ODDS AND ENDS
Gary White has done a fantastic job putting together a first class web site for our Association. The response from inside and outside of the Association has been totally overwhelming. If you have not seen it, do it.
One of the greatest benefits of the web site is that the relatives of our deceased brothers can find that we have never forgot their loved ones. They are also able to fill in the blanks concerning those who died after serving with us. The "Taps" section of this newsletter is a reflection of this source of information. There are some wonderful comments being made about our KIAs
The red Firebird golf shirts we were supposed to have for sale at the St. Louis reunion are now for sale. We only have a limited number because of the stock damaged by FedEx in shipment. The settlement of these damages is still pending. Please note that due to increased postage rates our shipping and handling charges have been increased to $5.00 per order. All the items listed for sale in this newsletter can be seen on our web site.
We are still putting together material for the new book. The book should be ready by our May 2003 newsletter.
Contract negotiations for our 2004 Washington D.C. reunion are heating up. We expect this to be completed before the end of the year. Please be advised that Washington D.C. is a higher priced area in which to hold a reunion than the others we have held. Expect this to be reflected in the final contract. Start putting some money aside to prepare for this most important reunion. Our first Association visit to the "Wall".
A genuine effort is being made to get information to our men concerning their Veterans benefits. The "Veteran's Affairs" section reflects the scope of questions being received by the Association. If you have never saved these newsletters in the past, please consider filing them where you can access them if needed. No one can decide what is best for you better than you can, but remember that five years from now (or when you retire) your stance on PTSD or other service connected disabilities may make a 180 degree turn. The earned benefits are there gentlemen, but you have to pursue them. An informed veteran has a much better chance of being successful receiving what is due him.
Tom Bokkes (EM 70-71) was the last crew chief of the Snakedoctor. As our unit was about to stand down, certain insignias were removed from the aircraft that were going to other units or to the ARVNs. When Tom replaced his avionics cover with a plain one, he received permission to hand carry the old one home. For thirty years this item has been hanging on a wall at Tom's place. He recently contacted the Association and offered to give this piece of memorabilia to us. Tony Jones did the nose art and he was ecstatic to learn of its existence. The nose cover has now been mounted for display at future reunions. You can view this item and many others on our web site under Association Memorabilia. Our thanks go to Tom for this gift. Please do not let some valuable piece of our history be thrown away for junk when you are gone.
Have you paid any Association dues lately? To check your dues status, look to the right of your name on the mailing label of this issue. If it has 2003, C 2003 (or higher), Life or C Life you are current with your dues. Any number of 2002 or a blank means no dues are paid this year.
We now have 204 life members. Life member rates are: 50 & below - $200, 51-55 -$175, 56-60 - $150, 61-65 - $125, 66 & up - $100. If you happen to pay dues and order merchandise, send only one check, made to: 71st AHC Assoc.
The following notes were left on the guest book of our web site, www.rattler-firebird.org
From Norm Pruett: What a rush! I was totally blown away, C&B baby (crash & burn)! St. Louis 2002 was my first reunion and let me tell ya'll when I got home, for some reason I just sat down and cried like a little kid! Seeing old Ron Taylor, Dee, Mike Hansen, WO McGraw and especially my old AC Captain James Arnout was like some kind of flashback, yes and even old "Fast Eddie" Frazier (Rattler 6). The intense emotion built up in me all the way home and when I walked in the house and sat down and started blubbering, my wife figured I'd gone bonkers or something.Let me tell you it was just pure joy and something else. The love of brotherhood I felt for you guys, back then and thanks to the Association, again now.you can bet I'll be there in D.C. To other lost but not forgotten brothers of the Rattlers and Firebirds, if you're seeing this for the first time, GO to the next reunion. I don't know how many more (reunions) these guys can manage to put together but even if D.C. is the last, there is no way we can ever repay them for what they've given us. It's not as intense a memory as Vietnam. It's more like what was needed to finish or close that memory and believe me, it'll certainly be as long lasting! To all you guys that were there and especially the 70-71 alums, thanks for finally giving me the welcome home I never got!
Editor's note: In the May 2002 newsletter, next to the back page, top right corner photo, Norm Pruitt is the unidentified person.
From An Anonymous Vistor: Dear Vietnam Veteran, I know I should have written much sooner. I can't say why I did not. Out of fear of admitting to myself you were there fighting a war. Or maybe ashamed; ashamed that I never accepted the things you felt you had to do. Whatever it is, I know it must hurt. Believe me when I say it hurts me more. I have the burden of your hurt plus that of my own. The pain of not being able to show my true feelings toward you. I am not writing this for the months you served in Vietnam, but for the many years you were left alone with only your brother Veterans. You served proudly and it went unmentioned. For a long time, I've wanted to express the words. The words an honorable Veteran needs to hear. For a long time, I've wanted to hold you during your times of pain. God knows I wanted to. And only He knows why I never found the courage. I do not remember what I used to say; maybe I do not want to remember. All I know is I hope that it is not too late to give you those things now. For years you tried to be part of my world. Doing everything to please me, just to be noticed and given a little time and understanding.. I look back and see the demands I placed on your shoulders when you were young. "Fight your weakness, and always show strength to others around you." Who was I to make such a demand? I sit here with tears in my heart, finally admitting to myself the one weakness you must have seen in me and never questioned. My inability to say the words that I know would have meant so much to you. "Welcome Home." You served your country honorably. Please hear these words now, from my heart. Please give me a chance to be part of your world now. The world I should have been part of long ago. Love, America
On May 19th, 2002, Tom Knapp won the South Florida Senior Open Champion golf event shooting a 6 under par 71, 69, 70. Tom is hosting the golf event for the 2004 reunion.
Remember, if you have a product or skill you wish to advertise in this newsletter, you can have a business card sized ad ran one time for $100. This will put your ad in front of about 1,050 veterans (less than 10 cents a person) from our company plus help support this Association.
In September, the VA issued a regulation instructing VA hospitals and medical centers to give first treatment priority to veterans who have service-connected disabilities rated 50% or higher and veterans needing care for any service-connected disability.
In the regulation, the VA said that the extensive waiting lists for VA care justified taking immediate action. Prior to the regulation, treatment was allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. VA secretary Anthony J. Principi said, "Never again on my watch do I want to see a combat-disabled veteran be told that he or she is no different than any other veterans.
Our Association is receiving more and more requests for information concerning our Veterans benefits, especially PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). First, if you have never been to a VA facility, you disparately need to "get in the system". Go sign up. Take your DD-214 and if you have any other pertinent info that does not appear on the 214, bring it also.
There are many veteran organizations that can serve as your advocate, free of charge, in the process of filing for a disability. You may wish to hire an attorney that specializes in this, but if you are successful an attorney will probably get half of your initial award. This means, if you file for a PTSD claim today, it may be a year or two before a decision is reached. Your award would go back to the date of your filing. If you were awarded 50% ($625 a month for a single vet) two years from now, your initial payment would be $15,000 tax-free and an attorney would be entitled to half of this as his final payment. The more medals you have, the easier a claim is to receive. A Purple Heart is especially good. If you can look like a hero, you should not hide it. If you feel like crying, by all means do it! You may be told to remember some things, then in 5 minutes or so be asked to repeat them. It is not difficult to fail to remember all of them.
The following PTSD symptoms should be kept in mind if you plan to file on this service connection:
Survivor guilt - why am I here and they are dead.
Anniversary dates - dates on which traumatic event(s) occurred (someone's death, a shoot down, crash, mortar attack, etc.)
Anxiety attacks - a feeling of dread, impending doom, flashbacks from dreams or a movie.
Dreams of any type that may relate to Vietnam. Do you wake up scared, short of breath, dreaming of blood, missing limbs, crisp bodies. This can be either nightmares or day mares.
Getting the shakes from hearing a helicopter fly over.
Feeling numb, moody and hard to get along with, argumentative.
Alcoholism, drug addictions, divorce(s), job-hopping, trouble sleeping - either going to sleep and/or multiple awakenings.
This process is slow and tedious. It is easier for an unemployed veteran to get a higher % of disability. You need to make a list of everything that may relate to the above symptoms and practice going over it. If any story has ever appeared in our newsletters that may support your claim, by all means show it to the VA. If you do not still have a copy of the story, go up on the internet to our web site (www.rattler-firebird.org), click on stories, then print whatever you need. Please do not ask our Association to find this for you. In this day and age, everyone should have access to the Internet even if it is in your local library. You are dealing with professionals. You only get one chance to make a first impression. This is you against them and they know the system and hold all the cards. Any award received is ALREADY PAID FOR about 35 years ago.
HEARING LOSS is another problem for veterans that our government conveniently ignores. We veterans should be beating down our congressperson's door demanding our rightful disability for this. I (Ron Seabolt) did not ask to hear this ringing in my ears for the last 36 years. How many times have you been told, "Your blinker is still on?" I cannot hear it! Many times a waiter in a restaurant will ask me something and instead of having them repeat it I just look at Kay for an answer. This is a war-induced disability that the VA does not recognize without a hard fight.
The following is the technical basis used by the VA for hearing loss:
For the purposes of applying the laws administered by VA, impaired hearing will be considered to be a disability when the auditory threshold in any of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000 Hertz is 40 decibels or greater; or when the auditory thresholds for at least three of the frequencies listed above are 26 decibels or greater; or when speech recognition scores using the Maryland CNC Test are less than 94 percent.
My personal hearing diagnosis is a 30% loss of high tones plus tinnitis (ringing). The VA gave me hearing aids but refused to acknowledge a service connection (so far). I am appealing their decision. The VA doctor plus two other doctors (one a civilian hearing specialist) all agree that my problem was caused by exposure to loud noises. Two of the doctor's opinions were my hearing loss was caused by jet turbine engines and machine guns (guess which two?). When asked by the VA doctor what I did for a living, I told him I work for the US Postal Service. He said, "Aha, your problem was caused by all that loud mail sorting equipment!" I told him I was a walking postman. The loudest thing I hear is a phone ring or a car honking. He had no response to this other than to report that he did not believe my hearing loss could have anything to do with my military service. Duh! Loud noise, helicopter crew chief with 900 hours of combat flying, I'm sure there is no connection!
If you intend to try and get service connection for hearing loss, I recommend that you get tested at a VA facility first. If the tests show a hearing loss, you may want to go to a civilian doctor and pay for an independent opinion. You want something in writing from an MD that supports a service connection. Be sure and take a copy of your VA test with you. The VA will furnish this for free but you must ask for it. Your ears have been ringing since Vietnam, right? Tell this to everyone who will listen. Did you ever report any type of hearing problem while in the service or since that time? This increases your chance of being successful if you did and can prove it. Gather as much information as possible before you are called back. After filing a claim for hearing loss, you will take another hearing test that will be analyzed by the VA MD hearing specialist. Question the doctor about his / her opinion. I had six letters from former pilots and my platoon sergeant describing the crew chief's duties and the working conditions we endured. With our Association roster, everyone should be able to get a supporting letter(s) from someone. The DAV rep told me the VA doctor did not come in there to evaluate me. He came in there to deny my claim, period!
ALERT! ALERT! - WIVES OF THE RATTLERS AND FIREBIRDS - ALERT! ALERT!
At our last reunion several of the wives talked briefly about forming an associate membership for wives, either a formal or informal group. For those of us that have gone to all the reunions, we enjoy seeing each other and usually go shopping or visit etc. but we really are left to entertain ourselves which is not bad for those of us that know someone, but for those that are there for the first time it may leave them with the feeling they don't want to come every time and just sit around listening to the guys. So with that in mind, Paula O'Quinn, Penny Womack and I, Kathy Bowen, are going to try and organize a few outings in DC and have a first "wives" only meeting there to discuss what we, as a group would like to do or not do. The reason for this notice being given this early is we need your help so that we can have things set up and ready when the time comes to make final plans for the reunion. What we would like for you to do is let us know:
- If you would like to see us form a wives auxiliary (keep in mind this does not mean we would be separate from the guys. It would just be the wives organizing so we could get to know each other better and be able to help any new wives coming for the first time to get to know someone and feel like they are a part of the group. It could also mean taking turns organizing activities for the wives at the reunions.)
- What in DC would you like most to see on a sight seeing trip, which would also be open to the husbands, family members or friends attending reunion. A. Your first choice B. Your second choice C. Your third choice - a general tour of DC touching the highlights so you would know where to go back to on your own later during the reunion.
These questions are for ALL the wives even if you have never came to a reunion and even if you are not planning to come to DC or just don't know yet if you will be able to attend.
If you would e-mail me at email@example.com (and put "DC 2004" as the subject so I know it is from you about the reunion) with your opinions and ideas as well as answers to my questions or write me, Kathy Bowen, P.O. Box 57, Gasburg, VA 23857, I would really appreciate it. The response or lack there of will determine what we will do in DC. We are definitely going to have a room and time set-aside during the reunion to get together but only with a positive response on tours will we organize them.
Your OPINION IS IMPORTANT so please let me hear from you as soon as you can. The sooner you let me know what you would like to see and do the sooner plans can be made. I would also at this time like to extend a personal invitation to all the wives or families that have never come to one of the reunions. You may feel that since you don't know anyone it isn't important, but it is more important to your husband than even he may know and we all have a great time together. I will be looking forward to hearing from you and hoping to meet you in DC. I hope all of you plan to come and make this the best reunion yet.
With the above Bowen addresses in mind, you are reminded that Hal Bowen is our election committee chairman for the Board of Directors. If you have any desire to run in the 2004 election process, contact Hal and inform him. Due to term limits, there will be two new board members elected at the next reunion. To be elected, nominated, or to make a nomination, you must be a current dues paying member of the Association.
The Association has been informed of the following deaths:
Robert F. McCook (SSG 68-69) died in an aircraft crash on December 12, 1985 along with 248 others in Gander, Newfoundland while returning from a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai.
Arnold Potter (EM 71) passed away March 9, 2002 from complications from Multiple Sclerosis.
John M. Taft (OF 65) died November 27, 2000 from leukemia. John was a platoon leader of the TDY gunners from the 25th Infantry Division. These troops, stationed in Hawaii, were our first door gunners.
John T. Updegrove (EM 66-67) died March 7, 2000 of unknown causes. John was the crew chief of the aircraft that crashed on 6 February 1967, a crash that killed gunner PFC Thomas Nowack, WO1 Russell Robbins and several infantrymen.
Dwane "Duke" Watson (WO 65) died September 16, 2002 of lung cancer. Duke was an Operations Officer.
SSGT Leslie L. Wilson (EM 67-68) died June 4, 1996 from cancer. Sgt. Wilson worked in Operations.
One day in the summer of 1968 we were hauling supplies to various units in the AO. Things were quiet and uneventful. If we were too high, it would be mainly 'cuz the AC was chicken, or short. The crew chief and I would look at each other depending on whom we were flying with and without words, one of us would automatically light a cigarette. It only meant that we would be unable to light one later knowing who the mile high pilots were. While flying along, the pilot received a call on the radio to pick up a couple of bodies found in a shallow grave along the border of Laos. Ummm, I thought, this was different from the normal routine of hauling supplies. Of course we would fly out there sucking air and having nosebleeds. Never figured out why they would make a chopper that could fly so high without oxygen for the crew. Once we arrived at our destination, we could only touch one skid to the hilltop. We were to bring them back to be identified to see if they were American or Vietnamese. While loading the two poncho wrapped bodies that were found in the middle of the jungle near the top of the mountains crest, the wind from the rotor blades uncovered the bodies to give me an understanding of why we were taking them back to be identified. They had been buried for about 2 weeks and the skin was expanded one to two inches like a balloon. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye while I was keeping in contact with the pilots and helping get the bodies inside. I didn't have to look hard to see the maggots busy at work under the now taut see-through skin. We accidentally snagged one of the bodies on the seat post. A scent depleted like no other odor ever encountered, never to be forgotten for the rest of my life. We lifted off and with just a glance at the Crew Chief with no words exchanged, we instantly stepped out onto the skids to ride the rest of the way back. I do have to commend the expertise of the pilots. Never have I seen a pilot fly again with their heads out of the side windows. Landing could not come too soon for us to get the ship cleaned out! I was thinking, just another day in the life of a slick door gunner.
For a brief time, we had a boat that we would water ski behind in the China Sea off the beaches of Chu Lai. The boat didn't last long though. I don't know why the Seabee's wouldn't let us use one of theirs. I remember somehow that we used a chopper that was on a maintenance test flight. It pulled about 10 of us. I was just learning how to ski and was concentrating on staying up because of how rough the sea was. I still can remember when one would fall, everyone would yell, "Grab the rope before it kills us".
At times when we were flying with Mile High Harry, real name unknown, a door gunner would walk along the skid outside the aircraft. When we reached the window of the pilot we would knock and motion for him to take it down. The shock of seeing someone outside the chopper a mile up would create a reflex motion throughout the chopper that would cause us to have to hang on for dear life.
Five months in-country now, the last three months bouncing back and forth between Chu Lai, Da Nang, and Quang Tri. It's now the beginning of March 1969 and the wet monsoon season is behind us. Returning from the 'north' to the Rattler AO (area of operations) has been relatively easy. Not much enemy activity recently and the area is pretty quiet.
An early evening flight from Chu Lai to Baldy finds us following the Thien Phuoc River westwards from Tam Ky into the 196th AO and eventually to Landing Zone (LZ) Baldy for the night. The 'light' (two helicopters) fire team is flying at a safe altitude to reduce the threat of small arms ground fire. I am co-pilot for Lloyd Gfeller, Firebird 92 (Fatbird), flying the 'lead' ship of the two-ship fire team. As flights go, this one is proving to be very routine with good weather and clear flying visibility. Small-talk radio chatter converses over the intercom and with our 'trail' gunbird.
Fatbird is doing the flying as we continue over the river and sandbars beneath us. It's almost a lazy evening flight. Suddenly the staccato rhythm of heavy ground fire breaks our reverie as both door gunners immediately 'open up' to return fire. As I turn backward and look across my right shoulder (from the left seat) through the open right side door I see a bright cherry red light arc upward towards our aircraft. The bright red 'light' seems to sail in slow motion upward from the tree-lined riverbank. I quickly calculate the arc and it is flying straight for my head! Although time seems to 'freeze' for a few moments with the realization that this projectile is heading straight towards me - the moment shatters when the 12.7mm projectile impacts the right side of the helicopter. The gunship shudders as I watch the 'bullet' deflect off the right gun mount and fly out in front of the aircraft forever lost in space. A glancing blow struck off our right side and out into space - and I had witnessed the entire episode. The impact and jolt to the helicopter felt incredible. It seemed to shift the aircraft sideward in flight.
The aircraft instantly yaws to the left. I glance at Fatbird who is flying and has not said a word. I can see he is busy 'on the controls' fighting to fly the aircraft. What's that noise now? A loud rushing noise? I turn my head right rearward and press the floor mounted radio switch and call over the intercom. 'Bruce?' 'Yes sir,' replied Specialist 5 Joe Bruce the gunship crew chief. 'Are we on fire?' I ask. 'Yes sir!' is his quick reply. The round had penetrated the soft metal skin of the right rocket pod and had ignited the solid propellant fuel in the nineteen rockets loaded in the pod. Again I glance at Fatbird who is still quiet and still trying to maintain control of the aircraft. I reached across the radio pedestal and pulled upwards on the yellow painted jettison handle. The jettison handle is a release mechanism designed to allow the pilot to manually drop or 'dump' the mounted stores. It works great IF the jettison release cables are connected to the onboard aircraft jettison mechanism - the right cable was severed and inoperative.
After I pulled up on the lever I saw the left side rocket pod release and fall away towards the river. Unfortunately for us the burning rocket pod was still attached to the aircraft mount. The radio came to life with a call from the fire team wingman, ' '92, are you all right? It looks like you're on fire!' The white-hot flames from the rocket propellant were streaming down the right side of the helicopter past the tail rotor. A giant white fiery plume was flowing from the rocket pod and the added 'propulsion' of the rockets kept pushing the helicopter to the left.
'Bruce!' I yelled at the intercom. 'Yes sir?' he replied. 'Get rid of that rocket pod!' I yelled. 'YES SIR!' came his response. Joe Bruce laid his M-60 machine gun on the aircraft floor and incredibly I watched as he crawled out the right crew door. His 'monkey harness' fastened to an aircraft tie-down ring allowed him about three feet of free movement. Half inside and half outside the flying gunship, Joe reached down and grabbed the dangling jettison release cable with his right hand. As he steadied himself with his left hand on his seat rail he kicked and kicked and kicked away at the still burning rocket pod. Finally the damn thing fell away. All this took place in less than a minute because there isn't much time to dally when 19 rockets are on fire with the exciting possibility of an explosion at any second. Or better yet, the entire right side of the aluminum & magnesium helicopter tailboom skin catching fire and falling off in-flight.
While Joe and me are having our little tete-a-tete, Fatbird is descending us ever closer to a large sandbar in the river. He's preparing to land just in case. As we near the river and the aircraft slows slightly, our wingman confirms the burning pod is away and it appears all is well with our aircraft. Just as well for us, no way do we want to land or remain in this area after taking fire (and a huge hit) from the close by 12.7-mm anti-aircraft gun.
'92' adds power, pulls up on the collective pitch control and off we fly to LZ Baldy minus two fully loaded rocket pods. Circling upwards over the sandbar I spot the dropped and dented left-side rocket pod now partially buried in the sand. I wonder if 'Charlie' will find it and retrieve the rockets only to use them against us - a question without an answer.
Twenty-five years later as I waited for lunch at a Helicopter Association International exhibition, I spot Joe Bruce. He looked the same although now he sported a dark beard and moustache. I remarked to my colleague about the burning rocket pod incident and told him that I had to speak with Joe. With no introduction I approached Joe and began relating the events of our flight. He looked at me very suspiciously (obviously I didn't look the same as 25 years before!). On and on I rambled about that evening's events while flying over the Thien Phuoc River, discussing the heavy anti-aircraft fire, the burning rocket pod, and Joe's successful dance of determination to drop the fiery pod. Bewildered he finally he asked me: 'WHO are YOU?' When I told him who I was he couldn't believe it - couldn't believe after all the years and all the miles that we would again meet and relive those harrowing moments. We shook hands and hugged and had a few good laughs. We reminisced about that event and our by gone days as young sky warriors doing crazy things in a crazy war.
'What a guy!' Joe Bruce, the crew chief extraordinaire` who gave his all that night. Standing on the gun mount in the open air outside our flying helicopter attached only by his 'monkey harness' doing his dance of determination on a flaming can of 200 lbs. of high explosive with 40 feet of fire streaming down the right side of the helicopter. Thanks, Joe! The crew survived that day because of you. We owe our lives to you! 'What a guy!'
Every Mission started with a wake up call from the Platoon Sergeant. He would walk through the hooch with a flashlight and wake everyone he had scheduled to fly that day. With a simple "Hey wake up, you're flying today, 'With who' we would respond," as you got dressed. You would grab your flight helmet bag and head out the door to the latrine and then to chow. The mornings were warm and the sky still full of stars. You could always hear the sound of the surf as the waves crashed on the beach. Soon the sun would be rising and the day's mission would start.
I would wonder what was going on that day, saying good morning to my fellow flight crews as I met them enroute to breakfast. Breakfast was always eggs to order with bacon, toast and hot coffee. There was always a lot of small talk at breakfast. No real time to enjoy the meal as soon it would be time to head down to the flight line. All too soon the Platoon Sergeant would enter and order everyone on the ¾ ton truck. We would pile on board and off we went to the Snake Pit (Company flight line) where everyone hopped off the truck. The gunners went to the gun conex (a metal cargo container), got their M-60s and headed to their helicopters where the Crew Chief was busy during pre flight checks with the pilots. The pilots and Michael Mietus (crew chief) swarmed over the helicopter looking for problems that may have been missed the night before. Once the pre flight check was complete Mietus and I stood by the pilots doors as they started up the ship. We then locked their side-armored plates in the forward position, closed their doors and hopped in our gunner's wells. The pilot would call the tower and request permission to take off, Mietus and I would tell him if the surrounding area was clear. We would then take off heading north, following Highway 1 at tree top level toward Hawk Hill. At Hawk Hill we picked up a sniffer device and installed it before heading for LZ West and headed west into the mountains. The flight there was uneventful. The sky was clear, the sun bright and the temperature hot. We landed on the command pad and the pilots went in the TOC (Tactical Operation Center) to get the area they wanted us to check out. Mietus and I secured a case of White Prosperous Grenades to mark the area that registered positive.
We were to receive Gunship support from two Firebird Gunships. We had to wait for them. Once everything was ready we flew south toward Thien Phuoc. Our ship was to fly at tree top level. This modern wonder of science was to smell for enemy latrines. Once one was found Mietus and I were to mark the area with a WP Grenade, which on exploding gives white smoke. So there we were flying at treetop level with a WP Grenade with the pin pulled in our hand ready to release it upon the instruction of the sniffer operator. The other hand was on the M60 machine gun. The gunships were following behind us ready to launch an attack on contact. We were really going to surprise the enemy this day I thought as we flew along ready to pounce at the first hint of the enemy.
The operator yelled hot. Mietus and I both dropped our grenades. The pilot banked to the right so I could fire into the area of the white smoke. He then turns to give Mietus a chance to shoot. We must have fired 1800 rounds apiece before the mission was over. Our gunships were really working the area over with rockets, mini guns and a 40 mm grenade launcher that was attached in a chin turret on one of the gunships.
The machine registered a really strong hit, and additional assets would be needed to deal with this large enemy force that was so close to one of our fire support bases. Artillery was standing by to plaster the area. We had to fly off to a safer distance so we wouldn't fly into our own artillery rounds. We may have called in an air strike as well. My memory is a little unclear. It was exciting to be flying low firing your M60 machine gun and then watching your support working over the area. Hoping that a lot of bad guys were dying with every round hitting the kill zone. I thought what else would science come up with to help win the war. They had given us the Star Light Scope so we could see at night and now we can just fly over the jungle and smell their latrines and blow them to hell. I was proud to be an American and part of modern science. What other country on earth would think of and produce such advanced systems to aid in finding the enemy. We flew back to Hawk Hill, rearmed, refueled and headed back to sniff out more enemy locations. LZ West was sending a company of grunts (infantry) to finish up the job that we had started thanks to this marvel of modern science.
We continued to fly around for a while but never hit on a target like the first one. So the powers that be scrubbed the mission for the rest of the day. We dropped off the operator at Hawk Hill, knowing we had killed a lot of bad guys. We flew low-level back to Chu Lai and the snake pit. We shut down the aircraft and Mietus and the pilots did the post flight checks while I cleaned the M60 machine guns. We were driven back to the company area where we put our stuff away and went to chow.
Someone came by that had heard of our mission. They asked about our exploits that day. We told them about the mission. They asked if we wanted to know the good news or the bad news concerning how many of the enemy we had killed? We said yes but the good news first. They said the good news is your body count was 350 killed. The bad news is they were all monkeys. We killed a whole tree full of monkeys. Everyone had a good laugh and we never flew another sniffer mission again.
I guess P.E.T.A. will consider me a war criminal if they ever read this!
Wheeler was looking at his boots, close up, as though the feet in them were detached from his body. The boots were scuffed and dusty, sitting calmly on the gray textured floor of the Huey. Between the boots was the rounded base plate of the Huey's cyclic control, rising in a metal rod out of his vision. Wheeler tried to raise his head, not to look around but to relieve the pain in his neck. His head was hanging down with what felt like a weight attached to it. His attempt to move his head only caused it to rock from side to side, returning to the view of his dusty boots. He wasn't concerned, just interested. Again he tried to move his head to relieve the pain in his neck. The pain worsened. He noticed that the floor of the aircraft ended in torn-up grass, red dirt and broken Plexiglas, not the chin-bubble and foot-pedals that he was used to.
In an instant, he realized where he was. He had crashed. The engine was still running, sounding normal. Wheeler was in the wreckage of a crashed helicopter and it was going to blow up and burn.
With a groan, he partially raised his head and attempted to run through the broken Plexiglas and metal fragments that used to be the front of a Huey gunship. He was jerked instantly back into his seat and sat there for a moment, uncomprehending. He realized that his seatbelt and shoulder harness was holding him in the seat. With an instinctive flick of his left hand, he released his seat belt and lunged forward, helmet first, through the remains of a shattered windshield and nose cowling. His head was jerked back as his helmet tore through the remains of the Plexiglas windshield, finally breaking free as his legs continued to accelerate away from the noise of the helicopter engine, still dutifully running at 6600 RPM. Without thought of the other crewmembers, wheeler ran 25 yards ahead, jumping over the helicopter's broken mast and twisted rotor blades lying in his path. He stopped, stone still, aware of his surroundings for the first time and waited for the bullet to tear into his chest. After what seemed like minutes, he took a breath.
Wheeler was standing in a small clearing in the elephant grass, made by the thrashing of the rotor blades beating themselves to death during the crash. The elephant grass, six to ten feet high, was greenish brown and waved in a slight breeze. The grass disappeared as the hillside steepened and dropped a couple of hundred feet to the rice paddies in the valley, three hundred yards away. Small trees and brush created tiny islands in this sea of moving grass.
Over the sound of the jet-turbine, wheeler could hear the sounds of gunfire. Looking out into the valley, he saw distant groups of NVA soldiers in their green uniforms, running across rice dikes in twos and threes, stopping occasionally and firing in his direction. He noticed the buzzing of rounds passing through the elephant grass around him. He had never heard slugs passing through brush and grass before but he knew what it was. It cooked away the last fuzziness in his head and brought him to reality as surely as a nail through the foot. Looking again at the small figures running toward him across the rice-dikes, he swallowed.
The crew! With a sudden jolt, wheeler realized that the other crewmembers were still in the aircraft. It was going to burn. He had to get them out.
Turning, he ran back to the helicopter, noticing parts of the transmission and rotor blades as he jumped over them for the second time. The helicopter was destroyed. It sat fairly level, tilted slightly to the right, parallel to the slope of the hill. The skids were crushed to the body. Most of the nose was gone on the left (Wheeler's) side with the roof torn off down to the instrument panel. The tail was broken and crushed. The engine ran on, oblivious to the carnage around it.
The crew was starting to crawl from the wreckage with the confused look of a 4-H pet, in disbelief, delivered to the slaughterhouse. Wheeler turned and took a few halting steps back, drawn in the direction of the approaching NVA like a boy to Saturday cartoons, not yet believing. Steve Moy followed after removing his M-14 from behind his seat. The gunners followed to the edge of the clearing, empty handed. Their M-60s had been slung out the open doorways as the aircraft spun toward the ground and were lost.
The four young men stood silently and stared as the NVA continued to advance. The closest now hidden from sight as they reached the bottom of the hill and were swallowed by the elephant grass.
Wheeler was startled to action by the dust and grass thrown up at his feet by the impact of a bullet. Returning to the helicopter, he retrieved his M-79 grenade-launcher and the bandolier of HE grenades he kept slung over his seat. Returning to the group of young men standing at the edge of the new clearing, he loaded the grenade-launcher and watched as the last of the NVA disappeared from sight below, into the elephant grass. Realizing that his gunners were unarmed, wheeler removed his .38 pistol from his shoulder holster and gave it to the nearest gunner. Still dazed from the crash, the gunner took the pistol, pointed it in the general direction of the approaching NVA, emptied it in rapid succession and handed it back. Without a word, wheeler took the pistol and put it back in his holster.
In the week following Ernie Palmieri's death on 8 December 1966, our company was sent on a two week TDY assignment to Tay Ninh in support of Operation Attleboro. Tay Ninh was located Northwest of Bien Hoa, about 20 miles from Cambodia, and in the shadow of a geological freak of nature, Nui Ba Dinh mountain. This mountain was also known as the Black Virgin Mountain. The oddity of this mountain was that it was huge and alone. It just stuck up in the middle of flat ground. There was an American compound located on top but everything below that was owned by Charlie. The mountain was honeycombed with caves.
We moved into tent city and went to work. 1SGT Hillhouse asked who had experience as a carpenter. R.J. Williams jumped on this, figuring he could wing it. Hillhouse went out and bought a load of lumber to use for building a mess hall. The problem was the wood was teak and nobody could drive nails in it. So much for a real mess hall.
A deal was struck with the Filipino engineers to swap our ice for their beer. One of our crew chiefs had a little too much Filipino beer, fell over a tent rope and broke an ankle. A couple of days later, Vice-President Ky visited the fancy inflatable MASH hospital and pinned a medal on the guy along with some "real" wounded GIs.
One of the thrills of being on this TDY was being bivouacked near the 175mm howitzer unit. When they had a fire mission, the red dust would rise and fall, covering everything (again), while the ground shook like a .5 Richter scale earthquake.
One day my ship and crew were sitting out in our parking area waiting a takeoff time. We were about 50 yards from the road that went by this area. The entire crew was just laid back taking it easy when a jeep stopped out on the road adjacent to us. A crisp standing-tall captain hopped out and double-timed over to my aircraft. He wanted to tell us that General Westmoreland would be driving by in a convoy shortly and that we were to stand by the ship at attention and salute as he passed. A few minutes later the convoy came by while we watched from a very relaxed "attention" position. We were much more curious than respectful.
Rattler 23, Paul Teelin had a mission to fly around the perimeter of Tay Ninh with a new experimental vision device. The system was contained in a metal box about 5 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall. It had its own gasoline-powered generator and took two men to lift it into the back of the Huey. From around midnight to 0200 they circled Tay Ninh while two civilian guys looked through a telescope type apparatus. These were some factory techreps trying to sell the system to the Army.
Another night mission Teelin flew involved an "over the border" insertion of a LRRP team. Teelin flew lead and WO Lance Fodge flew chalk two. Rattler 3, Major Ed Johnson, was overhead in the C&C ship giving heading direction to the LZ while the slicks remained low-level. The slicks were blacked out except for dim position lights and they could not see crap. Teelin almost hit a tree head on and Fodge had a blade strike going into the LZ. Both crews were scared shitless but made it back in time to toss back several extra Black Labels.
On December 23rd, a flight of ten Rattlers was to go on a combat assault with the pickup zone being right on the perimeter of the base. As the FNG crew chief in the 1st platoon, my aircraft was one weak sister. The tail number was 64-13669. This 1964 model was (under) powered by the Lycoming T53-L9 turbine engine. This 900 horsepower power plant was woefully weak with quite a few hours of flying time on it. My ship was crewed by Jerry Shirley-AC, Gene Martin-peter pilot, myself as crew chief and Gary Johnson-gunner.
We were aircraft number 3 (alpha 3) in the flight. The grunts were loaded and the mission began. As lead took off, everyone went IFR, blinded by the sandstorm raised from the rotor wash. Lead advised the flight to take off one at a time and call off as they cleared the PZ. The number 2 ship cleared and called off. Then it was our turn. We came to a hover with the RPM having trouble staying up. As we started our forward movement the RPMs started to fall. We knew that just as soon as we reached transitional lift all would be fine. We were still blinded by the sand. Just as we were about to break free, a double roll strand of concertina wire appeared through the haze. Mr. Shirley had to pull the collective all the way up just to clear the wire. When he did, the RPM went to hell in a handbag. We cleared the wire but as we did the RPM dropped to the point of losing tail rotor control. When you lose tail rotor control due to deficient RPMs, the aircraft goes into an uncontrollable right hand turn. By now we are going down and the aircraft has pivoted 90 degrees with the forward movement being the direction straight out from my cubbyhole. I know when the skid hits the ground we are going to roll. I also know when the blades strike the ground, people may die and I might be one of them.
All my life I have heard the expression, "My life flashed before my eyes I was so scared!" It happened to me. In the seconds it took between the skid hit and the blade strike I saw and thought of things that had happened throughout my life, with the last being a vision I was seeing from up high, looking down on my casket in the First Baptist Church of Heath, TX with my Mom, Dad and Sister on the front row. I remember thinking; "This is going to be some Christmas for the folks at home." My brain had decided I was about to die and the adrenaline surge caused my mind to work at warp speed making everything appear to be in slow motion.
I braced myself as well as I could for the impact. The aircraft jerked sharply and spun on its side, now lying motionless in a muddy rice paddy. The quiet was deafening. Jerry Shirley was yelling at Mr. Martin to "Get the battery", meaning cut the power off. As I realized I was not injured it dawned on me that this thing may blow. My side was face down in the paddy with the only escape being crawling above the troop seat and out the topside. Gary Johnson was out first because he was looking at blue sky above him. I was the second guy out, crawling over grunts all the way. When I stood up on the right side of the ship, I popped the emergency handle on the pilot's door and pulled both of them out. A quick head count was taken and we had one missing grunt. He was trapped under the skid, mashed down in the soft mud of the rice paddy. He was frantically dug out and taken to the medics with a possible broken leg. No one else was hurt except for scratches and bruises.
I can still remember Gary Johnson saying, "I quit. I've had all these damn aircraft crashes I can stand!" Johnson had been the gunner on a slick that crashed in the Snakepit on 24 July '66, decapitating his AC, CWO Hugh Galbraith.
The next day I was sent back to Bien Hoa because I no longer had a ship and the company was coming home shortly.
On the 24th, a Firebird aircraft with a crew of WO Boyce Wyatt, Captain Joe Daugherty, Eddie DeHart and Mike Shields took off from Tay Ninh on an emergency mission. Firebirds were also underpowered because of the load they were required to carry. Just about the time they reached transitional lift a known "VC" termite mound hung one of the skids and the ship flipped over like a flapjack. These termite mounds had the consistency of concrete. Again no one was hurt although Eddie DeHart had to warn the onlookers to stay back until he disarmed all the weapons systems. DeHart tells of having a bad eye infection about this time, for which he was being treated by the medics. When he came out to fly one morning a pilot jumped his ass for being too doped up to "Fly with me." The pilot said, "I can tell you are doped just by looking at your eyes." DeHart says he had some very sharp words for this quasi-MD.
On Christmas Day, everyone that wanted to go loaded on the Rattler slicks to fly to Cu Chi for the Bob Hope show. The ships also carried all the walking wounded causalities from the Tay Ninh MASH unit that wanted to go. As the low-level flight approached Cu Chi, red and green smokes attached to the rear of the skids were popped just before flying over the stage area (which was forbidden). The flight landed at the "Little Bear's" flight line and ambulances came after the hospital patients, transporting them to front row seats for the show.
On Christmas night, R. J. Williams and friends loaded up a jeep with all the red and green smoke grenades they could locate plus a bunch of star cluster pyrotechnics. R. J. said they drove all over the place throwing smoke and shooting the star clusters like roman candles, not up but at stuff. A C-123 trying to land had to make a go-around because of the IFR conditions caused by the celebration.
The company came home to Bien Hoa shortly after Christmas, glad to be back to the comforts of our tent city and the pilot's villa downtown. One thing accomplished on this TDY was to give the pilots a taste of the living conditions that their EM crewmembers endured full time.
Over the years people have asked me how rough it was to be away from home at Christmas. I tell them that it did not bother me one bit. After the crash on the 23rd, I was so glad to be alive I did not care where I was.
In January 1968, I was serving as a maintenance crew leader at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA. Huey aircraft arrived fairly often from Corpus Christi, TX where they had been completely restored. Half a dozen aircraft had come in and were lined up outside our hanger. As my assistant crew leader and I walked by these ships, I happen to glance at the tail number of the one I was passing. I was astounded to read 64 - 13669. I told my buddy, "That can't be right! I crashed in 669 13 months ago." I went over, looked at the cargo floor, then went around and climbed on top, looking for bullet hole patches. Both patches were there from my "cherry" hit of 8 Dec.66. It really is a small world. The aircraft looked like it was brand new.
What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies. If an ATC screws up, the pilot dies.
When one engine fails on a twin-engine aircraft, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash!
Mankind has a perfect record in aviation, we've never left one up there!
Flashlights are tubular metal containers kept in a flight bag for the purpose of storing dead batteries.
The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world. It can just barely kill you.
If you bought $1000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49. If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the nickel/aluminum deposit, you would have $79. It is, therefore, financially prudent in these troubled times to drink beer and recycle.. the cans. (The Mineral Wells Chapter of the VHPA)
The following is not a joke. The Reuters News Agency published it recently.
HANOI, Oct 22 - A Vietnamese man died and three of his co-workers nearly suffered the same fate after trying to rescue a colleague who fell into a vat of fish sauce. The state-run Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper said the accident happened on Monday in the southern beachside town of Phan Thiet when a man at a fish sauce factory fell into a 2.2 meter (7.2 feet) sauce tank.
Four other workers, including the man's wife, who came to his aid also fell in, and all lost consciousness after inhaling the gas from the fish being fermented to make the sauce, the article said.
A doctor at the emergency unit at Binh Thuan provincial hospital told Reuters on Tuesday one of the rescuers, a 34-year-old man, died after being taken to the hospital. The cause of death has not been established, he said. (Duh!)
"The fish sauce tank is very tall and the victims had been lying in the sauce for awhile before being rushed here," said the doctor who declined to be identified. "When they came in, the man who died was already in critical condition."
Fish sauce is ferociously pungent and commonly used in Southeast Asia to spice up dishes.