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

VOL. XIX NUMBER 2 ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2013

A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

ODDS and ENDS

Our Taps section of this newsletter is the one part that never seems to get smaller. It hurts to see names of persons you have come to know through our past reunions. It hurts so much more to see the names of the men that you served with and were like brothers (or closer) during your tour(s).

This will be our eleventh reunion. I have precious memories from all. Men who I would never have believed that this would be our last opportunity to see. 1993 - Beryl Scott, Gary McCall; 1995 - Joe K. Bell, Conrad Howard; 1998 - Don Flatten, John Howell, Ned Flecke, Bob Parsons, Pete Repak, Jim Scroll; 2000 - Jim Arnout, Terry Paxton, Al Ruter, Robert Ziehl, 2002 – Allie Campbell, 2004 – Bill Buck, Ed Gwynn, Charlie Morehouse, Chris Palmer, 2006 – Buck Crouch, Roger Hall, Tom Hall, Everett Kilpatrick, 2008 - Randy Billings, Bob Burroughs, John Calvacca, Bill Irby, R.J. Williams, 2010 – John Clapp, Shelton Foles, Vinnie Harrington, Ken Linville, Roy Lowery, Greg Palazzo, Bob Toomey, 2012 – Will Fortenberry, Jim Hardeman, and Larry Lackey.

An effort was made in the paragraph above to only list the men who had attended previous reunions. If an omission occurred you have our apologies.

For our record keeping, please ask your spouse to notify the Association if you were to pass away. The cause of death would be helpful also.


2014 REUNION

We are about 6 months out from the Dallas reunion. The tours offered by Military Reunion Planners are places that Kay and I have visited and there are no duds in the bunch.

There will be an election at our reunion to replace James Surwillo on our Board of Directors due to his four year term limitation. Only dues paying members may vote.

It would be very nice to see everyone who can still fit into their military dress uniform, to wear it to our Saturday night banquet.
At this time our banquet speaker has not been decided on but as soon as it is settled it will appear in the “Director’s Corner” of our website.

Please see the reunion information provided by Military Reunion Planers in this newsletter


RATTLER-FIREBIRD WIVES

By Kay Seabolt

Thanks to Kathy Bowen, the Rattler-Firebird wives now have a Facebook group. It is called “Rattlers and Firebirds Wives”. I would like to encourage all you Facebook fans to join. All you do is put in a friend request for the group. The request goes to Kathy Bowen and she will then confirm it. This is a great way for us to stay in touch.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone at our next reunion here in Texas. Since I missed the last one due to my chemotherapy, look for more wrinkles and grayer hair! But God willing…I’ll be there. Kathy Bowen, Paula O’Quinn, and Penny Womack will be hosting ladies “Meet and Greet” on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 4 pm. There will be wine and hors d’oeuvres furnished by the Association. (Perhaps a little cheese with our whine!) We will be featuring a sampling of Texas wines. This will be a fun time to visit with old friends and to meet new ones. I hope you all make plans to attend.

As I write this, we have been house bound for three days due to sleet and ice. We are both suffering from cabin fever or whatever else you want to call it. You can only watch so much TV before going stir-crazy. The temperature is finally getting to above freezing and the ice is melting. Thank goodness we can get out of the house!

We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and hope to see you in June 2014.


TAPS

The Association has learned of the following deaths since our last newsletter:


TAPS TRIBUTES

Pat Gwaltney: What a loss! Pat Gwaltney was probably the best we had. He was a superb pilot, a natural leader and a dedicated soldier.I'll always remember themanyspirited discussionsPat and Denis Arndt and I had in the bar at the Villa. I trustedPat as I real teammate, comrade, flight lead, wingmanandfriend. I flew with him many times. I've attached a photo of Pat going over an assault plan with some RVN Rangers we were getting ready to insert. Pat never hesitated to tell them when they were all screwed up. He probably saved many lives doing that.

I'm sure we all have wonderful memories of Pat.I will always have a warm spot for himin my heart.

Tom Griffith Firebird 91 65-66

Dear Cathleen and Toni and Brothers,

Pat I were roomies in the thing. We flew many times together when we wereFirebirds. He would lead and I would flyhis wing in a light team. Often the other way 'round.We were aloft circling the Rattlers preparing to escort them to the LZ for Major Haid's big F...up when allthose kids flew into rotor blades and we lost Lefty Fizzell.

Pat was more than a roommate, he was my friend and mentor.He often claimed he had saved my life when hesaid he had "killed a shit-eating dog". We laughed a lot and often.

We were together during the years I was working in LA. He was given a role as an extra in the movie I was making at the time, "Basic Instinct". He made a cross-over ina scene in the police headquarters. If you look quickly, you can see him passin the background in one of the police office scenes.

Pat came to the San Juan Islands where I kept a sailboat. He called our reunion"AGathering of Beagles".

We sailed around for several days, lied to each other and drank lots of beer. And we Laughed!!

I visited Indy where he lived the nextyear and was welcomed into his home. We vowed to make the second "Gathering" when time allowed.

Now we are out of time. I shall miss him for the rest of my days.I personally feel I have a lost a point on the Compass. Part of us allhaveperished with him.

Sincere condolences to Pat'sfamily and toall thosewho knew and respected himas I do.

Pat, they are weeding in our garden! They are hoeing in our row!

With Deep Sadness, Denis Arndt

Another one of the '65/66 group. He flew with me many, many times and sorry to hear of his passing. Not many of us left.

Don Kleiber.

Jim Hiler: Ten Firebirds attended Jim's funeral Friday August 30 at New Washington, Ohio. The Firebirds were all pall bearers. A family service was held at 9:00 AM prior to the funeral service at 11:00 AM. The Firebirds assembled with family and folded the large American flag that draped Jim's casket. Jim's wife Deb specifically requested this. The 'Birds then carried Jim to the waiting hearse - at St. Bernard's church we carried Jim up twelve steps into the church. About 200 people were inside - after Jim was wheeled to the front of the church and the family seated - the Firebirds dressed in the long sleeve black Firebirds shirt - marched in to be seated alongside the family.

Randy Thomas presented Deb Hiler with the folded American flag - Kelly McHugh carried the flag and John 'Ski' Wiklanski carried the flag case alongside Randy. Randy offered the condolences from a grateful Nation and our fellow Soldiers. It was a very moving and emotional event.

After the service - the 'Birds again carried Jim down the steps and into the hearse. The New Washington American Legion post performed Honor Guard, rifle salute, and Taps for Jim. As Jim was driven away from the church steps - the Firebirds stood at attention and rendered 'present arms' until he was out of sight.

Jim was dressed in a blue Firebirds shirt - - Vic Bandini

Bill Fullerton
Bill Fullerton

Glenn Summers: As you know better than almost anyone, the Snake Doctor crew was legendary. They always responded above & beyond the callto anything they were asked to do. On 2nd thought, I must revise that statement to say"any combat supportmission they were asked to do." On the other hand,when I needed someone to do stuff like clean up the hangar or"paint rocks", the Snake Dr. Crew was always AWOL -nowhere to be found! The thing is, I love them for that too...because I would have liked to join them in missing those tedious tasks.Truly great Americans all! Our country is better for the likes of Summers, Brousseau, Cavazos, et al. May they RIP. BOB MANGUM

To paraphrase comedian Steve Martin, Glenn Summers was one “wild and crazy guy”. Glenn came to our unit in December 1964 and stayed for two years. He was a staff sergeant when he took over as the 1st platoon sergeant late in 1966. I served under Glenn for only about 10 days before his DEROS and Sergeant Lackey took over. I had never seen a staff sergeant so upbeat before. It seemed as though nothing fazed him. He recently talked of maybe finally attending a reunion…too late.

Bill Fullerton: At the Denver Reunion in 2008, a very skinny guy came up to me and introduced himself as Bill Fullerton. Bill said we had flown several missions together. I thought the guy was just blowin’ smoke because I thought I remembered all the gunners I flew with. Turns out, Bill pops out several photos with him and I together. Then I remembered who he was. A damn fine gunner who had slipped into the recesses of my mind. He really enjoyed that reunion and Bill will be remembered and missed. RIP Brother! Ron Seabolt


LEGENDS IN OUR OWN MINDS

Received from Bill Patrick (WO 67-68)

As we get older and we experience the loss of old friends, we begin to realize that maybe we bullet proof Pilots won't live forever, not so bullet proof anymore. We ponder…if I was gone tomorrow did I say what I wanted to my Brothers. The answer was no! Hence, the following few random thoughts.

When people ask me if I miss flying, I always say something like – “Yes! I miss the flying because when you are flying, you are totally focused on the task at hand. It’s like nothing else you will ever do (almost). But then I always say “However, I miss the guys even more than I miss the flying.” Why you might ask?" They were a bunch of aggressive, wise ass, cocky, insulting, sarcastic bastards in smelly flight suits who thought a funny thing to do was to fart and see if they could clear a room. They drank, they chased women, they laughed too loud and thought they owned the sky, and generally thought they could do everything better then the next guy. Nothing was funnier than trying to screw with a buddy and see how pissed off they would get. They flew planes and helos that leaked, that smoked, that broke, that burned fuel too fast, that never had auto pilots or radars, and with systems that were archaic next to today’s new generation aircraft.

But a little closer look might show that every guy in the room was sneaky smart and damn competent and brutally handsome! They hated to lose or fail to accomplish the mission and seldom did. They were lazy guys until challenged and then they would do anything to win. They would fly with rotor blades overlapping at night through the worst weather with only a little red light to hold on to, knowing that their Flight Lead would get them on the ground safely. They would fly in harm’s way and act nonchalant as if to challenge the grim reaper.

When we went to another base we were the best guns on the base as soon as we landed. When we went into an O club we owned the Bar. We were lucky to have the Best of the Best in the military. We knew it and so did others. We found jobs, lost jobs, got married, got divorced, moved, went broke, got rich, broke something and the only thing you could really count on was if you really needed help, a fellow Pilot would have your back.

I miss the call signs, nick names, and the stories behind them. I miss the Officers Club full of my buddies and watching the incredible, unbelievable things that were happening. I miss the Crew Chiefs and the flight line. I miss the going up and straight down. I miss the cross countries. I miss the dice games at the bar for drinks. I miss listening to bull shit stories while drinking and laughing till my eyes watered.

I miss naps with a room full of pilots working up new tricks to torment the sleeper. I miss flying low and hearing about flying so low boats were blown over. I miss coming into the break Hot and looking over and seeing my wingmen tucked in ready to make the troops on the ground proud.

I am a lucky guy and have lived a great life! One thing I know is that I was part of a special, really talented bunch of guys doing something dangerous and doing it better than most. Flying the most beautiful, ugly, noisy, solid aircraft built. Supported by ground troops committed to making sure we came home again! Being prepared to fly and fight and die for America. Having a clear mission. Having fun.

We box out the bad memories from various operations most of the time but never the hallowed memories of our fallen comrades. We are often amazed at how good war stories never let the truth interfere and they get better with age. We are lucky bastards to be able to walk into a Squadron or a Bar and have men we respect and love shout out our names, our call signs, and know that this is truly where we belong. We are Pilots. We are Few and we are Proud.

I am Privileged and Proud to call you Brothers.


RE-VISITING VIETNAM

View to the west from new road overlooking old flightline road...note kids on bikes. View to the west from new road overlooking old flightline road...note kids on bikes.

Have you often wondered what Vietnam is like today? What does the beautiful sandy beach at Chu Lai look like today? When I was there, I often thought the Vietnam Beaches would rival the French and Italian Riviera and could be a tourist mecca if Vietnam ever became safe. Join David (66-67) and Paula O’Quinn, Jim (69-70) and Linda Dame and Hal (67-68) and Kathy Bowen for a trip back through the years to the land of our misspent youth. I, (Hal Bowen) am in touch with a retired marine first sergeant who leads tour groups back to Vietnam for Vietnam Battlefield Tours. They offer an all-inclusive (except alcohol) 15 day tour, LAX back to LAX for $3595.00. All in country transportation is via A/C motor coach and all overnight accommodations are A/C.

image002.jpg: Dean C. Nelson (178th) on the old flight line road near where 178th and 71st used to be Looking north.....beach over to the right
Dean C. Nelson (178th) on the old flight line road near where 178th and 71st used to be Looking north.....beach over to the right

Normally, for each 10 paid fares they offer 1 complimentary fare, but I have asked to have a fare reduction for everyone instead. The response was they could do that, but they haven’t quoted a firm fare yet. I anticipate about a $200.00 reduction. Also, with a group of 10 or more, they have promised to tailor the tour to our desires. I anticipate spending a great part of the time at various sites in the Bien Hoa and Chu Lai areas and will pass on any suggestions or desires our travelers may have.

I’m sure the tour will probably have to include some propaganda sites the Hanoi government will insist on. I plan to also ask to have included the Hanoi Hilton and some of the targets that we bombed around Hanoi as well as some of the tunnel complexes they used so effectively.

The tour price includes the VN Visa fee of $45.00 which the tour company will get for us. However, you must have your US passports (military ID cards won’t work this time) and those can sometimes take a while so get on it. We need a minimum of 4 more travelers and would love to have 10 times that, so if at all possible, please join us. The time frame we are tentatively looking at is Sept, 2014.

Contact me, Hal Bowen to join the group or with any questions you may have. I can be reached at (434) 577-2608, email halbow@telpage.net or snail mail at PO Box 57, Gasburg,VA. 23857.


COINS LEFT ON TOMBSTONES

While visiting some cemeteries you may notice that headstones marking certain graves have coins on them, left by previous visitors to the grave. These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America's military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin. A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier's family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited.

A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with him in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the solider when he was killed.

According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is eventually collected, and the funds are put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans. In the US, this practice became common during the Vietnam war, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier's family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.

Some Vietnam veterans would leave coins as a "down payment" to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.

The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military men and women can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire.


THE SOUND THAT BINDS

Unique to all that served in Vietnam is the UH-1H helicopter. It was both devil and angel, and it served as both extremely well.

Whether a LRRP, US or RVN soldier or civilian, whether NVA, VC, Allied or civilian, it provided a sound and sense that lives with us all today. It is the one sound that immediately clears the clouds of time and freshens the forgotten images within our mind. It will be the sound track of our last moments on earth.

It was a simple machine - a single engine, a single blade, and four man crew - yet like the Model T, it transformed us all and performed tasks the engineers and designers never imagined. For Soldiers, it was the worst and best of friends, but it was the one binding material in a tapestry of a war of many pieces.

The smell was always hot, filled with diesel fumes, sharp drafts accentuated by gritty sand, laterite and anxious vibrations. It always held the spell of the unknown and the anxiety of learning what was next and what might be. It was an unavoidable magnet for the heavily laden Soldier who donkey-trotted to its squat shaking shape through the haze and blast of dirt, stepped on the OD skid, turned and dropped his ruck on the cool aluminum deck.

Reaching inside with his rifle or machine gun, a Soldier would grasp a floor ring with a finger as an extra precaution of physics for those moments when the now airborne bird would break into a sharp turn, revealing all ground or all sky to the helpless riders, all very mindful of the impeding weight on their backs. The relentless weight of the ruck combined with the stress of varying motion caused fingers and floor rings to bind almost as one. Constant was the vibration, smell of hydraulic fluid, flashes of visionary images and the occasional burst of a ground-fed odor-rotting fish, dank swampy heat, cordite or simply the continuous sinuous currents of Vietnam's weather - cold and driven mist in the Northern monsoon or the wall of heated humidity in the southern dry season. Blotting it out and shading the effect was the constant sound of the single rotating blade as it ate a piece of the air, struggling to overcome the momentary physics of the weather.

To divert anxiety, a Soldier/piece of freight, might reflect on his home away from home. The door gunners were usually calm, which was emotionally helpful. Each gun had a C-ration fruit can at the ammo box clip entrance to the feed mechanism of the machine gun. The gun had a large circular aiming sight unlike the ground-pounder version. That had the advantage of being able to fix on targets from the air considerably further than normal ground acquisition.

C-ration cans - Pears, Apricots, Apple Sauce or Fruit Cocktail, it all worked. Fruit cans had just the right width to smoothly feed the belt into the gun, which was always a good thing. Some gunners carried a large oil can, much like old locomotive engineers, to squeeze on the barrel to keep it cool. Usually this was accompanied by a large OD towel or a khaki wound pack bandage to allow a rubdown without a burned hand. Under the gunners seat was usually a small dairy-box filled with extra ammo boxes, smoke grenades, water, flare pistol, C rats and a couple of well-worn paperbacks.

The gun itself might be attached to the roof of the helicopter with a bungi cord and harness. This allowed the adventurous gunners to unattach the gun from the pintle and fire it manually while standing on the skid with only the thinnest of connectivity to the bird. These were people you wanted near you - particularly on extractions.

The pilots were more mysterious. You only saw parts of them as they labored behind the armored seats. An arm, a helmeted head and the occasional fingered hand as it moved across the dials and switches on the ceiling above. The armored side panels covered their outside legs - an advantage the passenger did not enjoy. Sometimes, a face, shielded behind helmeted sunshades, would turn around to impart a question with a glance or display a sense of anxiety with large white-circled eyes. This was not a welcoming look as the sounds of external issues fought to override the sounds of mechanics in flight. Yet, as a whole, the pilots got you there, took you back, and kept you maintained. You never remembered names, if at all you knew them, but you always remembered the ride and the sound.

Behind each pilot seat usually ran a stretch of wire or silk attaching belt. It would have arrayed a variety of handy items for immediate use. Smoke grenades were the bulk of the attachment inventory - most colors and a couple of white phosphorous if a dramatic marking was needed. Sometimes, trip flares or hand grenades would be included, depending on the location and mission. Hand grenades were a rare exception as even pilots knew they exploded - not always where intended. It was just a short arm motion for a door gunner to pluck an inventory item off the string, pull the pin, and pitch it - which was the point of the arrangement. You didn't want to be in a helicopter when such an act occurred, as that usually meant there was an issue. Soldiers don't like issues that involve them. It usually means a long day or a very short one - neither of which is a good thing.

The bird lifts off in a slow, struggling, and shaking manner. Dust clouds obscure any view a Soldier may have. Quickly, with a few subtle swings, the bird is above the dust and a cool encompassing wind blows through. Sweat is quickly dried, eyes clear, and a thousand feet of altitude shows the world below. Colors are muted but objects areclear. The rows of wooden hootches, the airfield, local villages, an old B-52 strike, the mottled trail left by a Ranchhand spray mission, and the open reflective water of a river or lake are crisp in sight.

The initial anxiety of the flight or mission recede as the constantly moving and soothing motion picture and soundtrack unfolds. In time, one is aware of the mass of UH1H's coalescing in a line in front of and behind you. Other strings of birds may be left or right of you - all surging toward some small speck in the front, lost to your view. Each is a mirror image of the other - two to three laden Soldiers sitting on the edge looking at you and your accompanying passengers, all going to the same place with the same sense of anxiety and uncertainty, but borne on a similar steed and sound.

In time, one senses the birds coalescing as they approach the objective. Perhaps a furtive glance or sweeping arc of flight reveals the landing zone. Smoke erupts in columns - initially visible as blue-gray against the sky. The location is clearly discernible as a trembling spot surrounded by a vast green carpet of flat jungle or a sharp point of a jutting ridge.

As the bird gets closer, a Soldier can now see the small FAC aircraft working well-below, the sudden sweeping curve of the bombing runs and the small puffs as artillery impacts. A sense of immense loneliness can begin to obscure one's mind as the world's greatest theatre raises its curtain.

Even closer now, with anxious eyes and short breath, a Soldier can make out his destination. The smoke is now the dirty gray black of munitions, with only the slightest hint of orange upon ignition. No Hollywood effect is at work. Here, the physics of explosions are clearly evident as pressure and mass over light.

The pilot turns around to give a thumbs up or simply ignores his load as he struggles to maintain position with multiple birds dropping power through smoke swirls, uplifting newly created debris, sparks and flaming ash. The Soldiers instinctively grasp their weapons tighter, look furtively between the upcoming ground and the pilot and mentally strain to find some anchor point for the next few seconds of life. If this is the first lift in, the door gunners will be firing rapidly in sweeping motions of the gun, but this will be largely unknown and unfelt to the Soldiers. They will now be focused on the quickly approaching ground and the point where they might safely exit. Getting out is now very important.

Suddenly, the gunners may rapidly point to the ground and shout “GO” or there may just be the jolt of the skids hitting the ground and the Soldiers instinctively lurch out of the bird, slam into the ground, and focus on the very small part of the world they now can see. The empty birds, under full power, squeeze massive amounts of air and debris down on the exited Soldiers, blinding them to the smallest view. Very quickly, there is a sudden shroud of silence as the birds retreat into the distance and the Soldiers begin their recovery into a cohesive organization, losing that sound.

On various occasions and weather dependent, the birds return. Some to provide necessary logistics, some command visits, and some medevacs. On the rarest and best of occasions, they arrive to take you home. Always they have the same sweet sound which resonates with every Soldier who ever heard it. It is the sound of life, hope for life, and what may be. It is a sound that never will be forgotten. It is your and our sound.

Logistics is always a trial. Pilots don't like it, field Soldiers need it, and weather is indiscriminate. Log flights also mean mail and a connection to home and where real people live and live real lives. Here is an aberrant aspect of life that only that sound can relieve.

Often there is no landing zone, or the area is so hot that a pilot's sense of purpose may become blurred. Ground commander's beg and plead on the radio for support that is met with equivocations or insoluble issues. Rations are stretched from four to six days, cigarettes become serious barter items, and Soldiers begin to turn inward.

In some cases, perhaps only minutes after landing, fire fights break out. The machine guns begin their carnivorous song. Rifle ammunition and grenades are expended with gargantuan appetites. The air is filled with an all-encompassing sound that shuts each Soldier into his own small world - shooting, loading, shooting, loading, shooting, loading until he has to quickly reach into the depth of his ruck, past the extra rations, past the extra rain poncho, past the spare paperback, to the eight M16 magazines forming the bottom of the load - never thought he would need them. A resupply is desperately needed.

In some time, a sound is heard over the din of battle. A steady whomp whomp whomp that says; The World is here. Help is on the way. Hang in there. The Soldier turns back to the business at hand with a renewed confidence. Wind parts the canopy and things begin to crash through the tree tops. Some cases have smoke grenades attached - these are the really important stuff - medical supplies, codes, and maybe mail. The sound drifts off in the distance and things are better for the moment. The sound brings both a psychological and a material relief.

Wounds are hard to manage. The body is all soft flesh, integrated parts and an emotional burden for those that have to watch its deterioration. If the body is an engine, blood is the gasoline. When it runs out, so does life. It's important the parts get quickly fixed and the blood is restored to a useful level. If not, the Soldier becomes another piece of battlefield detritus.

A field medic has the ability to stop external blood flow - less internal. He can replace blood with fluid but it is not blood. He can treat for shock, but he can't always stop it. He is at the mercy of his ability and the nature of the wound. Bright red is surface bleeding he can manage, but dark red, almost tar-colored, is deep, visceral and beyond his ability to manage. Dark is the essence of the casualty's interior. He needs the help that only that sound can bring.

If an LZ exists, it is wonderful and easy. If not, difficult options remain. The bird weaves back and forth above the canopy as the pilot struggles to find the location of the casualty. He begins a steady hover as he lowers the litter on a cable. The gunner or helo medic looks down at the small figures below and tries to wiggle the litter and cable through the tall canopy to the small up-reaching figures below.

In time, the litter is filled and the cable retreats - the helo crew still carefully managing the cable as it wends skyward. The cable hits its anchor, the litter is pulled in and the pilot pulls pitch and quickly disappears - but the retreating sound is heard by all and the silent universal thought... There but for the Grace of God go I -and it will be to that sound.

Cutting a landing zone is a standard Soldier task. Often, to hear the helicopter's song, the impossible becomes a requirement and miracles abound. Sweat-filled eyes, blood blistered hands, energy-expended and with a breath of desperation and desire, Soldiers attack a small space to carve out sufficient open air for the helicopter to land. Land to bring in what's needed, take out what's not, and to remind them that someone out there cares.

Perhaps some explosives are used - usually for the bigger trees, but most often it is Soldiers and machetes or the side of an e-tool. Done under the pressure of an encroaching enemy, it is a combination of high adrenalin rush and simple dumb luck - small bullet, big space. In time, an opening is made and the sky revealed.

A sound encroaches before a vision. Eyes turn toward the newly created void and the bird appears. The blade tips seem so much larger than the newly-columned sky. Volumes of dirt, grass, leaves, and twigs sweep upward and are then driven fiercely downward through the blades as the pilot struggles to do a completely vertical descent through the narrow column he has been provided.

Below, the Soldiers both cower and revel in the free-flowing air. The trash is blinding but the moving air feels so great. Somehow, the pilot lands in a space that seems smaller than his blade radius. In reverse, the sound builds and then recedes into the distance - always that sound. Bringing and taking away.

Extraction is an emotional highlight of any soldier's journey. Regardless of the austerity and issues of the home base, for that moment, it is a highly desired location and the focus of thought. It will be provided by that familiar vehicle of sound. The Pickup Zone in the bush is relatively open or, if on an established firebase or hilltop position, a marked fixed location. The Soldiers awaiting extraction, close to the location, undertake their assigned duties - security, formation alignment, or LZ marking. Each is focused on the task at hand and tends to blot out other issues.

As each Soldier senses his moment of removal is about to arrive, his auditory sense becomes keen and his visceral instinct searches for that single sweet song that only one instrument can play. When registered, his eyes look up and he sees what his mind has imaged. He focuses on the sound and the sight and both become larger as they fill his body. He quickly steps onto the skid and up into the aluminum cocoon.

Turning outward now, he grasps his weapon with one hand and with the other holds the cargo ring on the floor – as he did when he first arrived at this location. Reversing the flow of travel, he approaches what he temporarily calls home. Landing again in a swirl of dust, diesel, and grinding sand, he offloads and trudges toward his assembly point. The sounds retreat in his ears, but he knows he will hear them again. He always will.

About the Author Keith Nightingale

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.


REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

I was the Battalion Commander of 4/31 Infantry 196th Infantry Brigade from 23 July 1968 until 10 January 1969.

I am trying to find out which "Rattler" was my C&C Pilot on 20 November 1968 when I lowered two chain saws on Nui Chom Mountain to C 4/31 to clear an LZ about halfway up the mountain. He kept the nose of the chopper against a tree stump while I lowered the chain saws, in spite of a lot of NVA fire.

We later counted 250 two man NVA Bunkers with interlocking fire onNui Chommountain. Wemade contact with the 21st NVA Regiment on 17 November '68 and after 7 days of fighting up the mountain with lots of air strikes, gunships, artillery and mortars we were on top of the mountain. We counted 66 NVA bodies that we knew about and found a dug inNVA Hospital with Doctors and Nurses on top. Unfortunate we lost 6 killed and 38 wounded. One was Medal of Honor Cpl Michael Crescenz and one was DSC LT Kevin Burke. Both were killed.

We then proceeded into Antenna Valley to work it over until I changed command on 10 Jan 1969.

An interesting story that my C&C Pilot will remember. Oneof my men Sgt Don Johnson was so badly wounded in Antenna Valley that there was no time for a dustoff to get to him before he would die. SoI picked him up and weflew him in my C&C direct to the hospital in Danang. Amazingly, the very Nurse in Danang who treated him was with Don Johnson at our reunion in the summer of 2011. She said that he would not have made it if we had waited any more time for a dustoff.

Alsoif you or your "Rattler" friends can find out the names of my C&C Pilots from 23July1968 to 10 January 1969. I would appreciate it. I want to personally thank them for their fantastic courage and professionalism in the book I am writing.

Thanks for your help.
LTG Sam Wetzel
1425 Dartmouth Road
Columbus, GA 31904
706-576-4204, E: wiint322@aol.com


RATTLER-FIREBIRD
2014 REUNION ~ JUNE 18-22, 2014

Welcome to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex

This ideal location for a reunion offers a unique blend of southwestern warmth, cosmopolitan flair, old-west charm and modern sophistication. You’ll have the opportunity to experience the best of both Dallas and Fort Worth during your reunion. Reunion events include a special visit to Fort Wolters, a trip to either the new George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, the new Perot Museum or the Sixth Floor - JFK legacy museum, as well as Dallas Cowboys Stadium and a group BBQ dinner at Billy Bob’s of Texas – the largest Honky-Tonk in the world!

Hotel Information

Our reunion officially runs June 18-22, 2014 at the Marriott DFW South. Located at 4151 Centreport Blvd., Fort Worth, TX 76155, the hotel is conveniently located near area attractions.

The room rate is just $109.00 plus tax per night and includes full breakfast buffet served during reunion dates in a designated breakfast area for the group. For those who choose to extend their stay the group rate is available up to 3 days before and after, based on availability. American Airlines dominates DFW so check the airfares leaving Monday and you may save enough to justify another night in FTW. If you have any trouble getting a room at the group rate call MRP at 817-251-3551 or email: reservations@MilitaryReunionPlaners.com, for assistance and probable resolution.

Please make your hotel reservations NOW by calling the hotel directly at 817-358-1700. Be sure to ask for group code RRF. It’s a good idea to ask the agent who answers if they are at the hotel. It is always best to make your reservation directly with the hotel and not a central hotel-chain call center. MRP has negotiated numerous amenities for you that the call centers may not be aware of. (Note: only those booking under the reunion group code are eligible for amenities that may include free breakfast, reduced parking, internet, etc. Booking through another channel like reunionhotels.com disqualifies you and your party from group amenities). Make your reservations NOW, you may cancel your hotel up to 48 hours prior to arrival and not be charged. The hotel is holding rooms until they sell out or May 28, 2014, whichever comes first. Don’t miss out on getting a room! Once tour & event arrangements have been finalized you will be able to make hotel and event reservations online at www.MilitaryReunionPlanners.com using passcode: mrp&rf

Airport Transportation & Parking

If you are flying to the reunion, the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW) is the closest to the hotel. Airport shuttle services, on request complimentary, call 817-358-1700. All shuttle service pick-ups are on the lower level of the airport. Transportation to and from the airport is available through Super Shuttle (972-615-2410) or on-line at www.supershuttle.com; current per person pricing is $18 per person one way, reservations required. Taxi service also available; current estimated rates are $20 one-way. For those of you driving, there is complimentary on-site parking. Check the hotel’s website for driving directions.

Travel safely and we will ….
See y’all in Texas!


RATTLER-FIREBIRD
2014 REUNION EVENTS

Event A: Fort Wolters and Vietnam War Museum
Thursday, June 19 (11:00-3:00) $25

Ft. Wolters Head west to Mineral Wells, TX and see the home of the US Army Primary Aviator Flight School. While there, you will also visit the National Vietnam War Museum which tells the unbiased story of the more than 5 million servicemen and women who served there.

Ladies Meet & Greet and Texas Wines
Thursday, June 19 (4:00 at the Hotel)

The Rattler-Firebird Ladies Meet & Greet will be held at the Hotel in the Centreport Room. There is no need to pre-register for this event. Lovely Texas wines will be served!

Event B: Dinner at World’s Largest Honky Tonk
Thursday, June 19 (5:30-10:30) $59

Billy Bob's Billy Bob's Texas is the world's largest honky-tonk. This place is huge (three acres!), with its own indoor rodeo arena for professional bull riding, a Texas-size dance floor, dozens of bar stations, plus restaurants, arcade games, a Wall of Fame with celebrity handprints, and a general store. It is also an amazing 10-time winner of country music’s “Club of the Year.” After a real Texas BBQ dinner, drink and dance the night away.

Event C: President’s Museum Tour
Friday, June 20 (9:30-4:30) $39

George Bush Presidential LibraryChoose one or two to visit. Choose from the George Bush Presidential Library, the Sixth Floor Museum, or the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The Bush Library is state of the art exhibits include a stunning presentation on terrorism and the World Trade Center bombing, including artifacts and a day by day timeline post 911, as experienced through the eyes of the President. An interactive "Decision Theater" thrusts you into the decision making process a President experiences during a crisis. Sit at a desk, get the facts and struggle with the same questions as George. Make the call! Compare - did you make the same decision our President did?

Perot MuseumInspiring minds through nature and science, the newly opened Perot museum offers a hands on approach to learning. Five floors house 11 permanent exhibit halls containing state-of-the-art video and 3D computer animation with thrilling, life-like simulations where visitors can exercise their brains through hands-on activities, interactive kiosks and educational games. The extraordinary building and outdoor space serves as a living science lesson, offering provocative illustrations of engineering, technology and conservation.

Dealey PlazaThe Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza.

Event D: VIP Guided tour of Dallas Cowboys Stadium
Saturday, June 21 (11:00-1:30) $39

Cowboys StadiumAT&T Stadium is more than the home of the Dallas Cowboys, it's a world of facts and figures about the world's largest domed structure, an art museum, a classroom. The things you can do inside AT&T Stadium are endless, and with a guided VIP tour, you can experience them all. Take a minute to throw the ball on the field or admire the works of art displayed throughout the stadium, and even visit the actual Dallas Cowboys stunning locker room. Even the view outside is spectacular from the VIP suites.

Banquet
Saturday, June 21 (6:00-10:00) $40

Join your friends for your Banquet Dinner at the Hotel. Cocktails will be available from the cash bar at 6:00pm; dinner will be served at 7:00pm. Please make your entrée selection on the reservation form.

ALL RESERVATIONS ARE DUE BY MAY 7, 2014. Make reservations ON-LINE by going to www.MilitaryReunionPlanners.com Use passcode mrp&rf to access your info. Late reservations will be accepted on a space available basis with a non-refundable $15 per person late fee. Please make a copy of this information for your records. Should you need additional information call our offices Monday through Friday at 817-251-3551 or email us at info@MilitaryReunionPlanners.com. Requests for cancellations and refunds must be made by email or in writing to MRP, P.O. Box 1588, Colleyville, TX 76034, and postmarked before the due date. No refunds will be made after this date unless you have purchase Tour Cancellation Insurance. Sorry, no refunds will be given for any reason beginning at midnight the day of your reunion. Please note there is a refund processing fee of $10 per person. For written confirmation of your cancellation please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your request to our office. Your cancelled check is your receipt as well as your proof of purchase. A $25 return fee will be charged for NSF checks. MRP will not be held liable for failure of vendors to provide contracted services or any injuries/accidents that may occur during the reunion.

Important Reunion Notes:


RATTLER-FIREBIRD REUNION RESERVATION FORM is available as a downloadable PDF


A Little Humor


Ron Seabolt and Chuck Carlock admiring the new slick gunmounts  left Ron Seabolt and Chuck Carlock admiring the new slick gunmounts  right John Matayko's Solo Mug