Rattler/Firebird Association



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.”

“Like the book said, we may be through with the past but the past is not through with us!”


Dues paying: If your mailing label on this newsletter has a 2014 on it, those dues expire on June 30, 2014. In order to receive our address directory you must submit $12.00 dues for each year i.e. one $12.00 payment will put you paid up until June 30, 2015. Make checks out to 71st AHC Assoc. and mail it to the address on the back of this mailing.

DATELINE KELSO, WASHINGTON In a ceremony in Kelso, WA on February 19th, Southwest Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler announced a long overdue award. The widow of Terry Paxton (EM 69-70) received the Distinguished Flying Cross on his behalf. Paxton was the crew chief of a UH-1 helicopter that completed a vital resupply mission to troops despite heavy fire in Vietnam’s Song Chan Valley. Paxton, who undertook the mission voluntarily, “Helped save the lives of many U.S. soldiers on the ground that day stated Congresswoman Beutler. More than four decades have passed since that day. The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to servicemen and servicewoman who distinguish themselves in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” This notification was sent to the Association by Cherie Paxton Gibson, daughter of Terry Paxton.


Our just completed 2014 reunion was attended by 140 men who served in our unit between 43 years and 49 years ago. The brotherhood that binds us together is just as strong as ever.

Marriott DFW Airport South

Three busloads rode out to Mineral Wells to see the remains of Ft. Wolters. It hurts to see a once vibrant military base become more like a ghost town. It was a first experience for most of the former EMs but not for the OFs and WOs.

The Women’s Meet and Greet on Thursday afternoon was the best ever with wine tasting, fruit and cheese and fun and games with real prizes.

Thursday night another three buses left the Marriott DFW Airport South and ventured to Billy Bob’s Texas, reputed to be the largest honky tonk in the world. We went for a delicious BBQ dinner. Some brave souls who had been shooting the bull got their photo made riding the bull (playlike).

Early Friday morning the Firebird Freefire golf group left the hotel followed by buses going to the George Bush Library, the Perot Museum of Natural History and the 6th Floor Exhibit.

Saturday morning was the time for our Memorial Service honoring our 55 men killed in action. Also mentioned were the 15 men who had passed away since our last reunion. At the sound of Taps a hand salute was ordered by Major General Tom Griffith, our senior ranking officer. At the order of, “Order arms” Lee Greenwood’s Proud To Be An American was played and sung by many.

The Association business meeting followed with the election of David Hunter (EM 69-70) to our board of directors replacing Jim Surwillo (EM 69-70) who had served 4 years and had to leave because of term limits. Later, two busloads of our people took the tour of the Dallas Cowboy stadium. This 1.1 billion dollar edifice has to be seen to be believed.

A cocktail hour (and a half) preceded our banquet Saturday night.

Several of our men looked especially dashing wearing their military dress uniforms. This showed a lot of class by these men and the practice should be encouraged in the future.

The banquet began with the posting of the colors by our Firebird Honor Guard team. Following the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner, our prayer before the meal was given by Reverend Eric Kilmer, our Association Chaplin. Dinner was then served.

At the conclusion of the dinner our Deputy National Director Johnnie B. Hitt took over to take care of our raffle drawing. The following won these prizes: Tom Silva - $250, JoAnne Esckilsen (wife of Stanley) – a new tail rotor chain bracelet, Grace Patterson (granddaughter of Chuck Carlock) - $250, Nancy Johnson (wife of Jerry) – a brass cyclic head, and Mel Jones took home a commemorative dagger. Nancy Johnson donated the cyclic head for future raffles.

Reunion Chairman Vic Bandini made special recognition of our World War II and Korean War veteran Jerry Meader. Also called out was LaRue Keller as an Army nurse who served with us in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War untold Americans sought refuge in Canada. Not Wayne Bell, a Canadian who came to American to join the U.S. Army and fight for our cause. Bell received a rousing ovation when Bandini brought this to our attention.

The “Jesus Nut” award went to Mike Curry who had traveled the longest distance from his home in Talent, OR. The winner is determined by using the Rand-McNally web site on the internet and is measured from zip code to zip code. There are no repeat winners of this award.

The Unsung Hero Award went to David Hunter for his outstanding achievements while working in our maintenance section.

Doug Hopkins took the podium to present the Rattler Legend Award. This year the award went to Rattler 29 (pronounced two nine) George Bailey. A much deserved standing ovation followed the announcement.

Something that has become a fixture of our reunions came next. This was the playing of the Joe Galloway “God’s Own Lunatics” praise for Army aviators. If you are not familiar with this, go to our web site at www.rattler- firebird.org and at the top of the page put your cursor on “miscellaneous”. On the drop down menu, click on sounds. From there under movie sounds you will find this masterpiece by Joe Galloway.

Vic Bandini then introduced our guest speaker, B.G. Burkett, author of the book, Stolen Valor. Mr. Burkett held us spellbound as he related instance after instance of “wannabes” assuming the identity of war heroes. Before Mr. Burkett’s investigation into this phenomenon a high percentage of these “heroes” were just plain old run of the mill criminals using a heightened awareness of patriotism to milk the ystem out of the real heroes of the Vietnam War. Our unit has more than its fair share of real heroes with far too many unrecognized.

Because of Mr. Burkett’s diligence, Congress passed the “Stolen Valor Act” which was undone by The Supreme Court. A newer version of the “Stolen Valor Act” has now been passed by congress which should endure for a long time.

Throughout the reunion scores of attendees voiced their opinion that future reunions be held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area because of the convenience of moving our huge display material to include the slick and gunship. All these artifacts are stored just a 30 minute drive from our reunion hotel at Chuck Carlock’s home. The “company store” material comes from Ron Seabolt’s home which is about an hour’s drive away.

We have never been at a more hospitable hotel than we were for this reunion. Friendliness, service, and attention to detail were unparalleled for this 11th reunion. It began on Tuesday afternoon just before the reunion when the hotel staff was paraded in front of Ron and Kay Seabolt and Ray Casey to introduce themselves.

Dining choices abounded at the hotel location. We try our utmost to make your reunion attendance as economical as possible. Having multiple dining choices for dinner is one way of doing this.

Your Board of Directors will be deciding on the next reunion location but they will be hard pressed to beat the Marriott DFW Airport South of Ft. Worth, Texas!

Doug Cahill
Doug Cahill

WWII, Korea, Vietnam Veteran Jerry Meader
WWII, Korea, Vietnam Veteran Jerry Meader

Rich Davenport (EM 69-70)
Rich Davenport (EM 69-70)

Kay Seabolt, Paul Bartlett, Ron Seabolt
Kay Seabolt, Paul Bartlett, Ron Seabolt

Ila & Johnnie Hitt
Ila & Johnnie Hitt

Doug & Penny Womack
Doug & Penny Womack

Chuck & Kathy Carlock
Chuck & Kathy Carlock

Gary Parks & Edith Ann Webb
Gary Parks & Edith Ann Webb

George Bailey (WO 66-67) Rattler Legent Award
George Bailey (WO 66-67)
Rattler Legent Award

Medal-of-Honor-recipient-Col.-Bruce-Crandall -call-sign-Ancient-Serpant 6 taken in front of our Firebird aircraft this past spring
call sign Ancient Serpant 6
taken in front of our Firebird aircraft this past spring
Photo courtesy of Nick Del Calzo

2014 Reunion Attendees

Alsop, James~WO 69-70
Arndt, Greg~EM69-70
Bailey, George~WO 66-67
Bair, Norman~EM 68-69
Bandini, Vic~WO 68-69
Baragona, Jim~EM 67-69
Bartlett, Paul~WO 67-68
Beaumont, Mike~OF 70-71
Bell, Wayne~EM 69-71
Biermann, Fred~EM 64-65
Birnbach, Dick~WO 65-66
Bley, John~WO 67-68
Bowen, Hal~OF 67-68
Bozich, Ron~EM 64-65
Bracken, John~EM 65-66
Bruce, Joe~EM 66-69
Cahill, Doug~WO 67-68
Callahan, Mike~WO 68-70
Cameron, Mike~EM 68-69
Canterbury, Charles~EM 65-67
Carlock, Chuck~WO 67-68
Cervinski, John~EM 66-68
Cieliesz, Joe~WO 66 
Clements, Ron~EM 70-71
Collins, Jim~WO 67-68
Coyan, Carl~WO 65-66
Curry, Mike~EM 68-70
Davenport, Rich~EM 69-70
Dewey, Robert~EM 71
Drewry, Will~EM 68-71
Ducharme, Dick~EM 67-68
Eggleston, Robert~WO 65-66
Ehrich, Richard~OF 70-71
Ellingsworth, David~WO 66-67
Ericsson, Jerry~WO 68-69
Esckilsen, Stanley~OF 68-69
Fairfield, Jerry~EM 66-68
Falk, Bob~EM 66-67
Farrell, Roger~EM 67-68
Fischer, Gary~OF 64-65
Fornelli, Joseph~EM 65-66
Freeman, Wendell~WO 70-71
Griffith, Tom~OF 65-66
Hansen, Mike~EM 71
Hennigan, Bill~OF 66-67
Hingston, Will~WO 66-67
Hitt, Johnnie~OF 69-70
Hobbs, Roger~EM 69
Holgerson, Bill~WO 67-68
Hopkins, Doug~OF 66-67
Hopkins, Steve~EM 70-71
Horn, Jack~OF 66-67
Hunter, David~EM 69-70
Igoe, Terry~OF 68-69
Israel, Steve~WO 69-70
Jachim, Gary~EM 67-68
Jackson, Greg~EM 67-68
Johanson, Wes~EM 67-68
Johnson, Gordon~EM 69
Johnson, Jerry~EM 64-65
Jones, Mel~OF 66-67
Kazmierowski, Lynn~WO 68-69
Keller, Bill~OF 66-67
Kelly, Bruce~WO 67-68
Kilmer, Eric~WO 69-70
Kleiber, Don~OF 65-66
Krell, Bill~EM 71
Kronenberger, Richard~EM 65-66
Lang, Neal~WO 69-70
Leming, Joe~WO 65-66
Leopold, Mark~WO 67-68
Lohman, Rich~OF 69-70
London, Bill~OF 68-69
Lurvey, Bill~WO 66-67
Lynam, Don~OF 70-71
Marcano, Chico~EM 69-70
Marinaro, Tony~EM 70-71
Markiewicz, Ron~OF 71
Massner, Earl~WO 70-71
Mateyko, John~OF 65-66
May, John~EM 69
McAuley, Tom~WO 67-68
McCullough, Robert~EM 65-66
McHugh, Kelly~WO 68-69
McMahon, Kerry~WO 69-71
Meader, Jerry~OF 66-67
Meche, Hubert~EM 70-71
Miller, Jim~WO 67-68
Mills, Ed~EM 67-68
Mitchell, Walt~EM 67-68
Moore, Jim~WO 65-66
Nottingham, David~EM 69-70
O'Quinn, David~WO 66-67
Parcher, Dick~OF 69
Parks, Gary~EM 65-66
Patrick, Bill~WO 67-68
Pitts, Archie~WO 65-66
Ragsdale, Erick~EM 69-70
Ratliff, Bob~EM 64-65
Reis, John~EM 66-67
Rennie, John~EM 66-67
Richard, David~WO 66-67
Richardson, Jerry~OF 68
Riley, Pat~WO 70
Rodgers, Don~EM 70-71
Rodriguez, Richard~EM 66-67
Rogers, Mike~EM 67-68
Runyon, Scott~EM 68-69
Sanford, Marsden~EM 67-68
Seabolt, Ron~EM 66-67
Sienkiewicz, Dick~OF 70-71
Silva, Tom~EM 67-68
Smith, Fred~EM 65-66
Smith, Larry~EM 66-68
Spencer, Paul~OF 70-71
Stanat, Carl~OF 70 
Stewart, Ted~EM 64-65
Strube, Jerry~EM 66-67
Sundberg, Ray~OF 71
Surwillo, Jim~EM 69-70
Taylor, Ron~EM 70-71
Teelin, Paul~WO 66-67
Thomas, Randy~EM 68-69
VanHamel, Atty~EM 64-65
Vishy, Don~WO 68-69
Waddell, Jim~EM 67-68
Wade, Bob~EM 68-69
Wade, Ervin~EM 65-65
Waldrip, Gene~EM 69-70
Wasson, Terry~WO 70-71
Weber, David~EM 67-68
White, Gary~OF 68-69
Whitehead, Shirley~EM 66-67
Wiegand, Ken~WO 67-68
Wiklanski, John~EM 68-70
Wilhelm, Jay~WO 66-67
Wilondek, Nate~WO 68-71
Winfield, Les~WO 70-71
Womack, Doug~WO 70-71
Wright, Bob~EM 67-68



Received from Doug Cahill – Rattler/Firebird Admin Officer Nov ’67 thru May ‘68

R.P. Taylor at the Denver Reunion R.P. Taylor at the Denver Reunion

Being called on the day before New Year’s Eve with unfavorable weather in the area and being asked to attend a Funeral at 10am on New Year’s Eve was a tough mission, even for an old Rattler/Firebird.

There were numerous reasons why I could not attend; however, the only words out of my mouth would be, it would be my honor to do so. My wife of almost 45 years was under-going a medical procedure the day of the funeral as the primary one.

My only regret was that R.P. TAYLOR only lived 140 miles from me, and I never knew it. For 43 years after two tours in Vietnam, I was quiet about my war experiences. I did suffer a TBI in a helicopter crash, in combat, where my head went through the sunscreen and instrument panel, when my locked shoulder harness broke upon impact. I kept all that to myself after leaving RVN and never said a word to anyone about my combat experiences until I was 64. After all, it was history, and I did not think anyone cared. It was then that I admitted my problems and sought medical attention and found some of the finest doctors in the world to help me. I received a PET scan of the brain. The report showed a prior head injury, resulting from a shock to the brain resulting in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I received proper treatment and medicines and today as I am at my 70th Birthday and happy to report I am stabilized and doing great. Although a life member, I have never attended a function of the Association and I promise that will not happen again.

It is now my desire to write a book about my experiences for my new 9 year old grandson Jake. He and his mom joined our family when my son married his mom last August.

Well, making some quick decisions and some planning, I threw some gear together, found out where Oak Hill, West VA was and headed there following a truck part of the way spreading salt on the West VA Turnpike. Arriving at the Holiday Lodge late that evening, I sat down to prepare my remarks. Earlier that day, I called RP’s son (Ivey) to relay our Association’s Condolences and asked him if I could attend the services and speak earlier that day.

We made arrangements that we would meet at the Church at 09:30 the following morning. Visitation was between 10:00 and 11:00. The services, which included a Military Honor Guard, began at 11:00. I honestly don’t believe I have ever met a nicer group of people in my life than I met in the next hour as Ivey introduced me to his family and RP’s friends. It was indeed an honor to be there representing our Association. One of RP’s sons was an Army Ranger and, as I met him I said, “I understand you were an Army Ranger,” and he corrected me by saying, “I will always be an Army Ranger, just not active anymore.” I said, right on Sir.

I was re-acquainted with Maria, RP’s first wife and mother of their three sons. They separated after many many years of marriage. Maria is an outstanding lady, whom I knew in Savannah, GA, where RP and I were stationed after Vietnam and who attended my wife Joan at our wedding. I learned RP’s second wife had died a few years back; I was trying to re-think my prepared comments in my mind. I learned RP was a prior Air Force enlisted, something I never knew. RP left the Air Force then applied for Army Helicopter Training. I also learned RP stayed in the service, was commissioned and left a Major. I was amazed to think how close our careers matched, with me being prior enlisted and staying in for thirty years.

RP died of natural causes, an assumed heart attack after a Christmas Eve gathering of family at his home. He visited with his grandchildren and his son found him the next morning with his hands folded on his chest. My adopted Dad, a WWII Vet, Korea Vet and Vietnam Vet died on the same day a few years back. The amount of Vets that die on or around Christmas is unbelievable.

RP’s full name was Major Richard Pentreath Taylor, born January 14, 1940 died December 25, 2013.

I was introduced to the Rev. Roy Gene Christ, Celebrant who requested I speak from his pulpit after his son’s eulogy. Wow my head was swimming. I kept looking at the coffee pot during that hour, but never took the time to go to it. I was running on pure adrenaline after about three hours sleep. It reminded me of the old days as a Firebird, parked on a Fire base, when one Pilot slept with his boots on and fully dressed while the other was allowed to take his boots off. When the phone rang with trouble somewhere, the pilot with his boots on ran to the aircraft and cranked it while the other was taking the phone call, receiving the mission data and tying his boots, then running to the gunship and briefing the rest of the crew during takeoff. One time, I will never forget was just 4 minutes from the phone ringing, to tell us that the infantry company at the bottom of our mountain was being over-run by the NVA to when we were in battle.

I was being asked questions by RP’s friends and family and was amazed to how many said they had all the books produced by members of our association. It was midnight the night before I was settled in my room and opened my computer to prepare my remarks. I read all the emails from so many of the association members. I had earlier talked to Frank Carson for over an hour on the phone before I ever left home. It was 2am when I finished, without proofing, saying I would do so in the morning and try and find a way to get it printed. I then began to answer the many emails received from the Association members.

My last was to Frank Anton. I tried to call him on Christmas Day but due to his recent fall from his roof, it is extremely hard for him to talk on the phone. Gosh, all Frank has been through in his life. I then typed out a letter to Frank for over an hour and then said, Doug you have to lie down. I lay in bed for a long time thinking about my comments before I fell asleep only to hear the alarm at 7am.

During the Celebrate Rev. Christ who performed a remarkable service speaking openly about the hardships our military undertake to provide freedoms for America, he said everyone hug someone. I was standing alone in the third Pew, and Maria was in the second, the rest of the church was full to capacity. I reached forward and gave Maria a hug. RP’s sons were sitting in the first pew with their family. Each of RP’s sons walked back to my pew, separately, and hugged me. I was genuinely taken aback. I will never forget it. After the service and Internment, I returned to the Church to pick up my Lithograph of the Rattlers and Minutemen with intentions of departing.

There was a luncheon at the Church after the services, and just wanted to grab a coffee and head back to the Lodge change clothing and check out. I spent another hour with people shaking my hand and thanking me for speaking; it was surprising. Once back at the Lodge, the only place to stay in Oak Hill, WV, there were numerous family and friends staying there, and we spoke in the lobby for over an hour. It was 16:00 hours before I was headed home. In addition, I found out one of RP’s sons works with my son in Charlotte, NC and his son Willis wants to attend our next reunion. He and I will be there, and I will never miss another function as long as I am able. It was my pleasure to attend RP’s services. Thanks Ron for asking me to attend. I will never forget that experience. It was just a tragic mistake on my part, not having the opportunity to visit with RP when he was alive. I strongly regret that.

It is a little long summary; however, this old guy wanted to say what happened. Happy New Year.

I am looking forward to Texas and our reunion.


Received from Bill Keller, Firebird 95

Richard Day was a unique individual with an incredibly diverse background. When he was fifteen he assumed a different name so he could assume to be eighteen to get a job with a newspaper. Then the Feds came after him for not registering for the draft and told him he could either join the Army or go to jail. He was not about to admit he was only fifteen; so he joined the Army. He acquired a Fixed Wing Aircraft License on his own. Eventually got a commission in the Adjutant General (AG) Corp but he wanted to fly, so he resigned his commission and went to Warrant Officer Candidate School. After graduation he went to Korea flying a Fixed Wing Aircraft (L-20 Beaver). On one mission he had an engine failure in the mountains of Korea. He successfully landed the aircraft in a rocky river bed with no injuries to the passengers. He received a Broken Wing Award for that adventure.

Sometime after the incident with the Broken Wing Award, Rich ended up flying a D.C.-3 out of China for the C.I.A. It was inspected by the Chinese before he left; it was inspected in route and again inspected when it reached the U.S. Nothing was ever found and until the day he died Rich never knew why the C.I.A. wanted that aircraft back in the States.

He transitioned into rotary wing aircraft and eventually arrived at the 71st Assault Helicopter Company when he volunteered for the gun platoon and became a Firebird and became a stellar Wing Man. You always knew that if Rich was flying your wing that your back was covered.

Ironically, he was flying my wing (firebird 95) at Chu Lai. I was called in by the Company Commander told that my wing man had his sleeves rolled up while coming up beach…I told him, “no way in hell”, Rich Day is red headed and freckled. There’s no way he exposed himself to the sun”. Never the less, the powers that be grounded Rich (a gun pilot) for ten days. He took a big beach umbrella, a lounge chair and his cooler to the beach, sat in the shade at the beach with his beer and waved to us as we flew by. You can imagine the mental acuity of the idiot at Battalion who would GROUND a gun pilot for having his sleeves rolled up and leave some other pilot to get shot at while Rich drank beer on the beach. I found out thirty years later that Rich was waving at someone on the ground and rotor wash blew his sleeve up.

When I came back to the States Rich and I were to meet in Vaca Vill, CA, where he and an uncle had a Dunkin Donut shop. I couldn’t find him and later found out he was Commander of the V.I.P. flight detachment in Atlanta where he supervised and maintained funding for a new hangar with V.I.P. accommodations and all aircraft maintenance.

Rich retired in Atlanta. He loved to talk so you can imagine he would have an interest in politics. He represented the State of Georgia at the dedication of the Viet Nam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

LaRue and I visited with Rich and wife, Lil, in Atlanta where he was running several small corporations. One of which was exporting old jeeps to Belize. Another long story since he and Lil eventually moved there.

We kept in contact and I received a call from Lil that Richard had died of a heart attack and he was being buried in uniform with all military medals and citations.


Received from Wally Dunning

A couple of days ago my memory flashed on a mission working with Jerry Shirley. We had to get a bunch of guys off a mountain (in a hurry), just South West of Chu Lai. Which we did. Now things just keep getting harder to remember.

Received from John Mateyko

Veterans Views is a one hour radio program aired on Friday morning by a local low power station. They cover a variety of subjects and have a guest every now and then. Last week was a veteran who just returned from Vietnam after three weeks doing the Habitat for Humanity bit. Among other things he said there is a four lane highway between Saigon and Hanoi, seven hour drive.

He said that the houses he helped construct were brick with a concrete layer on the outside and inside, tin roof. He shared that the average wage for a blue collar worker is $20-$30 per month.

If I remember correctly, our hooch maids were paid $10 per month by each pilot. If each maid had four rooms, she was getting $80 each month which made them some of the highest paid workers in Vietnam. No wonder they were always smiling! Those wages held until the 197th built their villa on the west end of the street. Rather than ask us the going wage, they paid what they had been paying in Saigon which was $15 per man per month. When the word spread we had to then pay our maids $15 per month.


Bill Green
February 2011

The Huey (official designation, UH1) started out to be a medical helicopter. After Korea, the Medical Service Corps, having proved the use of helicopters in saving lives on the battlefield, developed specifications for a helicopter for the next war. It should be capable of transporting a number of casualties with at least one medic in attendance. It should have a low profile to minimize exposure to enemy fire while loading casualties and it should be fast, to get the casualties to aid facilities in a hurry.

The Bell Aircraft Company designed a YHU-1 prototype to meet or exceed requirements of the Medical Service Corps. It could carry three stretchers and five ambulatory casualties with attendant. It had a low profile and it could fly at 120 knots - really fast! It had a turbine engine, which gave it a much lower maintenance ratio than piston engines in use at the time.

Other branches of the Army were also interested, and soon the YHU-1 was in demand by the Infantry, the Artillery, and other branches. As additional specs were presented to Bell, for instance, to carry 12 combat loaded troops (a squad), and to sling load up to 5000 pounds (such as a towed 105mm Howitzer), advancements were made to the prototype design. The cabin was enlarged to provide 12 seats for passengers, a hook was mounted under the center of gravity for transporting external loads, and it got a more powerful engine. The helicopter came on line as the HU-1. The Army gave it the name, "Iroquois", but the troops called it the Huey, and Huey it will always be. Bell accepted the troops' name, and the right pedal on all Hueys is cast with the raised letters HUEY. The left pedal says BELL. Good advertising for the Company, but the letters also provide slip resistant pedals, a good thing.

The army changed the designation to UH-1 (for Utility Helicopter) to conform to new DOD standards. At the same time, the L- 19 became the O-1 (O for Observation), and the L-20 became the U-6 (U for Utility).

The first production model distributed to Army units was the UH-1B, or B Model, which had the shorter cabin with 5 seats for passengers. It debuted in Vietnam in 1962 in an experimental Armed Helicopter Company called the UTT Company.

I transitioned into the Huey in 1966 in the D Model with the longer 9 seat cabin. While I was in Viet Nam, B Models were gun ships and D Models were troop carriers.

During my tour, B Models were upgraded to C (Charlie) and then to M (Mike) Models, each more powerful and more stable than the previous, but all with the short cabin. Toward the end of my tour, in April 1967, the 1st Cav Division (Airmobile) in I Corps, were replacing Charlie/Mikes with the Cobra, a completely new body design intended solely as a weapons platform. Eventually, most all gunships in Viet Nam were Cobras.

The D Model didn't go through nearly the number of transitions. It gradually gave way to the H Model during my tour. Eventually, we had Ds and Hs in the same formation. The Hs were more powerful, and the difference was immediately obvious when the pilot pulled pitch, but the appearance and flying characteristics didn't change. The H model could out haul and outrun the D model, but formation speeds and loads were dictated by the D model. D model crews just had to be more careful.

The Huey was to Army Aviation what early jet fighters were to the Air Force and Navy. It was a giant leap forward in sophistication, and it took a while for pilots to adjust to the new capabilities and limitations. During the transition period, which lasted several years, the Huey took a toll of pilots who tried to push too far. This period included the early years of Viet Nam. My early experience with the Huey was during this period. Given that most Huey pilots in the mid '60s were in their early 20s, and that they really learned how to fly in a combat environment, it's remarkable that the toll wasn't higher. The Huey was, and is, a very forgiving bird. We proved time and again that it could do things it wasn’t supposed to be able to do. Fortunately for us, and for the troops we served, the Huey never read the book.

The Huey is gradually giving way now, to newer helicopter designs, but when it came on line, it was beautifully suited to its purpose. It fulfilled its original mission by quickly transporting casualties to medical facilities, saving thousands of lives. It hauled troops and equipment safely in minutes to destinations that would not otherwise have been accessible without major effort. It gave our ground forces mobility that reshaped the battlefield. It revolutionized war as the, machine gun, airplane, tank and aircraft carrier did in earlier history. It is a tribute to the Huey that it still has a mission in the world. Like the venerable DC-3, it serves because it does some things better than anything that's come along to replace it.


By Ray Foley (EM 67-68)

While checking out my Charley Model at Hill 35 before dark, anticipating our evening mortar attack, I should have known things were too peaceful to last. The helicopters were ready to scramble out in the middle of mortar attacks. The bad guys had the helicopters zeroed in and it was a miracle that we were able to escape in the middle of those attacks so far.

My machine gun was tuned to fire over 1000 rounds per minute and was clean, lubricated and in perfect condition. I went to the tent and tried to sleep but perhaps anticipating the mortar attack kept me awake.

It was April 13, 1968, before midnight, when the call to scramble came. I heard it and with my gunner and we rushed to our helicopter, untying the blades, plugged in the rocket pods and put on our flak jackets as the pilots arrived. Our pilot was WO-1 Latimer (also our flight leader), I do not know the co-pilots name but I think he was our Awards and Decorations Officer.

We were heading SW to try to help an infantry company in trouble about 25 minutes away on a very dark night. Latimer tried to make radio contact but they did not answer. However we heard a faint click and that was a real bad sign as it was an indication the enemy was very close to the radio man. We continued into hill country and finally we saw a fire deep down in a valley with steep hills on both sides.

Radio contact was finally made but it was a whisper and hard to understand, finally he turned his volume control up and said “they had been overrun and five of them were left together near the fire and he wanted us to strike his position”. He expressed “it does not matter now and to bring it down”. He was urgently requesting us to strike the area he was in as enemy troops were hunting down and finishing off wounded Americans. His call to risk it all to help his friends impacted me with the strongest sadness I have ever known. After 3 passes we were empty of mini gun and rockets but we continued to fly up and down low over the area and the radio guy called us. Mr. Latimer told him that more guns were coming and we were remaining overhead to draw fire. I had about 50 rounds left for my door gun when it malfunctioned and I grabbed the co-pilots m- 16 rifle and returned fire with it. It amazed me how many times they shot at us as we flew back and forth in between those steep hills. A clear voice in my head said “you had better fix the M-60”. Without hesitation I picked up the M-60, flipped up the feed cover, pulled the butt plate latch removing it and the return spring. I then pulled the operating rod back and removed the operating rod and bolt. I believed the firing pin was broken and I had a new rod and bolt by my seat. I could not see anything, it was all by feel with the gun in my lap. I slipped the new operating rod and bolt together and inserted them into the gun, spring, butt plate and latch. It was now together, I picked up the belt of ammo from the clutter on the floor shaking off spent belt links and placed the end of belt in the feed tray. Wasting not a second I brought down the feed cover and snapped it into position on the ammo. Little did I know the NVA had a 50 cal. Set up and were waiting until we were broadside inside of 100 ft. Suddenly the cabin was lit up inside like day. They were leading us maybe 2 ft. or less directly across the windshield in front of the pilots. I jerked up the M-60 and hosed their flash suppressor; it was a duel to the finish, up close, with urgent desperation between the 50 caliber helicopter killer and the M-60 with 50 rounds. About the middle of my 50 rounds his last tracer came in my door barely missing my right elbow and exited the right door missing my gunner. To me it was in slow motion, so intense, soundless and immensely violent. When it was over I thought I had ammo left. We were very, very close to losing the pilots and helicopter and that weighed heavy on my mind for some time. Thanks for the message to fix that M-60, wherever it was from.


Author Unknown

As we get older and we experience the loss of old friends, we begin to realize that maybe we bullet proof Pilots and aircrew won't live forever, not so bullet proof anymore. We ponder. If I was gone tomorrow did I say what I wanted to say 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 Unit and the guys even more than I miss the flying." Why you might ask?"

They were a bunch of aggressive, wiseass, 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 too much, they chased women, they flew when they shouldn't, they laughed too loud and thought they owned the sky, the Bar, 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 helos that leaked, that smoked, that broke, that couldn't turn, 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. All true!

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 the laziest guys on the planet until challenged and then they would do anything to win. They would fly with rotor blades overlapped 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 Unit on the base as soon as we landed. Often we were not welcomed back. 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 getting lit up in a club full of my buddies and watching the incredible, unbelievable things that were happening. I miss the Crew Chiefs and Gunners out on the flight line. I miss the lighting of the turbines, especially at night. I miss the going straight up and straight down. I miss the cross-countries. I miss the dice games at the bar for drinks. I miss listening to BS stories while drinking and laughing till my eyes watered.

I miss naps on the deck of the helicopter while the other pilots were working up new tricks to torment the sleeper. I miss flying under bridges and hearing about flying so low boats were blown over. I miss belches that could be heard in neighboring states. I miss putting on ad hoc Air Shows that might be over someone's home or farm in faraway towns.

Finally I miss hearing dying cockroach being called out at the bar and seeing and hearing a room of men hit the deck with drinks spilling and chairs being knocked over as they rolled in the beer and kicked their legs in the air, followed closely by a Not Politically Correct Tap Dancing and Singing spectacle that couldn't help but make you grin and order another round!

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 UH-1 aircraft ever built. Supported by ground crews 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 block 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 Reunion 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 Helicopter Pilots. We are Few and we are Proud.

I am privileged and proud to call you Brother.