Will Drewry (EM 68-71) is planning on writing a book based on the Lam Son 719 action at LZ LOLO. He would like input from everyone who was there or that heard it on the radios. The people involved see every war story different. Get your two cents worth in if you have something to relate. You can reach Will at: 34356 Turkey Pen Rd, Wakefield, VA 23888. Phone 757-899-4114 or e-mail at:

Rattler One-Seven, Chuck Gross’ new book is a 6 X 9, 248pp, hardcover cloth, which includes 26 b&w photos, 2 maps, Glossary, Notes, Bibliography, and Index. The book retails for $27.95 and there is a $5.00 shipping fee for the first book plus .75 cents for each additional book.

You can call Texas A&M University Press Consortium at 1-800-826-8911 to order.If you want a personalized signed copy at a 10% discount, send a check or money order for $25.16 plus $5 S&H to Chuck Gross at 1020 Saint Blaise Trail, Gallatin, TN 37066. Please include personalization instructions (nickname, call sign etc.) If you have any questions or want to contact Chuck, you can e-mail him at or call him at 615-230-9655.

NOTE:  The following information that appeared in the newsletter has been found to be incorrect. Please accept our apologies for the mistake.

The Association has been informed that the National Personnel Record Center that is responsible for maintaining archives of our military records is automating their storage and management of our military records. When this is complete they plan to destroy the hard copies of the records unless requested by the veteran or a deceased veteran’s family to send those records to them.

If a veteran or members of the deceased veteran’s family wants to request those records be sent to them instead of being destroyed they can make a request by mail to: National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100. You can also make the request online at: . When you submit your request online, a signature form downloadable from the site can be sent to you for completion and submission. The Records Center will then send you an e-mail acknowledging your request.

Over the years many complaints have been received at this Association about medals that were never awarded. At our last reunion a former company clerk stated as a fact that there was a stack of unprocessed awards over an inch high that one of our 1SGTs took with him when he DEROSED in 1968. This person is now deceased. This is an absolute crime. The men who were represented in these awards could have been promoted because of the missing items and now could be reaping more VA benefits because of this action.

For those interested in the beautiful CHALLENGE COINS Bill DiDio brought to the last reunion, he now has a new stock of them for sale. These coins are the size of a silver dollar with the Rattler emblem on one side and the Firebird emblem on the other, all in beautiful color. Price is $10 each including shipping with $1.50 from each coin sold donated to the Association. You can view the coin at or email Bill at

Association Membership Dues

Look at the mailing label of this newsletter. To the right of your name is your dues status. The membership year runs from July 1st to June 31st. If there is nothing to the right of your name, or if the number is 2004, your membership expired on June 30th. In order to receive the Association address directory that was mailed in late June you must have C 2005, 2005 (or higher), C Life or Life to the right of your name, or pay the $12 yearly dues. Life membership fees are: age 50 and below-$200, 51 to 55-$175, 56 to 60-$150, 61 to 65-$125, 66 or older - $100. Make all checks to: 71st AHC Association. FYI, life member number 24 is the only “call sign” number not being used. If you were Rattler 24 you might want to consider buying a life membership in that number. At present we have 226 life members representing about 22% of our entire roster.


Our next reunion is about 18 months away. It will be held at the Omni Hotel San Antonio located in the northwestern quadrant of the city, about eight miles west of the airport. The dates are Wednesday, April 19 to Sunday, April 23, 2006. The timing on this is about two weeks earlier than we normally hold the reunion. A huge celebration in San Antonio is the Cinco De Mayo Holiday the first weekend in May and that is why we moved the date.

The room rates are $95 per night plus a 16.75% tax bringing the total to just under $111 a night. We will be offering a couple of different tours of the city plus our reunion committee chairman, Vic Bandini, will be holding the Firebird Freefire Golf Outing at Fort Sam Houston’s golf course. Again we will have the Saturday night banquet and we have signed on a person that should be a great speaker for the night. Joe Galloway, co-author with LTG Hal Moore of the best seller We Were Soldiers Once….and Young which became a major motion picture staring Mel Gibson, will be our guest speaker. If you have not seen this movie it is highly recommended. Actor Barry Pepper played the part of Joe Galloway in this movie. A biography and photo of Joe is in this newsletter. Ladies, please do not expect to find Barry Pepper at our reunion.

Hotel reservations can be made now by calling 1-800-400-1700. Tell them it is for the Rattler-Firebird Reunion and to book it in PASSKEY. Passkey is the system that must be used until we are less than one year from the reunion date. Reunion reservations can be made now online. Go to our website at and click on the hotel reservation link at the bottom of the home page. This link automatically uses the passkey system. Please save this information.

Combat Action with an Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam

Sales of our new book are going very good. With Christmas approaching you might consider buying copies of the book for friends and/or family. All proceeds from the book go to our Association. The price of the book is $15 plus $2 S&H (for each additional book ordered, add $15 plus fifty cents S&H). If you are ordering merchandise other than the book, the shipping and handling listed on the merchandise order form applies. Order 10 books for $150.00 and you will receive 11 books and pay no S&H! Make all checks to: 71st AHC Assoc. If you desire personalized autographs, please be specific on your order.



The only thing you must have is a diagnosis of the illness and proof of serving in the Vietnam area of operations.

We have recently established a VA Benefits page on our web site. Gary White has once again excelled in this endeavor. There is plenty of PTSD info available plus compensation tables, forms, and references to related info.

People, these benefits have been long ago paid for by all of us. The average American veteran who served in Vietnam believes he was only doing his duty. This is true, but there is another side to this coin. The American people who you were protecting now have an obligation to protect you for life. This is the cost of war. The expense does not stop when the arms are laid down. Get in the system. Have an agent orange screening (physical exam). This will consist of a blood work, urinalysis, lung x-ray and all the normal checkup items.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD – the person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:

The above is just the tip of the iceberg concerning PTSD but you know the above description is embodied in anyone who has been involved in combat.

To achieve a disability rating for PTSD you need a stand out stressor that bothers you worse than any others that occurred in Vietnam. Crashes, peoples’ deaths, rocket/mortar attacks, burned bodies and other such items are possibilities.

Has your PTSD problems resulted in any (or all) of the following: a. survivor guilt (why did I live), b. rage, c. job hopping d. nightmares or daymares (of a gory nature), e. suicidal / homicidal thoughts, f. depression, g. anxiety attacks (especially in crowds, cannot work around others, h. feeling numb, i. moody, argumentative, hard to get along with, j. drug problems, k. alcoholism, l. divorce(s), m. trouble sleeping.

An ability to show proof of combat action is a plus, such as medals like a purple heart, DFC, or air medal(s). When they look at your DD214, can they tell you were in combat? When being interviewed for PTSD, you need to be yourself.

Remember that these people are looking for a way TO AVOID giving you a disability. Do not feel guilty by preparing for them because they are very prepared for you. Be patient and expect to appeal their decision. If you are given an award, it almost certainly should have been one notch higher. PTSD awards will be rated at one of the following: 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% or 100%. A rating of 0% is a victory because they are recognizing the presence of PTSD. It is a starting point.

Hearing Loss (again)

This next item is a rerun from last May because our people need to benefit from these lessons learned!

Many of you have read of Ron Seabolt’s claim attempting to get a disability for his hearing loss and the tinnitus (ear ringing). The claim was filed in August 2001 and was naturally denied. NEVER give up on these claims as long as it can be appealed. These people want you to get discouraged, say to hell with it and quit.

Seabolt went to the VA for a hearing exam, which showed a 30% hearing loss. Then went to a private ENT doctor and told her he needed a letter stating that, in her opinion, the hearing loss was probably, possibly or maybe due to the jet engines and/or machine guns. The doctor had to reexamine his hearing, which cost $120 (but may be covered under your insurance). The exam showed exactly the same as the VA exam and the doctor wrote the supporting letter. He then had 6 different pilots and his platoon sergeant write letters stating their opinions of the noise levels endured as crewmen. When all this was evaluated the VA doctor said “in his opinion” that nothing Seabolt had done in the service could have affected his hearing loss or ear ringing. It took 31 months for the appeal to go through. The ruling came back that the preponderance of evidence was in the veterans favor, thereby awarding a 10% service connected disability for the tinnitus. The hearing loss was also declared service connected but the award was 0%. This 0% service connected is not a bad thing because if deafness occurs later in life he has already proven that this started due to his service and could then apply for an increase. The award date of the 10% on the tinnitus was September 1, 2001 and all back pay was awarded, TAX FREE. You can do this if your hearing has been affected by your military service.


The following deaths have been reported to our Association since our last newsletter.

Patrick W. Emery, Sr (CWO, 64-65) died 1 November 1997 as the result of a massive heart attack. His son, Patrick Jr. would love to hear anything from any of you who knew his dad. Patrick can be reached online at:

Roger Harry Doyea (EM 69-70) died 18 March 2001 from mroastatic liposarcoma (cancer).

Joe R. Parker (EM 69-70) died 23 October 2003 of unknown causes.

Don Flatten (EM 66-67) died 17 February 2004 from cancer. This was Ron Seabolt’s second gunner and is credited with probably saving several of our lives on 2 January 1967 with his skill with an M-60 machine gun.

Chris Palmer (EM 67-68) died 13 August 2004 after a valiant battler with cancer. Chris’ daughter, Christie Palmer, can be reached at: 1902 106th Ave., Otsego, MI 49078 should any of you desire to drop her a note of encouragement or a memory of her dad.

Rest in peace brothers! Please ask your loved ones to inform us should your time come.

On a happy note, the Association has been informed by James N. Smith that his name does not belong on the “died after serving with us” list.


Story Reprinted From Washington (Texas) Times By John McCaslin

For the first time, James F. Pfister Jr., a U.S. Army prisoner of war in Vietnam from January 1968 to March 1973, tells us the rest of the story surrounding the recent burial in Bremond, Texas, of U.S. Marine Sgt. Dennis Hammond.

It was Mr. Pfister, after all, who first buried Sgt. Hammond in March 1970. The sergeant had been captured by the Viet Cong in February 1968, one month after Mr. Pfister.

“In early 1968, he and another POW, Earl C. Weatherman, tried to escape,” Mr. Pfister recalls. “Weatherman was killed, and Hammond was shot in the calf of the leg and brought back to camp. They beat him, put him in bamboo stocks, and cut his food ration. After the escape attempt, he gradually started going down hill.”

Finally, the Marine didn’t wake up one morning.

“I helped bury Hammond in March 1970,” Mr. Pfister tells Inside the Beltway. “After his burial, I carved an arrow in a tree marking the location.”

This past April, Mr. Pfister was in Washington for his Army helicopter unit’s reunion. His pilot, another ex-POW, told him some good news: Sgt. Hammond’s remains had been recovered and identified and were being sent back to the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Pfister received a phone call from Mike “Tiny” Readinger, who’d served in Sgt. Hammond’s unit, passing word along that the funeral services would be May 22 in Bremond. At the funeral home, Mr. Pfister was introduced for the first time to Carlene Hammond, the fallen POWs’s sister.

After he told her all he knew about her brother’s imprisonment, Mr. Pfister says he entered the small chapel and placed both hands on Sgt. Hammond’s casket.

“Hi, Dennis, this is Jim. I’m here for you buddy,” Mr. Pfister said, overcome with emotion. The funeral procession was two miles long.

“People were standing along the side of the road, standing at attention, some people waving flags and signs that said, ‘Thank you, Sgt. Hammond,’ ” says Mr. Pfister, feeling a “great big weight” was lifted off him at that moment.

He then watched as Sgt. Hammond was buried again, this time with full military honors.

ABOUT JOE GALLOWAY (Speaker for the 2006 reunion)

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers, working in their Washington Bureau and is also author of a weekly column on military and national security affairs. He recently concluded a brief assignment as a special consultant to Gen. Colin Powell at the State Department.

Galloway, a native of Refugio, Texas, spent 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent and bureau chief for United Press International, and nearly 20 years as a senior editor and senior writer for U.S. News & World Report magazine.

His overseas postings include tours in Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Singapore and three years as UPI bureau chief in Moscow in the former Soviet Union. During the course of 15 years of foreign postings Galloway served four tours as a war correspondent in Vietnam and also covered the 1971 India-Pakistan War and half a dozen other combat operations. In 1990-1991 Galloway covered Desert Shield/Desert Storm, riding with the 24th Infantry Division (Mech) in the assault into Iraq.

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf has called Galloway “The finest combat correspondent of our generation - a soldier's reporter and a soldier's friend.”

He is co-author, with Lt. Gen. (ret) Hal G. Moore, of the national bestseller We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young - which has been made into a critically acclaimed movie, We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson. He also co-authored Triumph Without Victory: The History of the Persian Gulf War for Times Books.

On May 1, 1998, Galloway was decorated with a Bronze Star Medal with V for rescuing wounded soldiers under fire in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. His is the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for actions during the Vietnam War.

Galloway received the National Magazine Award in 1991 for a U.S. News cover article on the 25th anniversary of the Ia Drang battles, and the National News Media Award of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1992 for coverage of the Gulf War. In 2000 he received the President's Award for the Arts of the Vietnam Veterans Association of America. In 2001 he received the BG Robert L. Denig Award for Distinguished Service presented by the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association.

He is a member of the advisory boards of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit organization No Greater Love (founded to assist the victims of war), the 1st Cavalry Division Association, and the National infantry Foundation.


Reprinted from Military Officer – September 2004
By Lt. Col. Don B. Huff, USA-Ret

In the fall of 1968, I was assigned as the commanding officer of the Army’s Central Finance and Accounting Office at Long Binh, Vietnam, with some 505 officers and enlisted men on board.

A few days after my arrival at Long Binh, a Navy Commander came by and said, “I’d like to take one of your pay clerks away from you and put him behind a microphone in Saigon to do the ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ broadcast.” Apparently, the previous broadcaster was about to rotate after his 12-month tour, and the pay clerk the commander was referring to had won an audition to replace the show’s broadcaster.

First things first: I asked my guy’s immediate supervisor what kind of finance clerk he was and learned that “He’s the best you have at maintaining more pay records than anyone else in this office and with a zero error rate.”

Seeing that I needed some time to consider his request, the commander let me sleep on it before making a decision. But the moral aspects of the situation were overwhelming. As an Army pay clerk, my guy was keeping approximately 750 other soldiers accurately and promptly paid, but as a broadcaster on “Good Morning, Vietnam,” he would be keeping roughly 600,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen more content than anyone else could at the time.

So I agreed to sacrifice my best pay clerk on two absolutely non-negotiable conditions: I wanted to see exactly where he would be located in Saigon and know the exact date when he would begin live broadcasting. I also informed the commander that I expected to hear the pay clerk’s – my best soldier’s – voice on the radio the day he specified, or I would have a piece of the commander’s posterior for breakfast.

The commander chuckled, agreed to my conditions, and showed me the broadcast cubicle, headset, and mike the pay clerk would be using, then told me the pay clerk’s first day would be the following Monday morning.

Sure enough, on the commander’s specified date at 6 a.m., I heard my former pay clerk speak those memorable (and now famous) words, “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

After a short leave back in the world, he returned for a full second tour in the same broadcast booth, his voice having soothed the ears and contented the minds of more than 1 million Americans in uniform during his total watch in that country.

For a few years after that, I lost track of that pay clerk-turned-broadcaster. I next saw him on TV doing the weather on one of the local channels in Los Angeles. A few more years passed before I saw him again, this time hosting the College Bowl on TV. Then, sometime in the early 1980s, he landed the job he still has today – as the host of “Wheel of Fortune.”

Through a training assignment goof for this professional radio broadcaster from Chicago, Pat Sajak started his draftee military career as an Army Finance Corps student and graduated at the top of his class. After a short period as an outstanding pay clerk, his next 20 months were spent behind the mike, where he greeted hundreds of thousands of American men and women in uniform with “Good Morning, Vietnam” and the same friendly banter he uses today as host of “The Wheel.”

Although his job changed, he still is a patriot of the first order and a fine American.


By Michael J. Friel (WO 70-71)

I read an article in the May 2003 Association Newsletter which prompted me to send you my recollections. I felt compelled to expand on the events of that day. The Article “Pilot Reveals Chopper Crash” tells a partial story of what I feel was one of the most rewarding missions from my year in Viet Nam. WO1 Wendell Freeman, WO1 Pat Riley, SP4 Dalferro and SP4 Betts were shot down on a mission into Laos. The simple story is that the downed crew was rescued by myself, CW2 Mike Friel, CW1 H. Collins, SP4 Tony Catalina and another door gunner whose name, unfortunately, I no longer remember. The more complex story is the story of a well planned well executed mission which did not result in the accomplishment of the stated objective, but still managed to show the best Army Aviation has to offer and brought everyone home alive despite some great adversity. There were many ways for this mission to have ended in disaster, but it didn’t and I along with 15 other Army Aviators am proud to have played my part.

The very planning of the mission proved to be significant to our survival. We were assigned to take a heavy gun team to cover an extraction in Laos. Four UH1C gunships were assigned the mission instead of the normal two. The two Firebird ships described above and two Shark ships, the crews of which were equally important to the successful completion of this mission, but whose names, like the name of the one of the heroic door gunners on my own aircraft I no longer can recall. In addition to the four aircraft the planners, at least on the Firebird aircraft sent all experienced crews. All four pilots were experienced Aircraft Commanders. Wendell Freeman was a designated Fire Team Lead and Pat Riley normally flew as his Wing Man, but today they were a crew. I was, like Wendell, a designated Fire Team Lead and H. (Hubert Collins), like Pat to Wendell, normally flew as my Wing Man, today we were a crew. The door gunners were all excellent, I knew Tony was the Best. He sometimes spoke about his time with the infantry as a machine gunner, and he, like the others, was a great soldier. I was very sorry to hear of his death. If I had to pick any one person, who stood out among the sixteen people on this mission that person would be Tony Catalina. His efforts that day some thirty years ago allowed us all to come home from that mission. As the Aircraft Commander of his aircraft I wrote Tony up for a bravery citation that day. I don’t know whether he ever was awarded one but he certainly deserved one. Tony’s actions do not detract from the bravery of the other people of the mission. In my mind, his actions are imprinted and I’ve always held him in the highest esteem.

The second element in the planning stage that set up the mission for success was the pre-mission briefing by the Fire Team Lead. I don’t remember who he was, however, I believe he was one of the Sharks. If I remember correctly one of the Sharks led and the other was number two in the tactical trail flight of our UH1C’s with Wendell and Pat number three, leaving H and I number four. Whoever he was he said something which has stuck with my for over thirty years. He said, “We all go into Laos together and we all come out of Laos together.” Those words sound simple but they established the mindset that was instrumental to the success of this mission. That was the planning that shows this mission was planned and staffed well.

The next element, which brought all sixteen of us through the day, was the execution of the mission. We were flying along in our low level tactical trail formation, I think the expression is “fat, dumb and happy”, when an incredible and, at least for the one aircraft, accurate barrage of RPG, automatic weapon and small arms fire was directed at us. An RPG hit Wendell’s aircraft and took away his controls. Pat quickly regained control of that aircraft and landed it without injury to any of the crew. What an act of professional competence and teamwork. I wasn’t in that aircraft but I’ve often imagined the scenario; low level, high speed, controls shot out, switch flying pilot duties, land under fire without injury. What a Job!

I’ve always thought about Hubert’s reacting to the pre-brief, “We all go into Laos together and we all come out of Laos together”. H immediately jettisoned the external stores on our aircraft. Just seconds after the first aircraft crash landed, H brought us to a hover in a confined area not far from them. Once came to a hover, we came under sustained enemy automatic weapons fire. H continued to hover the aircraft in the LZ. I assumed radio duties and directed the crew.

At this point Tony asked if he could go get the downed crew. I knew he meant, “I’m going to get the crew”, so of course I gave him permission. I still find what happened next to be the most amazing part of the day, a visual image which has always stayed with me. We were taking an incredible amount of fire with the major portion coming from our left rear, the downed aircraft being to our left front. SP4 Tony Catalina got out of our aircraft and single handedly charged the enemy concentration.* Even more amazingly, he beat them back in what seemed like no time, alternately charging the enemy and taking over until the enemy fire from that quadrant was significantly reduced. I witnessed a lot of courage and professionalism that day, but I “gotta tell ya”, Tony won the prize in my book. What courage!

After defeating the NVA by himself he went and got the downed crew and returned to the aircraft. While all this was going on, the others were not idle. My other door gunner was fighting off what looked to be a substantial enemy force to our right. Enemy tracers were streaming through the rear of the helicopter, in one door and out the other. The door gunner had his helmet cord shot through and we were forced to communicate with hand signals. We would not have been able to maintain our position without the gunner’s marksmanship.

Once we got everyone on board, I spoke to the Sharks, who had been covering us. They told me that had both received extensive battle damage and had to leave the area so it was time for us to wrap it up. They had given us the precious time we needed to recover the downed crew. With everyone on board, H took off and flew right into a tree! UH1C’s were not meant to carry eight people out of a confined area on a hot day. We bounced back, threw out all the extra weight on board, almost everything not screwed to the aircraft, then H and I both took the controls and took off. Together we hit the same tree H had hit the first time, only this time with less weight on board we hit higher on the tree and our rotor blades cut out a path for us. No pretty but it worked. We all came back alive.

Some thirty years later Hubert Collins told me, “I flew harder than I’ve ever flown to get out of there.” My response we, “Me too H!”

When the press came that evening some of us tooted our horn to drown the noise of some others, but I’ve always felt sixteen people went into Laos and sixteen people were responsible for sixteen people coming out with the help of forward thinking commanders and the operation staff.

None of us ever made it to the original mission, however, I’ve always viewed that day as a great day for Army Aviation, and I’m proud to have played my part.

*“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”

Riding Shotgun In Vietnam
Collision On Takeoff

By Gary Parks (EM 65-66)

Sunday, February 20, 1966. One day in my life of over 20,000 days, but a day I will never forget.

The day was just another hot and dry scorcher I had seen in my six months in country. I was a Rattler door gunner and loved my job. I was an 11B infantryman in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii when I was selected to attend their door gunner course called the “shotgun program” prior to a group of twenty-five of us shipping out to Vietnam for a 90 day TDY. Our training was extremely thorough with extensive instruction on the M-60. Part of my training consisted of taking the weapon apart completely and putting it back together with it inside a duffle bag, performed entirely by feel. Once I was settled in with the Rattlers I knew that I was where I wanted to be and readily agreed to stay with my new unit when my rotation time approached.

Our mission on this Sunday afternoon took us to the general area between Bien Hoa and Vung Tau around Bear Cat as I recall. An outpost somewhere in the III Corp area was in danger of being overrun and the Rattlers were hastily formed up to combat assault American relief troops to relieve the enemy threat.

The pickup zone was located at a makeshift runway in an area where the ground cover was a dry red talc dust that when approached by a helicopter caused immediate IFR conditions. Because of the open doors we were even getting this dust inside the ship and I was concerned about keeping the dust out of my M-60.

My aircraft commander was my platoon leader Captain John (Flash) Gordon. Our ship was the trail aircraft in the flight of ten ships approaching the PZ (pickup zone) in two segments of five each in trail formation. The first five aircraft came out amid a cloud of dust. Now the second half of the flight went in for their pickup. The grunts were staged in sticks of seven ready for boarding. The troops boarded quickly and I heard my aircraft commander give the flight an “up”. As one the flight rose in the dust and we struggled to achieve transitional lift above the cloud of dust.

As soon as we reached clear air I vividly recall Captain Gordon’s saying, “Oh my God we have a helicopter that crashed”. He immediately said, “Gunner, crew chief, prepare to get ‘um out of there”. As we came around to land behind the crash I saw one helicopter go right and one go left that I believe were the numbers three and four ships. The lead aircraft appeared to have been hit in the tail rotor by the number two aircraft. The number two ship was in flames and sort of leaning to the left side. We had landed right behind the burning aircraft, which was at our 12 o’clock position. The lead ship was at our ten o’clock to the left, on its side. Bodies were laying everywhere.

I stepped out from behind my M-60 and started to reach for the fire extinguisher when I saw my crew chief grab it. I ran forward and at the front of my ship I jumped over two live bodies on the ground to get to the burning chopper, which was no more than 35-40 feet away. The fire had engulfed the engine area and the crew chief’s cubbyhole. A horrible sight that is seared into my brain awaited me. I could see the crew chief’s arms flailing in a vain attempt to escape the flames, which covered him. I tried to get close to him but the fire was just too fierce. There were a couple of small explosions that were either small arms ammo or the grunt’s grenades cooking off. Failing to reach the crew chief, I moved forward to the cockpit area where Capt. Frizzell was obviously dead from looking at his condition. It appeared that the rotor blade of the ship they hit had come through the cockpit striking him.

For some reason, I went around the rear of the ship to reach the other side. Why I did not go around the nose I have no idea. As I came up the right side I saw the gunner* (*help us, who was this gunner?). He was standing there in a daze not more than five feet from the burning ship. It was hard to recognize him because he had been burned badly. He knew who I was and said, “Parks, get Lt. Martin out”. I grabbed him and said, “I’ve got to get you out of here”. Again he said, “Get Lt. Martin out”.

When I looked toward the cockpit through the smoke I spotted Lt. Martin laying outside the chopper where it looked like he had fell out of the ship. His hands were in the dust and his legs were up on the skid. I grabbed him under the armpits to pull him away and he immediately told me to put him down and leave him alone. He was in very intense pain and had part of one hand missing (probably from the same blade strike that had killed Frizzell). After getting him away from the aircraft a short ways, other soldiers came up from the rear of the ship and took over for me. Again I went around the rear of the burning aircraft and could not help but notice the many bodies lying everywhere.

After a few more minutes a Chinook landed and the wounded were quickly loaded for Medavac. Also arriving was an Air Force “Husky” eggbeater looking aircraft that had firefighting capabilities. On board were a couple of men in their silver firefighting suits. This aircraft hovered over the fire while trying to douse the flames.

Capt. Gordon, who was outside our aircraft, stated that Frizzell, Lt. Martin and Lancaster had all been killed. My crew chief said, “No, Parks got Lt. Martin out. He went out on the Chinook”. Gordon did not believe this at first but was very thankful when he realized it was correct.

A couple of days later Captain Gordon informed me that he was putting the crew chief and myself in for the Soldiers Medal for what we did. I thought it was no big deal and that the burned gunner should be the one receiving this medal and not me.

We went over to Long Binh and visited Lt. Martin in the hospital. He said, “Old Parks was dragging me all over the place,” as he winked at me. Later in a formation at the Snake pit we received our medals.

I have always been proud of the fact that at least two of the crew survived but felt guilty over receiving a medal for my actions. I regret that I cannot recall who my crew chief was that day.

Because of where I viewed this accident I have no knowledge of the injuries on the lead aircraft.

Editor’s note : This Rattler accident took place two days after our battalion commander, LTC Chuck Honour, took a load of nurses for a joy ride in the Long Binh area and struck some high tension wires killing all on board. Please help us identify the gunner who was burned in this Rattler crash*. It was first thought it was Terry Mikels but Mikels told the Association that he was flying overhead with the Firebirds on February 20th.

The following is Steve Martin’s recollection of the crash:

We were the 2nd A/C with Capt Frizzell at the controls. At lift off, it was zero visibility so we took a hard right to avoid the lead a/c. The lead a/c apparently had problems lifting off (I was told later the lead a/c moved to the right to get out of the way and they said they radioed, but we did not hear anything, also we did not hit the tail rotor of the lead a/c to my knowledge, but it could have been knocked off by any of the wreckage). The next thing I saw from the right seat was the main rotor blade, which hit the left side of our a/c. Our a/c started to roll to the right in the air, I grabbed the controls and pancaked the a/c into the ground. My first thought (based on Army training) was to get out of the a/c and then figure out what to do. My door would not open, but the windshield was blown out, so I crawled out the front window. At that point I realized my left leg was broken and I was missing 3 fingers (the little finger and thumb were smashed and could not be saved, so they were removed in the field hospital). I recall crawling on the ground to get away from the aircraft. I saw the flames and our ammo was exploding and going off over my head (one of my thoughts was that I was going to get hit by my own ammo). At this point I think I saw my gunner, who was badly burned. I gave myself a shot of morphine from my medical pack and someone got to me and I asked him to put his belt around my leg to stop the bleeding and to give me a shot of morphine in my leg.

I recall seeing a soldier in the body of the a/c, who had his foot caught in some metal and I was told he was about to cut it off or loose and he was able to pull it free. Also I saw the Fire Birds circling overhead. I was then put on a stretcher and put on a helicopter (I though it was a Huey) I have a picture someone took of the remains of the a/c (only visible remains were the skids and engine exhaust). Many things went through my mind after I landed and crawled out.

I stayed in the field hospital for 5 or 6 weeks to let the Pedicle skin graft take on my hand and skin grafts on my leg (which at one point I was told after the fact was considered for removal, but Dr. Marvel kept working with it and saved it). My doctor was a drafted, non-military type (could have been “Hawkeye” in MASH, which came out as a movie a few years later), and was a captain, “Captain Marvel”. Also I have some great stories of other things he did or almost did and some events in the hospital. I was sent to Walter Reed and stayed in the famous SNAKE PIT section for 18 months doing reconstructive work on my hand and leg, met my future wife, Judy Simons, who was a physical therapist and made captain before me, has date of rank on me forever as it should be, went to law school at EMORY University, practiced for 32 years retired and glad and blessed to be alive.

The same story continues below as told by Archie Pitts (WO 65-66).

The company was to have a “stand down” on 20 February 1966 but was to be available in case an emergency mission came down. The night of the 19th, crew assignments were issued if a mission was to materialize and we needed to “pull pitch”. I was assigned to an aircraft along with Steve Martin.

About a week previous to the 20th, I had “procured” an Air Force cargo chute to erect over the concrete pad in the back for shade. I had put half of it up but the other half was dangling from the wall due to not having tent poles to finish the project. On the 20th Maj. Haid told me to either finish putting the chute up or take it down. I went to my room and told my roommate Ivan (Craig) Dunn that I was going out back to take down and pack the chute.

After some time, I finally got the chute packed up and walked in to the BOQ only to find it deserted. I shouted a couple of times but no answer. I had walked out of a bustling BOQ and returned to an empty building. I did not know for sure but thought that the company might have been called on a mission which would account for no one there but did not understand why no one came got me, I was on the schedule to fly.

Later in the afternoon, I had settled down on a bar stool and was having a beer when I heard the 2-1/2 ton truck that transported folks back and forth to the flight line pull up out back. My roommate Dunn must have been the first one off the truck because he was the first to come round the corner of the bar. His face went pale when he saw me and said “You’re alive” and I responded, “Why shouldn’t I be?” He then told me about the crash and how he thought that I had been flying the aircraft that had wrecked.

I’ve spoken to many folk about their memories of what occurred that day and I have got a basic synopsis of what actually happened. To the best of my knowledge this is what occurred on that infamous day.

The speculation of what caused the accident was that the lead aircraft lost too much RPM on takeoff and the pilot set the ship down without alerting the second aircraft. Lefty’s ship was struck on his side of the cockpit by the rotor blade of the lead ship, cutting him to pieces. Lt. Martin either had his hand on the raised collective or on the console and was struck by part of the wreckage, severing most of his left hand.

The incident still saddens me because if Dunn had remembered or Maj. Haid had remembered or the siren sounded, maybe Lefty would still be with us today. I think of him often. May he rest in peace.

Gary Parks continues his story with an action in which he was wounded twice:

Gunner Hit – Going Down

I continued flying, extending my tour and taking a 30 day leave back to the states in September, returning on October 14th, being two days overdue because of being unable to catch a hop out of Travis AFB. The 14th was another infamous day in Rattler history. Our aircraft were shot to pieces with one pilot, WO Robert Pruhs, KIA that day and the man sitting in my gunner position wounded in the chest. I should have been in his seat had I returned on the 12th.

On November 6th, another Sunday afternoon, there was a huge engagement taking place called Operation Attleboro. The Rattlers were part of a battalion-sized combat assault north of Tay Ninh in the Loc Ninh or An Loc area along the “Parrots Beak” area bordering Cambodia. We were inserting grunts from the Big Red One as a blocking force. I am not sure if our military intelligence were aware of the strength of the NVA forces in that area.

My pilots that day were both majors and I believe one of them was the CO. One of our best crew chiefs, Shirley Whitehead, was the fourth crewmember. Everyone liked Whitehead, the strong silent type from the farmlands of Middle America. We were the trail ship in the formation. Commanders preferred to be in either the lead or trail ships and usually trail to better keep an eye on their “flock”.

The flight in front of us had a couple of aircraft shot up badly enough that they could not take off. Their flight commander suggested we use an alternate LZ. Our flight commander, in my ship, told them we needed to get more men in that LZ to protect the ones already there.

As we approached the LZ at about 300 feet of altitude and about two klicks out we came under considerable fire. For my personal protection I was sitting on an old “chicken board” covered with foam padding and wrapped with duct tape. The flight directly in front of us had just reported having a crew chief shot through the chest. Hearing this and remembering that we had just had an enlisted man shot through the chest a few days before, I removed the “chicken board” from underneath me and put it in my lap covering my chest. Not the best move I ever made in my life!

Knowing that the only “friendlies” in the area were to our front I began putting out suppressive fire. As we neared touchdown our co-pilot gave me a ceasefire order. He asked me what I was shooting at which I considered a dumb question with all the incoming fire we had.

As we flared to land, with outgoing fire halted, all hell broke loose. Our ship was getting hit so much that pieces of shrapnel from our hits were flying everywhere. Our engine compartment to my right was being chewed up by incoming fire. I opened fire again toward the enemy.

At this time I was hit and my head was slammed into the aircraft roof. At first I thought my neck was broken from this impact. Dropping back into the seat, I looked down at a pool of blood I was sitting in. My left foot was twisted around almost backwards. My first thought was that one of the grunts near me had accidentally shot me because by this time they were also firing with their M-16s. The pain on the left side of my butt was making itself well known and when I looked at the closest grunt I saw he was covered with blood and human tissue, flesh. It was all mine blown away by the NVA fire.

I grabbed my mike button and screamed to the pilots, “Sir, gunner hit, I’m hit”! Simultaneously I hear my pilots broadcasting a “Mayday, Mayday, trail is going down, gunner hit and we have no power”!

Our aircraft barely made it to the back edge of the LZ, not reaching our intended landing spot. We slammed into the ground and almost immediately Shirley Whitehead was in front of me. I recall unbuckling my seatbelt and falling into his arms while seeing the very worried look on his face. He took me out of the ship and by this time we had more troops approaching. There were some grenade explosions to our rear in some bushes, which I took to be enemy grenades. Two guys dragged me from the crash site across the LZ and threw me face down on another chopper with other wounded people and a couple of dead ones. Two pilots from another unit were sitting on the troop seat while I lay on my stomach. I recall seeing a couple of smoking aircraft near us. We took more hits on the way out but fought through it.

I looked up at one of the wounded pilots. He still had on his helmet and I could see small shrapnel wounds on his face. This guy was reading something with one eye closed due to his wounds. I soon realized he was reading the directions for administrating a morphine styrette. My thought was he is in pain and needs that. He then attempted to give me the painkiller. I refused because I wanted to keep my wits about me. We might go down again you know!

The aircraft came into the Medavac pad at Cu Chi. I was taken inside and given immediate attention. I knew I was hit in the left buttock and could not understand why they had me laying on my back. I then realized that gauze was being stuffed into my scrotum. At this time Cu Chi came under a rocket attack. I was put on another Medavac aircraft with a couple of others and flown to Long Binh.

I spent about two weeks at the 93rd evac Hospital at Long Binh. While staying there some of my crewmembers came to visit and brought me a spent bullet removed from my ship. I was told that there were 24 bullet entrance holes on my side of the aircraft.

After Long Binh I was sent to Japan to Camp Zama. My happiest time in this hospital was receiving in the mail from 1st Sergeant John Howell, orders for hard stripe E-5. I was now a buck sergeant. After six weeks in Japan they decided to ship me to the States.

My wounds were actually two separate through and through gunshot wounds. One round went into my right thigh, and the other through my scrotum removing my right testicle. Both rounds exited through the left buttock.

I tried several times to get back to Vietnam but was never allowed to. I stayed in for my twenty years and retired out of the service in August of ’83.

I married and raised three daughters. The youngest is a schoolteacher in Okinawa working with military children. The middle one lives in San Diego and the eldest is a licensed practical nurse in Salt Lake City.

My time spent with the Rattlers was the highlight of my military career. I always tried to keep some candy for the kids that always materialized any time you shut down out in the field. There was an indescribable exhilaration being a flight crewmember in combat. The camaraderie of war makes you closer to people than your own siblings. It was just a plain old fun job on most days. Hey, I was riding “shotgun” on my modern steed, the Huey!