Rattler/Firebird Association

August 1994 Letter

In Opening... I wish to open this newsletter with a quote from the book LRRP Team Leader reprinted with permission of the author John Burford. "If you are a Vietnam Veteran, go find your Buddies--it can be done--meet with them. Remember, they have your ticket home in their hands."

This is exactly what our goal is, to find your Buddies. At this point we have located 673 of them and know of another 40 who have died after serving with us. Our unit spent 6 years and 10 months in Vietnam, so there were probably between 2500 and 3000 men who served with us over there.

I need to impress upon you the importance of making copies of any type of orders you have from our unit that contain other men's names and send them to me. Many of you have promised us you would and now is the time so we can find these men before our reunion. We have several ways of locating our people, but we must have their names and service numbers if possible.

Because of the tremendous first class mailing costs and the many new men we have located, we have taken steps now toward forming an Association. We have applied for and received a tax ill number and a Certificate of Incorporation and we fully intend to have everything in place before our reunion. Our name is to be: CO. A 50 1st BN./ 71st AHC Association. Naturally this includes all assigned supporting units. One of our men has already ordered us Association bumper stickers and another has ordered a mass of Firebird decals. The FB decals are in two sizes, 8.5 x 3.5 inches and 3.5 x 1.5 inches and we have them facing left or right. The bumper sticker is 11.5 x 3 inches. All are now available and will be sent to you if we receive any type of donation from you. We have no intentions of accessing dues at this time, as this will be discussed at the reunion (probably $10-$20 per year). For now we will continue to rely on donations for funds. At the end of this letter our interim board of directors are listed. These positions will be discussed at the reunion. Many of you have made contributions to us that have been heaven-sent, and some are still buying our patches (which we still need to sell). I need to let you know we are in sad financial shape. We had about $400 in our fund before this newsletter and directory were printed and mailed at a cost of almost $900. Frankly put, we need your help with this deficit. Any contribution made to our Association is now tax deductible.

Please take note of my new (7lst) telephone number listed on the back of your address directory. Because of the massive phone use I have incurred this second line has become a necessity. Both numbers are still good, but the 214-226-4252 should be my primary number.

Dallas... Throughout the past year we have been told by the tourist personnel in Las Vegas that we would not be able to get a hotel to quote us any reunion site prices until we got to within 330 days of our meeting. The first week of June David O'Quinn started burning up the phone lines to Vegas trying to locate us a hotel that would block 200 rooms for us and allow us meeting space. David ran into a stone wall on this. No quotes, no returned phone calls, hotels claiming they were already booked up and just about every type of runaround you can imagine. In the middle of June we located a new Rattler, Ron Taylor, who lives in Vegas and has in the past worked for years in the hotel business. So Ron got very involved in this project and had the same result that David had. In July I also started calling many of these hotels and I am mn awaiting several promised return calls. It seems that Vegas wants gamblers only. On August 14th the decision was made by our reunion committee to say to hell with Las Vegas and have the reunion in Dallas.

Our reunion is to be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-7, 1995 at the Holiday Inn, DFW Airport South, 4440 W. Airport Freeway, Irving, TX.(This street is also known as highway 183) The room rate is $55 per night, plus tax. Call 214-399-1010 to make your reservations and tell them you are with the Rattler/Fire Bird reunion, or mail the enclosed reservation card. This hotel has 6 rooms that are equipped for the handicapped. They are blocking 200 rooms for us on a first come basis. As of this mailing we have 673 of our men located. PLEASE MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW! This hotel is 2 miles from the South entrance to DFW Airport. There are Holiday Inn courtesy phones in all baggage claim areas of DFW Airport. They have 4 vans that are available 24 hours daily to pick you up and deliver you to our hotel. Dallas' Love Field is about 13 miles from the hotel and any arrival there would incur taxi fare to the hotel. We are planning on having a chartered bus on Saturday to transport anyone (wives especially) to and from a major North Dallas shopping mall. Golfing is 2 miles away.

Visits…This passed May a former 2nd platoon and Firebird pilot, Michael Wheeler (Yosemite Sam) was in the Dallas area for recurrent training at Bell Helicopter. Michael lives in Saudi Arabia and flies for ARAMCO. Chuck Carlock and myself spent an evening with Michael reliving and rehashing old times and really enjoyed it.

On June 17th a former Rattler XO from '71, Jim Berry, was in town on business and met with Carl Petry, Terry Wasson and myself for an enjoyable evening. Jim, Carl, and Terry had all served together in our units last year of the war. Carl Petry told me he was the very last man to leave our Company on October 3, 1971.

The week before July 4th, the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and the Vietnam Helicopter Crew Members Association held their reunions in Philadelphia. On Friday night the Crew Members hosted the Pilots with a party at the Crew Member's hotel. The following men from our unit were there: Frank Anton, Hal Bowen, Bob Burroughs, Chuck Carlock, Jim Fulbrook, Jerry Meader, Ron Seabolt, R. P. Taylor, R. J. Wiliams, and Doug Womack. Five of these men I had never met, as our tours were at different times, but you can still feel an immediate kinship with men who walked and flew the same area as you did. Bob Burroughs is still on active duty at Fort Campbell and now flys Blackhawks. He was awarded a Silver Star for actions in Desert Storm. We had an enjoyable visit, and if possible all plan to be in Dallas next year. One of the men also attending the reunion in Philly was a former crew chief by the name of Gary G. Wetzel who won The Medal of Honor for his deeds in Vietnam.

When our unit was first deployed to Vietnam we had no gunners assigned to us and therefore relied upon the 25th Division stationed in Hawaii to my a platoon to us for that purpose in early '65. This my ran about 100 days. One of these men was a SP/4 named Daniel Fernandez. By December of 65 the 25th Division was being sent to war and SP/4 Fernandez arrived on 19 January 66. On 18 February this former gunner of ours threw his body on a grenade to save his buddies and was killed. He was awarded The Medal of Honor posthumously.

A former enlisted man from 1971, Richard Spradlin, was very seriously injured in a vehicle accident earlier this year and suffered multiple skull fractures. His recovery is slowly progressing. Richard is still hospitalized and if any of you wish to drop him a card the address we have on him during his recovery is his parents house who will be sure he receives his mail. Mail to Richard at the address in your directory .

We have a former pilot who was with us from about Aug 65 to Aug 66 by the name of Dennis Arndt who is an actor. Dennis has appeared in many TV shows and movies. One movie that many of us may have seen him in was Basic Instinct in which Dennis plays Michael Douglas' boss as a police lieutenant (Lt. Walker). It must be tough work having to shoot some scenes with Sharon Stone! Another of our pilots, Pat Gwaltney, who was visiting Dennis during the shooting of this movie, was used as an extra in a couple of scenes. (co-starring?)

Bob Parsons was a Fire Bird pilot with us in 67-68 who returned for a second tour in Nam in Oct. 69. Bob was taking his Americal in country orientation at Chu Lai and decided to visit the old Company area. He said he was treated like a king by the men at the "0" club. When asked if they could do anything for him, he requested an M-2 carbine and clips. A couple of days later a 3/4 truck loaded with drunk pilots showed up and presented Bob his carbine. Bob would like to know if anyone remembers this event so he could thank them again.

McCall… On Saturday, July 9, we lost a good friend and a great pilot during a helicopter rescue on Mount Huron near Buena Vista, Colorado. Former Firebird 9-4, Gary McCall (1967-68) was killed in the crash of the Flight-for-Life aircraft.

Gary was with our Company at Chu Lai. He flew with the gunships, The Firebirds. The Firebirds were the best damn gun ships. I ought to know as I was a slick pilot that had his ass covered plenty of times by the Firebirds." From a friend and comrade, Rattler 2-0, Bill Lurvey.

Gary will be especially missed by his wife, Bobby, and two children and also by all of us who knew him.

A granite Memorial encased in steel is to be dedicated in Gary's honor at the American Legion Veterans Post of Summit County. The cost of this Memorial is $3500. I have been informed that any gift given through our Association toward this fund is tax deductible now that we have achieved Association status. If you would like to contribute to this fund, send your donation to Ron Seabolt and be sure to note that it is for the Gary McCall fund. Our donation will be mailed to them on September 15th.

POW... I have included in this newsletter an ad for the book Survivors by Zalin Grant. This book graphically tells the story of nine American POWs in Vietnam, one of whom was our own Fire Bird 9-0 Frank Anton who was shot down and captured on 5 Jan 68 in Happy Valley west of Chu Lai along with his crew chief Robert Lewis and gunner Jim Pfister. These three men were POWs over 5 years and were in an area that was frequented by Robert Garwood who was later tried for his deeds in Vietnam. I am not trying to sell books for anyone, but there are many of you who knew these men and I wanted you to have an opportunity to read this story. I received permission from all three of these men to run this ad. I consider these men as true heroes just to have survived what they endured. The pilot of their aircraft, Frank Carson, was able to evade capture and he made it back to friendly lines after a couple of days. We are fortunate in having all four of these men in our directory.

The Article Series on Lam Son 719 published in Aviation Digest in 1986 by Jim Fulbrook (one of our pilots known as Snakebite Charlie) will be updated and reprinted in 1996 by Aviation Digest for the 25th anniversary of the operation. Jim is looking for additional input of information and especially color photos or slides of battle sites, etc. Additional articles to spin off this story are planned. People with any information to offer or who knows of anyone who participated and might wish to contribute to this story should contact Doug Womack who is listed in your directory. All photos and slides will be returned after use.

Chuck Carlock is writing a book about his tour with us and if anyone has an interesting picture suitable for his project from any time period, Chuck will attempt to put it in his book. Send copies to Chuck.

Closing… When our address directories were first printed a couple of years ago I tried to include as many pilots' call signs as possible. As time progressed our directory grew beyond our wildest expectations. The decision was made by me to remove all call signs for the time being except for our Company Commanders who were always Rattler "6". There were 13 Rattler "6"s in Nam and we have 10 of them located (one of whom is deceased). The missing three are Arnold C. (Ace) Morris 66-67, William M. Price 69 and Robert J. Harmon 71. Any info you may have on these men would be greatly appreciated. I have an extensive library of non-fiction books about Vietnam which has caused me to realize in part the tremendous pressures placed on command positions in war.

I wish to thank all of you who have supported us with your encouragement and donations. Also my thanks goes out to Hal Bowen for taking the time and effort to print address labels for us. I thank my sister Sandy who has kept our directory as up to date as my information would allow and has spent much time revising our entries as we found them. Thanks to David O'Quinn and Ron Taylor for their efforts to secure us a reunion site. Thanks to Lewis Henderson (the original Rattler "6" in Vietnam) for the Rattler history. Thanks to Jim Schneid for the 94th Signal Detachment emblem on our directory.

I would like to close this letter with a quote from Winston Churchill which many of you may identify with. "There is nothing in this world quite as exhilarating as being shot at and missed. "
See you in Dallas!
Ron Seabolt

Association Interim Board of Directors:

  • Ron Seabolt (EM 66-67) National Director and Treasurer
  • Hal Bowen (OF 67-68) . Deputy National Director
  • Chuck Carlock (WO 67-68) Secretary
  • Steven Donnelly (WO 64-65) Member at Large
  • David O'Quinn (WO 66-67) Member at Large
  • Ron Taylor (EM 70-71) Member at Large

Copter crash still a mystery

Investigators search for clues as Flight-for-Life co-workers - mourn death of two colleagues

By Angel Hernandez
Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Federal investigators Sunday combed a remote Chaffee County mountainside to find a cause for the Flight-for-Life helicopter crash that killed the craft's pilot and nurse.

Both pilot Gary McCall, 49, of Fairplay, and nurse Sandy Sigman, 42, of Denver, died Saturday night on , their way to help an injured hiker.

After 4.5 million miles, 22 years and thousands of missions, they were the first casualties in the Flight-for-Life operation at St. Anthony Hospital Central.

"This isn't supposed to happen to us. It's a reverse role," said Thomas Spriggs, operations manager for Rocky Mountain Helicopters, the firm contracted to provide helicopters for Flight-for-Life missions.

The Chaffee County Sheriff's Department reported investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration visited the crash site Sunday afternoon to find clues to the crash.

Authorities waited for investigators to inspect the site before the bodies could be removed. Both were taken to a mortuary in Buena Vista.

The hiker - Cynthia Hansen, 35 - eventually got out by foot and ambulance. She was first taken to a Salida hospital and later brought to St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. She was listed in fair condition with a broken ankle Sunday afternoon. A St. Joseph nursing supervisor said the woman didn't wish to talk Sunday.

The Saturday afternoon rescue call moved Flight-for-Life officials to dispatch a B2 A-Star helicopter from a Frisco base to Mount Huron, 20 miles I northwest of Buena Vista.

Members of a ground crew that had found Hansen reported that after looking for a landing spot, the helicopter crashed, bounced over the search crew and rolled 1,000 feet down the mountainside. Flying debris inflicted minor injuries on three search crew members.

One witness, U.S. Forest Service worker Deryck Wylie, said it appeared one of the helicopter's blades hit a slope and flipped the craft. Wylie said the helicopter's main compartment exploded halfway to the point where it came to rest. Sigman and McCall died in the wreckage.

Their co-workers in the Flight-for- Life operation spent Sunday filled with pain and loss. "It was a big shock," said Ron Mirenda, a vice president with Provenant Health Partners, St. Anthony's parent company.

Six pilots and nine nurses work with the operation from bases in Denver and Frisco.

Pat Mahany, a Flight-for-Life pilot. said pilots know the limits of mountain flying and will decide against a landing they deem too dangerous. "The variables are enormous. . . . You've got to remember that other than the Swiss Alps or the Andes, the Rocky Mountain region is one of the toughest areas in the world to land a helicopter."