ODDS and ENDS
Please take immediate note of the new address and phone numbers for this Association. 7755 CR 302, Terrell, TX 75160-7843. Phone: 972-524-9033. Fax: 972-524-9034. E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.rattlers.org
The Association would like to thank Steve Hopkins for the sets of orders, photos and letter sent to us. Bill Just and Kenneth Hoyt also sent some orders for us to use finding new men and Bob Toomey sent us a choui hoi chit. If you haven't dug out those old orders and made copies for us, please consider doing it. The next man we find may be your best friend, 30 years removed!
Your stories from Vietnam are very much desired by this Association for future newsletters. Come on guys, put 'em on paper and send them in. If nothing else, you can show them to your grandkids.
In our last address directory an old list was accidentally used while printing our KIA list and two men, PFC George D. Brookshire and SP/5 James D. Schmidt, were omitted. The old list has been corrected.
In October, The Board of Directors of this Association voted to raise the salary of the National Director from $100 to $200 per month effective 1 November 1999. This recommendation was made and approved by this board independent of any input or vote of Ron Seabolt.
When Richard Suplita (EM 66-67) arrived in 'Nam, it was Easter, 1966. He was sent to the 93rd replacement, Camp Alpha at Long Binh. Richard said while he was there the camp was mortared for about 45 minutes which resulted in 6 killed and 125 wounded. He would very much like to know if any other men from our unit were there when this attack took place. You can contact Richard by calling him collect at: 304-366-3503.
What do you call two Vietnamese guys driving around Eastern Kentucky in an orange Dodge? The Gooks of Hazard!
The U.S. Postal Service has just announced that an Audie Murphy stamp will be issued along with three other war heroes. It's nice of them to recognize these men AFTER their recognition of Daffy Duck and Elvis Presley among others.
Charley Sparks (EM 69-70) is the person who runs our web site. He has recently established the site as an .org rather than a .com site. Our web site address is now: www.rattlers.org If any of you desire to have a special e-mail address that contains reference to the Rattlers, Firebirds, aircraft tail numbers or any other related subjects, you should contact Charlie and let him know. Charley's e-mail address is: email@example.com
Charley also maintains the web site for the "Heli-Vets". You should check out this site at: www.rattlers.org/heli-vets
Charley Sparks has pre-paid our web site for the next 255 (yes, 255) months. As you know, the computers are here to stay and our web site is a great way to immediately get word out to our men about anything using the guest book. We have located (or they located us) many men through this site and Sparks is to be commended for his efforts. Accordingly, Charley Sparks is now hearby awarded a life membership. Thanks!
In August, this Association took our Firebird gunship down to Ft. Hood, TX to meet with some men who were ferrying three Apache Longbow AH-64 gunships to Ft. Rucker. This unit is: A Company 1-14th Avn Regt (ATZQ-ATB-HA). They are the FIREBIRDS and are now using our "flying" red and white firebird emblem as their own. Photos were taken of these two war horses nose to nose. It was a pretty awesome sight.
From an e-mail recently received by this Association: A list is being compiled called "100 Women of the Century". One of those listed for this honor is "hanoi jane" fonda. It seems that if "crime doesn't pay", maybe TREASON does. A very large percentage of Americans that served in Vietnam and especially our P.O.W.s will never forget the sight of hanoi jane looking down the sights of the anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam. I guess in her own chosen field, Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) could also be considered one of the "100 Women of the Century"! Never forget! Not one cent of Seabolt's money has been spent to see a jane fonda movie since this indiscretion occurred. And now I root for anybody playing against the Atlanta Braves.
LAS VEGAS REUNION
Have you made your reservations for our reunion next May? Please do so ASAP if you even THINK you might attend. You can always cancel and the hotel and this Association needs to see the reservations come in for our own planning. The reunion date is: Thursday, May 4th through Sunday, May 7th, 2000. The reunion site is: The New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. The reservation phone number is: 800-634-6966. Be sure to tell them you are with the Rattler / Firebird reunion.
Reunion Golf Anyone? Vic Bandini has made arrangements for a round of golf for any of our men that wish to play on Friday, May 5th. It will be at the Sunrise Vista golf course at Nellis AFB 13 miles from downtown Las Vegas. Cost is $45 for 18 holes and includes an electric golf cart. The start time is 1300 hours for whatever foursomes sign up. Interested golfers should fax Vic Bandini at: 317-882-5350 or e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org Vic will need the $45 ahead of time for each person. His address is: 4421 Hazy Ln., Greenwood, IN 46142. Ph.317-882-4000.
Elections will be held at the reunion business meeting for the board of directors. Only current members of the board may run for one of the officer positions (national director, deputy national director or secretary / treasurer). Any current dues paying member may be nominated for the three member-at-large positions. The top three finishers in the election will become the members-at-large. Only current dues paying members may vote in this election.
At our reunions, after the business meeting held on Saturday morning, we have drawings for assorted prizes. It might be a t-shirt, or something more substantial like a personalized helicopter print by Joe Kline. If you or your employer have a product that would make a prize (not surprize) and you wish to donate this to the Association, we will be more than happy to give you credit for this in our next newsletter. This is an easy way to get some advertising of your product to a select audience of over 1000 men.
In the past we have sold t-shirts with the Rattler logo on then. We will not have t-shirts at Vegas. We are purchasing golf shirts with small logos on the upper left hand side. You will be proud to wear this item almost anywhere. Do not attempt to place an order for these yet. We haven't even ordered them.
Have you paid your Association dues lately? Twelve dollars a year is not a lot to ask. If you are a dues paying member, this will be reflected on the address label of this newsletter. To the right of your name there will be a number like 2000 or C 2000 (or higher). If there is no number or it says 99, then you are not current with your dues. If it says Life, good for you!
We are still offering the "pitch change" tail rotor bracelets with the purchase of a fully paid life membership. This offer is not valid if using the quarterly payment method. The rates are: Age 50 & below - $200, 51 to 55 - $175, 56 to 60 - $150, 61 to 65 - $125, 65 and over - $100. You may also "purchase" a bracelet by making a $100 donation to the Association. [Note: bracelets are no longer available.]
AMERICAL / 196th LIB REUNION
Back in June, Chuck Carlock and Ron Seabolt were invited to bring some display material and attend the joint Americal Division / 196th LIB reunion in St. Louis. We took our slick and gunship among many other items. Those guys treated us like royalty. They could not say enough nice things about the Rattlers and Firebirds. The speaker at their banquet started his speech with words of praise for our company.
There were about 15 men from our unit in attendance. One of our men there was Vic Bandini (WO 68-69), the chairman of our 2002 reunion committee. The opportunity was taken to check out our hotel and the surrounding area as a potential site of the 2002 reunion which is to be held in either St. Louis or Kansas City. The options are still all open, but St. Louis looked real nice.
Attention all Rattler gunners: A man has been looking for one of you for 31 years! At the Americal reunion a 196th Infantryman came up to Carlock and started telling what happened to him in the last 10 days of May, 1968. His friends were there to vouch for his story. He currently weighs no more then 160 lbs. and said he weighed 125 lbs. in 'Nam. He carried his pack, rifle, ammo, 4 canteens and either a claymore or a sack of 40mm rounds. He and his friends estimated he carried over 65 lbs. on his back and body. The LZ was hot and the seats were down in the slick. While sitting on the edge of the seat looking out, bullets were flying and the gunner was screaming at him to get out. As he leaned out of the chopper he noted the ship was about 10 feet over the grass and the grass was over 5 feet high. The gunner grabbed his backpack and out he went. His friends said he buried into the dry ground chest first about 6 inches.
The problem is that locating this crewman may be difficult because there is probably not a Rattler gunner (or crew chief) who hasn't "assisted" a grunt out the door. Ron Seabolt immediately ask the man exactly where he was sitting, then promptly announced that he was sitting on the gunner's side (whew, that was close).
This grunt was laughing about it. We put a pack on him, put him in our slick and let Firebird gunner Jaak Sepp attempt to throw him out while the cameras were flashing.
The Association was informed of the death of William Karl Fiser (WO 68-69)of lung cancer on July 18, 1999.
As this newsletter goes to print, Conrad Howard (WO 66-67) is gravely ill with cancer. Conrad and Joann's address is: RR 1 Box 270C, Bloomingdale, GA 31302.
In our May, 1999 newsletter there was a letter from William Brusewitz printed under the heading "Hard Times". The following letter has been received from Brusewitz:
Greetings Once Again,
I'd like to thank everyone for the letters, phone calls and other thoughtful items sent my way. The information is helping me sort things out and the support you guys showed has given me new hope. I'm better. Things are smoothing out for me. I've got some money coming in. The VA counselor and group is great. I'm on some medication and my nerves are no longer trying to kill me. I never thought I'd ever say this but the VA has been good about this. I encourage any of you having problems with drugs, alcohol, jobs, violence, isolation, depression or anxiety to go to the VA and get checked out. These, along with flashbacks and nightmares about stuff that really happened are the basic symptoms of PTSD. For thirty odd years I thought I was fine, that the world was messed up. It was a rude awakening to wake up in jail, divorced and bouncing in and out of mental wards. When the VA finally decided I had PTSD, I told them, "No way, I was a generator mechanic". They said that having an ammo dump blow and being shot at with rockets qualified as "combat" and now I'm in a group for combat veterans. I'm the guy who denied being in combat since getting out.
If your life is one mess after another, it's worth getting checked out. I sincerely thought I was going insane and now I've got a pile of papers to prove it. Seriously, it's easier to deal with once you know what's going on.
Thanks again for all the attention guys. If anybody wants to talk, call me. I can only tell you how it went for me, but that may help someone else. Try the VA. They've almost got their shit together on this one. Sincerely, William Brusewitz. Ph.606-348-9116.
WHEN DOVES COME HOME TO ROOST
from a letter to the editor of Soldier Of Fortune magazine, August
"Now let's see here if I understand all this correctly. President Clinton has ordered our forces to engage an entrenched, politically motivated enemy, backed by the Russians, on their ground, in a foreign civil war, in difficult terrain, with limited objectives, bombing restrictions, queasy allies, far across the ocean, with uncertain goals, without prior consultation with congress, the potential for escalation, while limiting the forces at his disposal, and the majority of Americans opposed to or at least uncertain about the value of the action being worth American lives."
"So just what was it that he was opposed to in Vietnam." - Lieutenant General Tom Griffin, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) (OF 65-66)
DID YOU KNOW MY DAD?
Back in June, our Association received an e-mail from Carey Kirby, the son of Capt. Rance Kirby who was KIA on 26 March 1967 in an aircraft crash. Carey was wanting to hear from anyone who may have known or flew with his dad or had any info concerning his death. He came to the right place. A call was placed to Ken Wiegand (WO 67-68) who was flying as Kirby's peter pilot on the day of the crash. Ken was able to answer questions that no one else could answer except for the ship's crew.
A call was also made to Jerry Meader (OF 66) who had been Kirby's best friend. Meader and Kirby came to the company on the same day and both were assigned to the 2nd platoon with Meader as platoon leader. About a year ago, Jerry Meader had contacted this Association about buying a "life" membership in the name of his old friend. No one had requested life member # 31, which became Kirby's call sign when he moved over to operations. Hence "life" member # 31 was assigned to one of our KIAs. This was a selfless act of respect, love and friendship on Meader's part. Imagine how Jerry and Carey felt when they were able to talk to each other about Rance. Jerry told us it was a very special and moving opportunity for him.
Carey's mom has never re-married and still lives in the same town that she lived in 32 years ago. Both are planning to attend our Vegas reunion and look forward to meeting the men that knew Captain Rance Kirby.
Carey also mailed some of his dad's old photos to us to assist him in identifying the men. Some of these photos are in this newsletter. Jerry Meader continues to be one of the strongest supporters of this Association.
I REMEMBER RANCE KIRBY
from a letter received from Doug Hopkins (OF 66-67)
I can't remember the officer's mess sergeant's name, but he was a real corker. He had extended his tour more than once because he liked what he was doing (which was probably more than just the officer's mess). On one of his trips back to the U.S., between tours, he went by Rance Kirby's parents home in Alabama. He brought back fresh vegetables of various sorts and prepared them for an evening meal one night. As we started to eat, he came out and announced that we were all sharing fresh vegetables from Rance's Mom's garden. Rance was shocked, speechless and overcome with emotion. We all enjoyed the meal much more after hearing where it came from.
From a letter to Chuck Carlock from Carey Kirby,
I have always wondered what it was like to have been in Vietnam and what my dad, Captain Rance Kirby, went through. Now, thanks to you, I have a good idea.
I am very proud to have had a father that was a member of such a fine group of men. One day my children will read about the Rattlers and Firebirds and understand how special their grandfather was, as were the men who served with him. Many thanks for the insight and the book.
ARMY TIMES and HARD TIMES
Thirty years have long passed since we all served together as "Rattlers and Firebirds." Through several reunions and hopefully many more, I have reestablished friendships and met new friends. We are all brothers in arms forever and the service to our country through a trying and dark time for American will always preserve that.
To the guys who risked their lives that January night to rescue my crew and I, you will always have my total and complete but never enough...."THANKS." Frank Anton.
from an item submitted to the ARMY TIMES by Frank Anton
CHRISTMAS 1967 -
I sat amongst a thousand others. Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen. We laughed as Bob Hope ambled around the stage, golf club in hand. As he did every year and every war he showed up to entertain us. With him were his usually bevy of beauties. For two hours all of us were oblivious to a war going on within miles of Chu Lai air base.
Afterwards as I walked along the dirt road back down the hill toward the enclave of my chopper company a jeep roared by me slinging dust. A horn beeped and as I glanced up toward the noise I saw Rachel Welch smiling and waving at me. I could not believe it...She had waved directly at me. What luck...
Little could I know that disbelief and luck were soon to become my life.
On January 5, 1968 I was shot from the night sky in Vietnam. Of my four-man crew, three of us were to be captured by the enemy. The fourth man was to escape but for the rest of us began a living nightmare, hell, and misery of unbelievable struggle for life itself.
We were kept in the jungle for the first three of our five years in captivity. We starved as our body weights halved. We fought sickness and insanity as our numbers first grew and then shrunk from death and disease. Wounded soldiers came into our midst. They had terrible gunshot and shrapnel damage to their bodies. The treatment was nothing. We lived for the first year like naked hungry animals. We existed.
After a year the Viet Cong gave us rubber sandals and mosquito nets. Six had already died. We had wrapped them in bamboo coffins and buried them in dirt graves behind our bamboo camps of hell. The second year we were given rice sacks to use as blankets. On them was imprinted "Donated By The People of the United States of America."
In 1971 the twelve of us who still survived were walked six-hundred miles to North Vietnam. Eleven had died. Eight Americans and three German nurses. In the North no one else was to die. The food was horrible, but to us by comparison it was wonderful. The building we lived in was sometimes freezing cold and other times Africa-Hot. It was great compared to the jungle we had endured before.
CHRISTMAS 1973 -
Fifteen of us, all POWs from New Jersey had just watched Bob Hope and the Supremes perform a show in our honor. It was great. Now I stood between Bob Hope and the governor of New Jersey. I posed for a picture that I still have and cherish. The war in Vietnam was a distant memory. Life can sometimes be cruel. Luck can sometimes abandon us.
I think about my five years as a POW all the time. I remember the men who we buried. I think about "the Wall" and the 58,000 who paid a price much more expensive than I did.
War is a terrible and ugly thing. The only thing worse is it's alternative. In the future when our soldiers are called upon to give their lives for a cause - may it be a cause that history can be proud of....
In other news, Frank Anton has signed a contract with St. Martins Press to do a paperback of his book which is due out next June. It is anticipated that the cover will change, but the title "Why Didn't You Get Me Out", will remain the same. Frank still has autographed hardback copies for sell at $20.00 each. Mail to Frank at: 730 Palm Dr., Satellite Beach, FL 32937
from a letter received from R.J. Williams (EM 66-68)
I remember flying a mission, I believe it was in 1967, and unfortunately I don't remember the rest of the crew that day, but here is the story anyway just as I remember it.
Earlier in the day one of our ships had repelled a 101st airborne pathfinder team into a heavily wooded hilltop. The pathfinders had chain saws and explosives and began clearing a LZ on top of the hill. We were picked for a single ship mission to deliver more explosives to the hilltop to clear the many large stumps that remained after sawing down the trees and clearing the ground vegetation. We were given the coordinates and found the hilltop out in the middle of nowhere. We shot an approach and as we got closer to the ground I remember telling the pilot that there were too many tall stumps sticking up to land in the LZ, to drop off the explosives. We went into a hover, but we were too high for the grunts to pull off the explosives. I was not anxious to throw the explosives off the chopper, so the pilot asked the gunner and I to watch for stumps as he tried to hover a little closer to the ground. We finally got low enough for us to lower the boxes to the grunts. We were worried about puncturing the belly of the aircraft and the fuel cells. The skids were down in between the tall stumps, with only 8 or 10 inches of clearance on almost all sides. As we lowered the pile of the boxes one at a time we all heard a loud crack and the ship jerked. We had shifted very gently in such a tight hover with the skids between the stumps that it was enough to break the forward skid cross tube in half and bend the right skid tube out and down, away from the ship with half of the cross tube attached to it.
We still hovered in there and finished unloading the rest of the boxes. When we pulled pitch and got out of there, the pilot immediately called operations and informed them of our predicament. We would not be able to land with the front cross tube broken cleanly in half and the right skid dangling from the ship, without rolling over. ANYBODY GOT ANY IDEAS? Well it seems as though every option was being considered, even landing in the ocean. Maintenance came up with a fantastic option. They were going to construct a sandbag platform for the belly of the ship. The pilot would have to place the skids on either side of the sandbags, and gently settle the chopper onto it, as maintenance personal packed more sandbags around the belly to stop the ship from rolling over when it was shut down. The entire crew was able to safely exit the aircraft and watch as they brought our crane over as soon as the blades stopped. They hooked up to the JESUS nut and lifted the aircraft off the sandbags while a crew fitted a full new skid tube assembly to the underside. They had put the skid tube assembly together while we were on our way in.
I don't think I ever thanked the maintenance guys for their magnificent efforts that day, so here it is: Thank you 151st Guys, you did a Fantastic Job. There is no sense extending my thanks to the pilots for their great flying, they probably did it on purpose just for the thrill of bragging about it in the O club.
Editor's note: The following story was written about in our last newsletter using information from newspaper stories. This however, was written by one of the crew on that mission and sheds much more light on this action.
On the night of 1-2 July, 1967, the "Firefly" team for the 71st Assault Helicopter Company distinguished themselves by an extraordinary heroic and exceptionally proficient display of tactics, operational knowledge and flying skill in the face of Viet Cong fire. A "Firefly" team has two UH-1D helicopters and one UH-1C helicopter gunship. The UH-1C has "mini-guns" and rockets, the lightship has two M-60 machine guns and one special lighting kit, and the Command and Control ship carries one M-60 machine gun and one .50 caliber machine gun.
At 2045 hours, the team picked up 1LT. William E. Zak, who was to be on-the-spot ground clearance authority from Tam Ky sector Headquarters, and headed for the night operation on the Trung Giand River complex. For over twenty years no government troops had been in there. It is a major supply route between North Vietnam and the Chu Lai, Ton Ny area, and intelligence reports indicated that a major sea lift of Viet Cong war materials was to take place.
Two companies of Viet Cong were in the area, well armed and possessing numerous automatic weapons. Lt. Zak briefed the aviators on the way out, stating that automatic weapons fire could be expected from every large sampan and every town along the route. There was a quarter moon, but ground fog and mist obstructed visibility. Major Arink, the gunship commander and company Commanding Officer, decided on a normal search and destroy formation. The gunship flies between one hundred and three hundred feet above ground, firing at targets of opportunity procured by the command and control ship and lighted by the light ship. He was vulnerable to ground attack because of being so low, but speed, aggressiveness, and firepower help the ship function effectively at that altitude. The light ship flies at eight hundred feet to best utilize the intensity and size of the light cone. The command and control navigators for the team fly at twelve hundred feet. It picks out targets and assigns them, guides them and the light, and provides suppression for the lightly armed lightship.
At 2100 the team arrived at Truong Giang River, approximate coordinates HU2836, and switched on the light. The river was full of Viet Cong Sampans. The low ship immediately began striking and sinking the nearest with rockets and machine gun fire. All door guns opened fire on the targets not sunk, sinking what the gunship did not hit. Each time a sampan was sunk, Lt. Zak would note the time, approximate coordinates, and number of enemy dead observed, entering this information in his official log book. He also counted structures destroyed and probable enemy killed. Shortly after initiating the search, the team passed over the village of Dong Tri (1) coordinates DI286375, as predicted, streams of automatic weapons fire welled up at the team from several brick and concrete buildings. The Viet Cong marksman were rapidly zeroing in on the light and lightship requiring prompt action to keep it from going down in flames. Swiftly with little regard to the danger he faced, Major Arink maneuvered between the light ship and the enemy guns, drawing fire to himself and away from the light ship. He then flew back down the line of enemy tracers, spewing out death with his rockets and miniguns. The structures vanished in a series of secondary explosions. Three times during the six hour mission, Viet Cong marksman threw up the challenge from a village, and each time the gunship rolled his aircraft into an attack pattern and destroyed them. With the river so crowded, Viet Cong sampans could find no place to hide. Mooring under the overhanging brush along the river banks and turning into tiny coves merely prolonged the eventual outcome. The gunship and Command and Control ship both descended to areas the lightship could not reach. Utilizing their complete arsenal, they blasted the sampans from concealment, sending many to the bottom with secondary explosions, on fire, and in splintered pieces.
During the first phase of this operation, Major Arink realized that the number of enemy vessels sunk and the amount of supplies destroyed would easily set a record for one-night firefly operations. In addition to the great amount of war goods which would never reach the Viet Cong insurgents, the record smashing number of ruined cargo vessels would decisively slow the war effort by the bottleneck in logistic supply. Wishing to make the utmost of this golden opportunity to put a major segment of the Viet Cong supply system out of operation, Major Arink relentlessly pushed for the highest possible number of kills before expending completely. Since a gunship takes considerably more time to rearm and refuel that the UH-1D models, Major Arink, anticipating his eventual return to Chu Lai for servicing, ordered a second gunship prepared. When the team landed at Chu Lai the gunship crew sprinted to the UH-1C that had been prepared for the mission, performed the necessary preflight checks, and become airborne. He thus used a minimum of time, and sped back to reach guerrilla bands.
Time and again during the second phase of the operation the guns of the three ships riddled enemy sampans and positions. Visibility, poor at first because of the haze and fog, steadily became worse with the smoke from burning vessels and supplies. The team was forced to seek a lower altitude for sufficient observation, and with the lower altitudes came added dangers. Not only were the Viet Cong capable of more accurate fire, but also the natural hazards of night low level flight were intensified. Skimming through the air barely above the tops of the nests of the sampans, ever alert for a miscalculation that could send them plunging into the river, the gunships and command and control ship policed the river. On several occasions, the ships were so close that mud and debris from exploding ships splattered the Plexiglas windshields of the gunship. Throughout the entire second phase, the ships rained destruction on the Viet Cong.
At this time the .50 caliber malfunctioned, the rockets were expended, and the miniguns had no ammunition left. Nevertheless, the team remained on station until fuel ran too low, using only door guns to inflict damage to the supply craft. On several occasions the lightship guns would fire down the cone of light to a target, exposing themselves to hostile fire in order to effectively engage the illuminated targets. The team again returned to Chu Lai, where the rapid rearming and refueling was accomplished with no difficulty. The gunship crew traded for the third helicopter of the night, and the team began it's last trip to the river.
On the last trip, the crew chief's machine gun on the gunship exploded, spewing metal fragments throughout the ship. Undaunted by the experience and since there was no real damage to ship and crew Major Arink continued the mission. With the coming of dawn and the exhaustion of fuel and ammunition, the team headed back to base camp. Lt. Zak had recorded one hundred forty-eight sampans sunk, thirteen structures destroyed, fourteen Viet Cong confirmed killed, and seventy possible Viet Cong killed. Through the efforts of the team, enemy supply actions in the northern part of the Tam Ky sector came to a virtual standstill.
The gallant aircraft commanders, pilots and crew members set a new record in the interdiction of seaborne supplies from North Vietnam, and by their courage under fire, flying skill, and devotion to duty, engineered a definite setback in the Viet Cong insurgency effort. Their actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon themselves, Task Force Oregon, the United States Aviation Program and the United States Army.
WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU GUYS
from a letter received from Dave Shaw (EM 67-68)
Dear Rattlers and Firebirds,
Every time I get a copy of our newsletter, I thumb back through the 14th Combat Aviation yearbook to compare pictures with those in the newsletter. It became readily apparent to me that most of us were pretty "Buff" in those days. Lean and mean if you know what I mean. What the hell happened to us now? We're bald, graying and chunky at best. These kind of symptoms affecting a general population of veterans from Vietnam can only mean one thing. "We got benefits coming from the VA." The only other conclusion one can draw is that a steady diet of cheap beer, "C" rations and a seven day work week was really good for us in Vietnam. I don't like "C" rations much any more and a seven day work week is out of the question. Micro beers have taken the place of that cheap beer now also. Growing back hair where it's supposed to be might be a problem. Where is "Doc" Marley anyway. See you in Vegas at the buffet table!
Sometime during April or May, 1968, I and two crews were sent down south to Tay Ninh to pick up two C-model Hueys from a unit that was in transition to the Cobra. Our C-models were suffering engine deck separation and as I understood it, the titanium decking could not be repaired in-country.
We departed Chu Lai aboard a C-130 to Saigon Airbase where we were to catch a ride to Tay Ninh. We ran into a civilian whose job was to ship all U.S. forces "hold baggage" back to the states. He told us that we could catch a C-123 to Vung Tau and he could get us connected to our destination. Upon arrival, we ran into a classmate of mine who was in Vung Tau to pick up fresh produce, beer and assorted goodies to take back to Cu Chi (Big Red 1 country).
When we got to Cu Chi, they put us up in tents similar to the Firebird hootchs. We got settled in around 2200 hours and went to sleep. Unknown to us, there was a 175mm and 8" howitzer unit right across the road. Around 2400 hours, they fired the first H & I mission of the evening. When I rolled out of my bunk to hit the floor, all I could see in the flashes of the howitzer was every man caught in the horizontal position about half way to the deck. It was almost as if a strobe light had caught them in mid fall. Needless to say, none of us slept very well that night.
The next day we hitched a ride to Tay Ninh and were awed by the "Black Virgin Mountain" Nui Ba Dinh. In the midst of level delta type terrain rose this mountain with almost vertical sides. The stories abound about the U.S. owning the top and the rice paddies and the VC owned everything in between.
The transfer of the aircraft was easy and with a double thorough preflight (they really were in good condition) we launched and headed east toward Saigon. Not being familiar with the Saigon flight patterns, I chose to fly south over Can Tho and My Tho and pick up the coast over Vung Tau then follow the coast north back to Chu Lai. Just as we were over the bay to the south and west of Vung Tau, my "master caution" came on, but it didn't say master caution. It said, "pucker up" and the system lights indicated transmission oil pressure. A check of the gauges showed low oil pressure but the temperature gauge was still in the normal range. The crew chief said he could see no indication outside. We decided to land at Vung Tau.
I called Vung Tau and declared an emergency and requested a straight-in from our westerly position. We monitored the temperature to see if there was any change, up or down, as the pressure was now zero. Upon landing, our inspection found a two inch split in the transmission return oil line and the tail boom covered with transmission oil. We talked with the maintenance folks and told them that if it took 2 or 3 days to repair it we wouldn't mind. A civilian said that if I would fly him down to My Tho the next day, it might even take 4 or 5 days to repair. This portion of the mission went without a hitch.
The four days we spent in Vung Tau is classified as at least restricted information and the names of the other participants will remain classified.
When I deros'ed home, I brought the "pucker up" master caution light with me and it has since been donated to the display items that our Association keeps. Chuck Carlock has mounted the light on a battery powered board where you can walk up and push the test button and see "pucker up" just as I did.
It was June 1971. I was flying slicks out of Chu Lai with the 71st Aviation Company. I had been in country about six months when I met a Firebird crew chief (his name I don't remember). Getting loaded in my hooch one night, he told me there was going to be an opening on a gun ship and I should ask to be crew chief. He said, "If you're going to get killed anyway, it's actually safer on a gunship flying low and fast. At least you can shoot the hell out of them." At the age of 18, this made good sense to me. Anyway, I went to see our C.O. and told him that I wanted to be crew chief on the new ship. To my surprise, he said, "Okay, you can have it. Go to the end of the flight line and check it out. The rest of the crew will be there shortly."
On the way to the flight line, I was imaging my brand new shiny Charlie model gun ship. There it was! A piece of pure shit: paint peeling off, hydraulic fluid leaking everywhere! Flying in and out of Chu Lai, I had seen it before. Rumor had it that it was a real death trap. I thought about going back to the C.O. and telling him to forget it. But my pride wouldn't let me, so I cleaned it up as best I could.
After I cleaned it up, I loaded the rockets. Not knowing that the red dot on one of the rocket's fins was to indicate that that fin was to be loaded into the pod in such a way that it positioned to the outside away from the cargo bay so that the firing cap would be propelled away from the ship when the rocket was fired, I loaded the rockets into the pod without regard to the position of the red dot. In a little while, three Firebird crew members showed up. I told them that I was the new crew chief and asked if this thing would fly and stay in the air. They told me that it was a good ole ship and not to worry about it. They said we were going to fly to Rock Hill and shoot some dinks.
As we approached Rock Hill, everyone was real quiet. That made me real nervous. I had never been in a gun ship and I was scared as hell. But I didn't let the crew know that. After spotting the enemy position, we attacked, firing the rockets as we approached to start our gun run. Immediately after the rockets fired, I felt a searing pain in my leg that burnt like hell. I started screaming, "I'm hit! I'm hit! I'm hit!!!" When I looked up, the pilots were looking back at me and laughing their asses off. All I could think was, "I'm shot , and these crazy bastards are laughing at me!" I pulled up my pants leg and there was a firing cap stuck in my leg. They knew this was going to happen!
When we got back to Chu Lai, they patted me on the back and said that I could fly with them now. I only flew with the Firebirds for a couple of months before they junked the old Charlie model. I went back to flying on slicks when we went to Quang-Tri for Lam Son 719. I still have my Firebird and Rattler patches and wear them with great pride. SP/4 Steve Hopkins, 1971.
NOT MY DAY TO DIE
by Bob Falk (EM 66-67)
After 32 years I'm afraid my recall has faded along with the color of my hair. There is one event however that I think about a lot and was clearly brought back to mind again when my wife and I were looking up names of some of our fallen comrades on the internet under the "wall".
We looked up Robert T. McDaniel, casualty date 05 July, 1967. There was no account of how he died other than "aircraft loss-non-hostile". When I was there I was under the distinct impression that the whole damned country was hostile. At any rate I thought that someone should at least make an effort to tell the story about how a young man, 21 years old, died in the service of his country. Apparently the army had no clue.
I was a crew chief on a slick in the first platoon. I usually flew with Wally Dunning as AC and Tom Knapp as gunner. That was "our crew". We were a team, and a darn good one I might add. We got into some deep shit from time to time but we always managed to get out of it in fine shape. It was when we were separated that we got into trouble.
At Chu Lai: 5 July 1967 was one of those days. I had the day off for some reason. Maybe my ship was in for maintenance or something. Anyway I was temporarily unemployed. I think Wally was on R and R and Tom was flying with another ship. It seems another DCS mission (direct combat support, usually meaning a resupply) had come up and another crew was being scrounged up to fill that slot.
Being off, I was available, so I was the crew chief, Robert McDaniel was AC, we found a peter pilot, WO David Robinson and the gunner's name was Powell. We went down to the "snake pit" and found our ride. As I recall it was a fine piece of machinery, a spare I believe. That should have tipped me off right away that it was not going to be a good day. Spares usually should have a sign on them that read "fly at your own risk". We looked it over and try as we did we couldn't find enough wrong with it to ground the beast. So, we took off.
Things went pretty well at first. I think we made a couple of short hops with groceries, mail and such. Some time in the late morning or early afternoon we got a call to go to the Golden C.P. (Hill 54) and pick up a LRRP team and take them out and insert them in the boonies. We landed on the pad on top of that hill which was also a firebase for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. There were a few buildings on top of the hill (one being the aid station). There were bunkers and hooches on the hillside and a battery of 155mm howitzers at the base of the hill.
The LRRP team boarded the aircraft and we got ready to take off. It was a hot day as usual, so the lift factor wasn't worth a damn for picking up a load of 6 LRRPs and about 1000 lbs of fuel. This was especially true in a tired old ship (D model) that didn't have the power to pull a greasy string out of a cat's ass on a good day. I believe the peter pilot was on the controls as he picked the ship up for a hover check. I don't think he picked it up high enough because in my mind we were getting false lift from our own rotor wash. At any rate we initiated take off.
As we all know, when a loaded chopper takes off from a hill or knob such as we were on it will typically lose a little altitude and RPMs as it loses it's ground cushion. When we picked up off the pad and dropped over the side of the hill, we lost 300 to 400 RPM. That would happen all the time, especially in an old worn out ship. The red RPM warning light was lit up on the instrument panel. That was also a common occurrence.
About this time Mr. McDaniel took over the controls and attempted to gain back the lost RPMs and altitude. He was making progress when I looked out the windshield and saw a wire! I know "Mac" saw it also because at that instant he jerked up on the collective stick, brought the nose up and we cleared the wire. I'm sure it was just a piece of commo wire that was stretched between a couple of bunkers. I believe to this day that Mac thought it looked more substantial. In that instant he probably thought it was some sort of cable. He was pretty busy at that particular moment and the guy just made a wrong guess. God knows we all made a lot of those. At any rate when we cleared the wire we used up all our power and rapidly bled off engine and rotor RPM. The red "low RPM" warning light was still on as we were now under 6000 RPM and falling. The last time I looked at the instrument panel our RPM was down to 5800. I looked away then and prayed we could gain back some revs and airspeed in a hurry. Just then I heard the audio alarm over the headset. When I heard that I knew we were in deep shit.
We were now basically out of control and losing altitude fast. Just before the initial impact it seemed like Mac was getting some control back. The ship had straightened out a bit and I got the impression that we had regained some tail rotor control. But it was too late! We landed square on top of a sandbagged bunker with a bone jarring crunch. We bounced off of that and hit the ground again on the left side in a nose down attitude. I remember being sprayed by sand just before "the lights went out". I was knocked unconscious for a few seconds by the impact. It was kind of dark and I was very uncomfortable. I guess my face was in the sand and I thought I was dead. The crash had torn my gun mount off and I was tangled up in what was left of my seat and seat belt. After a few seconds I realized I was still alive but I now had other problems. I was stuck in my cubby hole and I felt something hot running down my neck. I thought to myself "oh shit, the back of my head is ripped open". I put my hand behind my head and felt nothing but wetness. I brought my hand in front of my face and was relieved to find a hand full of hydraulic fluid and not blood. I unhooked my seat belt and began to look for a way out.
My helmet had been torn off and I remember stopping for a second to glance around to see if I could find it. I had also lost my sidearm and pistol belt. I knew that these things didn't matter but I was in a daze and for a few seconds finding those lost items seemed important. After a few more seconds I guess reality set in and I knew I had to get out.
The cargo area was empty. Where were the LRRPs? I had no idea. I hoped they had been thrown clear and were okay. There were no sounds inside the ship except for the high pitched whine of the turbine running free. I could also smell something burning and felt some heat. I think I crawled out the green house window opening on the peter pilot's side of the aircraft. I helped the peter pilot out of the same window. I didn't know where Powell was (as it turned out he was thrown clear on impact and was not seriously injured). After the peter pilot was out I stood up and saw that the belly of the ship was engulfed in flames. The impact of the crash had evidently ruptured the fuel cells and something had ignited the fuel. The engine was still running for some odd reason and the rotor blades were gone. The tail boom was still attached but it was lying at an odd angle. It looked like a broken match stick.
Now that I was outside I could see part of a man underneath the aircraft. There was still no sound except that damn turbine. The peter pilot limped away from the wreckage. He had a gash in one of his legs in the shin area. I looked in the cockpit and saw Mac was still strapped in his seat. His side of the cockpit area was pretty well smashed up. I was able to reach in on the left side where the windshield had been and release his seat belt and shoulder harness. I reached in and shut off the battery and fuel switches. I really don't know why I did that because at that point it was probably pretty useless. It wasn't going to do much good anymore at that point in time. I could see that Mac was in pretty bad shape. His helmet was still on but he had a piece of the plexiglass windshield stuck in his neck just below his left jaw and angling up. There was very little blood. I knew he was dead as I pulled him out. His legs were broken and it seemed like the rest of his body was like a rag doll. The impact must have killed him instantly. At any rate I checked for a pulse, found none and began dragging him away from the flaming wreckage. It was hard going in that sand and I had only gotten him about a hundred feet from the aircraft when it blew up. The explosion knock me back about 50 feet or more and when I got up I was disoriented and I had lost Mac.
After the explosion I really didn't know where I was. Everything looked different. There were Huey parts and other debris lying all over. Apparently our ship had come to rest on or near the magazine or ammo dump for that battery of 155mm Howitzers deployed around the base of that hill. I was a few hundred feet away from the crash site when I finally came to my senses. I took inventory of my anatomy and found I was pretty much in one piece. My fatigue shirt was blown off and I had lost one boot. Other than that I was in pretty good shape except for some minor bleeding and a little chest pain. There were people all over now and a lot of explosions. I remember seeing powder canisters flying up in the air like rockets and unexploded projectiles flying all around. During this "fireworks" display I remember looking up into a clear blue sky and seeing a Rattler slick orbiting the crash site. I felt strangely at ease. Then I looked down at the ground and there, less than 5 feet away was a 155 warhead lying in the sand smoking from the heat of one of those explosions from the ammo dump. I thought to myself, "oh well, I'm toast", but it never detonated.
About this time an officer from the artillery battery or the infantry unit who was standing next to me popped a smoke grenade and dropped it in the sand nearby. I asked him "what the hell are you doing"? He said he wanted that Huey to land here and pick up some wounded. I kicked sand over the smoke grenade and told him that chopper could not land here with all that ordinance going off. I told him there would be two wrecks down here instead of one. He just looked at me and walked away. At this point I wandered to the nearest bunker because I was feeling extremely weak and nauseated. I got to the bunker and sat down with the other people who had taken refuge there.
The explosions continued for what seemed like hours (and probably was). Eventually things quieted down to a few sporadic explosions and a 6 x 6 showed up to pick us up. We all got in the back of the truck and were taken back up to the top of that damned hill. There was shrapnel and other debris lying all over the ground. We were taken to the first aid station and we all climbed out of the truck. Some were injured bad enough that they had to be helped or carried out. I was the last one out because I had gotten so stiff by this time I could hardly move. I remember hobbling in and setting on a bench way back in the corner where it was kind of dark. There was a refrigerator close by and I remember the medics would come back there and open the refrigerator door from time to time to take out medicine or drugs or something. In that refrigerator was a lone can of beer and since I was extremely thirsty by now I decided I should probably have it. I don't remember if one of the medics gave it to me or I just took it. At any rate it sure tasted good!
The medics were treating the injured and Hueys were landing outside and taking them to the hospital in Chu Lai. I think all the choppers flying medivac were from our unit. Things quieted down after awhile and when the last of the injured were taken away one of the medics asked me who I was and what I was doing there. It was kind of dark in the corner where I was sitting and I didn't have a shirt on that showed my unit and rank. I told him I was the crew chief on the Huey that went down. He immediately called another one of our ships in to take me out of there. I have to admit I wasn't real thrilled about getting into another Huey and taking off from that same pad again but I really didn't want to stay either.
The crew of the ship that picked me up said the word was out that our crew was all dead. I told them that I was still very much alive and so was the peter pilot. I then told them that Mac didn't make it and I didn't know what happened to Powell the gunner. I believe Mac's body was recovered late that afternoon or early the next day. I wish I could have hung onto him. Later I found out Powell was okay. He had apparently been thrown out and luckily the blades didn't cut him in two.
At the hospital in Chu Lai I found out I had a couple of cracked or broken ribs, three broken toes, a concussion, badly sprained ankle, had a hell of a headache and pissed blood for a day or so but I was still one lucky 19 year old. I stayed in the hospital for a few days and was back flying again on 9 July. Some people never learn. I don't know how many other people were killed or injured in that crash but I do know that Mac did everything he could to regain control of that ship after we cleared the wire. He fought the beast all the way down and gave it all he had. I guess we were all just in the wrong place at the right time. Bob Falk, crew chief 690, 859, & 086.
Editor's note: Carl Fox had came into our company as a gunner from the 145th Battalion Security Platoon at Bien Hoa. He enjoyed flying so much that he was able to talk two of his buddies into also volunteering to become door gunners. Their names were Clark and Powell. On Powell's first flight on May 24th, an ass and trash mission, he was flying as Seabolt's gunner. At 1500 feet our engine blew all to pieces and we made a very, very hard landing causing extensive damage to the ship. Six weeks later Powell was in the crash that killed Robert McDaniel. Carl Fox tells of being in the EM club lamenting the fact that his buddy Powell had been killed when Powell came in the door. On July 2nd, Fox's other buddy Clark, had been severely injured when some old ordnance that was being dumped in the ocean blew up and riddled John Lynch and Clark. Powell went back to the security platoon. The following story concerns the same incident from a different perspective. This is taken from a Stars and Stripes issue.
BULLDOZER DUO BATTLES HILL 54 HOLOCAUST TO SAVE AMMO
By: GySgt. E.C. Nolen
CHU LAI- "The explosion came with a shocking impact that almost knocked me out of my chair. I dashed to the door of my tent in time to see the huge wall of smoke and flames billowing skyward."
For the next 30 minutes Lcpl. David C. Cothern (of Gulfport, MS), a heavy equipment operator with the 9th Engineer BN., and Lcpl. Andrew W. Lee (of Sacramento, CA), would be trying to control the holocaust with Cothern's bulldozer.
A U.S. Army Huey helicopter had crashed into an Army 155mm gun emplacement and ammunition dump on the side of hill 54, between Chu Lai and Tam Ky. The chopper had crashed during take-off.
The plane exploded on impact spewing burning fuel. The explosion set off more that 200 rounds of 155mm shells stored in the ammunition dump.
"I knew the bulldozer would be needed as soon as I saw what had happened," said Cothern, "so I cranked it up and headed for the spot, about 200 yards away across highway 1."
"The flames were spreading rapidly toward another, and much larger, ammunition storage area farther up the hill. The wind was whipping the flames straight toward the ammunition," Cothern said.
Lee ran alongside the dozer, giving directions by arm and hand signals. Cothern couldn't see from the seat due to the smoke and heat.
At first Lee and Cothern attempted to cut a firebreak with the dozer's blade between the advancing flames and the ammunition cache. This didn't work. The flames were jumping the firebreak.
He then guided Cothern and the machine into the flames. The dozer's blade pushed burning wood, exploding shells, sandbags and dirt into piles, smothering the flames. After several trips into the flames the fire was finally under control.
Neither Marine was injured. "Our hair was singed good and we did get mighty hot, but that's it," said Cothern.
He remembers hearing pieces of shrapnel bouncing off the blade. "I don't know how we kept from being hurt with all that ammunition exploding all around us. It was just our lucky day."