard concerning VA benefits. In a news release obtained from the Dallas VA Medical center, it states: "The VA Health Care System is required by law to establish and implement an enrollment system for health-care services by Oct. 1, 1998. While veterans must be enrolled to receive care (as has always been the case) it does not mean that veterans who have not applied for enrollment by that date will lose their eligibility for VA care. Veterans can apply and be enrolled at the time they are in need of VA health care." The purpose of this enrolling was to determine an approximate number of persons using the VA system and this number will be used by our Congress to decide how much money should be allotted to the VA system. The more persons enrolled, the more the VA can assist our veterans.
Once again, we wish to thank the men who took the time to write down and send us some stories from their tours with us. Carl Fox has told us a story that is not very pretty. It's a story that many wounded veterans can relate to though, and this Association is especially grateful to him for sharing those painful memories with us. I urge you to please help this Association by sending in a story to us at the address on this newsletter.
Congratulations to Vinnie Harrington (EM 65-66) on his retirement from the Sandwich, MA Fire Department on September 5, 1998 after 35 years of service.
AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE, OWN A PIECE OF HISTORY!
Did you ever wish you owned a genuine tail rotor drive chain bracelet from a Huey? Now you can. This Association is making an offer of sending any NEW, FULLY PAID LIFE MEMBERSHIP, BOUGHT BEFORE, JANUARY 1, 1999, a tail rotor drive chain bracelet. If you have ever priced one of these items in today's market, you would not believe the asking price. FYI, several years ago, the military switched from the old style chain to a bicycle type chain. This item is unique among Army Aviators and quite a conservation piece. Is your family wondering what to get you for Christmas? Here's the answer. Tell 'em you want a bracelet! It would be my luck they'd make a mistake and buy me an earring. Please read this offer carefully if you are considering taken advantage of it. We have about 40 bracelets available and this is a limited offer. [Note: bracelets are no longer available.]
This Association is running behind on mailing the reminder post cards to our men that are using the payment system for their life memberships. I hope to rectify this ASAP.
GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES
From this Association office, a person runs the gauntlet of emotions. Since our Orlando reunion we have lost three men that attended the reunion. Jim Schroll (WO 71) died of a massive heart attack on April 29th, after seeing his friends in Florida . On May 19th, Ned Flecke (EM 66-67) committed suicide and on August 18th, Pete Repak (EM 65-66) died of complications from hepatitis. All three men would not have missed our reunion for anything and had a great time. These men were strong supporters of this Association and they were all life members. They will be missed forever by their friends and this Association.
At our reunion in Orlando, Ron Seabolt was presented a "Founder's Award". The idea and wording for this award was the product of Ned Flecke. This award meant as much to me as anything I could have received and was greatly appreciated. When talking to Ned after the reunion, I told him that if my photo had not appeared in this newsletter before, the photo of me with this honor would have been in the May newsletter. Ned made me promise to put it in the next newsletter. This editor trys to print as many new photos of our men as possible and before this newsletter we have had 115 different men's pictures in this paper.
In July, the VHPA (pilot's association) held their annual reunion in Ft. Worth, TX and our display material was on hand for their enjoyment. Chuck Carlock and Frank Anton were selling their books and meeting many old friends. A couple of weeks before the reunion, this office was contacted by a friend of Mrs. Nita Robbins, concerning our helping her obtain a replacement Gold Star Pin. Her son, 1LT Russell Robbins, had died in a helicopter crash while flying as a gunner on one of our 2nd platoon aircraft on 2 May 67. Lt. Robbins was our avionics detachment commander. Their timing of this request could not have been better. The Peter Pilot on Lt. Robbins flight was WO Frank Anton. Mrs. Robbins, who lives in Ft. Worth, was invited to come to the hotel and meet Frank and to see our display.
At 10 A.M. on July 3rd, Ron Seabolt met Mrs. Robbins in the hotel lobby and escorted her to the display area, where she was introduced to Anton. This was an emotional experience for all of us. Ron Seabolt had been in the flight and had also witnessed the crash, but Frank was actually on the aircraft with Russell. Mrs. Robbins had brought along a framed photograph of her son as a new Lieutenant that she has looked at every day in his absence. For over 31 years this lady had lived with unanswered questions about her son's death. Everything she had wondered about was answered for her that day. Frank led her to our slick display and explained where everyone's position was on the aircraft and described to her exactly what happened that day. When our visit concluded, Mrs. Robbins confided to Ron Seabolt that she felt a peace she had not known since the tragedy and she could now go to her grave in peace.
Mrs. Robbins left with autographed copies of Firebirds and Why Didn't You Get Me Out and our feelings that we had helped the mother of one of our lost brothers and probably helped ourselves at the same time.
At the VHPA reunion, we were approached by one of our Warrant Officers from '65-'66 named Steven Martin. Steve was having a great time and casually mentioned that one of his good friends from the Rattlers, Tom Griffith (OF 65-66), was there also. Then Steve tells us, "Oh, by the way, Tom is a retired Lt. General". Well, that will open your eyes and wake you up! We missed Tom at the reunion, but have since been in contact with him from his home in Utah. At this editor's request, General Griffith has sent us a short biography of his military career. An interesting note that came up in our telephone conversation concerned the fact that Tom was only the second general officer we had been able to locate that served with our unit. When I mentioned this to Tom, he said, "Was the other one Larry Gillespie (WO 65-66)?" When I assured him it was, he informed me that Brigadier General Gillespie used to fly his wing as Firebird "91" while Tom was "92". I ask you, what are the odds of a light fire team of Firebirds with both ships being commanded by two future generals! General Griffith's biography follows later in this newsletter.
Also attending the reunion was a "loach" pilot who had recently published a book about his tour in'Nam. Tom Marshall's book, The Price Of Exit, details the war from Tom's experiences in '70 and '71 in Northern I Corps. Chapter nine of Tom's book is entitled "Lolo: The Worst Landing Zone" and quotes several of the Rattler's horrors they witnessed on March 3, 1971 in Laos. Tom donated a case of 48 copies of his book to our Association for us to do with as we pleased and as it turned out, all but two of those books were sold in Ft. Worth with Tom autographing most of them.
At the close of Tom's book is a poem written by Mrs. Evelyn L. Hatley, the mother of a crew chief who was listed as missing in action and later confirmed as KIA. Her poem entitled, "A Picture, a Flag and a Gold Star Pin" is copyrighted but she has given her permission for us to include it in this newsletter for one time use only. It is a touching tribute to her son and anyone who ever flew a mission in 'Nam knows that it could have been our mothers writing this. See the poem printed near the back of this newsletter.
On October 17-18, Chuck Carlock, Frank Anton, Jaak Sepp, Joe Bruce and Ron Seabolt attended the "militaria" show at the Convention Center in Dallas. We took three helicopters and most of our display material for public viewing. While at this show, Bob Chappell, a Vietnam Veteran, approached Carlock and described to him an action that he was involved with in Vietnam with the 198th LIB (Light Infantry Brigade). He said he was on a Rattler aircraft during an extraction in which the right seat pilot was shot in the head and killed. The aircraft autorotated down safely and once on the ground, the pilot was removed from the ship and this man remembered the name on his uniform, Cotton. This was CWO Charlie Cotton, KIA 19 June 68, on the last lift of his last mission in Vietnam. Small world.
At this show, Carlock's and Anton's books were being sold. Anton's book and our Associations' rights to Firebirds have been returned to the owners because of some conflicts with the publisher. Anton is working on a deal with Dell Publishers on his paperback rights and will be having his own printings made of the hardback version. If you are interested in autographed copies of either of these books, Firebirds can be purchased from us on the order form in this newsletter and Anton's book about his five years as a POW, Why Didn't You Get Me Out?, can be bought directly from him for $20.00 each. Send your check or money order to: Frank Anton, 730 Palm Dr., Satellite Beach, FL 32937. Phone # 407-773-0059. These make good Christmas gifts for the hard to buy for person!
That was really a nice article, "Trouble Shooter in the Sky", in the May, '98 Association newsletter. The story on SP4 Roger D. Marley (EM 67-68) brings back some good memories from when he used to fly with the infamous "F Troop" of the late 60's.
While in "F Troop", SP4 Marley was affectionately known as "Doc" Marley to fellow "F Troopers", due to his having served time as a medic. One good thing about Doc was he knew about shot cards: what shots were due, when shots were due and especially how to sign them just like a real doctor. The common "F Trooper was always a little smarter than the Army. Rather than waste time and get those stupid shots the Army thought we needed, we would outsmart the geniuses who thought up all these shots and get Doc to sign our shot cards. We were all pretty slick, no needles for us. All of the "F Troop" shot cards were always up to date, thanks to Doc.
Doc was almost always a pretty calm and quite guy, even in the midst of some "F Troop" parties. You could even go as far as to say that Doc was really a sort of shy kind of guy. So it took Denny Cornibe (Greaser)(EM 67-68) and I (R.J.) by surprise when Doc came back from a leave to the states and asked us to take a Polaroid picture of him to send to a girl back home.
Obviously shy Doc had found a girlfriend. Well, as the Greaser and I were just sitting around the hooch, with half a bag on, Doc had got all decked out in his best Army Fatigues. I must say he really looked STRAC, so Greaser and I agreed to help out our buddy. I looked at Greaser and noticed that terrible gleam in his eye that normally indicated that something was about to happen that usually resulted in the all too famous 1SGT Hillhouse announcement, "R.J, report to the orderly room", message over the company loudspeaker.
Greaser told Doc to wait a minute while he gathered up some things that would help Doc look more like a warrior, and less like a starched FNG. Doc eagerly agreed, and was very excited that his buddies cared so much about taking a good picture to impress his new girlfriend.
Greaser returned shortly with some rope, four tent stakes and a hammer. Doc's demeanor changed from ecstatic to one of sheer terror and he immediately uttered a besieging, "Oh no, R.J, Greaser". We proceeded to strip Doc to his shorts and tie him to the four stakes hastily driven into the sand of the company street. Amidst all of Doc's yelling and pleading, he now found himself spread eagle on his back clad only in his OD U.S. Army shorts. Greaser took a look through Doc's Polaroid and shook his head, "No, something is still not right, I'll be right back". He returned this time with a can of navy blue paint and we proceeded to paint both of Doc's ears completely blue, with a small matching dab on his nose. We then agreed he looked just right and snapped his picture.
We returned to the tent and found Doc's letter already written and addressed so we thought we would help him some more. We enclosed the Polaroid picture and mailed it for him. I can still hear him screaming in the background as Greaser and I walked over to mail the letter, with two cold beers in our hands and a gleam in our eyes, and Doc still staked out in the sand. "You know Greaser, it makes you feel good inside when you can help a friend." "Yea R.J, I know the feeling".
Postscript, although Doc wrote a few more times to that girl to try to explain what happened that day, he never did hear from her again.
That brings me to another guy from that same article, SP4 David L. Winters (EM 67-68), who also used to fly with the infamous "F Troop" of the late 60's.
If Doc was shy and reserved, Dave Winters was his direct opposite. He was totally unpredictable, drank more than the average fish and firmly believed the Army ran on practical jokes and raising hell.
I was originally a gunner in the second platoon and became interested in the mechanics of the helicopter. I attended crew chief school in Vung Tau and upon returning from school, I was assigned to a short stint in maintenance to hone my newly acquired skills. It was here that I met Dave Winters. Dave and I immediately hit it off and became very good friends. I talked to Dave a lot about flying and he talked to me a lot about the aircraft. We finally taught each other our skills. Dave taught me enough to be a good crewchief and I taught Dave about being a good gunner.
I also talked Dave into going flying, as a gunner, with me on several DCS (resupply) missions. It was on one such mission, as I was filling out my aircraft log, sitting next to Dave on the front jump seat, that I had my first doubts about Dave's sanity. He Tapped me on the shoulder, and with a big shit eating grin pointed to an F-4 at our three o'clock position, at our exact altitude, heading straight for us. On the intercom he said, "Hey R.J, look at that". I dropped my log, almost wet my pants and yelled into the intercom: "High performance, three o'clock". The pilots almost wet their pants as there was no time to react, but thank God the F-4 jock saw us in time. He went right under us with about 2 inches separating the bottom of our skids from the top of his tail. I remember looking into the cockpit of the F-4 and seeing two eyes as big as dinner plates. Upon landing, Dave almost wet HIS pants, as the pilots mentioned to Dave that it might be a good idea to let them know when he sees aircraft coming towards us. They used a little Army punctuation and attention getting words that would help Dave remember.
Dave finally joined the second platoon as a gunner and he flew with me for awhile. What I have been setting the background for is Dave's first CA (combat assault). I went over the differences with Dave between a real CA and the junk missions we had been flying. I told Dave this was the real thing, on the way in he was to look for muzzle flashes and return fire there first. If he didn't see any muzzle flashes he was to shoot up anything that moves and if he didn't see any of those things, then just shoot up the tree lines and any other likely spots he thought someone could hide in.
We started into the LZ and the order was full suppression. The Firebirds had already made a few passes at the LZ and told Rattler lead it was a hot LZ. There was the typical CA chitchat on the radio, like Firebird 96 break left, lets keep it tight Rattlers or 17 taking fire, etc. An irate Firebird pilot screaming on the radio interrupted the confusion of radio chatter with, "Rattler flight, tell that gunner that's shooting up the flock of ducks down here to stop shooting at them because we are going IFR in duck feathers trying to cover your approach". Dave didn't see any muzzle flashes, but he said he saw the ducks moving. Well, that's how David "Duck" Winters got his nickname and of course his excuse was that I told him to shoot anything that moved and the ducks were moving. Duck, obviously, would prove to be a perfect fit in "F Troop".
Editor's note: The following three stories seem to be referring to the same action. Is this correct?
"POLAR BEARS" UNDER HEAVY FIRE
71st AHC LENDS A HELPING HAND
Reprinted fron the Americal Division Newspaper, Southern Cross
Chu Lai (16th CAG) - 196th Light Infantry Brigade troops from Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry were under a massive ground attack near LZ Siberia and called for an immediate combat extraction.
Minutes later the 71st Assault Helicopter Company - Rattlers (slicks) and Firebirds (gunships) commanded by Major Tommie James, were airborne and headed toward the hot LZ.
As the Rattlers and Firebirds began their approach into the area, they began receiving small arms and .50 caliber machine gun fire from the surrounding tree line.
One of the Firebirds spotted the .50 caliber machine gun's position and immediately showered the area with large volumes of suppressive fire.
During the intense action, one Rattler was hit and went down in a small depression surrounded by the ememy.
Capt. James E. Duke, Ft. Worth, Texas and Warrant Officer William M. Ellis, Downey, Calif, flew immediately to the wreckage and started a high overhead approach.
Unable to land at the crash site due to high trees and bushes, Captain Duke was forced to remain at a hover while the four crew members and three passengers of the downed craft were hoisted aboard.
Due to the heavy loaded condition of Captain Duke's helicopter, he was unable to hover high enough to turn his ship and was forced to take an uphill departure and fly over the known enemy positions.
As the rescue team cleared the enemy infested area, they received intense small arms and .50 caliber machine gun fire.
The seven soldiers were evacuated to the medical aid station at LZ West and were checked for any injuries.
With greater concern for their fellow man than their own personal safety, the crew of Rattler 219 acted courageously in the life saving extraction. With cool heads and professional competence, these brave men of the 71st Assault Helicopter Company brought great credit upon themselves and their company.
It was mid afternoon on May 17, 1970 when Capt Mike Callahan (OF 69-70), Rattler 26, received a radio call from Major Tommie James (OF 70), Rattler 6, requesting us to join a flight of Rattlers and Firebirds that was heading to a pick up zone in Heip Duc Valley north of LZ Siberia for an extraction mission. Mike Callahan informed six that we were down to about 400 lbs. of fuel, since we had been working for 4/31st out of LZ West all day, and requested to return to Hawk Hill to refuel. Major James informed "26" that there was not enough time and that we should join the flight, which was already inbound from Hawk Hill, north of LZ West, in the trail position. Rattler 26 acknowledged the order from six, and we fell into formation as ordered.
Upon joining the flight, "26" informed the lead aircraft, which was piloted by CWO Mike Curtis (WO 69-70). Curtis, who was the Rattler check pilot, had only about a week left on his tour in country. Mr. Curtis, the Rattlers most experienced pilot at that time began his approach into the PZ on a heading of about 270 as instructed by Six, who was flying C & C. At about 100 feet out, as he started his descent, CWO Curtis called "taking .51 cal from three o'clock and taking hits." The Firebirds on station immediately rolled in, laying down fire along the ridge line to the north of the PZ. Rattler six told lead to break left to avoid further damage. CWO Curtis broke left and down and followed a small stream bed that ran SE to the Village of Heip Duc. Lead informed Six that he had taken several hits and was heading to Hawk Hill to assess the extent of the damage to his aircraft. At that point, Six informed the rest of the flight that it would be best to let down over Heip Duc Village and, since CWO Curtis had exited the area safely down the stream bed, that it would be the best avenue of approach for the flight to re-enter the area low-level. Since Rattler 26 had been in trail position, Capt Callahan was the first to descend to the deck and informed Six that he was proceeding up the stream bed low-level. Six acknowledged and told Rattler 26 that he would direct the flight to the base of the PZ and that we could pop up and set down in the PZ for the extraction.
A few hundred yards into the stream bed at 120 knots, our aircraft, 497, violently yawed to the right, in a hail of white-green .51 caliber tracers that ripped through the cargo compartment floor, which seemed to explode into bits of metal. Rattler 26 called "taking fire" and the crew chief, Specialist Mike Curry (EM 68-70), hollered that we were on fire. The next few minutes, which seemed like slow motion, went something like this; Six informed us that we were on fire and to put the aircraft down. At that point, the radio and intercom went silent. Capt. Callahan began to set 497 down when he realized we were still taking hits from the .51 cal. machine gun. Mike, ignoring the hail of lead directed at our position, coolly picked up and hovered around a bend in the stream to mask the aircraft from the gun firing at us and then set it down. I could hear the crew chief and gunner, Specialist Leon Kincade (EM 70-71), hollering but could not make out what they were saying with my helmet still on. Curry and Kincade were on the pilot's doors before I could turn my head and were helping Callahan and me out of the aircraft. We instinctively exited 497 and ran for cover behind a dirt mound to the left rear of the aircraft. During this short sprint, which Mike Callahan informed me that I covered in record time, I glanced back at our aircraft which looked more like a piece of olive drab Swiss cheese.
The few minutes we laid behind that dirt mound seemed like an eternity. We all feared the worst. With the volume of fire we received, it would be impossible for anyone to get in, to get us out. All of a sudden, the smoke from 497 was disturbed by the rotor wash from an aircraft and Snake Doctor dropped in to pick us up. With great haste we jumped into her waiting cargo compartment, or rather were pulled in and Snake Doctor made a hasty departure for the Med-Evac pad at Chu Lai. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt and after a quick check up, we were returned to the Company area.
Some months later, while re-supplying some grunts of the 4/31st in the same area, I was able to take a photo of what was left of 497. We were later told by Major James that 497 never exploded and had just burnt and crumpled under the weight of her blades and transmission. Mike Callahan never received any citation for this incident, but I feel his coolness under fire, quick thinking and professionalism saved the lives of the crew of 497 that day. I for one, remain indebted to Mike Callahan and the crew of Snake Doctor.
Editor's note: Is the Snakedoctor crew that rescued Mike Beaumont the same crew referred to in the previous "Polar Bears" story? Mike Beaumont sent this Association some examples of name tags he can make for future reunions and has offered to provide all materials. They look very professional and include the Rattler and Firebird logos.
I flew an OH6A for the 196th Bde for 5 months, then extended to go to the Rattlers. I remember an action that started with a Firebird being shot down next to the river near LZ Siberia. Major James (Rattler 6) was on the flight line when he received word of the Firebird going down - crew had been picked up and was okay. Major James got his crew chief and launched immediately without a co-pilot or gunner. Operations and James started calling for lift ships for a hasty CA into the area. I had been made AC the previous week and this was my first HOT CA as an aircraft commander. We picked up our paxs (passengers) at Hawk Hill and flew toward Siberia. We flew very high and way north of Siberia in trail formation (I was chalk 4), turned inbound over the river heading SW toward Hiep Duc and Siberia and the downed aircraft. I remember seeing the green 50 cal. tracers coming up to meet us - had to have passed directly under my skids - missing us by inches. God was I scared. Major James decided that the flight was not going to get in without massive losses and called for us to abort.
I mentioned that I had flown LOHs and was a new AC. Well, when told to abort, I followed my instincts and headed for the deck to low level out of there. I thought abort was saying - every man for himself - save yourself any way you can. As I was screaming toward the ground and trying to put a hill between me and the 50 cal., I heard Major James say he had one aircraft going down and he was going down to get the crew. About this time I looked around and noticed the flight climbing away from the area with a ship missing from the chalk 4 position. Major James was asking who was going down and someone said my call sign. Talk about feeling dumb and embarrassed. I keyed my mike and told the flight I was going low level out of the area and would rejoin the flight at LZ Center. Several calls of "FREE BAR" let me know I had screwed up.
That night Major James asked me why I left the formation. All I said was that the only thing I could think of was getting away from that 50 and I thought getting on the deck was the smart thing to do. Major James said, "You go in as a flight and you go out as a flight. Any questions?" No Sir! I also gladly put $50.00 in the free bar kitty that night for my screw-up.
The NVA got to the downed Firebird and stripped out the radios before we were able to recover the ship the next day. Later, we had a Combat Assualt Hot Extration of a 4/31 unit that was surrounded and in some real deep shit. As we sat in the LZ taking fire, the UHF and FM radios were jammed, we thought by the NVA using the Firebird radios. Trail could not tell lead that we were loaded (up), so lead had to make a pedal turn in the LZ to see for himself. Remember, we come out together!
During that mission is when the next to last or last ship in the flight went down. We thought he took a hand grenade or RPG under the tail. Captain Duke was flying Snake Doctor and he made the rescue. It was a real gutsy act because of all the fire. I think he got a DFC for that action. During May and June of 1970, this area saw some of the heaviest contact I experienced in 'Nam - Lam Son 719 was a lot more intense, but this was no walk in the park!
FIERY RESCUE SAVES CREW
Reprinted from "The Army Reporter" 7-Sept-1970
CHU LAI -- Three occupants of a helicopter that crashed near Hiep Duc recently were rescued minutes after impact by a crew chief who leaped weaponless into a ring of fire from his aircraft as it hovered 15 feet above the crash scene.
SP/5 Arnold C. Dietrich (EM 69-70), crew chief on a Rattler UH-1H of the 71st Avn. Co., leaped from his seat to where the burning LOH of the Americal Division Artillery aviation section lay on a steeply sloping hillside near LZ West.
Dietrich was the first to spot the pilot and artillery observer waving from the ground.
"We saw the fire, and right in the center I saw two people standing there waving. We couldn't set down. There were too many rocks and trees." said Dietrich.
The Rattler aircraft commander, Lt. Thomas V. Pratt (OF 69-70) acknowledged over the intercom what each man on board knew: "We've got to get in there and help them."
Over the intercom, somebody said, "I'll go."
"Without hesitating, 'D' (Dietrich) grabbed a hand radio and jumped out of the aircraft," said Capt. R.J. Sienkiewicz, the pilot.
The door gunner, SP/4 Harold E. Justice, readied a McGuire rig the crew had used on a previous mission that day.
On the ground, Dietrich had already made contact with the pilot and helped him into the McGurie rig's leg and torso loops.
Once the first man was in the rig, Pratt ascended vertically, and when the dangling man had cleared all surrounding obstacles, made his first run toward nearby LZ West.
As the helicopter disappeared over the trees, the artillery observer showed Dietrich where a third man lay injured a short distance from the LOH wreckage.
Within minutes the helicopter returned and the second pilot was extracted. Again the chopper left, and Dietrich began to assess the third man's injuries. The other two had sustained minor injuries, but were able to move without help.
Determining that the third couldn't be slung as the others had been, Dietrich decided to extract him using only the torso strap.
"I told him it would be uncomfortable, but it was the only way we could get him out." Dietrich said.
He had reported the man's injuries to the aircraft commander, who relayed it to medical personnel on West. They warned that the man should not be moved.
Again the chopper returned and by then the fiercely burning grass had almost engulfed the two men. As the third man was readied for extraction, the rotor wash from the hovering ship was the only thing saving the two men from the flames.
When the ship left for the third time, Dietrich was alone--really alone. Again, the gunships had stayed with the helicopter, leaving Dietrich hid between the rocks until he could hear the ship approaching, then he ran into the open and stepped into the dangling loops.
I've never told this story before...to anyone, I can't even remember the names of my crew that day. I wish I could.
The Hiep Duc Valley occupation by the NVA was well underway and we were always careful - lots of contact and heavy weapons. I think the AC was McCarrigan or something. The aircraft was 629 and I had only had it a couple of months, if that. That plane and I had become a magnet ass!
We were doing an ash and trash to an infantry company. We had some resupplies, a couple of crunchies and a Kit Carson scout on board and were on short short, about 10 feet off the deck to a hilltop west of LZ Siberia, when we started taking hits from a .51 caliber. The aircraft yawed and we hit the deck. I think we bounced, but I'm not sure. I hit the ground, slammed open the pilot's door and started to get the armored plate back when a .51 cal round went through it (my first Purple Heart). It was back enough that the pilot wasn't hit. I yelled out that I was hit, dropped and started crawling away until the Kit Carson grabbed my ankle (scaring the absolute shit outta me as I thought he was a gook!) and told me I was going toward the gun. We all crawled to the NDP (night defensive position) and hung out with the crunchies..watching the fighters and gunships doing their thing.
The .51 cal was in a slit trench shooting at the F-4s while they were dropping napalm, and while they were pulling out after the run. The Firebirds and Blue Ghost were trying to hit it but the rockets and miniguns didn't seem to do any good. We were as secure as we could be under the circumstances because we were with an infantry company. We had the crunchies pop a smoke because our AC was in radio contact with the choppers using one of the PRC-25s from the infantry. Major James (Rattler 6) came in where dustoff and nobody else would...no peter pilot, no crew chief and no gunner. He hovered with one skid on the hill, the other in space. I think I remember the Firebirds and Blue Ghost in a daisy chain, dumping ordinance on the enemy, covering our extraction. Well, we split...airspeed over altitude and headed back to Chu Lai.
Major James dropped me off at the 23rd Evac pad where I was treated and released. I tried to hitch-hike back to the company area, but got picked up by the MPs for not having on a damn hat (in a combat zone...you believe that). They hauled me to the Provost Marshall's Office and kept me until someone from the unit came and picked me up (somehow the DR never got processed). I think it was Ed Farringer (Widows Makers Platoon Sgt.) that picked me up. When I got to the company, I went to the NCO club as soon as I found a damn hat (mine was still under the nose cover of 629). I put some money on the bar, but do not remember how much it was. I was use to paying for hits. On this day, however, I only had a soda and went off to my hooch. Farringer let me sleep in the next few days and I went to the Battalion aid station to get the dressings changed. It was no big deal, just lots of little fragments. I think I was back in the air in a week.
The next time I saw 629, it was just where we had left it. Snake Doctor had gotten the radios, the machine guns and parts, including the "armored chicken plate". The Firebirds had used it for rocket practice. The company couldn't be tied down securing such a big target. The Firebirds had done a good job!
Editor's note: I'm damn glad I didn't spend much time in the Hiep Duc Valley in 1967!
From a letter received from Jim Adams (WO 68-69)
You guys are getting some interesting stories. I really enjoyed reading the May '98 newsletter. When I saw that Johnnie Hitt and Stan Esckilsen attended the last reunion, I decided to join as a life member. I surely would like to get Greg Mikesell, 2nd Platoon Leader and Chet Henson, Operations Officer to join our little group.
I have attempted several times to write or recall stories that are burnt into my mind and never can seem to get them on paper. The worst thing is that I have forgotten the names of most of the officers, warrants and enlisted men that flew in both platoons I led.
The morning I took over the second platoon of the 71st AHC, which was sometime in the Spring of '69, the EMs had our platoon sergeant (name?) tied up and were going to hang him by the neck (presumably 'til dead) from the Company HQ hooch rafters. I lost that command to a ranking officer several weeks later.
When I took over the first platoon, after R&R to Hong Kong in September '69, the ex platoon leader (name?) had been transferred to group because someone had tried to "frag" him at the flight line with a Willie Pete grenade wired to the seat adjusters. Fortunately for me, I had a very good platoon sergeant (name?) in this platoon, lots of birds flying and kept the platoon 'til Johnnie Hitt relieved me.
With 2 DFCs, a Bronze Star and 27 Air Medals, I saw some action and worked with some very brave people. A WO, last name Jackson, was one hotshot pilot and flew my wing on September 22, 1969 when Greg Mikesell and I flew reinforcements back into a very bad area. We were "disabled" by a .51 caliber round that took out the ship's ceiling, circuit breakers and antennas. We managed to set down on LZ West before the engine died. Later, Jackson was killed at altitude by a single round to the head (David Rolland Jackson, KIA 25 Sept. '69).
Anyway, it would be fun to try to weave all our experiences together into a major archive and get the names of people to relive those memorable times.
Editor's note: Is it possible that the Ed Farringer referred to in Charley Sparks story is the 1st Platoon Sgt. referred to by Jim Adams in the above letter? If you were with Jim on any memorable missions or can help him put names back in his memory and wish to contact him, he's at: Box 526, Nevada, MO 64772. Phone: 417-667-8293. E-mail: email@example.com
I would like to start this article by thanking all the chopper pilots and crew chiefs I have flown with. As an 11 Bravo (Light Weapon, Infantry), I felt I was fortunate to fly with men who didn't follow the norm. Men that questioned authority, went out on a limb and took chances that were truly unbelievable.
I joined the Army in November, '65 because a few friends from my neighborhood in Brooklyn had been killed in Vietnam. I didn't go to high school and was getting into some trouble when I took the entrance test (A7QT). I failed so bad that my recruiter put me in for the McNamara Project 100,000 Program. All I had to do was sign a form that said I would go to Vietnam as an infantryman. After disappointing so many people in my life, I figured this would help to make things right between me and my mom and grandparents. My father left my mom, my two sisters and myself when I was a year old. I believe after serving in WW II, my father got caught up in women, booze and gambling. I only saw him a few times in my life and he died when I was 12 years old. With all his faults, my mom still loved him until she died. After my father left we lived with my grandparents. My grandfather was a very religious Jew from Russia.
After five months of training, it was "Good Morning Vietnam". I volunteered to be a door gunner sometime in '66, not long after getting to 'Nam. I was assigned to the second platoon of the 71st AHC at Bien Hoa.
On my first mission on a chopper, Bill Gross (EM 66-68) was my crew chief. At that time, Bill trained all the new gunners because he was very good at his job. We took off and flew to an area where a very small LZ awaited this brand new gunner. We picked up a load of grunts and as they were jumping on the chopper, it started swaying and going up and down. I saw the tail rotor hit some small bushes and all this debris started flying in the air. The AC yelled for us to open fire. The aircraft was overloaded and our rotor blades and skids hit some tree limbs as we were pulling up. I started crying over the intercom that we were all going to die. I was screaming so loud that Gross reached over and unplugged my flight helmet. During this time, I never fired a shot. When we landed, the AC came up to me and said if I ever yelled like that again, he was going to shoot me! If a new pilot had been on the stick, I could have gotten us all killed.
Gross was a real pal. He told me that being scared was a good thing. You just had to learn how to control it. Bill told me that you will see rotor blades hit all kinds of things, even people. He told me to always watch my side of the ship and if I saw anyone shoot at any aircraft, to shoot them. When working with the ARVNs, watch for grenades being thrown back into the chopper. Always keep an eye on them. We always had a spare M-60 gun barrel handy to use if you had to beat the ARVNs off the ship. Another rule was you NEVER shoot all your ammo, because you might not make it back and need it for yourself. Gross taught me so much and I always admired his coolness and courage and appreciated his friendship.
I remember another ash and trash mission I flew on where the aircraft went out of control. We were resupplying the Special Forces radio relay on top of Nui Ba Din mountain near Tay Ninh. We had a new peter pilot that kept asking when he was going to get to fly. The AC finally let him take control on top of this mountain. Take-offs and landings can be very tricky in these conditions. The peter pilot proceeded to lose control on take-off when he hit one of the skids on a bunker and the skid fell off. The guys on the ground ran into the bunkers. As I remember it, we were receiving some fire, but could not fire back. Everyone was just holding on for dear life and the ship almost flipped over in mid-air. It seemed forever before the AC got the stick back and under control. The AC and crew chief finally figured out a way to land with only one skid. That peter pilot never flew with us again (he must not have been scared enough).
Gross and I went on a three day in country R & R down at Qui Nhon. I went off by myself and got drunk and stoned. I proceeded to get into a fight with some Vietnamese longhairs, then ripped up a bar and a few stores. The MP's came and I started fighting with them. As you can guess, they were beating my ass off and taking me in. The next thing I knew, Gross was beating the MP's off of me. No one in my life has ever gone to jail for me, but Bill Gross did. He was that kind of friend and I still thank him 31 years later.
Thanks to Ron Seabolt, I also got a chance to talk and write to my favorite Firebird pilot, Gary McCall (WO 67-68), before his tragic death in 1994. I know many of us had a deep respect for him. I also wish to thank Chuck Carlock for carrying me out after I was wounded and later telling me what happened on November 3, 1967.
A few of us did not get along with the second platoon sergeant and I transferred to the Firebirds in May or June of '67. About this time I extended for six months. I had been told I would get 30 days of free leave and a bronze star if I extended. Naturally, I got neither of these.
Flying on gunships was a different kind of danger than flying slicks. You didn't have to land in minefields, deal with ARVNs who didn't want to get off, or too many that wanted to get on in a hot extraction. Those bastards caused many deaths and injuries. You also didn't have to sit in an LZ looking at a tree line and feeling like you were in the bull's eye of a target or load the wounded and dead for medi-evac and then try to get that smell out of the ship.
The gunship pilots were fearless and crazy. They flew low and slow, daring anyone to shoot at us. At that time in my life, I felt like if I was going to be killed, flying with the Firebirds was the way I wanted to go. The only thing that held these pilots back was the Brass in the rear. The ones who gave themselves medals and stole a lot of Air Medals from all of us. Gary McCall flew his butt off for a year in 'Nam and went to his grave with one Air Medal. I was awarded two Purple Hearts in the Firebirds, both with Mr. McCall and both were from air bursts.
We dealt with death and destruction on a daily basis. I believe many of us, like myself, still have problems dealing with it. By October, '67, everything started changing. One of my heroes, Mr. Ager Davis (WO 66-67), was not flying anymore. Mr. Davis was one of the few warrant officers that had a CIB (Combat Infantryman's Badge). Bad things were happening, like someone gassing the CO's hooch with him in it and a live grenade was put in the 1SG's jeep. I was drinking heavy and thinking of extending again and going to the 196th LIB. Just like Gross, R.J, and Bruce, I wanted to do all my time in Vietnam.
On November 3, 1967, 17 months in Vietnam came to an end for me. Upon waking up in a MASH unit, the smell of burned flesh and hair filled my lungs with every breath. I could not breathe through my nose because of the tubes in it. The drugs and shock kept me fading in and out. I looked over next to me where a guy was wrapped in bandages from head to toe. I wondered if he was on the aircraft with me. I would see people I thought I knew, that had tubes running in and out of them. I didn't know if I was dreaming or hallucinating. I saw my mother at times and I thought I had died. When talking to Mr. McCall years later, he told me he came to see me in the hospital, but I had no recollection of it. My mind was really scrambled and my foot was blown open on one side. I also had four big holes in one leg and one in my knee. Both legs were peppered with shrapnel and my body had many burns and bruises.
After a few days passed, they loaded a bunch of us on an Air Force plane for a medi-evac flight to Japan. They had all the wounded stacked in litters on the sides of the plane while the middle of the aircraft was filled with metal caskets. The whole plane had a terrible smell that I will never forget. I kept trying to put faces with the names on the caskets. At times I would hear a whining noise that would send my mind racing back to the choppers. They had to strap me down because I kept thinking I was back on one of our Firebirds. I still have nightmares about that flight to Japan.
At the hospital in Japan, they operated on me again. I ran a high fever but my mind was starting to come back to me. I felt like a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing. Deep inside I remembered shooting my M-60 and all of a sudden I was engulfed in an explosion. I thought that maybe I blew up the aircraft and killed or wounded everyone on board. That was my deepest fear and I could not face that or talk about it. In the hospital, nights were the worst time because someone was always crying. Men would wake up screaming from their pain and nightmares. In the mornings, the medical personnel would come around and pull all the scabs off our wounds and then put ointment on them. There were so many of us at the 249th General Hospital, they had to put some of the men in the hallways because of a lack of space.
After a while, I started using a wheelchair and three weeks later I moved up to crutches. They finally got me put on a roster to be transferred stateside. I was assigned to Saint Albins Navy Hospital in Queens, NY. My Mom and Sara (my girlfriend, later my wife), were able to visit me at this hospital.
The doctors told me I needed another operation. They offered to get me an immediate medical discharge from the Army. I refused this because I only had about nine months left in the service and I wanted to get an honorable discharge. I was then transferred to Fort Dix, NJ and put in a unit they called "Special Troops". This unit was made up of enlisted men from Vietnam, some of whom were waiting for court marshals. Some of the men were short timers and just there until their ETS, but most were like me and waiting for more operations. All the men had profiles and were on limited duty if any at all. We went to physical therapy and did other things, like score the training on P.T. tests. Many of the men had problems which were not helped by the ready availability of drugs. Word was filtering back from Vietnam that they were going to court marshal a bunch of men from the Americal Division for killing civilians. I could not sleep at night and my guts were constantly in knots from worrying. At this point, I just wanted to get the hell out of the Army.
One day my old buddy from the second platoon, R.J. Williams showed up for a visit. We talked about everything, except Vietnam. Later I ran into a Firebird gunner, Charlie Sanders. Charlie and his wife invited Sara and myself over to their house for a visit and again, we talked about everything except Vietnam. No one wanted to hear war stories back then unless you were drinking, and then you talked about it until the guilt and anger came out. Sanders did tell me about Firebirds Frank Anton, Robert Lewis and Jim Pfister being captured.
One day at Fort Dix, Alan Ginsberg and Abby Hoffman showed up with about 20,000 hippies. They were calling us baby killers, waving the N.V.A. flag and burning our flag. When I would go home on a weekend pass, I would wear civilian clothes. The protesters would be at the New York Port Authority and would throw dog food and other stuff at us. The more ribbons and medals you had on, the more shit they would throw at you. They would try to get the trainees to desert from the Army. It finally got so bad that I could not face the people I knew. It was like I was part of some dirty joke. My own grandmother asked me how I could have volunteered to kill people. My mom kept begging me to wear my uniform for her friends but I didn't want to answer any of their questions or listen to any of their statements on the war. Sara's parents took me in and accepted me without any hesitation. Her folks were holocaust survivors and had only been in our country for eight years. Looking back on it, I realize that they always treated me like their own son, even though I disappointed them many times over.
I had my last operation two months before my ETS. When I finally was separated from the service, I felt like I couldn't go home to Brooklyn anymore and didn't want to live around people who knew me. Sara was seven months pregnant at this time and we ended up moving to the midwest. I got a job working in a car wash and later had my own car detailing business. The V.A. at that time was pure shit. Thank God they have came a long way since those days. When my grandparents passed away, I couldn't bring myself to go home to their funerals, even though they helped raise me. Later on, my mom took ill and we sold everything and moved back to Brooklyn. Sara took care of her and our two young sons until Mom passed away four months later. I could not bring myself to cry and even today that still bothers me. Yet, when we lost Mr. McCall in '94, I couldn't stop crying.
I know there are many of us veterans who live good productive lives. At one time after 'Nam I was only inches from reaching my brass ring when a retired Air Force chaplain who wrapped himself in the flag and God, put a knife in my back.
For many of us the nightmare of Vietnam and its aftermath is buried in our minds forever. All of us who paid the price of Vietnam will always feel the beast within us.
Editor's note: The story below is the Chuck Carlock version of Carl Fox's brush with death as taken from the book, Firebirds.
On November 3rd, we were back down south at Duc Pho on a large Romeo Foxtrot inserting a lot of grunts. I was peter pilot to McCall, Mike Rogers was crew chief and Carl Fox was gunner. Wiegand was flying the wing gunship. We had already landed a flight of grunts on the ground when we started receiving some .50 caliber antiaircraft fire. All of a sudden, I saw a flash and heard a crashing explosion. The gunship made an abrupt lurch. I immediately assumed we were about to die. It happened so fast, though, I didn't have time to feel any fear. The next thing I knew, I felt a spine-jarring crunch. We were now perched on a rice paddy dike. Frantically, I was fighting to get out of the armored seat and then the door of the chopper. The smell of something burning, especially the smell of burning flesh, made you move mighty fast.
I stepped out on the skid, looked back into the blood-spattered chopper, and gaped at a remarkable, unreal scene. Fox was writhing and moaning with his uniform smoking, blackened, and torn. His boot was blown apart, along with his foot. The only thing I could think of was to grab Fox, put him over my shoulder, and get him away from the chopper. I stepped into the rice paddy and was promptly submerged up to my thighs. I was immobilized. The gunship was no longer an option, and I was not about to drop Fox into the mud. Just then, Wiegand landed in front of our chopper and waved for me to get my ass over there. Rogers and McCall were injured, too. I stood there staring at them. I finally looked over, and spied a grunt medic scurrying out of a tree line toward us. I didn't know if we were being shot at, but the guy was hunkered down and dashed toward us as if he was running for his life. The friendlies were about fifty meters away. The hostiles were about a hundred meters from the gunship. This medic dude was stepping lightly and didn't sink into the rice paddy. He grabbed Fox and loaded him on Wiegand's chopper. Wiegand's gunship immediately took off, because Fox needed quick attention.
The medic asked if I was hurt. I said, yes, I was hit in the arm. He pulled out his knife and cut the sleeve off a brand new set of jungle fatigues I had just gotten. He then curled his lip and took off running to help the others, leaving me stuck in the mud. My arm was numb, and I could not look for fear of it being gone. I gathered my courage and peeked down at my arm. I had shed one drop of blood for my country. One tiny piece of shrapnel had apparently numbed my arm!
The crash was caused by one of our rockets exploding exactly in front of Fox. The blast blew the landing skid in two and blew out the engine and the transmission cooling systems, and some other parts. A .50 caliber round hit the rocket, making it explode. The fuel cells were in pieces. Why the helicopter didn't explode in flight no one could figure out.
HONOR MY COUNTRY
Sent to us by Charley Sparks (EM 69-70)
The following commentary was submitted anonymously and recently appeared in The Scout, the command newspaper serving Camp Pendleton, CA.
A foreign diplomat who often criticized American policy once observed a United States Marine perform the evening colors ceremony. The diplomat wrote about this simple but solemn ceremony in a letter to his country: Quote: During one of the past few days, I had occasion to visit the U.S. Embassy in our capital after official working hours. I arrived at a quarter to six and was met by the Marine on guard at the entrance of the Chancery. He asked if I would mind waiting while he lowered the two American flags at the embassy. What I witnessed over the next 10 minutes so impressed me that I am now led to make this occurrence a part of my ongoing record of this distressing era.
The Marine was dressed in a uniform which was spotless and neat; he walked with a measured tread from the entrance of the Chancery to the stainless steel flagpole before the Embassy and, almost reverently, lowered the flag to the level of his reach where he began to fold it in military fashion. He then released the flag from the clasps attaching it to the rope, stepped back from the pole, made an about face, and carried the flag between his hands -- one above, one below -- and placed it securely on a stand before the Chancery. He then marched over to the second flagpole and repeated the same lonesome ceremony. On the way between poles, he mentioned to me very briefly that he would soon be finished.
After completing his task, he apologized for the delay -- out of pure courtesy, as nothing less than incapacity would have prevented him from fulfilling his goal -- and said to me, "Thank you for waiting, Sir. I had to pay honor to my country."
I have had to tell this story because there was something impressive about a lone Marine carrying out a ceremonial task which obviously meant very much to him and which, in its simplicity, made the might, the power and the glory of the United States of America stand forth in a way that a mighty wave of military aircraft, or the passage of a super-carrier, or a parade of 10,000 men could never have made manifest. In spite of all the many things that I can say negatively about the United States, I do not think there is a soldier, yea, even a private citizen, who could feel as proud about our country today as the Marine does for his country. One day it is my hope to visit one of our embassies in a far-away place and to see a soldier fold our flag and turn to a stranger and say, "I am sorry for the delay, Sir. I had to honor my country."